Writing loses a mighty coach

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Donald Murray died over the weekend. The Pulitzer Prize winner (Editorial Writing, 1954) became a mentor and coach for Roy Peter Clarke, the director of the Poynter Institute for excellence in Journalism. Clarke’s work at Poynter goes far beyond the nonfiction formula for journalists. Two years ago he wrote a series, 50 Essential Strategies for Writers, with powerful fundamentals to help any writer, regardless of genre or style.

Clarke compiled and edited those 800-word masterpieces into a book this fall, Writing Tools. But Clarke was quick to praise Murray for his teaching and coaching, begun in Boston at The Globe in the 1980s and then at the St. Petersburg Times, where he became a close friend of Clarke.

Up on the Poynter site, Clarke wrote a moving tribute to Murray. Clarke told a story about his coach comparing the way we teach writers to write versus the way we teach our children to walk:

“Too bad we don’t teach children to write the way we teach them to talk or walk. When a baby tries to take her first step and then falls down, we treat it like a national holiday. We surround the baby with support. We don’t say: ‘No, no, no, before you can learn to walk, you need to develop the proper foot angle. Don’t try that again, you little brat, before you’ve mastered the basics.’”

Murray wrote some textbooks that I own, a real resource to the teacher in me who leads in the Writer’s Workshop. The Craft of Revision and Write to Learn can be had on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other book sites.

Great teachers like Murray are born of the belief that the only required element to learn writing’s craft is a desire to write better. Everybody is a writer, everybody can write. That’s what we believe and teach at the Writer’s Workshop, too.

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