Care About What You Write (and Write What You Care About)
One of the challenges every writing teacher faces is assigning writing projects that students care about. All of us have been frustrated by having to write about something that doesn’t interest us. At WriteAtHome, we try to offer a variety of writing opportunities with enough flexibility and creativity to suit a range of tastes. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t always work. We sometimes end up with duds. And it’s not as simple as replacing the bad ones with the good ones because students don’t agree about which is which. An assignment that gets squeals from one student gets snores from another.
So what do you do about assignments that don’t juice your jalopy? Simply, do your best with the best attitude you can manage. After all, sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t like just because they’re good for you — like finishing your vegetables.
But as much as we believe this, we also understand that caring about your topic is an important part of writing well. Enthusiasm bleeds through writing. It’s easy to tell when a subject really matters to a writer. If you’re forced to write about something dull, you can pretend to care about it, but readers can usually smell the apathy. It’s hard to feign passion. The best writing comes from writers who genuinely care.
So here’s our advice to all aspiring writers: Write about what matters to you. Don’t worry so much about what your audience will find interesting. Passion is contagious — take readers on the ride with you. If dragonfly larvae fascinate you, your biology report on them has a good chance of capturing the interest of your readers (actually, dragonfly larvae really are pretty fascinating — check it out sometime).
Of course the reverse is also true. If you write about something you find boring, your work is likely to make a good tranquilizer.
This means that if you are a person with limited interests, you are going to have a hard time finding engaging topics for your writing. So, here’s some more advice: like lots of stuff. Be open-minded. Be curious about the awe-inspiring world around you and its varied and amazing inhabitants.
I like science fiction, but I’m not the kind of raving fan that lines up days early for a new film debut. In a wacky costume. But I don’t mind those folks. I’m a bit jealous of their enthusiasm. Sure, I think there are probably more meaningful ways to invest their time and passion, but they sure get more pleasure out of movies than I do. Good for them. Same goes for any aficionado, whether they’re into tap dancing, stamp collecting or NASCAR. If you want to be a fan of something, there is an unending buffet of choices out there. Don’t be narrow. The more stuff you explore with an open mind, the more interesting and engaging life can be. And the more of life you enjoy, the more you care about, the more you’ll have to write about.
I think it’s better to develop broad interests by never settling on one thing for too long. Instead, explore things you wouldn’t naturally be attracted to. If you are into bass fishing, give opera a try. If astrophysics is your thing, check out some Romantic-era poetry. If you like fixing cars, try cooking or oil painting. Let your interests roam. We live in a big, complex universe and it would be a shame to focus all our brain power on a microscopic portion of it. Think how much more you’ll have to write passionately about. Think of how much more fun the world would be.
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