Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Writing

Today's post was inspired by this publication.

In my work with New Voices and the interns and fellows in our office, I often find myself repeating the same advice: add a story, make it personal. Most of the people I'm working with are trained scientists, and they claim that learning how to inject themselves in their writing is incredibly difficult. A quote I found while reading this week, explains the situation:
"[Scientists'] language is intended to convey a special meaning: the relationship between the problem expressed, and the results at hand, not a plot or storyline." (chapter 5)
When I received my first training in writing, I was told that my personality should only be expressed in the nature of my writing, not in the words themselves. That meant no first-person narrative style, personal anecdotes, opinion statements, or un-researched claims. If it was a valid claim (I can hear my teacher saying this in my head), someone else will have opined it or you'll be able to quote a source of some kind.

My academic writing never veered far from that philosophy. Outside academia, however, I found it confining; with all due respect to my writing instructors, I cannot agree with that theory. To think that if it was a good idea, than someone else will have had it first, is to believe that there is no new knowledge or perspective to be had in the world. Moreover, it is hard to be persuasive without passion, and passion is personal.

Not all personality is professional and there will still be some venues (say, when submitting to an academic journal) that academic-style writing is appropriate. But when trying to communicate with the public or policymakers, the personal story makes the difference.

I found my ability to integrate "story" during my last semester of graduate school. My speech writing professor insisted on the same reliable/credible sourcing as instructors of the past, but also on the integration of an arc, or a flow to the writing that compelled people to continue on.

Non-fiction can be entertaining as well as informative. All we need is a little science, a little passion, and a little practice.

Just (a little) food for thought.

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