I write about health. Sometimes that means I get to fill internet space with food puns and fun facts about the history of Tater Tots or whatever. Sometimes I also write about things that are difficult to swallow — like a current piece I’m working on about adults with autism (who, real talk, have it way worse off than most of us, in a dozen different ways).
Writing experts will tell you different things when discussing how to deal with the tough stuff. Especially when you’re reporting on facts (no opinions allowed), you’re either told to keep your emotions out of it or use them to write a really kick-butt story.
In college, I had to learn to tone down my enthusiasm when writing about campus life (which I loved). So I’d write a few paragraphs in a Google Doc about how cool Event X was, and then I’d switch over to my Word document and write a much more concise, yet still interesting and informative, review.
The more you’re able to keep your feelings and your work separate, the better your work will be. Passion can drive productivity without influencing the products directly. Unfortunately, I see a lot of stuff published online that doesn’t do a great job of this. When you put your opinions and feelings first, facts are misinterpreted, exaggerated, or forgotten completely. That doesn’t help this misinformation epidemic we seem to be experiencing, especially in the science community. You’re allowed to have an opinion. But there’s a space for editorial writing, and there’s a space for letting the facts speak for you.
Here’s what I suggest. When you’re writing about something you have an emotional connection to, first focus on the facts. Forget what you already know, at least for now. Learn everything there is to learn. Sometimes, you end up gathering more background information than you’ll need, which doesn’t hurt.
Then, you can take those facts, string them together into an informative steam of paragraphs, and let your emotions influence you to write a really great, accurate thing in place of something that strays from the truth just so you can get your personal point across.
And then you can be as emotional about those facts you’ve just learned as you want. Because in many cases, your job as a writer is to help other people decide how they want to feel — not force your own feelings onto someone else.
Something strange happens when you’re a journalist who also happens to like writing fiction. You get all these random ideas for books, and short stories, and TV shows. You may not be an actual expert on a particular subject, but working on an assignment for even a few days, by the end, it sure feels like it. And when you’re writing fiction, you don’t have to keep your opinions and/or feelings to yourself. You get to dump them ALL OVER those pages.
It’s refreshing, it’s fun, and it just makes you realize how all the writing you do from day to day fits together like puzzle pieces, no matter how unrelated one job might be from another.
Emotionally-driven writing has its place. But sometimes, your voice is going to have much more of an influence if you focus on facts first, leaving your feelings tucked between the lines.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.