Donald M. Murray, author of A Writer Teaches Writing (Heinle, 2003), died Saturday at 82. He was my journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire and my first and most important mentor.
Don inspired a generation of writers with his patience, compassion, and willingness to treat students not as subordinates but as partners in the struggle to write clearly, intelligently, and regularly. He gave his writing students a handout that said: Nulla dies sine linea. (“Never a day without a line.”) This was his creed: Writing is a process. Don sent me an extra copy of that handout long after I had graduated from college, started getting paid to write every day, and written two books (one dedicated to him). He didn’t want me to forget.
Years later Don provided more help after I began teaching journalism classes at major universities and serving as a mentor to students in the Writing for Publication program at Eugene Lang College at the New School in Manhattan. Much of that aid came from his books about how writers write. The most important is A Writer Teaches Writing (Heinle, 2003), which an Amazon reviewer has correctly described as “part manifesto, part how-to manual, part field guide).
One of the best books on teaching writing of the past several decades, A Writer Teachers Writing is full of practical tips for writing teachers. One of my favorites is Don’s suggestion that you pass out blank index cards to students after lectures to encourage them to ask questions they might be too shy to bring up. I do this often when I speak to college classes. And it always generates fascinating questions. These typically deal with topics such as discipline (“How do you find time to write every day?”) or the life of a writer (“What’s the best way too get a job on a magazine?”). Because Don had a wonderful sense of humor, I believe it would have amused him to know that not long ago, I also got the question: “Is that your real hair color?”
I learned of Don’s death this morning, and because it’s New Year’s Day, I thought of waiting until tomorrow to post this. Then I thought about that handout that says: “Never a day without a line.” It doesn’t say: “Except for New Year’s.”
Links: You can find an appreciation of Don Murray’s life at www.poynteronline.org, which includes a link to the Boston Globe obituary and and a space where people can leave comments about Don. You can find a quote from hbook A Writer Teaches Writing in my Jan. 29, 2007, post on One-Minute Book Reviews, archived in the “Quotes of the Day” category. The quote deals with a writer’s voice.
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.