The book that we just started reading in my Digital Communications class is very different from Brian Carroll’s Writing for Digital Media or from any of articles that we have read so far. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser focuses on the literary side of writing (although in the first chapter we were assigned, Zinssner explains in detail why “literary” should no longer be used to describe writing). He uses his own accounts as a writer to explain how to best captivate your audience, explain your work, and write about what will not only interest you but what will interest your reader as well.
Zinsser first addresses the fact that some people have a hard time accepting nonfiction writing as literature in chapter 11 of his book. He recounts a time when he was on a radio show and had to deal with the host who assumed that everyone wanted to write fiction and that everyone who wrote wanted to be famous for it. However, I think it would be difficult to find too many authors whose sole ambitions in life were to become famous for what they wrote. Zinsser connects the idea of writing nonfiction to the idea of writing about what comes most naturally to you: you.
While some people take it a bit too far and come off as conceded, talking about yourself is one of the easiest things to do purely because you know so much about yourself. For this reason, for many people writing about themselves comes much easier than writing about other subjects. In chapter 14, Zinsser discusses the idea of writing to please other people. Starting as early as 9th grade, I can remember asking my friends if they knew what my teachers “liked” when it came to our papers. I still do it today when I have papers or project due to my professors. The idea of pleasing your audience, especially when they are going to evaluate you, has limited writers for years. Permission to write about what you want to write about has always been ours according to Zinsser. That is why he encourages people to write about themselves, to write a memoir. It comes most naturally to the majority of us and can often be an experience, to go back and remember events throughout your life.
He does not forget to mention though that it is extremely important to pick the correct voice when writing a memoir, or and book for that matter. Zinsser explains that the voice an author takes in his or her writing defines the experience of the reader. Some authors have a voice that is singular to themselves and becomes their sort of trade mark. Other authors change their voice depending on the subject which they are writing about.
Regardless of the case, the voice of the author in his or her writing creates a feeling within the reader that sets the tone for the entire writing. It creates a relationship between the material and the reader that can be positive, negative, indifferent, or any sort of feeling imaginable. Although we have barely scratched the surface of On Writing Well, I look forward to reading more about what William Zinsser has to say concerning how writing is evolving as well as how, as the title says, to write well.