Do you remember high school English? In the late 1970s, we learned parts of speech and diagrammed sentences on the now-extinct chalk board. Learning to read and write were basic skills necessary for success.
English is one of those subjects that doesn’t change much over time. Language is language, and grammar is grammar. The ability to read and write is essential. The challenge is keeping up with new words added to the dictionary in growing numbers. Believe it or not, there was a day when we didn’t know the meaning of email, blog, or Google.
Writing can be an academic process – like what we learned in school – but our best writing occurs when we put life on the page. Our words have an authenticity that can impact a story or message.
No matter what side you take on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, we are who we are because of DNA, and also because of our environment. We can’t separate ourselves from past events, present choices, and future hopes. When we allow our personalities to influence the act of putting pen to the page, or filling a computer screen with text, we add a new dimension to our writing. We move beyond static words void of emotion. How is this accomplished?
Fiction writers craft stories or poems of romance, mystery, or drama. Characters may be a far cry from anyone we know; the more interesting, the better. But when we consider our perspective on life, our characters become three-dimensional and approachable, even when we form a new world with fascinating individuals.
Consider these examples. If you’re naturally outgoing, recall your interactions at a fun social gathering as you describe a character’s friendly encounter with others. Have you ever been anxious or worried over unexpected events? Draw from those feelings as your plot introduces pain or tragic events.
Is it any easier taking this approach in nonfiction? Depending on the subject matter, don’t these writers rely on real life as a foundation for their work?
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our writing is not always easy, no matter the genre. As a nonfiction writer, I’ve discovered a tendency to go to the extremes: I’m either too revealing or too detached. People can be turned off when writers dwell on their situation or promote their opinion without giving readers an opportunity to explore their thoughts. On the other hand, if books are fact-filled with few suggestions for application, readers may set the book aside. Unless readers’ goals are to earn a degree, they generally prefer books that teach in a personal, interactive manner that motivates them to examine their lives. What better way to do this than by sharing a little glimpse of who we are?
No matter our preferred literary genres, putting life on the page makes our writing more personal. More real. This is what makes our work truly unique, like each of us.
Caroline S. Cooper writes nonfiction works related to Christian living, mental health, and family life. She is a member of the Heart of America Christian Writer’s Network (HACWN). Caroline has a Masters in Bible and Theology and a Bachelor of Music. Caroline and her husband live in Lee’s Summit, Missouri and have been married for more than 30 years. They have four children and two grandchildren.