How I Write: “It’s the details that draw in the reader.”

The second “How I Write” event of the semester (Monday, November 19) was equally intriguing, although I didn’t walk into the event with the same enthusiasm as the first speaker back in October. It’s that time of year – my body hurts, my head is toasted, and my job is asking me to travel across the country. In all honestly, I struggled to get to the Kalamazoo Room of the Michigan League to hear author Thomas Hager speak about writing compelling nonfiction. I thought to myself, “How could anything but sleep be compelling at this moment in my life?” Boy, was I mistaken.

Hager spoke about his most recent published book, The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery that Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler. I’m not much of a hard data girl, but his methods and rationale for writing were things I needed to hear. The speaker emphasized that he wasn’t writing for exploration or expression, but that he was writing for readers to read. He went so far to detail his research process using note cards to document each piece of information that could possibly be useful in writing. How smart is that?

The one takeaway that really grabbed me was when Hager was talking through some of his beliefs in any sort of writing, saying, “It’s the details that draw in the reader.” We relate to human flaws, connect through common failures, and are captivated by the vivid language painting the scene of our lives.

From author Yann Martel in Life of Pi:

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” 

If you don’t allow the details to draw you in, you would miss the great influence writing has, and that’d be quite the shame.

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