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On Writing – What is your Purpose

It started last night. I felt the urge to write a blog after a hiatus of a couple of months.

Listen to my blog

My husband poked his head in the bedroom finding me with my hands folded under my chin as if in prayer. “Are you praying?”, he asked. I responded, “No, I am writing.” “‘Oh, ok”, he said, knowing that I was in the zone and that there was just no more to be said. It felt so good to be writing, even if it was still in my head.

You don’t have to use the biggest word you can find to get your point across.

Writing is in my blood.  It is a compulsion, a release and sometimes a bit of a buzz. I remember my father drilling me on how to write clearly. An old-style journalist, he maintained that you don’t have to use the biggest word you can find to get your point across. “Keep it simple”, he said. But maybe it wasn’t always about practice. As a tactile learner, a pen or a keyboard is never far away from me. The physical process of writing things down helps me to process and remember information. My husband has gotten used to seeing me chewing on something and being unable to rest until I have written it down. He will wander off with a slight smile on his face, thinking there she goes again. My father used to say that when you have found the right words, you will know it. They sort of sing to you. Sometimes I do struggle with the right words, reading my latest offerings to my family over and over again. I must say that they are quite patient with me, nodding when I am finally satisfied.

But is writing really just an individual pursuit? Of course not. Writing is a means of communication. It can be an attempt to be heard, to use your voice in your own way, but writing is also about drawing out a response from someone else. Done well, it can make others think, act, feel or make a decision. It all depends on your approach.

As a long-time public servant, I learned to help people make a decision through briefing notes and investigative reports and follow procedures. I got so good at it that one of my professors at university said to me, “Ruth, you have been in government too long. You can’t write anymore.” I thought to myself, what can he mean? It wasn’t until later that I understood. I could map things out, but I no longer made people feel. Somewhere along the line, I had lost my descriptive button.

It wasn’t until I started to write blogs that I started to challenge myself. I started to play with more descriptive language to get my point across. In the short blogs, I made some headway toward creating an atmosphere or a feeling. Confident, I decided once again to start a new writing challenge. I thought, “Why don’t I write a book? I have a good story to tell about my father’s war service.” Doing some investigative work, I was able to piece together his journey through World War Two, thinking that a story about a female impersonator and military entertainer would be enough. I had all kinds of facts and figures, and I thought I was on my way.

“When you see, you can describe; when you hear, you can understand; but when you read, you can imagine. Help your audience to imagine what it was like then.”

Not quite. Part of writing is checking to see that others can understand and appreciate what you are writing about. So, I did just that. A good friend read a few pages and suggested that I slow it down a bit and let people come along with me. He said to me, “When you see, you can describe; when you hear, you can understand; but when you read, you can imagine. Help your audience to imagine what it was like then.”

Boy did that help. I started to look differently at my current sources and to seek out a wider variety of stories about The Tin Hats and their audiences. I needed to provide additional background and make the story come alive through anecdotes, pictures, analyses and my own insights. I pulled out my forgotten adjectives to paint a fuller picture and focused on more of the humanity in the stories. I also looked for more first-hand accounts to supplement my father’s memories. Wow, some of those war correspondents could really pull you in like you were almost there.

Sometimes you have to set aside your writing and let it percolate.

I learned a valuable lesson about writing. Sometimes you have to set aside your writing and let it percolate. You can then come back with fresh eyes and a new angle. I needed to enable my audience to engage all of their senses to see, hear and feel my story. For now, I am content to feel its rhythm and to follow the logic. Time will tell, if my audience will be able to imagine what it was like as a young man taking on a difficult role in the ongoing turmoil of the Second World War. Let me know once the book is published, if I met my objective.

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