Taking Authority While Writing

Let’s be honest: We all saw parts of Janet from Penrose and Geisler’s article, Reading and Writing Without Authority in our own writing. Many of us are handed a bunch of reading assignments and are told to construct an argument regarding them. Many a time, I catch myself paraphrasing something from a piece of writing in a way that could, in fact, strip its meaning. Why do I do this? The fact of the matter is that I just don’t care enough about the subject matter to really join in on the conversation taking place. I know that joining a conversation could start a disagreement, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s something that I’m just not passionate about, I don’t want to exert the effort to argue my point. Part of me is also scared that I will be torn to shreds by someone who knows more about the topic.

On the other hand, when I am passionate about something, I have no trouble taking authority in my writing. I tend to read everything as a skeptic. I like to start by thinking, “I bet a lot of this is just BS.” This helps make it easier for me to develop an argument. If the author can convince me that I’m wrong by the end of the piece, then I’ve probably enjoyed it, and I’ve truly decided where my opinions are. If I can point out various holes in the argument, it tends to make me more passionate about the whole thing. This, in turn, motivates me to join the conversation and take authority when I write. In other words, I produce something more like Roger’s writing. It’s more engaging and it isn’t scared to just come out and say “This is my argument.”

Last Thursday, during her interview, Maria Cotera told us to write about things that we’re passionate about. She said the best writing happens when we really love what we’re writing about. I think that it’s the passion that turns writing from a Janet to a Roger. We need to understand and be interested in what we’re writing about in order for it to really join the conversation. Though we cannot be that passionate about everything we read (some indifference is inevitable), it’s still important to at least attempt to write like Roger. I realized upon reading this article what a bore it must be for people to read Janet-esque writing, which is basically just summarizing the sides of the argument and making a bland statement about which side the writer agrees with. Her essay certainly didn’t strike me as particularly good. It was definitely eye-opening to read this article because I never realized that I was doing this, or that there might be something wrong with it. 

As a writer, I want to engage readers with what I have to say. I don’t want someone to pick up something I’ve written and feel absolutely nothing after having read it. This requires thrusting every ounce of passion I can muster into the subject at hand, even when I really don’t want to. Reading this article helped me figure this out.

So, here’s to being a Roger even when the material isn’t particularly enthralling.





Conclusion: So, let’s recap. If my essay looks like something Janet might write, I’m probably not interested in the subject matter and I’m trying to fake it to make it. If it looks somewhat like something Roger may create, I’m really making the effort.

2 thoughts to “Taking Authority While Writing”

  1. Kristen,
    I love how this post was both relatable to me as a writer, but super eye opening as a reader. I know in class you mentioned that you read as a skeptic, and I find that so so interesting, as I am the exact opposite. I am probably far too trusting and gullible as a reader-especially when I know nothing about the topic. This definitely forces me to surface read and take everything at face value, because I feel unqualified to look more into the arguments of incomprehensible articles.

    In terms of your point on passion, I think that’s a great observation. Personally speaking, I know my papers, articles, and other writings are always infinitely better when my evident passion is invoked, essentially making me “more of a Roger” as you mentioned. Do you think it’s possible to always write this authoritatively though, even without passion? Because then we reach a serious problem in which we only have a limited spectrum of topics to write about – or at least write well about.

  2. Kristen,
    I love that you said “I just don’t care enough about the subject matter to really join in on the conversation taking place.” I feel the same way about a lot of assigned reading, but I wouldn’t have the courage to come right out and say it.
    I also agree that it takes passion to write like Roger. But, I’m curious- what do you do when the passion just is not there? Do you always write like Janet in this case? Or do you try to find the slightest amount of passion to achieve the Roger-like writing? Recently, I have found myself trying to convince myself that something is interesting. In essence, I am fooling myself into being passionate about the material. Of course, this only works for a while, as I eventually lose the fake passion and fall back into Janet-like writing. It is a very interesting observation, especially when you start to think about all of the required work we have in our classes. Maybe if less work was “required” from us, we could become more passionate about some of our work, allowing Roger writing to take place.
    Thanks for sharing!

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