The Study Dude – On Writing Well

Study-Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to chuckle at your own cleverness.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude article examines William Zinsser’s iconic book On Writing Well. He teaches you how to make your stories person driven, how to make yourself your own best audience, and the value of making yourself happy when you write.

You’ve Got Style
Universities typically discourage anyone from using the personal pronouns “I” or “we” in essays. Yet It’s the personal pronoun that people often most enjoy seeing when reading your work. Stories beg for real people. Stories that rely on passive verbs with neither actor nor agency don’t excite, while stories about real people tend to delight.

When I left the math department for a communications degree, one of my first assignments involved writing an essay in a public speaking course. I eagerly drafted my masterpiece, pleased that I sounded so distant, so objective, so dry. The professor handed it back to me; and in a low tone, he said, “This reads like a technical document. You were in the math department, weren’t you?” I read his words as approval. Yet, he never gave me anything above an A-. Even when my writing engaged so much that he requested to read it out loud to the class, he still gave me an A-. I was tagged.

It’s important to put the person in writing, says William Zinsser. He advises on how first person writing and other tricks create a sense of style:
– Wherever you can, put the person in your writing, using “I”, “we”, “us”, and “me”. If your essay requires you to write in third person, try to at least think in first person terms when writing.
– Write about something interesting in words that you would normally use in a conversation.
– Stay away from using “one” to refer to a person.
– don’t start a sentence with “It is…”
– Try reducing an eight-page article to four. The process of cutting out words and paragraphs will make your writing tighter.
– Use strong action verbs
– Be yourself when writing.

You Are Your Best Audience
My brother has a dry wit. His humour is often cruel, ridiculing, and sometimes tear-jerking. Yet, he finds his own humour hysterical. And other people find him funny, too. He can imitate every character in Bugs Bunny to a tee. He can even move like a robot. He weaves his acting talent into his sarcasm.

Currently, he is writing a book, and he aims to make every page cause him (and others) to burst into laughter. Even though his humour doesn’t appeal to me, it appeals to him. It doesn’t matter what I think. According to Zinsser, my brother should write the book to make himself happy rather than to aim to appeal to some real or imagined audience.

Perhaps I don’t understand dry humour. While reading William Zinsser’s book, on one hand, I couldn’t see the point in most of his excerpts used to demonstrate humour. Nothing in the entire chapter on humour particularly made me laugh. My partner’s humour, on the other hand, has me bursting in fits of giggles all throughout the day. I like playful, innocent humour.

So, should my brother, or William Zinsser, or any of the great humorists try to write for me as an audience, someone who doesn’t agree with their senses of humour? Absolutely not. William Zinsser teaches us to write for ourselves without over-thinking our audiences.

– If something strikes you as funny, then write it up. Chances are at least one other person will find it equally funny.
– Make yourself happy before others with your writing.
– Let your personality shine through in your document. It doesn’t matter whether the reader likes you or not. The piece is for you first and foremost.
– don’t get too repetitive.

Force Yourself to Write
The best way to hone a writing skill is to get paid for everything you write. And in today’s market, with Amazon, The Voice Magazine, and Web media, the opportunities to write abound. If you have blogging experience, for example, you can find all kinds of companies eager to hire a blogger. Even if you don’t have experience, if you learn how to write a snappy pitch, you can find yourself staring down an invitation to write your first journalistic piece.

Yet, if you want to go professional with writing, you should force yourself to write daily. Produce at least one piece on a daily basis. Write a thousand plus words every time you awake in the morning. Even senseless journaling can hone a skill. Write anything, but I assure you, you will write more regularly if whatever you produce gets paid.

William Zinsser instructs you on how to write with regularity:

– Write a set number of words daily or weekly. Get into the routine of writing to a quota.
– The best way to learn how to write is through writing. Reading books on how to write only complements the learning process.
– don’t jump point-of-view from first person “I” to the nebulous “one.”
– Write enthusiastically. When your enthusiasm starts to wane, the reader will feel it.
– Leave the reader with one new idea. don’t try to force multiple new ideas on the readers as this can confuse the point.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Zinsser, William. 2006. On Writing Well. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

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