« Improving Your Listening Skills | Home | The Twitter Revolution »

A Writer's Manifesto

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 2:18 PM

A set of specifics to strive for.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I left you last month with a dozen guises that we, as writers, can assume. Well, with all that we are, we accept burdens. We are required to take on obligations, responsibilities, duties toward our dear readers.

Therefore, I firmly believe we must pledge to carry out a manifesto, a writer's manifesto, a set of charges that we promise to strive for. A manifesto, quite simply, is a public declaration of intent. In our writer's manifesto, we should -- to return to my list -- vouch to be better adventurers, comforters, educators, enrichers, entertainers, friends, historians, links, magicians, preachers, story tellers, and visionaries by make as sure as we can to do what we do to the utmost of our individual abilities.

And, yes, I have specifics to be accomplished that fit every letter in the word MANIFESTO.


I pledge to supply the MEMORABLE; or if not the memorable, the MAJESTIC; or if not the majestic, the MYSTERIOUS; or if not the mysterious, the MISCHIEVOUS; or if not the mischievous, the MIRTHFUL or MERRY; or if not the mirthful or merry, the MELANCHOLY; or if not the melancholy, the MUSHY; or if not the mushy, the MUSICAL. I pledge MOOD.


From the M in Manifesto to the A: it is for being ACCURATE. We must be accurate. Readers must be able to trust us to give them the right information, and we must deserve that trust. To pass along errors is confusing, at best, and dangerous, at worst. Remember that our readers may use the information we pass along. It's got to be usable. It's got to be correct.


The N in Manifesto stands for the NEW, that which the reader will not have faced before, something original or different or creative or unexpected, something that perks attention because of what is being written about or how.


From "new" for the N, we move to the I: be IMAGINATIVE and INTERESTING; tweak the INQUISITIVE in the reader's nature. Stir the reader's imagination with your own.


The F in Manifesto stands for FACTUAL. Be factual, thoroughly researched, specific, detailed, richly informative -- whether in support of a work of non-fiction or fiction or poetry. It is facts, details that carry the day, that make good writing complete. No matter how well you write, if you haven't the specifics to support your language skills, you'll be cheating yourself and your reader.


The E in Manifesto means to be ENERGETIC: animated, dynamic, lively, fresh, spirited, and vigorous. It means writing with plenty of vitamins, the opposite of sluggish and tired and predictable. Cause your subject to jump from a two-dimensional page to three-dimensional status.


We come to Manifesto's S: Be SINGULAR. Be yourself as you write. Let your personality loose. Allow yourself to be unique. Bring your voice to the copy. Make it your own.


Manifesto's T leads us to writing that is TRANSPORTIVE: electrifying or elevating or entrancing or spellbinding, with language that, while always reflective of purpose and topic, is lofty, ebullient, soaring, uplifting, exciting, generous.


And so, we come to our final letter, the completion of our Manifesto to make ourselves worthy of being what we are: writers. The letter is O. Let it stand for being ORDERED, ORGANIZED, OBSERVANT of the rules (and disciplined).

As Anne Lamott has observed: "Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out, and others that need to be added."

And Isaac Asimov reasoned: "Remember, what lasts in the reader's mind is not the phrase but the effect that the phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what is it doing there? Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse."

I trust you're all ready to sign the manifesto, so that when you struggle and sweat over words, you deserve to do what you do.

I leave you with a final observation. The great Argentine poet and man of letters, Jorge Luis Borges, once wrote of a great artist who, when he grew old, decided to paint a vast mural of the entire universe. He painted the stars. He painted the birds. He painted the ocean and its monsters. He painted lovers self involved and mothers doting on their children and strong men glorying in their muscularity. He painted day after day after day after day until he no longer had the strength to continue. Facing death, he -- for the first time -- stepped back from his mural to see what he had created, to see the whole of it.

And what did he discover?

That he had painted a portrait of his own face.

That he had painted his own face! As in the artist's shapes, so in your words. The words are you. And isn't that a miracle, Descartes or otherwise?

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

Add your comment.

« Improving Your Listening Skills | Top | The Twitter Revolution »