My vacation in Germany is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, Monday, is my last full day here. All the free time on this trip means I have been able to focus on reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. And my love for the book is steadily deepening. I want to share a few passages from the book that speak to me as someone who has just started to write personal stories in the public space.
Before this blog, I never thought I would ever enjoy writing about my life. When I was a teenager, I tried to keep a diary, but my attempts never lasted longer than a few weeks at a time, except when I had to do it for my English class in Grade 9. I, however, religiously wrote journals about my acting classes in high school and during my freshman year in college. I felt deeply insecure about my potential as a performer, and those journals made me feel that I was at least a thoughtful and disciplined student of the craft.
When I was graduating from college, blogging and LiveJournal was becoming a thing. By that time, I had already decided that keeping a diary was self-indulgent, so to do an online version for all to see was just beyond me.
As a teenager, I was careful not to behave in a way that would get me branded as “self-indulgent” or “self-involved.” I suppose not keeping a journal was one of the ways I avoided those labels. It’s so strange that I now find so much pleasure in telling stories about my life, through the lens of food. When I first started this blog, I told myself that I didn’t want it to be about recipes. I didn’t have the ability to do that since I wasn’t, and still am not, that experienced of a cook. I knew back then, however, that no one else was telling my stories and that would be the thing that would set me apart.
I want to share more of my thoughts on writing personal stories and journaling, but I’m going to save that for another time. For now, here are a few passages from Zinsser’s book and articles on personal and family histories.
A reminder to keep doing what I’m doing
“There’s no subject you don’t have permission to write about. Students often avoid subjects close to their heart […] because they assume that their teachers will regard those topics as ‘stupid.’ No area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. If you follow your affections you will write well and will engage your readers.
“I’ve read elegant books on fishing and poker, billiards and rodeos, mountain climbings and giant sea turtles and many other subjects I didn’t think I was interested in […] No subject is too specialized or too quirky if you make an honest connection with it when you write about it.”
A reminder to do it well
“By ‘permission’ I don’t mean ‘permissive.’ I have no patience with sloppy workmanship—the let-it-all-hang-out verbiage of the ’60s. To have a decent career in this country [US] it’s important to be able to write decent English. But on the question of who you’re writing for, don’t be too eager to please […] If you write for yourself, you’ll reach the people you want to write for.”
A reminder that privacy has never gone out of style
“A thin line separates ego from egotism. Ego is healthy; no writer can go far without it. Egotism, however, is a drag, and this chapter [“Writing About Yourself: A Memoir”] is not intended as a license to prattle just for therapy.”
Meera Sodha Wants to Change the Way You Think About Indian Food
A lovely and warm article from Food52 about a cookbook author who preserves the stories of her family and their migrations by learning to cook from her mother—something she rejected in her rebellious youth—and collecting family recipes.
A Granddaughter’s Powerful Love Story, Told Through an Indian Cookbook
I love reading about the process of writing a family history—the search for and gathering of things that were left behind, the excavations of memories, the act of stitching them all together. This is the kind of food writing I love most and what draws me to this genre in the first place. This story from NPR touches me in many ways and reminds me of a similar story I wrote when I was working for an Indian magazine a few years back. You can read that story here.
Happy reading! And if you’re writing, happy writing!