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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)

Writing for the Web
   Getting to the real stuff

Mark Bernstein gives advice on writing for the web that goes beyond the usual details about correctness and brevity to touch on the deeper reasons people write:

Bad personal sites bore us by telling us about trivial events and casual encounters about which we have no reason to care. Don’t tell us what happened: tell us why it matters. Don’t tell us your opinion: tell us why the question is important.

If you don’t really care, don’t write. If you are a student and everybody is talking about exams and papers and you simply don’t care, let it be. If your job bores you, it will bore us. (If you despise your job with a rich, enduring passion, that’s another thing entirely!) Write for yourself; you are, in the end, your most important reader.

He talks about friends, enemies, courage and honesty. He gets into the real terrain of writing, an exhilarating place where sentence by sentence we decide how we relate to other people and who we are. He does this by offering some good and simple insights into what sort of person is worth becoming. These are the issues writing teachers have in mind when they talk about voice.

Each of us is responsible for what we say--the tone and the intent as well as the prosaic content--and each of us is also responsible for what we listen to. The internet makes vivid the complex interplay between decisions individual persons make about their voices and the decisions others make about what to pay attention to, and the sort of places that result. On the internet, sites that get traffic grow and are imitated, while those that get no traffic dwindle away.

The world has always worked that way. Different communities practice different virtues, have different characters, and move toward different destinies. These differences are created by the things people think and say, and the actions that follow. At the same time, what people think and say are influenced by what the community around them seems to approve or disapprove.

I think it would be good if writing teachers kept pointing out to young people that through what we write about (and talk about and think about) we are constantly participating in a process of self-creation, that the outcome of this process is not predetermined (we are free), and that the outcome matters (things could turn out very good, but they could also turn out very, very bad).

These are guidelines that lead to the sorts of places I prefer:

1. Be honest (rather than merely fashionable).
2. Be accurate (reality is fabulous).
3. Be nice (people are tender and most mistakes they make can safely be ignored).
4. Be cautious about revealing intimate details (there are bad people out there). 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey






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