“When you write a book, when you write for people, what you’re saying is, ‘Okay, please step out of life, and into this weird mental place where you’re just alone with me… for hours, days.’ That’s a big request, and if [your readers] honor you by accepting, you have to really work hard to make it worth their while.
There’s a relationship there. They’re not there to admire you — they may end up admiring you — but that’s not what they’re there for. You are writing to give them an experience, on some level, an entertaining and fulfilling experience. And it’s really not about you…
The sort of world of writing for me is divided into two things: there’s content and then there’s style. There’s what you’re writing about, and there’s the way you write about it. Style is what gets people to keep reading, but ultimately it doesn’t have any inherent value. God forbid we write a book where the writing is the point.
That’s just too self-referential, and it betrays a kind of lack of respect for the world. You’re not more interesting than the world is. Your writing is not more beautiful than the world is. You don’t want the facts of the world to serve as a platform for your skill as a writer. It’s the other way around. The relationship goes the other way. Your skill as a writer serves the world.
You’re not supposed to tell people what to think; you’re supposed to tell them what to think about. You want to address the readers directly. I mean, you want to kind of look them in the eye. It’s like a conversation. It’s a conversation where you have respect for their intellect. You’re not talking down to them. You’re kind of amazed by the world. I mean, the world’s an amazing place, but it’s easy to forget that. If you open yourself to how amazing the world is, your writing will communicate something really valuable to other people.”
From Sebastian Junger on Writing with Power, Clarity, and Style.
I think these ideas generalize to nearly any form of communication. You can replace “writer/writing” above with “artist/painting,” “teacher/teaching,” or “speaker/speechmaking,” and it make exactly as much sense.
Junger upheld this outward-looking philosophy so doggedly that he lived for many years without a mirror in his New York apartment. “So I wouldn’t be thinking about myself,” was Junger’s justification. “When he has to shave or brush his teeth,” his ex-girlfriend once explained, “he uses the back of a CD.”
Check out some of Junger’s work below: