The cover for the most recent edition of The Atlantic asks provocatively, “Is Google making us Stoopid?” In his article within, Nicholas Carr laments that his Internet addiction has shortened his attention span, scattered his focus, made his thinking shallower, and left him less capable of slogging through War and Peace.
Hmm. Sounds like he’s come down to my level.
“The narrative is the first story, the primal story, from which all others come. It is your story.” These thoughts by writer John Rouse speak clearly to the importance of narrative writing. I share them because I, too, feel that narrative writing is a valuable or, dare I say, the most important element in an effective writing program.
I know the common refrain from teachers: I can’t worry about narrative writing; that’s just storytelling. I have enough trouble covering the academic forms (expository, persuasive, responses to literature, etc.) students will be tested on. Well, I don’t buy this feeling.
Narrative writing offers too much to be treated like a stray dog. The primary purpose in anyone’s life is to make sense of experiences as they come to him or her: What was that conversation all about? Should I try out for the track team? Would I like to be a nurse? And what better way for someone to explore these experiences than to write about them? The linear nature of writing—recording one word after another—prompts reflecting and forming new understandings.
Richard Nordquist’s June 16, 2008, blog entry, “Ten Pros on Prose,” lists 10 accomplished writers (including the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and E.B. White) who have written about their craft. Hyperlinks direct readers to additional blogs that “nutshell” each writer’s thoughts on writing.
In the first of these blogs, which focuses on Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg, Nordquist addresses the point of achieving greatness as a writer. According to Nordquist, Ginzburg never thought about becoming a great writer (as in iconic), but she did want to be thought of as a “great small writer,” someone who simply works very hard at her craft and who “above all, wants to be understood.” That’s a sound philosophy for all writers—in the workplace, in school, or at home.
An intriguing, as well as amusing, part of this blog entry for me is the opening quotation by author Frank Harris: “I am, really, a great writer, my only difficulty is in finding great readers.” Of course, Harris had his tongue squarely planted against his cheek when he made this comment. Yet, from my experience as a nonfiction writer, I can’t help but find a fundamental truth (with a lowercase t) embedded in his words. And it is as follows: “Good writers know the importance of connecting with their readers.” To make this vital connection, all writers, including you, should follow these tips:
Start from a Position of Strength: As Kurt Vonnegut states, “You’ve got to be a good date for the reader,” meaning you have to work at your writing if you want to make a good impression. The process starts, according to Vonnegut, with “finding a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.” Doing otherwise makes about as much sense as taking up golf when, in your heart of hearts, you really want to play tennis.
Work from a Position of Authority: Learn as much as you can about your subject before attempting to write about it. While doing your research, you’ll naturally ask yourself “What do my readers want or need to know?” Let this question serve as your researching guide. Also keep writer Donald Murray’s insight in mind, “Readers hunger for specific information,” including facts, brief quotations, anecdotes, examples, and so on.
Write from a Position of Confidence: Someone once offered this simple, but insightful, observation: “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” If you have done the necessary research and reporting, then you will, indeed, “have something to say.” How you actually share this information depends on the intended reader and the purpose of your writing. Just know that the best writing is engaging and informative, enjoyable to read and enlightening. “Good writing,” writer William Zinsser states, “has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next.”
Revise from a Position of Commitment: No writer gets everything right the first time, or even the second or third times. Keep that point in mind when you review your writing. If you feel strongly about your subject and your readers, you will want to change any parts that still need work.
“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”
Edit from a Position of Pride: And lastly, make sure to check your writing for accuracy before you go public with it. Clean, accurate copy indicates that you care about your readers, and want to make their reading experience an enjoyable one.