This week's blog assignment for my advanced class was to write about writing - how they felt aobut it, what they liked, disliked, why it was important (or unimportant) to them. I figured the least I could do was attempt to write something like that myself.
So why is writing important? Aside form the obvious communication gap with the outside world that develops if you can't express yourself on paper, there are a number of things that make writing important, at least to me. First, writing well gives you a new way of expressing yourself and talking about the world around you. When you are chatting about something with friends, you don't have to be terribly precise in your descriptions, for most of them are familiar with the place or the topic of discussion. When you write, every word carries with it a specific feeling or emotion, a color or smell, a sensation or realization, a sense of purpose. You choose carefully what you say so that it conveys exactly the right meaning, and invokes a carefully constructed mental image. Secondly, writing holds a sense of honesty and truth that isn't always present in speaking. People are naturally pleasers. They like to be liked and for this reason, tend to say things that people like to hear. When you write, there is a level of detachment, a buffer layer, between you and your audience. There's no need to fear immediate rebuttal or argument. You don't have to please anyone else with your thoughts. You can express yourself clearly and consicely, and explain thoroughly your point of view without some idiot interrupting you or some close-minded freak telling you your ideas are evil and you must be destroyed. Lastly, the written word has a lasting effect on people. When you speak, the moment is fleeting and the person you are talking to could easily forget what you started a sentence with by the time you finish it. When you write, the words linger. They are recorded for posterity to do with what they please. Review it, revise it, take it to heart, spit on it... whatever, it's still there. It hasn't disappeared in a breath or with a fickle mind that changes topics the minute something else catches it's attention. (oooh... look at the bees)
For all the reasons I think writing is important, they are also the reasons that I love writing. I write a lot. But I haven't always. I wrote a play in 5th grade that was performed in front of the whole school. I wrote a teen-romance novel that circulated chapter by chapter throughout the entire female population of the 7th grade (which I still have in a box in my father's attic - it's always good for a giggle when I go home). In high school I won a scholarship off a short story contest. I really wanted to be a writer. Then for many years, I wrote nothing. Not a word that wasn't assigned by a professor. I was forced into it, and it made me hate it (temporarily). It wasn't until I started travelling a lot, and living overseas that I reconnected with writing. I keep this blog, which is open to who ever chooses to read it. I keep a private journal for things I don't really want to ponder out in the open. (Usually things that are too stupid to talk about with anyone else, but it helps me work through them.) I love to write about people and things I care about and things that strike me as odd. I don't write poetry, I don't write short stories, at least I haven't in a very long time, and I don't write novels (even though some of these blog entries may qualify as novellas). I do like to reflect on my world, and tell silly stories about my friends, and record things that have happened to me, so that 10 years from now I can look back and get a good laugh at myself. Writing has given me a way to connect to my surroundings that nothing else could have. Trying to explain to someone on the other side of the world what an accumulator is, or an inverter, or how little lack of electricity really affects your life here gives me the opportunity to really think about things in a way that I wouldn't if I was just letting life happen to me.
Research papers and the like, I find difficult. It's not actually the writing I find difficult, but starting to write. It's the whole gathering information phase and narrowing the focus that drives me crazy. However, once I am engaged, have all my research done, and get moving, it comes easily. Once I am organized, and have my thoughts together, it's like I've already written this thing in my head and all I have to do is get it out! But putting that first sentence down - getting the thesis statement exactly right, writing the introduction... horror for me. I generally begin with freewriting and then edit like crazy. (This is why all of these exercises on narrowing and focusing your topics are important exercises, my dears! I could learn from them myself.)
Editing used to be something I hated to do. Who wants to admit they're not perfect the first time out of the gate? Not me! Certainly not me. Proofreading was a crime, rearranging ideas a sin, and surely I would never remove an idea from a paper because all of my ideas were brilliant!! I eventually got over myself, and now value editing more than any other step in the writing process. Something can always be better, more clear, funnier or supported more strongly. Granted, I don't always edit these blog entries so on occassion you are privvy to my off-the-top-of-my-head brilliance. But the beauty of word processing and computers is that you can edit as you go. Cutting and pasting, deleting entire paragraphs with the touch of a button... i love it! Some people can't write on a computer. For me, I can't write without one anymore. I love the instantaneousness of it all. Watching the words appear on screen almost as fast as I can think them (ok, I'm really not that good of a typist, but I'm pretty fast), rearranging them, rethinking them, all of it is terribly exciting to me. Yes, I'm a geek - I know.
So in conclusion, what I hope for my students, is that they find some connection between the written word and themselves. It isn't for everyone, and I don't expect everyone to fall in love with it. I do hope that they understand it, know how to do it, and can eke out a paper in whatever language necessary that is coherent and well-thought out. That's it. If somewhere along the line someone does fall in love with writing, well then that would be something special indeed.