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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

About writing and writers

For a person like me, writing a blog has meant changing my writing style.

    Let me explain.

    As an academic writing ‘scholarly’ books or journal articles, I had many thousands of words to play with. An article or book chapter, e.g., might be six thousand words or so. Each paragraph may be up to four hundred words, constructed in a particular style I won’t go into here.

    When I began this blog, this was the style I had used for forty years of professional writing. Very formal, with perfectly grammatical sentences, weaving together an argument or theme as precisely as possible.

    I would never have used an incomplete sentence such as that last one. I’d have hastened to correct such a fault in a student’s essay or thesis draft - and nor would I have used a contraction as I just did in this sentence. And I’d never have started a sentence with ‘And’!

    As the wonderful dragon lady producer warned me decades ago when I started writing radio scripts, a formal style’s not really going to work as a script. Nor will it work as far as style for this type of blog is concerned. Writing a blog, you have seconds only to capture and keep a reader’s attention. HELLO!!!! Are you still there???? (That’s cheating!)

    I started looking more carefully at the way that journalists craft an article for a newspaper or a blog entry. Thanks to Twitter, I have access to an unlimited supply of newspaper articles by very smart people who really know their craft - people like Greg Jericho and Lyndal Curtis, Annabel Crabb and Jonathon Holmes. Mark Colvin as well, when he’s writing and not talking on radio. I do an injustice to many others not mentioning them in the same breath...  errr... paragraph. (See the list at the end of this posting for a selection of others!)

    For me, the person whose style epitomises a fine blend of journalistic skill and powerful insight is Bob Denmore. Just keep an eye out for anything he writes and you’ll see what I mean.

    Things have changed dramatically since the 70s when newsmen (as the profession didn’t have all that many women in its ranks then) were to be found haunting the Journos’ Clubs in various capital cities, drinking vast amounts of alcohol and commiserating with each other about deadlines, editors, the competition and their personal lives.

    At least, that’s how it seemed to me at the time, on the rare occasions I went to such haunts with friends who were professional newsmen. I wasn’t a journo and never pretended to be, for it wasn’t my world, and to make the grade would have taken a lot of alcohol, effort and coaching. Hell, I don’t even know the lingo now - the idiom amongst journalists, and probably sound to them these days like I’m out of the ark – which isn’t far from the truth.

    Frankly, it never even occurred to me in my entire life that it was an occupation I might have taken up. Yes, that in itself is telling, even though it’s one of life’s ironies that the style of an investigative reporter is exactly the approach to collecting data I had to cultivate when doing my research in Bangladesh.

    Where the game has changed is that there are new opportunities for writers of all sorts to excel; none more potent than the blog. This is just a layperson talking, but serious journalistic blogs seem much freer of the restrictions that newspapers impose, while bringing to the reader the same knowledge, intelligence and experience of the correspondent. Writers of online media have just a few hundred words most of the time to get something very complicated across to people like me, and that demands the purest of clarity and economy.

    It didn't take long to appreciate what and how the best of them were doing. I’m not saying I do it myself – far from it. But what an art form a good piece of professional journalistic writing is, and how I enjoy it!

    No doubt I break most of the rules of good writing in these postings – many of which I don’t even know about because I’m not a journo and have never been confronted by the demands of an editor, except a journal editor or book publisher.

    There is a special group I wanted to mention - the many writers of blogs alone, or whose writings are most accessible through their blogs. Some are already established fiction and non-fiction authors. Their skill at their craft can be both wonderful and enviable, but if I mention one then I’ll need to mention a hundred. Maybe some other time!

    My writing is sloppy and often lazy and sometimes plain unattractive. I use turns of phrase for the sake of sheer whim and spontaneity that no self-respecting writer making a living out of their craft would use. And you know what?

    I don’t give a bugger as long as I enjoy writing it and you enjoy reading it!


What’s below is a list of people whose writings I enjoy for various reasons. This particular list favours the Australian political scene, as I was writing above about journalists and their styles for the most part, but not exclusively. Just by ‘Following’ these people on Twitter, you can enter the rich world of classy blogs and entertaining writing.

    Alternatively, if you aren’t a Twitter fan, try Googling these names or pseudonyms, and you’ll find plenty of rich pickings. Oh, the profiles are in their own words – they’re not my comments on these personalities! Their Twitter names are in bold face.

1petermartin Peter Martin economics correspondent

AgnessMack Agnes Mack long time political voyeur

alexandrawrote Alex. writer. editor. photographer. talking film, fashion, food allergies, french bulldogs, fonts - and that's just the letter F.

AmandaMcInnes Amanda McInnes Thirty something - English Teacher, Mother of 3, Wife of Mat, reader, observer of life...

annabelcrabb Annabel Crabb

aptronym aptronym Watches, food, books, minor news junkie, Flathead Valley Police Blotter, mental detritus and so on. Also at

AshGhebranious AshGhebranious I am human, hear me laugh

Colvinius Mark Colvin Presenter of PM, ABC Radio. Lifetime Lance-Corporal in the Awkward Squad.

DanielleCronin Danielle Cronin Senior Writer for The Canberra Times

deemadigan dee madigan ad chick, Gruen Transfer panelist, regular on The Perrett Report, political and social commentator, writer, creative director, mother of three, wife of one.

drng Ashley Ng Honorary Doctor, hopefully soon to become a proper Doctorate Doctor, though you'd probably want the former in a medical pinch, especially if blood related.

ElissaMilne Elissa Milne composer, speaker, writer, pianist, teacher

FionaSnyckers Fiona Snyckers Novelist, bumbling housewife.

franksting franksting Minor Irritant. Often just irksome. Still Considering Phlebas.

GrogsGamut Greg Jericho Blogger on politics, movies, books and sport. Am a public servant but these tweets are completely my own opinion, and have nothing to do with my work.

henriettacook Henrietta Cook journalist @ The Canberra Times who likes muddy music festivals, cryptic crosswords and artichokes. All views expressed here are my own.

Jane_Anne62 Jane-Anne Hobbs Journalist, editor, cook & latter-day food writer. Tweeter of morning news. Mother of 3, wife of 1, ardent atheist & smiter of flat-earthers.

jennyeather jenny eather New and old school communication solutions. Domestic cat trainer + deportment specialist.

JimBelshaw Jim Belshaw Economist and historian. I worked as a senior public servant before moving to the private sector as a manager, strategic consultant and free lance writer.

JoanneOlivier JoanneO Creative. Music Person. Photographer. Journalist.

jonaholmesMW Jonathan Holmes Host of ABC MediaWatch (Australia). 'Everyone Loves It Until They're On it'

julieposetti Julie Posetti Journalist and J-academic interested in people, politics and the future. Researching social media; public broadcasting; reporting race & culture; talk radio etc

karenjeynes Karen Jeynes playwright, mother, arts manager, occasional activist, grammar ninja, digital culture consultant, and surprisingly gadget and tech junkie

katedoak Kate Doak Writer/presenter for, and ~ Freelance radio/audio producer & sound engineer - All thoughts are my own.

KellyAnneSmith KellyAnneSmith after five years in UAE desert, adjusting to being allowed to drink in public. Comms strategist. Studying Masters in Communications at UTS.

Kimbo_Ramplin Kimberley Ramplin Malcolm Tucker's younger sister; politics, sport & travel junkie; BA (Comms), MA (Int'l Relations) & dux of my primary school. Pistolero for hire.

ljLoch LJLoch foodie, wine-ey, travel-obsessed syd based public affairs practitioner (with a past in journalism and politics shhh!)

louiseyaxley Louise Yaxley Political correspondent ABC radio Canberra

lyndalcurtis Lyndal Curtis Political Editor, ABC News24

MediaMook Neil Walker Media geek, info freako. All views expressed are mine alone. They couldn't be anyone else's.

mfarnsworth Malcolm Farnsworth and fortnightly at The Drum.

michellegrattan Michelle Grattan Political Editor, The Age

MirandaRyan Miranda Ryan Currently working in audience research at the ABC. (However they don't pay me to write this crap... In fact they'd probably rather I didn't.)

moiraeve1 Moira multimedia web content producer, public education advocate, mother, sailor 

MrDenmore Mr Denmore Ex-journalist, ex-broadcaster, ex-catholic, ex-hausted

mumbletwits Peter Brent Ozblogger, ANU Visiting Fellow, alleged psephologist, conviction politician.

PegsKatzencats Peggy Larson I build & repair PCs, garden, & live for the Cubs (God help me). Originally from NW of Chicago, rabid Democrat. Bobby Kennedy my hero. I have an arkful of cats.

phbarratt Paul Barratt Former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy

RedGera Jerry Frenkel Internal Communications Manager by day, mother of two by night (and weekends!) Turn ons include corporate comms and left of field humour.

Rory_Medcalf Rory Medcalf Foreign affairs and security analyst, Asia specialist, India watcher, ex-diplomat, journalist, intelligence analyst. Program director at Lowy Institute, Sydney.

sarix1 Sarah Dingle Australian journalist, looking inside and outside Australia. My own views and not those of my employer, RTs not necessarily endorsement

shazzshazshz Sheshtyn de Souza Writer, nerd, kitten, friend

shhartley Shani Hartley Teacher and HSIE Manager (Finance, Business & Culture); wannabe writer; follower of politics; I tweet as me, not representing my school.

syll_ble Syllable Blogger, writer, daydreamer, frugal shopaholic, obsessive worrier.

upulie Blue Lotus Mad Aunt of the Left, the Anti-Wilson Tuckey. Scientist, like Batman, apparently.Pipettes and politics. Tome

velvetblaq Queen Anne Rabid devourer of literature, music, politics and daydreams. Cynical dreamer. Neologist and supposed scoundrel. Opinions are, not unexpectedly, my own.

zmkc Zoe


  1. Thank you thank you thank you!!

  2. Denis, if you enjoy writing, just do it. Thanks for the plug. Regards

  3. You're a very generous soul, many thanks (and I haven't noticed sloppiness, laziness or general unattractiveness in your writing - and, heaven knows, I'm always on the look out)

  4. Wow! Such illustrious company. Thanks a million, Denis. Wish I had more followers to point in your direction.

  5. Like you, Denis, I have found blogging a wonderful release in terms of the yen to write, exploration of ideas and friendship. I fear, however, that I don't write to suit the blogging format. Because it's my writing and for me, I tend to mix styles in a quite inapropriate way!

  6. "Sheer whim and spontaneity" are the talents of a true writer such as yourself. Blogging is new territory for me, too. After years of print journalism, I'm embracing sentence fragments in all their glory!

  7. Thank you, Denis. I'm flattered to be mentioned in your list, and so enjoyed this thoughtful post. Also, I thank you for a list of interesting people to follow. In Twitterspeak, Tx. *impressed face* #worthreading

  8. Wow. Thanks. Amongst millions of frivolous twitter activities your account has always stood out to me as one with meaning. Impressed to even have received a mention.

  9. Sir, it's an honour to have been included on your list. Always enjoy your witty comments!

  10. Thank you Denis.

    You are very kind.

    Kind regards,


  11. Thanks for the inclusion in your lovely list Denis, it is an honour and encouragement! :) I like your style of writing, it's so easy and compelling to read and understand! Keep writing my friend x

  12. Thank you and all the best. Louise

  13. Thanks for the shout-out, Denis! :D

    You do much better with the blogging than I. When I started, there wasn't even a term for it. I was writing essays for my original site, whenever the whim struck me.

    However, because I considered them essays, I felt I needed to follow all the rules of style & grammar, which put a crimp in those impulses - trying to properly word, puncuate & flow was too much a bother.

    You understand the concept, which is write about what interests you, put it in a coherent form, & do it as the fancy strikes. Good show!

  14. It is great to get such warm and caring responses from so many people, most of whom I've never met in the flesh. There are individual ones I want to respond to, and I will later. Other bloggers know well how good it is to find responses; that someone is actually looking in from time to time.

    Right now if I don't start writing the piece from my childhood I have in mind the time will be dissipated in email, FaceBook, and Twitter articles. I AM coming back (and not out of a sense of obligation but because I want to!)

    Thank you all.

  15. Hi Denis,

    I blog and I am sure that sub-editors (and my uni professors) would balk at my sentence fragments and adverbs. The beauty of blogging is that we can use our writing as an expression of us, to create and shape our own voices.

    Thank you for such a wonderful blog.

    Laura xx

  16. I feel like a fraud, assuming the right to comment on the talents of all of you, but hey, it’s my blog, so who’s going to stop me telling it like I think it is about some great writers and 140-character repartee freaks!
    What I like best about Mr D(enmore) is that he tackles the journalistic castle (estate!) for all the right reasons. The profession is under sustained attack, from within and without, and someone needs to bite the heels of the guilty parties besides Jonathan Holmes (Media Watch). Let’s hope the analogy shouldn’t be ‘tilting at windmills’! As well, I think he’s old and crusty.
    It’s about honesty and integrity, and people like him and Peter Martin never sacrifice it for anything.
    If ZMKC hasn’t noticed sloppiness, that because she decided not to look too hard, so I think I know where the generosity lies! If you want style and classy writing, there’s your model.
    To AgnessMack, Alexandra, Joanne, KellyAnne, Sheshtyn, and Louise, it is always wonderful to see how modest the best writers usually are. I have to say, though, one or two can be modest almost to a fault!
    Jane-Anne – ah I love this woman’s wicked comments and collection of great articles and I have absolutely NO idea how she manages to get them together daily and stick a reference to them under our noses in Twitter.
    Jim Belshaw and I were on staff together at UNE 30? years ago and we haven’t met for at least 20, so it was a delight to meet again through Twitter and to find what a great blog he has been curating. Style’s an instinct with the historian’s skill and experience Jim has, and I think he’s got it right.
    Julie, I think your thank yous were for providing clues to where or who to start with on Twitter. I am sure you haven’t taken the plunge yet, but these are great people to start with. For a while, you can just read and watch and enjoy, and you don’t even have to tweet a beet! :)

  17. Dear Denis,

    I know I thanked you on Twitter personally at the time, but I wanted to put it "on the record" as it were. This is perhaps the best reward I've had all year - and it's already been a big year for me. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I started to write again with no expectation that it would continue, but unlike in my teenage years (yes more than 20 years ago now), I'm pretty confident that I'm getting somewhere and neither work nor "socialising" is going to get in the way. It's a long journey, and I'm some way away I feel sure from being worthy of the company you associate me with.

    So forgive me for my slackjawed prose, and wow, a veritable list to be among. I am beyond humble. Reward like this brings me back to the focus; to learn about writing and become better each time.

    Gavin (or franksting) coming out of the woodwork

  18. Gavin - your comment here is much appreciated. I've found so often in my (now past) academic career that modesty is the common element amongst writers and artists whose company I enjoy - which isn't to say that it's good if it inhibits talent, and it sometimes does. Several students of mine were so fearful and so unwilling to accept that they really had talent that the disbelief got in their way. The things that work best come straight from the heart, so don't feel too humble (just the right amount.)

    My illness forced me into a world I always had some confidence I could explore, but never quite got round to. No regrets for leaving it till now - the time may well be just right for me - and so it may be for you, but for other reasons. Just do it! Even a 'loss' is sometimes a gain. Experience has its own way of teaching us, even when it hurts. Very best to you!


  19. I'm not sure how I've only just found this and the timing could not have berm better. It's been a tough year healthwise for me Denis and i'm just getting back on top of things. This is a wonderful honour. Thank you


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