William Zinsser, author of perennial classic “On Writing Well,” once argued the “mere serviceable is a drag.” Despite what stuffy academics and the literati might say, I completely agree: the primary goal of writing is entertainment.
“What?” you might scoff in disbelief, “what about the nobler goals of information and persuasion, guidance and enlightenment?”
Yes, as writers we may want to inform our readers of a fascinating subject or outline a particularly interesting bit of history or convince them of a series of facts but we will never reach any of these objectives unless we first entice our readers to read more.
After all, how can we expect our audience to believe our claims if our argument lacks eagerness? zeal? How can we expect our reader to get excited when, as writers, we’ve been careless with our sentences and words?
Like Zinsser, we must pay scrupulous attention to detail, we must make every sentence a pleasurable rendezvous. Does each verb convey action and excitement? Or do our verbs recede into more lifeless forms of “to be” like “is” and “was”? Do they conjure images in our reader’s mind? Or are they abstract and pretentiously scholarly?
Perhaps most importantly: are we having fun when we’re writing or are we simply writing out of a solemn sense of duty? Has the whole exercise of putting one word against another become dreadfully boring? Maybe it’s time to wrap up for the day and come back once we’ve achieved some healthy distance and regained our energy. Or maybe we have to rethink the piece all together. Either way, when writing becomes drudgery, it’s time to stop and reassess.