Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough say in the different areas of your life? Maybe you want to contribute something to a group or organization you are a part of, but you are afraid to say anything because you don’t know if it’s what people are looking for? News flash: you can’t do that in your writing. You don’t have time to hold back from making contributions and decisions because you are on a deadline to make your writing interesting. Your writing is in need of firm decisions in order to make it visually appealing to your audience. Zinsser makes it clear that you have all the power you need to be entertaining and interesting, but it is up to you to make the right decisions and use that power.
One of the ways you can make good decisions to amp up your piece, according to Zinsser, is to have a great lead and ending. He claims that the “most important sentence in any article is the first one.” Why do we think that is? I think what he is trying to say throughout this chapter is that you have to keep building upon that one sentence throughout your article, paper, etc. Therefore, it is crucial that you make that first sentence amazing, so the rest of your sentences and paragraphs have high standards and hold the potential to be great as well. Although there is not one specific way to write a lead, make it one that reflects your writing style and one that pulls readers in. At the other end of your work, make sure your ending is just as good as the lead. As the writer, your job is to make sure you end your piece at the right time. No one wants to read something that goes on forever or ends too abruptly, so make your ending the perfect one, complete with a slight surprise that seems exactly right. Ultimately, you are bringing the story full circle, so your decision on how you begin and end your story is very important.
Another decision you will have to make is how much and (even) if you want to use humor. Humor is a strange method to add to your writing voice, but it actually appears in many different styles of writing to bring attention to a number of subjects and topics that may not be triggered if opened with a serious tone. I am sure all of you have noticed humor in many pieces before, whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine article, or online, and I think we can all agree that it certainly has the ability to spice up one’s writing in more ways than one. It clearly engages the audience, along with gives it a voice–humor adds to your own personal writing voice, so if you want to add on to that voice of yours, here is a way to do it! However, before you can add humor to your writing resume, take a step back and make sure you have these attributes:
- You must master the craft of “good English” first. How can you be humorous if your basic English skills are poor?
- Don’t search for outlandish and scornful words. Just be yourself!
- Don’t strain for laughs. It will only make you look like you’re trying too hard.
If you haven’t already picked up on these tips, then you have some work to do before you get started on using humor in your writing. One more thing to remember is that not everyone has the same sense of humor and no two people will think the same thing is funny. You could think that something you write is hilarious, when to another person, it could appear as immature and unintelligent. So be careful! Your use of humor is entirely your decision and of course, maintains a certain persona. So indirectly, your humor selection determines your readers’ experience with your writing.
Zinsser’s message that all decisions matter in writing changes the way I have previously thought about writing until now. I never looked at writing as a million little decisions that form into one (hopefully) successful piece of writing. Now, I see that I was so very wrong. Because writing is linear, each decision we make determines the next step in our writing and how our readers will perceive it, which is why our decisions need to be clear and well thought-out. The part of Zinsser’s chapter on “A Writer’s Decisions” that stood out most to me was that you need to put only the most important pieces in your writing because you can’t put everything in your work–unfortunately. So carefully choose those words and sentences, uses of humor, and focus on making that lead and ending perfect, because it will ultimately decide your writing style and how others view it. In the words of Zinsser,
“Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.”