William Zinsser describes how important it is to have a sense of humor when writing in chapter 19 of “On Writing Well.” I find it extremely difficult to convey humor in my writing where as in conversation, it is much more natural. I’m pretty sure that the reason for this is explained by Zinsser in this chapter as well as in chapter 16, where he discusses what I’m going to refer to as “institutionalized writing.” In school, we are taught to write with purpose, for a reason. I honestly don’t think I can tell you the last time I attempted to write a creative story and fictional piece. This is due, mainly, to the fact that I was always writing papers, summaries, essays, etc. Institutionalized writing is the writing of young adults today. It is dry, lacks personality and originality, and gives information in a very roundabout way. We were taught to use superfluous words that evoked extraordinarily marvelous emotions. We were taught to write for a professor to teacher, so that they liked what we had to say even if we didn’t.
Humor has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It makes you feel better when you’re sad and can bring ease to a tense situation. My father is one of the funniest people I know, but not in the most common way. There hasn’t been a day in my life where my father hasn’t used sarcasm. While some people can find it hurtful or offensive, sarcasm is the way my dad and I communicate. One night at the dinner table when I was nine or ten, I asked my dad if he had written any letters that day. Because he is a lawyer, I knew that my dad wrote a lot of what I then called letters but now know has briefs. When he told me that yes, he did in fact write many letters on that particular day, I realized that this was my opportunity. “Which ones?” I asked. I wish I had a picture of my dad’s face when I said that. It was like all his hard work as a sarcastic and witty parent had finally paid off and I was beginning to show that the apple really didn’t fall too far from the tree.
So if sarcasm comes so easily to me in everyday conversations, why is it so difficult for me to convey in my writing? Again, I return to the idea of institutionalized writing. I have a hard enough time just trying to define my voice and style, as I attempted to do in my last post, so how am I supposed to put humor on paper?
I think the real answer for this is that I just have to keep writing. Like the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Hopefully, as I continue to get more and more comfortable with this new medium, format, and style of writing, my sarcasm and humor will work their way in here.