It was a 60-minute class designed to teach the basics of composing a coherent, interesting piece of writing to deadline. Enter class, sit down, get handed the bits of information that filled in the basics of what was available from the W-5:
- why, and
Sometimes, key pieces of information would intentionally be missing. Regardless, we had to get writing. The task in each class was to produce a piece in 30 minutes. Write it, finish it, print it and pass it forward to be edited. Edit the piece you were given to make it a better piece of writing and more readable, stronger, without interfering with the writer’s style, then hand it back and talk about it, answer questions, then get ready for any class discussion.
The best one was read out loud in the class by the professor, a professional book editor whose love of the written word brought him to teach fledgling journalists and business writers how to write well in spite of impossible deadlines. Didn’t hurt that he was English, and his accent was just lovely. He had an extreme ability to locate a beautifully wrought sentence and to deconstruct it for all to understand how it worked.
Then the class would be over. By the end of that term, no one was afraid to sit in a busy room, take between two to six facts and from them, craft a 300 – 500 word piece complete with characters, dialogue and a story that made readers want to go along to the very last word.
The class was called Composing at the Typewriter, because in those days, the only place with computers were in labs. We had electronic typewriters. It was somewhat old fashioned, but oh, so effective. We did the work of writing. And that process weeded out people who thought they wanted to write. Turns out for some, that it wasn’t as much fun as they thought.
Journalist and writer Oriana Fallaci remembers, “I sat at the typewriter for the first time and fell in love with the words that emerged like drops, one by one, and remained on the white sheet of paper… every drop became something that if spoken would have flown away, but on the sheets as words, became solidified, whether they were good or bad…”