Jonathan Franzen on How to Write Bluntly without Being Killed or Hurt, Literally…

jon franzen

Franzen, known for his dislike towards social media and his novel “The Correction”, shares his tips and tricks on how to stay honest while writing without getting murdered or hurt afterwards.

A few days ago, I tried writing things I never imagined writing. What was in my mind was trying to help some people out there learn the information they may not know before. I quoted the sentences written in the book, and interpreted based on my logic and all the knowledge I have about Indonesia’s politics.

The reactions emerged like sudden flood at midnight. So unprecendented and unexpected. I would see thousands of visitors coming and reading my posts literally every second, which rarely happened during my 5-year period of blogging. I was a solo blogger, thus never thought my blog would be in the limelight. A meager amount of traffic already makes me happy. But the last weekend was tremendous. All is because the topic I chose, urged by the desire to inform. It was not because of deadlines or professional pressures. I wrote because I felt I had to

Not all people are pleased to learn what I posted. Some were less than happy to find my writing. And one was “worried and enraged” because I was writing a sensitive theme in my spare time, which instead I might have used for “another much better purpose”, like writing for business purposes (if you know what I mean). Another advised that I should be cautious because who knows what will happen to me during this politically unstable phase.

“Sorry,” I said,”It was my absolute right to write things I deem important to convey to my readers. You have no rights whatsoever to tell me what to or not to write….” I hope she somehow reads it and fires me NOW. Because I know she wouldn’t dare. And even if she dares, I would be happy to accept the decision to simplify my life.

Feeling frustrated and unsupported, I turn to the American literary figure Jonathan Franzen for advice. He acknowledges:

“A piece of writing is not interesting or worth doing if there’s not some personal risks, if it’s not dangerous in some fashion. Whether you’re exposing some parts of yourself you’d rather not talk about or whether you’re trying to be sincere about something that would be much more comfortable to be ironic about or vice versa, if you’re being sarcastic or ironic about something that people take seriously.”

Franzen points out also that journalists may face the same dangers and risks by being honest in their news reports. He mentions there’s some element of psychological risk as well.”There’s a discomfort,”he puts it.

So how to tell the stories in an honest manner without being killed or get hurt by people who may feel offended by the content of our writing? Thank God, Franzen provides us some guideline.

“The first thing you have to know is: Can I find a way to write about this uncomfortable thing that will not make people uncomfortable when they read it and that distance is always navigated by way of the piece’s tone. Do you like how you sound as you write about it? Or do you sound like a pompous asshole? And you can’t immediately know that! But as soon as you start hearing… Oh this I could read aloud and it would not kill me. And yet people might simultaneously enjoy it but also be slightly uncomfortable about it. Well, that’s where I want to be. And when you start hearing that, you have some paragraphs, that you can see,’OK, I can write the whole thing in that voice and it’ll be OK. At which point it’s safe to create an outline and go on.”

As a journalist by day, I was “lucky” I write about relatively unsensitive issues and topics. However, that will be a flat life to live, won’t it?

 

(Reference: “How Jonathan Franzen Writes – Big Think Interview” )

 

 

 

 

 

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