Neglect Neither the Audience nor Your Voice

There are several instances where Zinsser’s bold claim that when you are writing you should be writing for yourself can be disputed. Ultimately, however, his argument remains true at least in part no matter what kind of writing it is.

His point is the most easily defended form the stance of narrative pieces. Writing that tells a story is much better served when the voice telling it is unique and therefore able to compel a reader. All of the examples he uses in “Chapter 5: The Audience” are narrative pieces and do a good job at showing how a unique and genuine voice can make a piece about almost any subject worth reading.

When you start to stray away from narrative into informative writing, though, Zinsser’s approach to “writing for yourself” seems dangerous. In Steven Pinker’s “The Source of Bad Writing” he warns of common pitfalls that writers make – the main one being what he calls the “curse of knowledge”, or “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” This “curse” will often times cause confusion for the reader, especially if you have not been keeping track of what they know and what they don’t. So of course if you are only keeping yourself in mind while you are writing, you will assume that the audience (who is you) knows what you know.   

However, that is not what Zinsser meant when he said “write for yourself”. He makes a point to establish a clear distinction between “craft” and “attitude”. Craft is the “technical detail”; the skills that you work on as a writer to make your piece coherent. Attitude comes next – it is the flavor that you bring with your voice; it is bringing out who you are. Therefore, as an effective writer you should be following Pinker’s advice about avoiding the “curse of knowledge” in the craft, then bring your voice to the piece once you are sure the reader can follow.   

Another form of writing where it may be difficult to avoid thinking of the audience is in advertising or promoting a brand through social media. Throughout Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” he repeats the idea that companies often fail at advertising through social media due to the fact that they do not pay enough attention to the platform or the consumer. Again, this fundamentally goes against the idea that you should write envisioning yourself as the audience since focusing on your target audience is highly important in the field of advertising.   

Still, this can go hand in hand with Zinsser’s ideas if you look at his reasoning for it. He says that it is foolish to imagine the mass audience since every person is different and that you will at least entertain some readers if you are able to entertain yourself. The best way to reach an audience is to speak to them genuinely, but you still want to have an audience in the first place. So when it comes to advertising and outreach, it is best is to use your voice when speaking to your audience but to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. This is easier, of course, if you are a fan of the product –  but even if you are not, you can apply methods and styles of writing that you would personally enjoy to your content. After all, Vaynerchuk says himself that your job is to “tell your story to the customer,” and that, of course, requires your voice. 

Emilia Clarke's Effective Online Writing

Emilia Clarke’s essay “A Battle For My Life” is a successful piece of online writing. Through her simple and genuine language she is able to tell a story that makes the readers visualize her story and empathize with her struggles.

Her writing, while good, is simple. That is one of the reasons why it is so good. Clarke does not do what writers have a natural tendency to do and inflate herself or make herself sound important. She actually does the opposite and makes herself more vulnerable to the reader by using plain writing. 

One of the best elements of this essay is the style. Through her writing she is genuine and it is clear that she believes in her own identity – an identity that the readers come to love. She gives anecdotes about being an actor on one of the biggest shows of the decade and feeling utterly terrified. Clarke reveals that some of that fear is about a disease that could kill her at any moment and shares a vivid story of her first seizure and hospitalization. Before she continues to talk about her recovery, she goes back in time to when she first started acting and the pressure she felt to remember her lines; a pressure that is re-visited when she describes a terrifying night in the hospital:

“One night, after I’d passed that crucial mark, a nurse woke me and, as part of a series of cognitive exercises, she said, “What’s your name?” My full name is Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke. But now I couldn’t remember it. Instead, nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic. I’d never experienced fear like that—a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn’t worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn’t recall my name.”

The way she intertwines her story is compelling and her attitude about her career and her struggles with the disease are easy to understand.

Clarke’s words flow perfectly. When I was reading this piece, I could hear her writing as if she were speaking in an interview about her story. Nothing she said sounded like it would be unnatural in speech. The flow of her writing was unnoticeable. There was not a single moment where I was pulled out of her story or questioning word choice or usage.

This piece was simply enjoyable to read. Even though she is one of the biggest actors today, Clarke clearly has a talent for sharing her story in a way that connects her to the audience. Her voice came to me clearly and my respect and admiration for her has grown after reading this piece.

Readable Content

Good Readable Content: How To Build A Daily Habit Tracker In Trello (And Reach Those Goals!)

Bad Readable Content: How To Use Trello for Video Production Project Management

When choosing the two writing pieces for this assignment, sources I used in my own blog post about project management immediately came to mind. Why? Because they are fundamentally the same, yet I distinctly remember liking one much more. While at the time the reasons were not so obvious, the Australian Government’s Content Structure Guide and the first few chapters of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well explain my first impressions.

First of all, the structure in the “bad” content shares a skeleton with the “good”, but makes several of the mistakes the structure guide warns of. The content does look good on mobile devices, but is an annoyance to read on desktop with the website’s banner and menu taking up about 20% of the screen. The paragraphs do allow for white space, but perhaps too much. At times, his writing feels sporadic when almost every sentence is a new paragraph.  The same can be said for the visuals he uses, there is no clear reason to why he uses the visuals he does and they do not add anything to his article. The author’s subheadings were present, but did not front load key words. What is most noticeable about this writing is the inconsistency of his format, particularly when it comes to listing.

This shows the worst example of this where it is unclear why some of his “steps” are numbered and why some are not.

The “good” article has a much cleaner and understandable format. Her subheadings were clear and effective. The directions she gives are easy to follow since her use of lists is optimal. To enhance understanding, she has plenty of useful visuals. However, the reader could still get by without them.

In the “good” article, the author uses lists effectively and outlines the works that are most important in bold.

The differences in structure are dramatic enough, but where the “good” piece is really good is in the style of writing. Even though the content is a simple how-to, the reader feels connected to the writer of the “good” piece because she had good style. According to Zinsser, the more you believe in you identity and opinions the better your writing will be. I was drawn to her content because she wrote like she was an actual human. I felt that she was genuine. On the other hand, the “bad” writing seemed to have no identity. It did its job in a how-to standpoint, but it did not stick out to me. In fact, the only reason I remember this content is because it was a foil of the article that was so memorable to me.

Bio: Emma Richardson

Stories can push us to feel emotion and empathy for those with whom we share our world. Stories are what connect us to others and inform us on how different people lead their lives – and my goal is to help people share their stories through the art of documentary film.

My nonfiction projects include a film on a ten-year-old boy’s love for rapping, short films on the issues surrounding members of New Haven’s Mothers and Others for Justice, a film about the road homeless dogs from Louisiana take to find their forever homes, a biography of singer-songwriter-activist Elaine Kolb, and a film on a woman in India who assists girls in local villages.

In addition to my personal projects, I am a professional assistant editor at Triple Threat TV in Stamford, CT and regularly organize footage and assemble rough cuts for television series. I also do freelance filmography and editing for local businesses and organizations such as Elm Shakespeare Company in New Haven, CT and the River Advocates of South Central CT in which I create promotional videos and record and edit their events and shows.

I will soon graduate with a BA in Film, Television, and Media Arts from Quinnipiac University and will continue to hone my storytelling and content creation skills by pursuing a MS in Interactive Communications and Media.

Creating Art in All the Chaos: Deep Work in Documentary Production

In these past few months I have delved into the the issues with modern-day life in regards to productivity and life balance. For my final white paper, I decided to examine how adapting deep work into the field of independent documentary production can allow you to organize your life’s work and make meaningful content to share with the world. I discuss the what, how, when, and why of deep work and end my paper with an interview with Ashley Brandon, a documentary filmmaker and full-time professor. Feel free to download and share.

We Only Have 24 Every Day. Let’s Make the Most of It.

In these past few months, I have been arguing for the utility deep work provides and giving pointers as to how to make time for it. However, even after following what I have been writing, I am still struggling to do deep work consistently. In this week’s readings, I have found that I am neglecting to acknowledge a flaw in my thinking: it is impossible to make time. We have 24 hours each day and seven days a week to live our lives – there is no negotiating that.

In the year 1910, a philosopher names Arnold Bennett published a book entitled “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.” Even though this book was published over 100 years ago, we still, in fact, have 24 hours in our day. As the article How to Live on 24 Hours a Day: Arnold Bennett on Living a Meaningful Life Within the Constraints of Time by Farnam Street points out, Bennett’s ideas are still relevant to today and provide a trove of insights that can help us understand how to make the best use of our time, and in turn, the best use of our lives.

One of Bennett’s first ideas is that our society has a counterintuitive tendency to value money over time. He argues the proverb “time is money” is a foolish way to think, since you can make money with time but you cannot make time no matter how rich you are.

“We shall never have more time. We have, and have always had, all the time there is.”

(2017, May). How to live on 24 hours a day: Arnold Bennett on living a meaningful life within the constraints of time. Farnam Street Media Inc. Retrieved from https://fs.blog/2017/05/arnold-bennett-living-meaningful-life/

Personally, I spend about 28 hours a week working and about 7 hours getting to and from work. That means that every day I spend 5 hours on average on my income. I am also a full-time student and spend about 11 hours in class, or 1.5 hours per day. Add on homework, school projects, and travel and I would say it would be a total of 20 hours a week or about 3 hours a day. So there is 8 hours for school and work, then I assume another 8 for sleep and I am still left with about 8 hours on average of open time. Not so bad…so how do I spend this time?

Bennett suggests spending at least an hour and a half of it on “cultivating the mind”. His version of this was reading “the work of stoics”. Instead of that, why not use it for Deep Work? An hour and a half every day of productive time would allow us to make large strides in projects in a short amount of time.

The remaining six and a half hours is up to you. My suggestion is that you simply plan each hour. Bennet says “you can turn over a new leaf every hour if you chose,” so make the most of your time – these are the hours that will allow you to be you. The only thing that I would not advise you do in this time, however, is using you phone mindlessly.

I have already discussed the damage that constant connection can have on your work and life in previous posts, and in Cal Newport’s third rule of “Deep Work” he gives some guidance onto how we can actually use social media to enhance our time rather than letting it suck it all away.

Newport notes that many knowledge workers approach the issue of social media use in a rather binary and crude manner by either embracing it wholly or cutting it out all together. He instead suggests that we take “the craftsman approach to tool selection” by identifying the core factors that determine success and happiness in both our personal and work lives then analyze each tool to see if its benefits outweigh its negatives in regards to our core factors. Newport calls this process “Applying the Law of the Vital Few” and breaks it down into four steps:

  1. Identify high-level goals in your personal and professional life.
  2. List 2-3 important activities that help satisfy those goals.
  3. Consider the network tools you currently use and rate them by positive, neutral, or negative impact.
  4. Keep only the tools that have a positive impact.

He also suggests doing a social media detox (much like the one I wrote about) to test for two things: first, if those days wold have been notably better if you had used social media and second, if people actually cared whether or not you used the service. In reality, you may find that one, your days may have quite improved, and two, that people tend to notice things much less than you think they do.

By limiting your social media using it with intent, you will become a part of what Newport calls “The Attention Resistance”. In the chapter of “Digital Minimalism” by the same name, Newport urges you to fight against the tools that consider themselves to be “fundamental technologies” as they are simply trying to get (and keep) your attention so they can make an income. He lists a few practices that may help if you are still finding yourself to be carried away by the constant connection.

  • Remove Social Media From Your Phone. The vast majority of time wasted on social media is when accessing it from the device that you keep by your side 24/7. According to Newport, 88% of Facebook’s earnings come from its mobile app. So, if you do not want to completely cut off your far-away friends and relatives and delete all the pictures you have complied, simply delete any apps you still use (but use a little too often) to force yourself to take the extra step and open up you laptop. It is surprising how such a small deterrence can save you so much time.
  • Turn Your Devices Into Single-Purpose Computers. In the olden days of floppy discs, PCs were only able to run a single program at a time. Now, depending on the size of your RAM, the possibilities for multitasking are nearly infinite. To avoid unwanted distraction caused by social media turn your PC into a single-use device. Only have one program open at a time so you are not tempted to simply swipe left or right into another world of distraction.
  • Use Social Media Like a Professional. To use social media wisely, that means you must think carefully about why you engage with it and who you engage with on it. Newport suggest keeping the amount of connections online down to the Dunbar’s Number of about 150 since that is how many people we can actually maintain relationships with. In addition thinking carefully about who you engage with, try not to use social media as a tool for entertainment. When it comes down to it, you will barley remember any of the content you see and there are much better options for how to spend your time.
  • Embrace Slow Media. Now that you are using social media only to keep tabs on close family and friends, it is time to find where to receive your information from. According to Newport, the best way to do this it to find a small group of authors or content creators who you trust and read their content primarily. However, he also suggests that you seek out arguments against your own as to not get trapped in a vacuum of repetitive (and potentially misguided) information – something that is very easy to do if you get your information for your friends and family on Facebook.
  • Dumb Down Your Smartphone. If none of these practices seem to work for you, it is time to take the next step. Save yourself time and money and go back to a flip-phone. If you need to access the internet, it is likely that you have a laptop with you anyway. Yes, it will be annoying to learn how to text using the number pad again, but the time you save by saving yourself from instant access to social networks can be life-changing. However, there is no need to do this if your smartphone is not enough of a problem and you are able to apply the rest of the practices with ease.

This is a lot to take on at once, especially since we have grown so reliant on the convenience of today’s tech. If you make mistakes or cheat every once and a while, don’t be too hard on yourself. As Arnold Bennett says:

“Be content with quite a little. Allow for accidents. Allow for human nature…especially your own…a glorious failure is better than a petty success.”

(2017, May). How to live on 24 hours a day: Arnold Bennett on living a meaningful life within the constraints of time. Farnam Street Media Inc. Retrieved from https://fs.blog/2017/05/arnold-bennett-living-meaningful-life/

At the very least be mindful of how you use your days. I am still very young, but have come to realize that time is moving faster and faster and the time I have for myself is less and less. So when I do have time for myself, I will use that time to strive for the goals I have for myself. Bennett implores you to strive for your goals because even if you do not reach them, you will be more fulfilled than those who never even tried.

Work Better: Be Bored

It is not new knowledge that we are in a distracted world. As I have discussed in my previous posts, we are addicted to constant communication and screen time, so much so that it is difficult for many people to actually sit down and read something.

In Clive Thompson’s article Social Media is Keeping Us Stuck in the Moment, he contributes this addiction to distraction in part to the “reverse chronological design” that almost all news and social media sites utilize. In this design, the most recent posts and articles are at the top and you must scroll down to go back in time, which he says that this is damaging to how we consume information.

Thompson references Harold Innis’ On the Bias of Communication which was published way back in 1951 to show how this argument is not new. Innis attributed our “obsession with the immediate” to daily news, which was more disposable and discarded quicker than past forms of media.

To put it simply, constant news (whether it be in the form of tweets or news articles) is addictive. Thompson points out that it is not only making us more distracted, but more prone to believing in the “shiny new headlines” than actually researching a topic and understanding it.

What scares me the most about our addiction to technology is how it is hooking our children in from the get-go. In the article The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World, James Fallows interviews ex-Apple and Microsoft worker Linda Stone who now shares the dangers of distraction and being in a state of “continuous partial attention.”

Stone points out that in different situations we need to utilize different attention strategies. For example, a vital strategy is used when playing alone as a child and “you developed a capacity for attention and for a type of curiosity and experimentation that can happen when you play. You were in the moment, and the moment was unfolding in a natural way.” She argues, however, that the huge role that technology plays in many children’s lives does not allow for a child to develop these attention strategies.

From a young age, children learn through imitation. Kids are not inherently fascinated with phones and technology, they are fascinated with what mom and dad are fascinated with. Stone says that children learn empathy through eye contact, so what happens when their parent’s eyes are constantly on their phone? According to Stone, “What we’re doing now is modeling a primary relationship with screens, and a lack of eye contact with people.”

Stone believes that things are slowly getting better and the generations raised on screens are becoming more aware of the downsides of their attachment to a screen, but that we must create a capacity for a “relaxed presence” by doing activities that promote “mind and body in the same place at the same time.”

In Cal Newport’s second rule of Deep Work, he argues that these activities can not only aid in personal well being, but in your ability to focus on a task and work deeply. The chapter entitled “Embrace Boredom” outlines four ways you can train yourself to quell the urge to give into distraction.

Manage Your Breaks from Focus

Newport’s first guideline on embracing boredom is to take breaks from focus rather than taking breaks from distraction. He argues that if you schedule the exact times you can use the internet and keep all other time internet-free, you will train your resistance to distraction since the option will simply not be there.

Do Nothing But Work for a Set Time

Newport’s next guideline is to allocate the time in your day to focused work. He models this guideline on Teddy Roosevelt’s method of focus during his time in school: he would spend every minute of spare time between 8 am- 4 pm on getting work done so he could have time to relax and participate in school organizations. Newport suggests that you can set a personal deadline for a project to force more intensity during you work time.

Practice Productive Meditation

The final guideline Newport gives that I will be exploring is to “meditate productively.” This involves taking any time you are physically occupied (walking, jogging, swimming, showering, or driving) to focus on a single well-defined problem. Newport gives three steps to productive meditation: review the variables of the problem, define the “next step” question, then consolidate your solution in a clear statement. Not only does this act allow you to use otherwise unoccupied mental time, but it train yourself to resist distraction and remain focused.

I was particularly drawn in by this idea of “productive meditation”. I have jobs all over the state which means that every week I spend upwards of seven hours in a car. I wanted to see how other productive people used their time on the road, so I read the Forbes article Make The Most Of Your Commute With These Eight Productive Tasks by eight young entrepreneurs. Their suggestions were insightful and actually connected to quite a few of Newport’s ideas.

“Record Your Thoughts.” Shawn Porat uses his time in the car to let his mind wander and record any interesting thoughts using a voice assistant. While this is not as intense as productive meditation, in my previous post I shared the benefits of boredom and how taking a break from stimulation can let you have good and interesting thoughts. I know for a fact that I have had some thoughts while sitting in traffic that I wish I had not let dissipate – from now on I will keep a journal in the notes app on my phone.

“Listen to Audio Books.” Robert De Los Santos suggests you listen to audio books on your commute so that you can prepare your mind for critical thinking you will have to do at work. For the past six months this has been my default driving activity – I have been able to listen to twenty books since May, which is incredible considering I had not opened a book for leisure since middle school. If you think this option isn’t for you due to the price (Audible is actually quite expensive) I suggest seeing what resources are available to you from you public library. I was able to listen to all twenty books for free using the app Libby – all I had to do was connect my library card and put the books on hold.

“Do High-level Strategy Work.” Fred Lam suggests you spend the time to plan out your day’s goals for yourself and you company since “without strategy, there will never be execution”. This is more in line with Newport’s productive meditation, but on a daily level. I would do this method, but lately I have gotten in the habit of doing this before my commute with my morning coffee and breakfast.

“Catch Up On the Little Things.” Stephanie Vermaas gives a tip to those who take the train or bus – use this spare time to catch up on emails, phone calls, or to get up to date on projects you are working on. This could be a good time for communication so that when you get to work you can turn it off and not have to worry about checking your email until later in the day.

“Conduct a Daily Review.” Shu Saito utilizes his morning commute by planning out his day, making sure that the most important tasks are at the top of your to-do list. He then spends the rest of his time letting his mind wander, using the silence to perhaps “wander onto a brilliant idea that could recharge your day or business.” This is when your voice assistant would come in handy.

“Listen to Music.” Jared Atchison does what is perhaps on of the most popular options – simply turning up the volume on some tunes that will let you have time to relax or set the mood for your day. I would go a bit further an create some playlists depending on the tasks that you are on your way to conquer to get you ready to face the day.

“Immerse Yourself in Industry-Related Materials.” Derek Robinson strays a bit from boredom by using his commute to get up-to-date on what is going on in your industry through podcasts, webinars, or audio books. While this is not quite what Newport had in mind for “embracing boredom,” it is useful for people like me who have very little time to explore these topics otherwise. Some of the audio books I have listened to were not necessarily industry-related, but work on some of the long-term goals and habits I have in mind for myself. Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover have already made an impact on my daily habits – something I argue you should focus on in another post.

Pause and Self-Reflect. Kevin Yamazaki gives the final tip for utilizing your commute that is the opposite of the last tip – avoid burnout by cutting off your work and using the time to reflect on your well-being and current conflicts that could be resolved in your life. He says, after all, “you are the driver for every project you push forward,” so you must take time to think of and take care of YOU.


It is okay to step away from work every once and a while – it is in fact quite beneficial. Train yourself to be used to boredom again so that you can use it to improve your quality of work and life. There is truly no good reason for you to be connected at all times; instead, take some time to connect back to yourself.