Why I Write

I don’t think in words like our friend George Orwell. I am more like Miss Didion, who holds images in her mind and develops stories around them. I write to ground the images and thoughts in my head. For along time, this philosophy resulted in excessively purple prose with very little plot (the pacing was terrible). But, like Orwell says, wanting to write grandiose prose for the sake of the sound of those big words and sweeping sentences isn’t always such a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s imperative to write in a way that may not be technically the most effective, but indulges the writer.

As I’ve written more throughout my college career, particularly in this class, I’ve found that writing is not just a one-time act, but a process. I re-wrote my Repurposing project essay three separate times. The first time was, technically, terrible. But, I got all my word-vomit on the page. With each successive draft, the ideas got cleaner and more finessed. I think that’s another reason why I write: I am able to rid myself of the mess of my thoughts and physically rearrange them until they are in the most optimal, effective form (at least in my mind).

I can definitely identify with Orwell’s point about long-term writing being painful. When I attempted writing a play last year, I was, at times, so paralyzed with my inability to create anything other than complete shit that I felt like I was going to be sick.

Me, while writing a shitty draft.

But when I do write successfully, when my thoughts translate with relative ease and clarity onto the paper, the feeling is unmatched. I think that makes it worth it.


Emily Cotten

Emily Cotten is a sophomore Vocal Performance major at the University of Michigan. She hails from North Carolina and enjoys reading, writing, and blasting opera hits in her car while driving down the highway.

3 thoughts to “Why I Write”

  1. Hi Emily!
    Your post resonated with me in a number of interesting ways. As a current student of the capstone course, I remember the thought processes I underwent in drafting, writing, rewriting, and revising the “Why I Write” essay. I am similar to you, and Miss Didion for that matter, in that I am the type of person who holds images in my mind and develops stories around them- rather than the other way around.

    In the capstone course, we are required to write a paper that reflects on our development as a writer, and this very idea that you (and Miss Didion) mention has manifested itself in my essay. A large part of why I write is because writing is the way I communicate best. I might have an idea, but that idea is fuzzy and unimportant until it is physically written down on the page. Writing makes my thoughts more prominent, more significant, more real, and more sensible.

    Your next idea, that writing is a process rather than a one-time act, is one of the most important things I’ve learned from the minor. Revising is just important as writing. If our writing reflects our thinking, then our writing can constantly be improved, just like our thinking can be.

    Good luck with the essay. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

  2. Emily,
    I totally understand the idea of developing stories around a single moment or image. It’s a game that my friends and I sometimes play, actually; try to make up or guess the story behind something we see. As you can imagine, it gets quite creative, especially while we are bored and waiting.
    Anyway, I digress; I agree with you one hundred percent about how we writers should allow ourselves some indulgence. Often we are told to write under various guidelines and restrictions that we need to follow, lest we suffer for our inability to conform to regulations. I mean, look at university classes; too often we have been told that we need to write an academic piece that analyzes a certain subject and needs to touch upon certain points in said subject. And with regards to writing being a continuous process, I feel like you might enjoy the piece Shitty First Drafts by Anne Lamott (it’s only two pages, a pretty quick read), where the title pretty much explains it all. It’s not like anyone can just whip out a masterpiece within a few days; it takes time for us to truly write what we want to write and for us to be satisfied with what we created. Having that serendipitous moment of satisfaction is truly unmatched, and is one that makes the creative angst worth it.

  3. Hi Emily,
    The draft process is truly the toughest process. You have to somehow transform a vague idea in your head into something professional and presentable. Because of this I always gravitated more toward creative writing, it leaves more room for freedom! I have found that what makes drafting a million times easier is feedback. When you’re drafting, its just you and your thoughts. But with someone else thrown into the mix it creates a whole new realm of possibilities. Maybe keep this in mind the next time you are drafting another long paper! But who knows when that will be since you are a voice major haha.

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