The problems with writing for a living
By Jessica Laffoon
July 2008, Angel Surdin’ s Creative Nonfiction class


"I can't make a career out of writing stories – that's so hard."

Eden Gaskill, 21, is an Ohio State University senior who wears her "buckeye" on her clothing nearly every day. Today it is on her black baseball cap: a large red embroidered "O" declares her academic and athletic affiliation. She is telling me about writing.

"I'm a senior this year," she informs me. "I'm a journalism major, but I don't like writing hard copy. They tell you to write without emotion, but I don't like writing without emotion."

As she speaks, she taps her pen against her notebook, as if she is poised to interview me instead of the other way around. She tells me in her quick, melodic speech that she loves reading; that reading led to writing; that, dissatisfied with journalism, she is considering a career in editing or publishing.

When I ask about the transition from writing to journalism to editing, she clarifies the situation for me. "Well, being a professional writer is so hard. But maybe publishing would be an 'in' to my writing. That's why I took this workshop – just seeing the writing process, reading all of our work, you know."

She smiles at me, still tapping her pen. "I love writing fiction – like, building your own world. It's somewhere you can go if you just want to escape for a few hours. Live your own fantasy. You know?"


Morning drinks and presidential musings in Accra
An unsigned story: The transcription of two sides of a notebook page handed to me by a Daily Graphic reporter after the first workshop I tried in March of 2008. I used the short Washington Post stories and conversation about technique as a model to help people write quick pieces and experiment with the idea of writing nonfiction journalism using fiction-like storytelling techniques of detail, action, suspense and the narrative arc.

As early as 10 a.m. at The Point, a popular eating joint near the office of the Graphic Community Group Ltd., about 10 boys are already out drinking.

To most of them, whether the controversial presidential jet is purchased or not, that cannot lift them from their hopeless situation.

“All governments are the same. Whether the National Democratic Congress (NDC) or the New Patriotic Party (NPP), politicians are out there to amass wealth to the detriment of the deprived,” Kofi Yeboah lamented.

“Why waste your time to vote for people who have no fellow feeling? Yaw Nkemah, 25, said as he banged his hand on the table. “How can the government think of acquiring a jet for the comfort of the president while most Ghanaians are finding it difficult to have basic necessities of life?”

And so, they kept on drinking and smoking while they talk on top of their voices.

But to Abraham Yamoah, 24, a senior secondary school drop out, despite the difficulties the country is going through, there is the need for the presidency to be accorded with the dignity it deserves.

He argued, “How can the otherwise poorer nations within the sub-region acquire presidential jets while Ghana, a relatively better country, drags its feet on the purchase of a jet for its president?”

With that divergent view, the others burst into laughter and no more showed interest in the topic under discussion and continued with their early-morning drinking spree.


Summer Lovin’
By Liz McClurg
The Ohio State University
July 2008

The story of a twosome found sitting in the shade on the grassy campus “Oval” one July afternoon.

“He was being obnoxious!” Natalie Leber says with a smile as she glances over at her boyfriend of six months, J.P. Wood. The couple was soaking up the warm summer atmosphere on the Oval when I approached them and asked them to share their How-We-Met story.

The couple met last year when they were both freshman residents of Steeb Hall. Last November Natalie and her roommates decked out their room with yuletide decorations and had unwittingly caught J.P.’s eye.

“The decorations were like this high,” J.P. indicates up to his forehead with his left hand. “And I kept hitting my head on them every time I walked into their room. So I cut a me-shaped triangle out of them so I could get through.”

Even though they lived on the same floor, they never really talked before that. “She was like a hermit,” J.P. says. “I never saw her.”

“We went to a party that night and talked,” Natalie says. “It was after the Michigan game. And then we talked over break.”

“She texted me like 20 times a day,” J.P. says. “I went over my limit for like the first time. My Dad got pissed.”

“It was not 20 times a day!”

“Well, I had to upgrade my plan,” J.P insists.

“He wanted to go out but I just got out of a relationship and didn’t want another one. And then, finally I decided one weekend when I was with my friends “Ok. Let’s do this.”

“I thought you said it was because you missed me?” J.P. narrows his eyes in a look of mock hurt.

Natalie ignores J.P.’s teatrics and readies herself for the next question. When asked what they like about each other Natalie assists J.P with his answers.

“Because I’m fun.”

“My old girlfriend was boring. She never wanted to do anything.”

“I’m super cute,” Natalie added and got a kiss on the cheek from J.P.

“My last boyfriend did stupid stuff. Like chew with his mouth open. He doesn’t,” she says pointing her thumb at J.P. “He’s got ambition and he’s fun I guess.”

“Don’t say that! You like other things about me,” J.P. rolls his eyes and gives a long-suffering sigh. “We’re not doing very well.”

But after 10 minutes sitting in the shade with them, I thought this couple was doing quite well indeed.