Writing is hard work, even when you work at it often as folks on or any newspaper can tell you.
Teaching writing is harder, because you have to instill both a love of words, and an understanding that using words is a craft, a craft of painting pictures in people’s minds with precision.
Watching students develop skills at description is one of the joys of teaching writing. They inspire you, especially when you’re dry yourself, and can’t seem to write.
Accordingly, if you wonder what an old journalism professor and columnist looks like, just ask my students.
I told them to describe me by completing three sentences. First was: “He paces around the room..." They wrote:
- like an anxious teenager waiting to see a famous rock star;
- as if he were a coach on the sidelines the last two minutes of the Super Bowl;
- like a conductor performing “the flight of the bumblebee”;
- like a caged, hungry tiger, who is alert, tense and ready to strike;
- like a rat trapped in a maze;
- like the mother of a teenager who has stayed out past curfew, and while waiting has heard sirens in the distance.
- as if he knew where he was walking but suddenly forgot.
Second sentence: "His voice sounds like": And they wrote:
- an echo in a seashell found on a sandy beach;
- like a southern backwoods preacher who slaps you awake shouting hell fire and brimstone;
- like thunder booming around the empty walls of the grand canyon;
- like the rhythm of an old time story teller perched on a rocking chair;
- like a strong billowing wind;
- like a drill sergeant barking out orders;
- like a baritone being played in a well;
- like a comedian’s impersonation of Richard Nixon’s voice;
- like a ticked off coach barking commands to his losing team;
- like a stern father who wants to pound every word into your memory;
- like he’s the President of the US making a great proclamation--he says everything as if it were the most important think you will ever hear.
- like a man who has swallowed gravel and is spitting it at you with the utmost precision.
Third comparison was: "If you come in late he looks at you as if": And they wrote:
- as if you were a bomb ready to explode;
- like a hawk ready to pounce on his frightened prey;
- as if you had just crawled out from under a rock;
- as if you were the only person in the room;
- as a father looks as his son finally gets the football and runs the wrong way;
- as if you had interrupted closing arguments on the sweetest deal of the century;
- as if you were a piece of eggplant, but he’s missed breakfast, so...;
- as though you are his bungling, court-appointed attorney;
- like your father would after you’ve smashed his car in your first automobile accident and get out alive;
- like you just came from a bath at the local sewer. He scrinches his nose and squints his eyes like a sniper ready to take out a target;
- as if you have been caught taking candy from a baby--the you-know-better look;
- as if his stare could turn a person to stone;
- his head hurts, his throat aches, and it’s your fault.
I’m Terry Clark, and I look like I’ve just swigged some cold coffee from my coffee cup.