Let's welcome the new year with a cheerful note from William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Zinsser's weekly columns for the American Scholar website have recently been collected in The Writer Who Stayed.
You should paint like a man coming over the top of the hill singing.
(American painter Robert Henri)
Amen. That's also how you should write, sing, dance, draw, sculpt, act, play an instrument, take a photograph, design a building, live a life. I often think I'm the only teacher who talks about enjoyment as a crucial ingredient in writing. My students seem puzzled that I keep coming back to the subject, that I find so much amusement in what I see and hear and read every day. Life is serious! Writing is serious! Most writers take the act of writing with grim solemnity, fearful that they won't be worthy of the gods of literature scowling down from Mount Parnassus. Or is it that they take themselves so seriously?
When I write I make a conscious effort to generate a sense of enjoyment--to convey to my readers that I found the events I'm describing more than ordinarily interesting, or unusual, or amusing, or emotional, or bizarre. Otherwise why bother to describe them? I also try to convey the idea that I was feeling great when I did my writing--which I almost never was; writing well is hard work. But readers have a right to believe that you were having a good time taking them on your chosen voyage.
So, please, lighten up, even when the story you're telling is a dark one. The family that you remember as impossibly dysfunctional also had a lot funny stuff going on. Humor will get you out of some of life's most painful corners, as Frank McCourt proved in Angela's Ashes.
(William Zinsser, "A Joyful Noise." The Writer Who Stayed. Paul Dry Books, 2012)
More About the Joys of Writing:
- Twelve Wonderful Things About Writing
- John Updike on the Pleasures of Writing
- The Power and Pleasure of Metaphor
Image: The Writer Who Stayed by William Zinsser. Paul Dry Books, 2012)