The Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
Marion Street Press
Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
I love writing columns. It’s one way I can share. I can’t help liking to do that. It must be the teacher in me (or vice versa) because I love teaching, too. Practically speaking though, many writers are columnists because they need to pay the bills while they write books.
Some don’t even know that’s what why they’re doing it. They came to write columns long after they started writing in other genres. Though I have heard columnists say that the paychecks aren’t big enough, I’ve never heard one of them claim that they don’t like getting paid.
Having said that, some write columns for no pay, or rather—more accurately—in trade for a byline, a good credit line that includes the writer’s Web site address, and (if they are also good negotiators) a little ad or image of their book’s cover or the logo of the writing-related service they provide that also pays the bills while they support their writing habits. Those not-quite-so lucrative writing habits may range from poetry to the writing of novels, and may well include several of those less practical pursuits all at once.
That isn’t to negate the skill it takes to write a good column. In fact, learning to write a great column can lead to better writing of about anything, to say nothing of fatter and fatter paychecks.
Therefore, I was glad to see Suzette Martinez Standring’s book The Art of Column Writing. It includes “insider secrets” from the likes of Art Buchwald, Tim Bete, and Arianna Huffington, but it also gives a writer the basics necessary to succeed.
One of my favorites is Standring’s chapter on “Elements of a Pulitzer Prize Winning Column.” As a past president of NSNC, Standring has access to the best of advice from the best of columnists, and some of the ideas in this chapter are from Keith Woods who spoke on the subject at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Many are ideas he gleaned as he judged entries for the big “P” prize.
My very favorite chapter, though, is on copyright. I like it because my students and clients worry about it—sometimes to excess. This chapter will put many writing minds at ease, give them some guidelines so they feel more comfortable with both quotations and research. Pay special attention to her entry, number seven on page sixty-three.
So, if you are a writer without an itch to be a columnist, should you read this book? I think so . . .If you were my student, I’d want you to make a very good case why you shouldn’t. Like maybe you have already reached the top of your game. You are Dave Barry, Walter Brasch or Suzette Standring.
Originally published at MyShelf.com.
The reviewer is an instructor at UCLA Extension Writers' Program, a poet, novelist and author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including The Frugal Editor (www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor).