Challenge Journal #1: I’ve Made Writing a Chore

I’m going to confess something that feels really wrong to say as a writer: I haven’t been enjoying writing lately.

I’ve never really been one to write outside of school assignments, but I’ve always relished the chance to take an assignment and use it to develop my writing skills. Lately, I haven’t even wanted to do that; I find myself procrastinating on even the smallest assignment, avoiding the mental stretch I know it will bring on.

Last semester, I took a 400-level English class on immersion journalism, and it was easily the most difficult writing I’ve ever had to do. I’m a writer, but I’m most definitely not a journalist. The semester started off with the slightly more familiar immersion memoir, but as we got into writing our big, full-on immersion journalism piece I found myself flagging. I needed to be interviewing people, researching, and writing about what I had observed. In an abstract sense, I did want to produce something good, but I just didn’t seem to have it within me to put forth the immense amount of effort required to write a piece of journalism that is thoroughly, thoughtfully researched and that keeps a thread of the author’s thoughts visible throughout.

Granted, I’m pretty confident that this was my first and last stint on the journalism front; I’m comfortable with my chosen field of animation. But the struggles I had with this paper last semester did worry me. Maybe it was because I’m not suited for journalism. Maybe it was a bout of senioritis. Maybe it has to do with my strict, joyless rituals I associate with writing.

I’m not yet sure entirely how to solve this problem, but I think the first step is my ritual. It struck me for our first assignment that we were to think of a ritual we would enjoy, because I’ve always thought of a ritual as a means to an end, or a way to accomplish goals that need to be finished. It’s never even crossed my mind to design a goal with enjoyment in mind. So with that in mind, I think I’ll start with reorienting my thinking towards writing, and maybe pausing to evaluate what’s happening when I find myself dreading writing.

Writer’s Manifesto

Writing, to me, is beautifully simple.

You can stretch it out, tangle it up, chop it into pieces, refine it, polish it up and present it with a fancy haircut, or scrawl it out and slip it under a door.

It can be rigidly academic, full of raw emotion, or dwell in the fascinating gray space in between.

At the end of the day, though, it’s always taking thoughts and giving them the autonomy to march out into the physical world.

Why a Video Essay?

My choice to make make a video essay for my final project is part practical, part personal.

Let’s be real: it was never an option for me to make an animation for my final. Similarly, it wouldn’t really be a realistic goal for me to write a short story when I haven’t written fiction since middle school.

Sorry, experiments 1 and 2. It was never meant to be. 

There was a bit more to this decision than just the practical side, however. I also chose the video essay because the first two experiments were more based on elements found in the original piece while the last was directly addressing the content of the letter.

I think that I’m ready to stop dancing around the themes of what that letter means to me and just get to the meat of it already.

Experiments on Keeping My Distance

My first two experiments – both based on a letter I wrote to my brother – weren’t much of a challenge for me to write. My first, an animated interview in which I wrote about one of my friend’s stories, was time-consuming but comfortable. Even my second, which was in a genre I’m unfamiliar with, wasn’t much of an ordeal.

It wasn’t until I started on my third experiment that things got messy. My third experiment was a video essay in which I plainly laid out my feelings regarding my brother’s deployment, and I found resistance within myself at every turn. I would write, decide I didn’t want anyone to know a particular detail, rewrite, and decide that it was still too specific. In the end, I had a piece that was vague and confusing.

I guess I just don’t want to share about myself after all.

With some time, I realized that my ease of writing in the first two pieces came from the distance I put between myself and the subject. In the first one, it was someone else’s story. In the second, I was putting a veil of fiction between the story it was based on and my reader.

There was none of that cushion in the third experiment.

Despite this, the third experiment is what I’m carrying on to the final project phase. I’ve been feeling a bit lost on how to improve it, but I might have had a realization this morning over some cold pancakes and runny syrup. I was looking through some pictures of my brother on my laptop for the video essay.

None of them would do.

They were all goofy and weird, and my piece was a serious, lyrical, meditative piece.

That’s when it hit me: in an effort to be serious, I had completely abandoned my usual voice, and the result wasn’t truthful to who I am, who my brother is, or what our relationship is like. We send each other memes and jokes, and make fun of each other constantly. A slow-moving, melodramatic reading about my feelings just doesn’t make sense for that sort of a relationship.

As I’m moving forward, I hope to reflect more of my personality and my brother’s, and to not take myself too seriously.