Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hanks Gives 10 Points of Good Writing Skills

When you’ve said what you want to say – stop!” explained Jerry Hanks as he conveyed to FCCW members the last of 10 tips for writing well. He and his wife, Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks, did just that on November 5 as they shared practical advice and endearing anecdotes to help writers improve their skills. With an astounding 80 years of professional writing and editing experience between them, Jerry and Bobbi know what it takes to write well.

Jerry, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, is a writer, editor and public relations specialist with extensive newspaper experience. He is co-founder of the local PR and writing firm, Hanks-Livingston, Inc.
Bobbi, who spent 25 years as a professional musician, has served as editor of number of trade publications in addition to serving as news bureau manager at what was formerly Florida Community College at Jacksonville.

Together they co-authored the book, Tears of Joy, which tells the story of their life together as a cancer survivor (Bobbi) and a cancer caregiver (Jerry).
In a similar “tag team” approach, the couple collaborated to impart valuable wisdom to both seasoned and emerging writers in the group. Some of the tips included:

“Know your readers. Know who your writing is intended to reach.” Bobbi explained this fundamental principle to the group while Jerry encouraged them to get a mental picture of their audience so as to write in a way that is personal and appealing.

“Know what you’re writing about and what you want to say.” Sharing a story from his college years, Jerry illustrated how important it is to know your subject matter and not to overlook obvious details and basic questions. In the example, the class was given a writing prompt regarding a church steeple collapse. Every student, while thoroughly covering the details of the accident, neglected to mention the height of the steeple!

“Write it the way you would say it.” Bobbi discussed how she translates complicated medical terminology into everyday language as editor of a trade publication for the Intercultural Cancer Council at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She admonished the group to make their writing interesting and real.

“If you’re having trouble getting started, try starting with a question.” A useful pointer, Jerry described how he gets a piece moving when the words won’t come. Asking “What does the typical reader want to know?” is a great way to get the ink flowing.

“Edit. Edit. Edit.” This advice is taken for granted by writers with potentially embarrassing results. Bobbi strongly encouraged writers to hire a professional editor to catch mistakes before they are in print. The value to the reputation of the writer and the quality of the piece far exceed the cost.

By the end of the presentation, each writer departed with easy-to-apply principles to elevate their craft and memorable stories to warm their hearts.

By Tina Givens, FCCW member

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