effective writing

Recently, I have gotten three different, good chunks of writerly advice, and I’m going to attempt stringing them together on a common thread.

A while ago, I emailed Kate of Eat the Damn Cake for some wisdom from a real-life, freelance-writing, blogger-type. She was wonderfully friendly, and gave me excellent guidance, including this, paraphrasedly: “Your blog needs to be about something, and, at first at least, that thing cannot be you, because people will not want to read about you.”

Good advice–so good, in fact, that I couldn’t make myself follow it. I like writing about myself! I can’t help it. I’m 22 and the tiniest bit narcissistic and I love to riff on the absurdities I experience firsthand in my day-to-day life (because there are so many?). But though I say that this is a blog about living while writing and vice versa, and it is, I guess, that can really mean anything in practice.

Now, please read this article on Boing Boing. The advice is all so, so good: timely, relevant, practical. Especially this:

You’re only as interesting as the things you do, find or say. Even if you’re a fantastically gifted writer, if you make your work solely about you, you won’t just bore your readers: you’ll eventually get bored of yourself and give up.

It’s true! You, me, the creative types and writers especially, need to do. Make. Not just describe or transcribe or subscribe, not only render and wrangle but literally create some things that we can write about. Do you forget, like I do, that the word creative doesn’t just mean eccentric or caffeine-addicted or good at painting but describes something transitive, the action that comes from create?

Well. The last surprise of the week was when I got an email letting me know I was one of 30 kids nominated to speak at commencement. I was floored. And thrilled. And terrified. And definitely in need of advice. I could write about so many things! Be funny? Tell a story? Talk about the future? I found some guidance, no-nonsense and useful, from a speaker last year, and it’s totally shifted the paradigm in how I look at writing.

“Do not start by saying my speech is about,” she told me. “Your speech can be about anything. What do you want your speech to do?”

Pow. Writing that does things. I had never thought of it that way. But so much of my writing, of anyone’s writing, is supposed to do: my newspaper reviews tell you if concerts sucked or not, my BA paper convinces you that the medieval author of the Roman d’Enéas was trying to educate his audience in courtly love, my culture articles show you why the things we like to read or see or listen to matter, even the shitty ones. This is the ultimate goal of nonfiction writing, isn’t it? Acting on the reader.

Ergo, this blog needs a job (kind of like its author! ha ha ha). So: I want this writing to inspire you to make things. I want to make you care about the details and dig into the nitty-gritty and grind it yourself, pickle your ownget the hell outta Dodge. And then write about it. Send postcards. Get all those wonderful verbs into the first-person past tense and then keep on keepin’ on. I’ll lead by example, fingers crossed, and I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

And the subject of my putative speech? I don’t know yet. Little ideas are knocking around my brain like rocks in a tumbler. But I hope it makes you think. I hope it makes you grateful. I hope I spit out a gem.

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