Every Friday, Chicago-based writer and editor Evan Peterson offers five stories that scribes of all stripes should check out. It’s the Week in Writing:
Writing about the writing habits of famous people is a theme we touch on here now and again. This week, there are three such pieces. Winston Churchill, Aaron Sorkin, and Antonin Scalia are accomplished writers with very different careers, and we learn a little more about each of them below. Also, there's a new hotline for your best writing while the feds are butchering theirs.
Winston Churchill as a writer.
Among famous orators, Winston Churchill sits near the top in terms of quotable line volume. Maybe only Mark Twain has more. But you may not know that Churchill is equally notable as a writer. For starters, he won a Nobel prize in Literature, something Twain never did. Churchill won the award for a four-volume history of World War I, and later wrote a six-volume history of World War II. He also wrote all of his speeches, which are now the subject of a new exhibit. Read the story here
Working for Aaron Sorkin.
In an industry dominated by directors and producers, Aaron Sorkin is perhaps the one screenwriter that everybody knows. A show he writes for is an "Aaron Sorkin" show. But on his new show, "The Newsroom," struggling critically, he's now fired most of its writing staff. This is more news than an examination of writing, but it brings up a good question for all writers: Is it harder to work for someone who's been hugely successful at the craft? Read the story here
Call the First Graf hotline.
This is a new way to share your work, especially if you're a strong opener in your writing. Mediabistro's GalleyCat
blog is hosting a First Graf Friday podcast in which they're encouraging writers to call a hotline and read the first paragraph of their article or story, and maybe they'll play it on air. Kind of like pitching before the Internet. Read about it here
Antonin Scalia, grammar nerd.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia takes his grammar more seriously than most people, and maybe even more seriously than most grammar nerds. In this piece from The New Yorker
, we see Scalia's passion for grammatical perfection through an argument he had with his writing partner and recognized grammar expert Brian Garner (who contributes to the Chicago Manual of Style and authored Oxford's Modern American Usage) over whether contractions like can't are acceptable in legal writing. His passion makes sense, though. As Garner notes, “Word for word, lawyers are the most highly paid professional writers in the world." Read the story here
Feds failing at writing.
For the last year, a federal law has been in place requiring federal agencies to write well. So far, they're not. In the first report card from the Center for Plain Language, most agencies received between a C and an F. Only the Department of Agriculture received an A. This is a difficult one. Can you teach a bureaucrat to suddenly not write like a bureaucrat? And without a writing coach? Read all the grading here
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.