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Workshop: Writing for the Web

This is a syllabus-in-progress for a workshop I’m teaching this Friday, “Writing for the Web.”

I know a lot of instructors consider their syllabus to be closely-guarded goods, but my take is that this syllabus is not much more than “CliffsNotes” for what (I hope) will happen in the classroom — and I’d rather put it out there and get feedback.

Plus, if you’re taking this workshop, you aren’t required to read anything in advance; we will go over short sections in class. But in the immortal words of my paternal ancestors, “It couldn’t hoit.”

1. Preliminaries (15 minutes) 9 – 9:15

  1. Administrivia
  2. Introductions
  3. What this class is about (and why most examples are not from LibraryLand)
  1. Welcoming exercise: co-authored story (15 minutes; group exercise, smartboard) 9:15 – 9:30
  1. Writing for the Web: what are the genres, and how are they different? (30 minutes; discussion, smartboarding) 9:30 – 10
  1. Blogs: Icarus, Hot Coffee Girl , Andrew Sullivan , Broadsheet (group blog)
  2. Magazines and Journals: Salon, Slate, Huffington Post, Brevity
  3. Cartoons and other mixed media: XKCD , Unshelved
  4. Podcasting and video: QandANJ, 23/6
  5. Microblogging: Twitterlit; Twitter haiku
  6. Simple old press releases, user forms, etc.
  1. Tips for writing for the Web (1 hour; lecture, discussion, smartboarding) 10 – 11:00
  1. Beginnings and endings: Joel Peckham, “Scream,” from Brevity; Heather Armstrong, “Reading the Fine Print” from Dooce
  2. Scaling your work for the web reader: Short posts, Ron Hogan, Galleycat; Short sentences, Chris Rose,; short paragraphs, Alexis Wright, “The Disney Look,” Switchback; honing in on the main thing, Tayari Jones, “This is NOT my lucky sweater,” Tayari’s Blog
  3. Using an active, first-person voice: “Zen Interlude: Spring Awakening,” from Panopticon
  4. Scene, setting: Gail Siegel, “The Telemarketer’s Point of View”, Salt River Review
  5. Description: Anne Panning, “Candy Cigarettes,” Brevity
  6. Dialog: C.D. Mitchell, “This, Too, is Vanity,” storySouth; Lowell Cohn, “My introduction to Linguistics,” Switchback
  7. Voice and humor: littera abactor, I Has a Sweet Potato
  8. Integrating other media: photo, Zacharek’s review of “Bad Santa,” Salon; food photography, Clotilde Dusolier, Chocolate and Zucchini
  1. Break! 15″, 11:00 – 11:15
  1. Writing time (30 minutes) 11:15 – 11:45
  1. Getting started: write, just write! (3″)
  2. Blogging a life experience (27″)
  1. Reading from our lives (15 minutes) 11:15 – 12:00
  1. Lunch! (1 hour) 12:00 – 1:00
  1. Group exercise: a sensory image exercise to “regather” our inner artists (15 minutes) 1:00 – 1:15
  1. Feedback, editing, and the art of revision (30 minutes; handout: tips for revision) 1:15 – 1:45
  1. “But it’s just a blog”: why editing matters; Brevity craft piece on copyediting
  2. Feedback: how to ask for it, how to receive it, how to give it, when to ignore it (handout)
  3. Shampoo, rinse, repeat: why revision is your friend — and how to revise blog content (otherwise known as, how great blog posts really get written) (handout)
  1. Exercise: revising today’s exercise (15 minutes) 1:45 – 2:00
  1. Reviewing our revisions (30 minutes; smartboarding, discussion) 2:00 – 2:30
  1. Break! 2:30 – 2:45
  1. Revisiting the elements of writing (expanding topics from section 4, exploring open questions; topics may change from those listed below) 2:45 – 3:15 (handout)
  1. Form and structure: Sheila Squillante, “Four Menus,” Brevity
  2. Character: Rebecca McClanahan, “Orbit,” Brevity
  3. Telling (summary, exposition, commentary, interpretation): Lisa Harper, “Remnants,” Lost Magazine
  4. Conflict
  5. Point of view (who is “I” or “we” in a library blog?)
  6. Audience (who are “they”?)
  7. Research: Marie Fiala, “Inter-Views,” Switchback
  8. Full-tilt writing: Melissa Lafsky, “Double Take,” Opinionistas [post no longer online?]
  9. Full engagement: David Pogue, “Readers Answer some of Pogue’s Imponderables,” New York Times
  1. A final grab bag of advice (30 minutes) 3:15 – 3:45
  1. Reading your work — out loud
  2. Leveraging found content — library-focused
  3. Evergreens are ever-useful: A.O. Scott on Mailer
  4. How to subdue the Bad Voices telling you not to write
  5. Writers are readers
  6. Building and maintaining the writing habit
  7. Finding a writing buddy
  8. Books about writing (and when to close the book and get going)
  9. Classes, reading, personal instruction, workshops: Brevity’s essays on creative nonfiction
  10. Writers’ associations, lists, and blogs: TWA, AWP, Galleycat
  11. Getting published in the library press
  12. Getting published in the non-library press
  13. When to blog it, when to submit it, when to sit on it for a while
  14. Ethics and blogging
  15. Kibbles and bits
  1. Wrap-up (15 minutes) 3:45 – 4:00
  1. Review of the day’s topics
  2. Revisiting today’s co-authored story
  3. Sharing our writing goals

Acknowledgments and so forth

  • Several writing examples are courtesy of Doug Martin of the Department of English at Indiana State University, who with Kim Chinquee is publishing what promises to be an invaluable book, Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years (Snow*Vigate Press). Another source was The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 1, edited by Lee Gutkind, including a blog post no longer in… um… print?: Melissa Lafsky’s “Double Take.”
  • Other examples were suggested by readers on my blog, emailed by shy librarians, or hoovered up by me in the course of my efforts to read as much as possible for my whole entire live-long life.
  • Also see my collection about writing for the web and my haphazard blogroll of blogs about writing and writers.
    Two books on writing I enthusiastically recommend are Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, and Stephen King, On Writing. There are many, many more… whatever gets you writing and revising and carries you through the dark nights of the soul when you know your writing blows chunks and you feel guilty for deserting your family for another damn story/essay/poem you know, just know that no one in their right mind will publish, is a “good” writing book.
  • Find more books at Tom Christensen’s post and ensuing commentary at about best books for writing and publishing.
  • If you’re wondering what a “smartboard” is, it’s not scary and like waterboarding, and it’s not as hard to learn as surfboarding; it’s an electronic whiteboard, and a pretty nifty tool for teaching.
  • Call me a funky old fundamentalist, but I will be strictly enforcing a no-email/surfing rule during class. There will be breaks where you can touch base with the mothership, and it’s actually fine with me if your cell phone is on and you dash out to take an urgent call (if I’m distracted by an occasional ringing phone, what would I be like in a traffic jam?), but writing is in part about learning to focus.
  • N.b.: This list is bulleted because WordPress 2.3.1 is driving me insane with editing problems.

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