Writing is all around us. We cannot avoid it and it cannot avoid us. Media convergence, due to the Internet, has allowed for writing content to be accessible to us 24/7. Therefore, it is no surprise that people and writing have an inescapable symbiotic relationship. Both feed off of one another and allow for the sharing of real-life stories. People enjoy factual storytelling and feeling connected with others through those stories; that is exactly what writing is for. Writing shares the stories of those around us.
In Part 3 of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, he discusses the shift in popularity from literature to nonfiction writing and how journalism is now the preferred source of information. The 19th century definition of literature consists of novels, short stories, and poems but today, successful writers typically write and sell nonfiction; that is what readers and publishers are demanding. Zinsser states of the shift from literature to nonfiction, “People who saw reality every evening in their living room lost patience with the slower rhythms and glancing allusions of the novelist” (Zinsser 97). Nonfiction transformed into the New American literature.
Why is nonfiction writing so appealing? First, there is a lot one can do with it. However, the major appeal is that nonfiction writers can typically write about whatever they desire, know best or what they can observe or learn about. As Zinsser confirms, there is no doubt that “motivation is at the heart of writing” (99) and having the freedom to write about content that is interesting and accessible is a huge incentive for writers.
I particularly enjoyed Zinsser’s chapters on writing about people, places, and the self. Those are three popular grounds for which content is often written on in nonfiction writing. When writing about people, Zinsser advises it is best to go to the source for the information and interview the subjects. Ask interesting, thought-provoking questions that elicit responses. Getting people to offer insight or to talk about their experiences gives life to a piece of writing; it shows that persons true thoughts and emotions. My Digital Communications professor, Emily Price, at Furman University does a great job of setting up the scene of this particular piece with descriptors and telling the story with direct quotes from her interviewee. Zinsser finishes, “When you get people talking, handle what they say as you would a valuable gift” (115).
When we write about places, it is best to establish our travels and musings are different from those of the rest. Travel, whether five miles away or across the world, has the potential to be very interesting, yet it can also be very boring, monotonous for readers too. It is best to not give readers a play-by-play of everything you did and saw and to call it “beautiful,” “quaint,” and or “romantic.” These words are cliché and as Zinsser teaches, clichés are the death of good writing. We’ve all been there and done that so don’t worry. Rather, write about how your travels made you have a realization about your own life or share the story of an interesting person you met along the way. It is encouraged to give the who, what, where, when, why, and how but don’t address the 5 W’s in more than a couple of sentences. When it comes to travel writing and writing in general, separating yourself from the rest is key to holding the interest of your audience.
People fear writing and talking about themselves but when you think about it, it is easier than most of us think. We often feel uncomfortable writing about ourselves but this is something we ought to move past. We know ourselves better than we do any other person and putting the thoughts stirring in our minds into words has the capability of being very powerful. We can reveal vulnerable, surprising aspects about ourselves that allow for human connection with our readers. Furthermore, memoirs go deep and offer a true glimpse into someone’s life; whereas, an autobiography is a distant summary of one’s life. Touch people with personal experiences of drama, grief, humor, and the unexpectedness of life. Your readers will respond well because they have either experienced it themselves or can learn from it. Writers should not worry about having too big of an ego when writing about themselves; a little ego is healthy and allows for good writing. Zinsser encourages, “Write about yourself, by all means, with confidence and with pleasure. But see that all the details—people, places, events, anecdotes, ideas, emotions—are moving your story steadily along” (134). Give the gift of writing to yourself and enjoy doing it; you will be able to reflect and better appreciate the happenings in your life that writing allows you to reminisce on. Additionally, The Atlantic wrote an article on the power of writing about yourself; there are physical and emotional benefits of doing so.
In reading Zinsser’s guide to writing well in its entirety, I have been able to question what my own writing style is. I would say I am more of a formal writer. However, my blog has forced me to write in a more casual, conversational tone, which I’ve really enjoyed doing. Also, I tend to have a lot to say about the message I am presenting. I typically use a plethora of descriptors to help better explain my ideas; that is the way I learn and retain information best so I do so in my own writing. My writing strengths include my ability to summarize, analyze, and describe in great depth. However, this also connects to my writing weakness; I struggle with being concise and simple in my language choice. Through my journey blogging thus far, I have learned that blogging is no easy task. You have to decide on what you want to talk about, what is most important, and how you will best portray your main points. If I were to become a full-time professional blogger, I would focus my writing on the musings and adventures of daily life. I would incorporate my interest in the fashion and beauty market into my blog as well. Furthermore, reflecting on each day through blogging allows would allow for me to recognize the highlights and little pleasures in life.