I recently finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I enjoyed it because it reminded me why I blog. Some people craft, not because the world needs another afghan or cross-stitch sampler, but because it’s rewarding to make something yourself and do it well. I’m not much for making things with my hands, but I like to turn a phrase. And doing so well is a challenge–a fun challenge. Too many things in life are challenging but not fun, or fun but not challenging. Writing well is both.
The book is full of writing wisdom, a lot of which I’ve heard before in legal writing class–be brief, use short words and sentences, choose strong verbs and nouns over adjectives and adverbs, don’t lose your reader’s attention. Write about what interests you. (Okay, that last part wasn’t in legal writing class.) A challenge is doing this while developing a distinctive voice. (I should add that Zinsser takes what could be a dry manual and makes it a book that is fun to read on its own. The chapters on sports writing and science reporting, however, I skipped.)
Blogging is a low-risk, relatively high-reward way to practice writing well. For me, it’s fun to look at a paragraph and think, “How many sentences could I chop here?” or to look at a phrase and think, “how could I replace all these words with a single word?” Until it gets to be midnight, then I stop and hit publish. And 99.999% of the population will never read it; the rest (Hi Mom!) don’t care that it’s not perfect.
Zinsser, in a book written before blogging existed, is harsh on blogging. He says to stay warm and personal while avoiding chattiness and clichés. I wonder how the chattiness prohibition applies to blogging Grace‘s blog, for example, epitomizes chattiness, but she’s a great writer in her own distinctive way. Meanwhile, a lot of blogs or articles that use the same style fall flat. I think the distinction is that Grace writes exactly the way she talks (so I’ve been told on good authority), whereas others (myself included!) sometimes try too hard.
So, lots of food for thought here. At another stage of my life, I might have gotten discouraged by this book. At this stage, I find it a fun challenge.
(I’m linking up with Jessica for her monthly What We’re Reading link-up. I’m a week late but here I am!)