Dr. Roy Peter Clark, writing coach, played “Here Comes the Sun” on keyboard as I entered his temporary classroom at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution on June 6. He pattered like an expert nightclub performer—but it was not yet 9 a.m. on a Saturday. “It’s all right, little darling,” my inner stereo told me.
Clark is vice president and senior scholar at Florida’s The Poynter Institute, which is “a global leader in journalism. It is the world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st Century democracies,” according to its mission statement. I owe a lot to Poynter. Its courses have sharpened, buffed up, alerted, amused, stretched, enriched, and encouraged me.
I was there for “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” and “How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.” Clark did not let me down. I left with tools.
One of them was implicit. And it was not only about writing. He demonstrated perfect, perfect classroom management. Noodling on the keyboard, he showed us we were going to have fun. His patter roamed: “I was born in 1948. I take requests, and I am most likely to know songs from my parent’s generation and from classic Rock and Roll.”
Someone shouted “Queen!” He said, “Do you expect me to play ‘We Will Rock You?” gesturing at his “skinny, old” self and his one keyboard. It looked impossible.
Then he said his mother worried about his and his sibling’s love for the Three Stooges, because they liked to enact the possibly eye-putting out moves of Larry, Moe, and Shemp. He demonstrated their snap, slap, poke, sequence, and invited us to do it. (In the air, not on each other.) We did, slowly, then faster.
Snap slap poke! Snap slap poke! “We will, we will, rock you!” Poke! Snap slap poke!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is tool number 45, break long projects into parts. It seemed impossible to do that song with the resources we had, but once we practiced the three hand sounds, we had the percussion, and we were ready. “A page a day equals a book a year,” said Clark. “A dissertation is 12 term papers.”
So those forlorn “all but dissertation” folks out there can give themselves a chance to finish and get that PhD, if they break it into 12 term papers.
“Good teachers slow down the process and show you the parts, name the steps,” said Clark. It was what he did with the beat for “We Will Rock You.”
He named enough steps for a whole career in his book and his class, “Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” and he took us through them. Buy the man’s book. I did and I am glad I did.
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