Message - Re: calling Mr. Malo..

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Posted by  Paul Malo on March 02, 2002 at 16:57:49:

In Reply to:  Re: calling Mr. Malo.. posted by Simple Simon on March 02, 2002 at 12:17:01:

The usual advice: the way to become a writer is to write. If you're interested in architecture, that's a an advantage. Some people are merely interested in becoming a writer (which is not the same thing as wanting to write, is it?)--and many who would be authors don't find anything that interests to them to write about. If you are really passionate about architecture, you have a great head start.

The second obvious advice: read. A person who had never seen a building would have a hard time becoming an architect, and obviously a person who has not read much will be less likely to write effectively.

I don't know much about writing courses, as I have never taken or given one. I suspect the most useful function of writing programs at universities or elsewhere is not to teach writing, but to motivate writers and to provide deadlines to force committing something to paper. Writing courses and writers' clubs serve to overcome timidity about public exposure and fear of being criticized. It's similar to public speaking: like most people, I used to be terrified of addressing audiences; after doing it for a while, it became a job like any other--often (when there was a receptive audience) even an enjoyable occupation.

You'll learn much from editors, who are the real professional critics, and many a good editor has trained good writers. B.J. Novitski (Ms.), who is Editor of this AW journal, is an experienced and effective editor. The clear and concise text of the articles here derives from her judicious cutting and reshaping.

Persuading a busy editor to read your stuff is the first hurdle, so you want to find an intriguing topic. Another common recommendation to prospective authors: write about what you know. Find a niche, or a "target market," as they say in marketing. Better to address a small group of people who are keenly interested in some specialized topic than to try to write for everyone about something that everyone is supposed to want. That's generally been written already, which is why it seems such an obvious topic.

Another oft-heard recommendation to authors: write about the particular, rather than offering vague generalizations. There is no reason for readers to interested in your opinions. They need to be interested in particular topics that you present. Most people don't care for abstractions, but prefer the "for instances" of specific things, places, and (above all) people. People are more interested in other people than in buildings, which is why we see much architectural journalism oriented to particular architects rather than addressing buildings themselves.

Architects today--especially the large firms--often engage public relations consultants who prepare press releases, trying to keep the architect's name in the public consciousness. A smaller firm or an individual architect who is too busy to submit material for publication might welcome a writer's interest it his or her current work, and so cooperate in providing material to a writer. Most people, even when busy, are flattered by personal attention and interest in what they are doing.

Finding a market for writing is a common problem. Because all it requires to write is a pen or word-processing program, there are many people who write, overwhelming editors with material that they can't find time to read. This is another reason for finding a niche market, writing about something specialized for a special publication. It's useful to know the preferences of a particular journal or publisher, but it can be counterproductive, since imitating a previous article may get the predictable response, "We did one like that recently, so don't need another now."

Many, probably most, periodicals like something timely, even newsworthy. A good place to start is with "what you know," your own community, writing about some issue involving buildings. Preservation of a structure threatened by demolition can be a timely question, or discussion of controversial current issues for the community, such as "suburban sprawl," which is a hot topic in many parts of the US today. Again, local editors will prefer the local slant--what's happening in YOUR community, rather than rewarming of the general arguments already familiar to many people.

This is bring us to "journalism" as a subject, as constrasted with "writing" of the sort generally identified with "creative writing" courses. We have at our university a very large "communications" school that involves not merely written journalism but all sorts of media communication. But after one becomes sufficiently aware of architecture, a student rarely persues another program in journalism, intending to become an architectural writer.

A few schools offer a course in architectural criticism, which is really what we are talking about--but beware, some of these courses may be really about current trends in theory, which can become rather remote from what readers want to read. Most architectural critics who have become known as regular contributors to periodicals have not been architects, but have been journalists who happened to be writing about buildings rather than sports or some other topic.

Read the articles in this and other architectural journals--and also more popular magazines that feature houses and even travel. Analyze what they say and how it is presented, then think of a similar topic and start writing. It's the only way to become a writer.

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