By: James F. O’Neil
Donald M. Murray
“Write what you know,” Donald M. Murray (the late Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and long-time teacher) told me long ago in his book Write to Learn. And so I practice. Most of my personal writing is the personal-experience type: “honest, specific, and moving.” (And many times just plain fun.) I like this approach. The authors of these kinds of writings are authorities on the self–or selves–contained within the lines of the page.
Often, though, some writing teachers considered such efforts as non-academic, and not good writing. I hold that “The best writing is personal writing.” For what really is “good” or “best”?
With personal-experience writing, I do not have to become mired in academic or argumentative rhetoric to make a point. In fact, I recall the historian Barbara Tuchman (American historian and author of The Guns of August) writing that history is the best narration–and history is the life of persons, peoples, cultures, nations.
Teacher Donald Murray wrote of students being able to “. . . discover and develop the skills of critical thinking . . . and move in close and then stand back. . . . With immediacy and detachment, close examination, and the placing of events in perspective, there is compassion and judgment, feeling and thought.”
In addition, Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1988), describes various levels of writing: public, private, secret–all narrative. For such a writing form “allows the reader to discover the subject–and the meaning of the subject.” Then the reader and writer really have communication (a type of communion, or a “symbiotic relationship” in modern-speak: a relationship of mutual benefit).
Mr. Murray’s words bolstered me, supported me, and urged me on to continue what I have been doing since my early journal-writing years. My best stories and anecdotes–in essence, my best writing–come from my life: from my reading and viewing, my experiencing, my observing. I don’t think I could ever give them up and still be a writer.
© James F. O’Neil 2013