The Freedom of Writing

Until recently, I did not like to write, nor truly understand the immense power that a well formed written piece can have on others. In high school I found writing mundane, and would have much rather verbally argued a point to prove myself. I think this displeasure arose out of the strict guidelines that teachers imposed on my writing. It is almost cliché, but students were encouraged to consistently write in the traditional five-paragraph essay format. I suppose this was because teachers often felt that with too much freedom, students writing would go awry and miss the bigger picture.

As I read Andrew Sullivan’s explanation of the wonders of blogging, much of his rationale deeply resonated with me. “Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive.” This is exactly the writing that had been suppressed in my past. Much the same as Sullivan felt free of the lengthy editorial and publishing process, I have realized that writing can be so much more than what I was previously “coached” to produce.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the desire to produce writing that is “alive” as Sullivan alludes to, I was initially struggling to see how this could be applied to other academic disciplines. This was especially true when I thought about the dry, data ridden world of scholarly literature in political science.

Enter P.J. O’Rourke, whose literature defies most all preconceived notions about the field of scholarly literature. His works undoubtedly attempt to accomplish a specific political purpose, one of the four motives for writing as argued by George Orwell. Orwell explained this as one’s “[d]esire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” This is clearly the goal of any political writer, especially one like O’Rourke who writes for famed think-tanks across the nation. However he accomplishes this goal in a humorous, satirical manner, free of the dull language and style that permeates this field. It is not only entertaining to read this work, but also encouraging seeing that I can write in this manner as well, and still be able to achieve a serious, respected objective.

Essentially I write to accomplish the same things that are obvious to all: arguing a point, while expressing my perspective on a given subject. But, what I find most intriguing about writing is that I can write with whatever style and tone that I think is most appropriate, because after all, what I write is inherently mine.

2 thoughts to “The Freedom of Writing”

  1. I, too, was preached the gospel of the five paragraph essay in high school. However, I found it comforting to have a structure to follow, five simple steps to a good grade, but I admit that writing wasn’t “alive,” like you’re referring to. It seems that the conventions of writing like the “five paragraph model” can sometimes rob writing of some of the qualities that can make it good, especially in scholarly articles. It steals some of the creativity. For example, you’re not supposed use humor or satire in scholarly articles. You’re supposed to be serious, in order to present yourself as fair and balanced. Yet, by breaking that rule, P.J O’Rourke seems to make his writing better. As I mentioned in my blog, by going on tangents and losing focus, Malcolm Gladwell actually was more convincing than otherwise. I feel that this may be a case of “you have to know the rules before you break them.” No one sets out to write a bit of dry work, but I think it often happens because they rely too much on conventions and don’t take advantage of the freedom that can be found in writing. I also like the line at the end “But, what I find most intriguing about writing is that I can write with whatever style and tone that I think is most appropriate, because after all, what I write is inherently mine
    because it takes ownership and advantage of such freedom.

  2. Although I like writing, in most cases, I’d still much rather argue a point verbally than write out an argument on paper. I think verbal arguments provide more freedom of expression than written arguments. In addition, if a written argument doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone who has somewhat of a command of the English language can’t convince people to think the way they want them to think. I haven’t read very many scholarly articles on political science in my life, but my limited knowledge of the political system in the US and around the world makes me think that politics and politicians are corrupt. However, I think politicians and political writers are quite the wordsmiths because they convince people of a multitude of things year in and year out. I think the world of politics will be extremely interesting this year with the elections coming up. Only time will tell if the elections will motivate me to read a few scholarly political pieces. Hopefully you introduce more political writers and writings to the blog since you are a political science major.

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