Every successful writer has a specific style, however reticent or inarticulate that particular writer may be in being able to describe his or her own style. It can be argued that style is what makes good writing. In an our egalitarian age where too many writers and readers insist that it is story that is king and that all other elements of literature must subordinate themselves to the tyranny of the tale, it is the style of the great writers from the past—from Plato to Pynchon, from Austen through Woolf, from Dante and Shakespeare through Hemingway and Nabokov—that makes their otherwise often time-bound stories worth reading generation after generation.
There are no wormhole or hyperdrive shortcuts in learning how to write well. Many writers are early morning people, but some of us prefer to begin later in the morning and to work deep into the night. A quest suggests a journey, but there certainly are quests that are not so much about travel as about personal goals. Actually, all quests are, by definition, about personal goals, but some don’t involve travel. Most forms of immersion journalism involve some sort of investigation, though some are more investigative in nature than others.
What is Zen, anyway? Is simplicity in prose (“black and white preferred”) the truest way to writing well? The answer is a strong and unequivocal “Yes.” The answer is also a strong and unequivocal “No.” Zen-writing must be so filled with the energy of life that it becomes energy itself; it must feel pre-ordained in the way the birth of a child feels pre-ordained to loving parents. The characters who emerge from the chaos-swirl of your novel must do so in the way that Michaelangelo’s men and women emerged from the stone.
The preparation to write may be ambitious, ruthless, rational, reasoned, disciplined, and selfish, but the act of writing well must be thought-less and self-less. Those among us, including those writers and would-be writers who are not comfortable with eternally unresolved paradox and contradiction, have no real humor. No one admits to being humorless, but many are. This is worse than being colorblind; worse than being sexually impotent. It is worse than being blind, although it is a kind of blindness.
Central to success in writing across the spectrum of possibilities today is understanding your rhetorical situation, any situation in which you produce or receive a text. Composing with an awareness of the rhetorical situation means writing not only to express yourself but also to engage your readers and respond to their concerns. You write to influence how your readers think and feel about a subject and, depending on the genre, perhaps also to inspire them to act.
Learning—especially learning to communicate with new audiences and in new genres—benefits from what we call reflection (or metacognition)—thinking critically about how as well as what you are learning. Extensive research confirms that reflection makes learning easier and faster. In fact, recent studies show that writing even a few sentences about your thoughts and feelings before a high-stress paper or exam can help you reduce stress and boost performance
Many people write about important themes in their lives to archive their memories and to learn something about themselves. Choosing events that are important to them personally, writers strive to imbue their stories with meaning and feeling that will resonate with readers. That is, they seek to help readers appreciate what we call the event’s autobiographical significance—why the event is so memorable for the writer and what it might mean for readers. Often writers use autobiographical stories to reflect on a conflict that remains unresolved or one they still do not fully understand. Autobiographical stories may not only prompt readers to reflect on the writer’s complicated and ambivalent emotions, puzzling motivations, and strained relationships but also help readers see larger cultural themes in these stories or understand implications the writer may not have even considered.