I don’t know why I write. By the end of this draft, I should have substantially more options to choose from. I think I’m running into the problem of hand-selecting the reasons why I write that I like, the ones I can reconcile easily. I really don’t have a good answer and I’m not big into introspection so this assignment is going to be a painful process above and beyond the normal strife writing causes me. This feels like it’s turning into a journal entry and I don’t want my paper to sound like that so I’m going to stop myself. We’ll see how this goes tomorrow. On the upside, I am very interested in reading everyone papers!
This line, from author Lauren Slater, had me grinning from ear to ear. In the middle of a disturbing, albeit gripping, expose on a plastic surgeon, she managed to interject some intelligent humor. Slater’s ability to skillfully intertwine humor, human interest, and scientific fact really make her a superior writer in my eyes. I have a special reverence for people who are good at things that I find very difficult to do, whether it’s Roger Federer on the tennis court or Lauren Slater with science writing.
I discovered Slater’s writing in an article she wrote for Harper’s Magazine entitled “Dr. Daedalus” in the book The Best of the Best American Science Writing. I spent a lot of time reading science articles this summer in the hopes of finding a writer I did want to emulate. I knew Slater’s writing was it because I forgot that I was actually reading a substantive article, something that actually had an intelligent subject matter. My first read through, I was caught up in the story, pure and simple. I didn’t notice anything about syntax or structure. The second time, I made a point to note what specific writing strategies she was using that made me so enthralled with this article. First off, she had a very interesting subject matter from which to build her story. She was profiling a renowned plastic surgeon who was as famous for his skill as he was his… eclectic… ideas, to put it mildly. In short, the man is one of the world’s best plastic surgeons, but his legacy will be for his plans of putting wings on people made from their ribs and thigh fat; for putting SONAR devices in soldiers’ heads to help create the perfect soldier; for actually surgically grafting a face out of butt fat because a man’s face had been eaten away by cancer.
As sensational as those topics are alone, Slater’s witty commentary on meeting the doctor and his wife and her searing, raw look at trying to answer basic questions, like what it means to be human, make this article more than just a black and white report of the facts. I admire her ability to commit to the scientific aspect of the article, yet not get mired down in technical details. She also effortlessly addressed the profound questions brought up by this doctor’s radical ideas without getting too philosophical or lofty in her writing. I hope to be able to do that someday: combine the necessary human interest element with the facts to produce the caliber of writing I admire so much by Slater.
After reading the two pieces and only partially identifying with either one on their reasons for writing, the question “Why do I write?” was forefront in my mind. I was turned off by a fact mentioned in both pieces, that writing was at the very core, a selfish act. Immediately after reading that, I put up a wall. Of course that didn’t apply to me; I want to do science writing, bring research to a lay audience. Not long after, it dawned on me that despite noble intentions, I wanted to do this because I think of myself as a decent writer, or that I can say it better than the next guy… not so noble. As I tried to appease my science-oriented mind by pinpointing specific characteristics I think make me a decent writer, I caught myself doing something also mentioned in both articles: introspection.
I have never considered myself particularly introspective. In fact, I harbor a sort of disdain for others that I see have that Freudian aspect. Both Orwell and Didion mentioned a “diary that existed only in the mind” and “writing entirely to find out what’s in my own mind,” respectively. Again, something I found myself unable to relate to and back at the core question of why do I write? Along that same vein, Orwell’s mind diary reference did strike a chord with me.
Many times a day I will catch myself doing exactly as both Orwell and Didion described, narrating scenes with intense detail. Sometimes I do it out of sheer boredom, other times I just like the sound of the words and the narrative in my head. Still other times, I place myself in the narration as a character in the hopes that my mind narration will lead to a meet-cute and my life will transform into a romantic comedy. So far, only the comedy has come to fruition.
On a final note, I guess what I took away the most from these pieces (Orwell’s in particular) is that you need to write for a purpose. Orwell is famous for his later work, the politically oriented writing. He wrote that he switched to this kind of writing after a significant life event when he knew where he stood ideologically. This made me think again what my motivations are for writing. I have had no significant life events that would sway me in any one direction for any profession. As Didion mentioned her deep fascination with other people: who they were, how they ended up where they were that day, why they were doing what they were doing; the same questions stampede through my mind a thousand times a day. It’s like an oncologist chooses that profession because his mom died of cancer. I don’t have any deep, personal motivation for writing and I don’ t know that I necessarily need a profound experience to make myself legitimate, but I do feel as though it would be easier to justify to myself.