Remembering what’s outside the “writer zone”

“I feel so uninspired!”

That was me a few minutes ago. I admit – I’ve been sitting at this desk simply dallying for way too long now. I wrote three paragraphs that sounded pretty decent at first, but, when reread, sounded downright boring. So here I am, waving my white flag and surrendering to my lack of inspiration.

The beginning of my writing process used to start out this way. I sat down somewhere quiet, let my cup of coffee slowly turn cold, stared off into space for long periods of time, and hoped that somehow, anyhow, I would feel a sudden, thrilling spark of inspiration. That last bit almost never happened. Even when it did, I still doubted that the inspiration was really good enough. What if my idea wasn’t actually a smart one? What if it was just an idea I’d pick up somewhere and thought I was good enough to think of? Whose voice am I writing in then? The obsessing normally came to a halt only when I glanced at the clock and realized how much time I’d wasted mostly spacing out and entertaining an immature hope. Read More

Possibilities

Today, I began reading the book “Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz.” I must admit that it was the title that caught my eye when I was browsing the aisles of a bookstore last week. I checked out the book from the UGLi today with the slight hope that the book would be interesting. (Despite having both math and writing as two active parts of my life, I’ve never personally seen them come together in a nice way.)

When I pulled the book out to read on the bus, I found myself chuckling and thinking, “Wow, these authors are actually really funny.” They managed, seemingly effortlessly, to take concepts that I’d laboriously learned through theorems full of confusing notation and trickery, to write everything out in simple words that served their purposes of not only informing but also entertaining.

This came as a very pleasant surprise to me. The only humor I’ve ever derived from math came from jokes such as this one:

To see math being put into such fun-to-read words was quite a different experience for me. It got me thinking about everything we’ve learned so far in this class and how they’ve helped shape my ideas about writing. Whereas before this I used to think that the two most essential ingredients of writing were inspiration and words, I now think of writing as a dish that never comes out in an identical way simply because the ingredients keep changing (I just realized I’m really hungry). Read More

It’s not always a single-player game

When I was in high school, my mom kept asking me why I wouldn’t compile all my essays together to make a neat collection. She gave me all sorts of reasons: that my teacher asked for it (“Fine, I’ll give her copies of some of them” – I never did), that she wanted to read them (“Okay, I’ll let you read a few” – never quite got around to this), that it would be good for me to keep track of my progress. Every time, I would mumble an unrelated excuse and hope that she’d stop asking me to do it. I just didn’t want to do it. Most of my writing never ventured out of my paper and virtual folders. The ones that did make it out were turned in for evaluation.

I was happy with the mess of papers in my folders and the assortment of oddly-titled documents on my computer. Most importantly, I liked that my haphazardly thrown together collection was for my own eyes only. I did want to let my mom read what I’d written, but often times I ended up thinking, “Maybe not this one. Maybe the next one.” For some reason, I felt so attached to the things I’d written that letting someone else read them, especially someone as close as my own mother, was daunting. I simply didn’t want to be judged on my writing. That territory was a no-no for me.

Photo credit to: campgroundsigns.com

But college has forced me to change. Read More

It may take time, but it’s worth it

If I had to summarize what I got out of last night’s How I Write event, I would say this – I got encouragement.

Out of everything that both Melody and Perry mentioned, I felt that the message that stuck out the most to me was that sometimes we just have to let our passions find us. Melody talked about how she had to go through several phases to find herself where she is right now. She told us about how it took many years and a few jobs for her to figure out that she had a passion for teaching writing. Perry also talked about something along the same lines. When I asked him how he found himself doing so many things – poetry, fiction, movie reviews, screenplays – he said, quite simply, that he just found what he loved to do.

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Blogging

Before I read Andrew Sullivan’s piece, I’d seen blogging as just another way to get one’s opinions out to a general public. I perceived blogging as a personal endeavor that bloggers rarely intended to go public with. I might have thought this due to my own reasons for blogging before this class. I’d been blogging mainly for myself and also for my family and friends whom I kept updated through my blog posts. I also had never given much thought to the level of interactivity that a blogger anticipated and even appreciated from a blog post.

However, Sullivan’s description of his experiences with having continuous discussions with his readers prompted me to evaluate bloggers’ intentions when they publish a blog post. It seemed that Sullivan needed constant feedback from his readers in order to write posts which were relevant and interesting. This challenged me to rethink the way that I thought bloggers planned their blog posts. Sullivan’s piece made me see that many bloggers, in fact, set goals to reach out to specific readers and to initiate discussions and debates with their readers, instead of simply to reach an audience which was passive and was accepting of everything the blogger writes.  My own experience in blogging in this minor blog had also taught me that there could be friendly opposition in responses to a blogger’s opinions and that this opposition might be a very helpful aspect of blogging as it could help inform a blogger. Sullivan also touched on this (in reference to a much larger scale of blogging) when he wrote that “a blogger splashe[d] gamely into a subject and dare[d] the sources to come to him.”

This is what I imagine some bloggers to feel after hitting 'publish' to make public a post about a controversial issue. Photo credit to: hoax-slayer.com

I think that blogging, unlike most genres and modes of writing, gives a writer a lot of freedom in the speed at which he or she can share his or her thoughts to a wide audience and receive feedback almost instantly. Unlike authors who have to wait until their books hit the shelves and become read by a sizable audience before the authors can receive feedback from critics and readers, bloggers only have to wait for a short period of time to hear ­­from their audience. Sullivan highlights this in his piece when he writes, “Now the feedback was instant…”

Another way in which blogging differs a lot from other modes of writing is in the audience that it attracts. Published books are usually read by an audience that intends to read about a particular subject. A book reader isn’t likely to pick up a book about a subject that doesn’t interest him or her. On the other hand, a blog reader can easily stumble upon a blog post that challenges his or her opinions as long as the reader has access to the Internet. I think, in this way, blogging affords a bigger and more varied audience to a writer.

The types of audience that blogging affords is a part of what I look forward to in my repurposing essay. For my next essay, I am going to work on repurposing an argumentative paper written as an open letter to my peers. I want to reach out to a bigger audience by writing for an online magazine that has a broader range of audience. I plan to make my article informative and persuasive, and I also expect to get feedback from my readers. I think that in some ways, the article is much like a blog post as I expect it to generate discussion among readers.

New territory! Uh-oh.

When I first visited this blog some time ago, I clicked on some of the posts that the Fall ’11 cohort made at the end of the semester. I went to check out the e-portfolios (now I feel weird saying this because it sounds like I am a silent stalker – maybe it’s just my Facebook paranoia kicking in) and I thought, “Wow, these are so impressive!” Each blog had a different theme going on. Each blog housed a different range of topics. I loved the layouts and, especially, the contents that I saw.

Over time, I forgot that sooner or later, I’d have to start working on my own e-portfolio – until the other day when we were told to take a look at the e-portfolios that the Fall ’11 cohort had produced. This time, while I looked through the blogs again, I couldn’t help but think, “How can I do this?” Cue alarm bells ringing in my head. Not good.

Photo credit to: chris.pirillo.com

Suddenly, I started worrying about anything and everything. How do I even make new sections in a WordPress blog? What if I can never make up my mind about which theme or layout to use (I always have this problem)? What if my site comes off looking, and worse yet, sounding, really unprofessional and uninteresting? Ugh, who would want to read it? And this was perhaps my biggest concern: How can I have the guts to post my ugly drafts?

I suppose it’s easy to get into a panicky mode when we’re faced with a new task. So I guess I just have to calm down and trust that I’ll get somewhere, somehow, with guidance from my instructor and peers. I think that, in many ways, starting my e-portfolio will be similar to forcing myself to sit down to write a bad first draft. And if there’s anything that our class readings so far have taught me, it is that it is okay to write bad drafts!

The thought of displaying my rough drafts doesn’t appeal to me very much, honestly, but I do see how it can add value to my work to show my progress. I have not given this much thought before, but, simply looking at the previous cohort’s posts of rough drafts and reflections, I think that the display of works in progress makes me feel more appreciative of the effort that the writer has put into a project. I guess, oddly enough, one of the aspects that I’m most concered about in starting the e-portfolio is also one that I think makes the e-portfolio really special and interesting.

Composition of Meaning in Reading and Writing

When I write, all I have to rely on are my own past experiences that have shaped my background. On the other hand, people who read what I write may see the same words yet finish reading with a completely different understanding of my writing than the understanding I have when I read through my own work. Although it seems easy to write this off as something reasonable and obvious, I’ve only come to fully understand and appreciate the importance of this not too long ago.

Through workshop sessions with my classmates, I came to realize and appreciate the differences that arise in interpretations of the same text. My classmates asked me questions I’d never even think of while I was writing my paper. Sometimes they asked if I’d intended for the reader to think X and I’d say that I was expecting the reader to think Y. Sometimes their questions baffled me. Why were they reading so much into a section that I’d thought was so straightforward? Why were they wondering if I’d meant something deeper when, really, I’d meant that sentence quite literally? Why were my readers so different from what I’d expected them to be? Suddenly, my own classmates, whom I’d presumed thought pretty much the same way I did (aside from some issues in which we all had steadfast opinions about), seemed so different. And then I felt the tension that I had to ease between being a writer and being a reader.

This quite accurately depicts my feelings during writing workshops sometimes. Photo credit to: agsblingblog.wordpress.com

This is what the reading “Toward a Composing Model of Reading” focuses on. Its argument is that reading and writing both involve the construction of meaning since meaning is essential to both a reader and a writer. An interesting point that this reading develops is that the ways in which meaning is constructed in reading and writing may be much more similar than we think even if the processes produce different meanings as an end result.

“Toward a Composing Model of Reading” discusses how reading and writing share in common these aspects: planning, drafting, aligning, revising, and monitoring. In the planning stage, both writers and readers set out with specific goals in mind – before writing, the writer plans to use the right words to convey his or her message; before reading, the reader plans to go through the text to pick up specific information. The authors define the drafting process as “the refinement of meaning as readers and writers deal directly with the print on the page”. In aligning, writers and readers approach a text differently depending on what roles they take on as they write or read. A writer is conscious of the audience that is going to read and interpret his or her work. The reader, in return, responds to the writer’s intentions either with agreement or disagreement. Next, in the revising stage, a reader has to rethink his or her interpretation of a text while a writer has to go through a draft and decide how to improve it. The authors state that in the monitoring stage, “readers and writers must be able to distance themselves from the texts they have created to evaluate what they have developed”.

While I generally agree with the points raised in the reading, I am still unsure about the revising process that a reader goes through as the authors put forth. The authors highlight that “[readers] must examine their developing interpretations and view the models they build as draft-like in quality – subject to revision”. I don’t doubt that this is a very effective reading strategy (after all, we’ve all done these: rereading, making notes in the margins, arguing with ourselves if we agree with something in the text); however, I think it will be quite difficult for me to employ this method as a normal, everyday reading practice.

I just can't read when I'm frustrated. Photo credit to: sthmmorden.blogspot.com

Maybe I am being swayed by my own preconceived notions of the difference between reading and writing, but I think that if I were to keep consciously reevaluating my interpretations of every text I read, I may just end up feeling lost. I feel that interpretations form and shift naturally as I read and if I were to track all the little changes that happen in the way I view a text, I may feel as though I cannot find a clear stand in the topic addressed. While rereading and debating over the meaning of a text are necessary and highly useful, sometimes I want to just read without nitpicking on every detail of not only the text but also my thought process. That is not to mean, though, that I fully oppose revising every time I read. There are times when I actually enjoy critically analyzing what I’m reading and tracking my responses to the text, but there are times when I simply want to be a passive reader. (At the risk of sounding shallow, I will say that I think there’s some joy to be found in being a passive, “superficial” reader. But, of course, there’s more than one way to interpret that.)

I was surprised by the conclusion I found myself reaching after I’d typed the whole chunk of text above. In many ways, my own post mirrored exactly what the authors had proposed in their writing. I started reading the text with my own biases, found myself looking out for specific details (the what’s and why’s), assumed a position that was at times in favor of the authors and at times stubbornly opposing the authors, reconsidered my assumptions in line with the ideas contained in the reading, and monitored myself by way of evaluating my opinions to form this post.

So, yes, now I think that reading and writing are much more similar than I’ve previously assumed. But, I guess, somewhere inside, I’m still not completely opposed to changing my mind. (Now I feel like an extra critical reader – can’t decide if that’s good or bad.)

Work In Progress

I think that the most interesting aspect of the assignment is the introspection that the topic requires. It is one thing to write about the purpose of writing in general, but it is quite something else to write about my own reasons for writing. To tackle this assignment, I have to consider my experience with writing and question myself honestly (which, I have to say, is a bit intimidating).

Before I started working on my draft, I knew that I’d have to spend a fair amount of time thinking back and reflecting on my own writing process. To be honest, I was rather apprehensive but excited about it. On one hand, it was exciting to look back at how far I’d come in terms of my writing abilities and to think about my reasons for writing. On the other hand, I was a little nervous about trying to express these thoughts.

After a day of mulling over the topic and trying (rather unsuccessfully) to create an outline in my head, I flopped onto my bed with a notebook and a pencil in hand. My specific goal was to trace my own progress in writing. A half hour later, I found myself staring at a page full of notes. In my notes, I had traced my progress in chronological sequence. When I read over my notes, I was surprised that I could see a recurring theme. I circled key words that jumped out at me and then I knew where I had to start my paper.

However, having a sense of direction obviously isn’t all there is to it. Now that I know what I want to say, the next hurdle is conveying the right message effectively. A couple of pages on, I still feel as though there is a lot that I’m missing. The problem seems to lie in the way I want to express myself. The picture I have in my mind just isn’t translating to words as well as I want it to.

I plan to work through this by revisiting all of my significant experiences with writing. I know that there are still little pieces to fit together and connections to make to form the big picture in my essay. Hopefully, I’ll find these pieces and connections through more pondering and rewriting.

Rethinking reasons for writing

I think it is safe to say that when we think about writers, we are likely to assume that writers are people who are able to articulate their thoughts on paper with ease. Yet, what Orwell and Didion have to say about their writing process seem to share the common message that they don’t always know what exactly to write and how to write it. Orwell admits to being prone to include long-winded descriptions only because he wants to. Didion shares that she finds herself adding unexpected details when she writes, making it seem as though writing leads her to find her own thoughts.

Orwell touches on how the political climate of his time has sparked in him the desire to express his opinions about the turmoil he has seen in his surroundings. This is an aspect that we can see has endured through time. Current events influence writers’ opinions which in turn inform a greater public that may or may not share the same viewpoints. This point is salient in Sullivan’s explanation as to why he blogs. Sullivan feels the urge to not just provide commentary, but also initiate active discussion with his blog readers about what is happening right now. Crucial to his purpose of writing are the relevance of the topics he writes about and the immediacy with which he can address and receive feedback about these topics.

Orwell’s opinion that one of the motivations that push writers to write is “political purpose” is echoed by Joan Didion’s assertion that “writing is the act of … imposing oneself upon other people …” When a person writes for an audience, it is only inevitable that anticipating the audience’s opinions and reactions is as important as relaying the writer’s own opinions and claims. Without keeping in mind the inherent connection between a writer and a reader, a piece of writing will only hold personal significance to the writer. This leans toward what Orwell describes as writing to fulfill a “historical purpose” and an “aesthetic enthusiasm”.

I chose Maus I, the black and white comic book by Art Spiegelman, to represent a work that I found very compelling. This book was written and illustrated to depict the very dark lives that many people lived under the Nazi rule. Yet, Spiegelman managed to make it a fascinating read by weaving together his political and artistic purposes. He effectively used the connection between visual art and words.

He drew symbolically by depicting the Nazi soldiers as cats (which were often colored in with dark, bold lines) and the oppressed people as mice (which were always given white faces). Spiegelman also used the written language to evoke emotional responses in his readers. The dialogues throughout the comic shifted in tone and slang. He showed a contrast between the old man (the narrator) who had witnessed and lived through the dark times and the grandchild who was piecing together his grandfather’s story to create this comic. It was clear the Spiegelman didn’t just want to chronicle his grandfather’s account of his times, but he also wanted to bring life to that story by showing it in an engaging blend of pictures and words. As Orwell would put it, Spiegelman’s work was a result of both historical and political purpose.

The other piece of writing that I have chosen, Mirrorings by Lucy Grealy, brings readers through a turbulent emotional journey that the author experiences as a result of living with a face damaged by surgery. She provides intimate details and vivid descriptions that make her voice come through the pages. At the same time, Grealy isn’t just telling her story. She is also, as Didion may put it, imposing her views on her readers. She is giving them a perspective unlike what most of them hold. She wants them to see the world the way that she does as an adult who has lived a life full of blatant scrutiny and disapproval due to her disfigured face. By using her own life story, she wants her readers to examine the way in which they perceive beauty and perhaps alter their perceptions.