Friday, December 9, 2016

Blog CCXVI (216): More Writing Roundtables

The roundtable listed in Blog CCXV was not the first one to discuss  the importance of writing well in history in recent years.  There was a session at the 2014 American Historical Association Annual Meeting on this topic: "Writing History for the Public."  Elizabeth Covart reported on this for John Fea's blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  There are, again, very interesting insights offered up in her summary.  Covart expands on her reporting of this session with a posting on her own blog.

Covart also has a question and answer series on her blog about Megan Marshall's views on writing.  Marshall won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for her biography of Margaret Fuller, and was a participant in the 2014 AHA meeting...sort of.  (Plane delays kept her from attending in person; her comments were read by another participant).  The first post is on the importance of narrative over argument.  The second is on art of writing biography.  The third is on the origins of Marshall's writing style.

Covart also has an extended assessment of the writing advice that journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff offers on how to write for your readers.  Ann Little in her Historiann blog offers her own assessment: "This is all good advice, but I think the issue of journalists who write books that people buy versus historians who write books for other historians is oversimplified, and ignores the question of resources, platforms, and marketing that work to the advantage of the journalists who write a history book or two."  Despite this difference of opinion, Little, who has real talent as a writer, agrees with most of Covart's post about the importance of writing.  Covart's response is basically one in which she agrees that platforms are important.

It is hard to argue with either one.  As Brandon Proia point out in his article quoted in Blog CCXV, any number of things can go wrong when trying to write for a larger audience, and Little is right: it is easier for people with a public platform to get those big contracts.  The rich get richer, although Proria argues can work to change that factor.  Covart is also correct to emphasize working on making your writing better.  It is a skill set that does not get developed much in graduate programs.

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