On Following Strangers and Shimmering Pictures

Upon reading Didion, Orwell and Sullivan’s explanations of why and how they each write, I was especially moved by Joan Didion’s “Why I Write.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to have in common with Didion’s viewpoint.  I was a bit put off by Didion’s claim that writing is an “aggressive, even hostile, act.”  I have trouble qualifying writing in general as aggressive or hostile.  Yet when Didion explained that writers often attempt to subdue the hostile act with frequent use of qualifiers or evasions, I thought of my own work.   How often have I rearranged sentences, tried out a dozen different words or deleted a particularly brazen statement to tone down a piece of writing I think may seem too abrasive or harsh for a particular medium?  As Didion explained, writing is an intrusion into a reader’s world.  By putting our disagreement with a popular opinion or a memory we found particularly moving into black and white print, we’re asserting that our ideas and words are worth recording and reading.  To thrust those ideas into the world of complete strangers, whether through a blog or newspaper, certainly takes gumption and a big of aggression, even if not always hostility.

As I continued to read Didion’s thoughts, I was particularly touched by one idea.  In fact, this concept has been engrained in my mind since reading her essay.

As Didion explains, her stories are inspired by shimmering pictures that infiltrate her mind, flourishing in her imagination and growing into characters and plot lines.  Each picture carries a unique story and potential and the job of a writer is to be a steward of those pictures.  According to Didion, “The picture dictates the arrangement.  It tells you.  You don’t tell it.”  So although writing requires a level of confidence and aggression, it also requires a level of humility.  The writer must not get in the way of the stories these shimmering pictures have to tell.

Didion’s method made me think of stories inspired by actual paintings, like Girl With a Pearl Earring, a novel by Tracy Chevalier based on the painting by Johannes Vermeer. Something about that painting shimmered for Chevalier and brought an entire novel to life.  As Didion explained, sometimes the images can be something the writer witnesses, something I recently discovered for myself.

Johannes Vermeer’s painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring, the inspiration behind Chevalier’s book.   The painting is now on display in New York’s Frick Collection.   Image from: npr.org
Johannes Vermeer’s painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring, the inspiration behind Chevalier’s book.
The painting is now on display in New York’s Frick Collection. Image from: npr.org

In an acting class I’m in this semester, we were recently given an unconventional assignment that I soon realized was, as Didion would say, finding shimmering images and thinking about them for a while.  Our professor asked each of us to follow a stranger whom we found interesting.  We were to observe every detail about this person, from where he held tension in his body as he walked to where his eye focus was.  Then, we had to create the details his life from his occupation to where he was headed.

When I began searching for my subject, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I found myself drawn to an African American man of about 58 years who walked with an unhurried pace, quiet swagger and tired kindness.  As I followed him from a discreet distance, observing the way he warmly waved at several people, kept his right hand in his pocket and let his left arm swing easily while looking side to side, I let his image shimmer and began to imagine who he might be.  I imagined that he had one daughter who lived far away in Boston with two children, his greatest source of joy.  I decided the quiet sadness etched into his face was from the death of his wife a few years ago and the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to move out of their home, even though it had more space than he needed.  I pictured him reading the newspaper and drinking decaf coffee and decided he had been teaching for 23 years at University of Michigan.  Yet, I couldn’t decide what subject he taught.  Nothing from Economics to Philosophy seemed quite right.  It wasn’t until I continued to write about him and flesh out the details of his character that I could finally decide he taught Psychology.  As Didion so astutely says, sometimes we write because we need to discover answers to our questions.

Putting this on paper, I find myself eating my words.  After all, what is more aggressive and, yes, hostile than following a complete stranger, inventing his life and putting it on paper?  Not a whole lot.  Yet, that’s exciting.  As Didion says, “You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer.”  After all, these pictures are what breathe life and inspiration into honest and brave writing.  That’s the kind of writing I want to create.  Thanks to Didion, I have a sudden yearning to seek out and treasure these shimmering images and follow them with words wherever they may go.

An Unsettling Motivation

As a person who is not very comfortable with writing, I always wondered what it was that made me draw back to this desire to take what was in my head and write it on a piece of paper. If someone had asked me why I write, I would probably say it was because of pictures in my head that wouldn’t go away. But after reading George Orwell’s Why I Write, the motivators described started to hang over my thoughts and made me question my “true” motives.

It was the “sheer ego” that struck me the most. In general, I knew that there was a motivation in artists to share their talent with the rest of the world and be acknowledged for it. But for Orwell to say it so blatantly as the first motivator surprised me because I didn’t expect him to mention it. It was refreshing for him to mention the very carnal, obvious desire to be known first, instead of the typical love of art. As I thought more about it, the idea was unsettling because it directly pointed to a negative quality of humanity. And it made me wonder if a writer’s motivation is less about the art of writing, and more on promoting the self, which sounded depressing to me. I felt like I was re-entering into the very thing I had tried so hard to escape from.

As a student interested in composition, I surrounded myself with talented teachers who all told me of the tough world of an artist. In the beginning, I would laugh it off. But the more they talked, the more I realized how bitter a lot of these people had become. Orwell describes “sheer ego” as “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one…there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.” This struck me so much because it was what my composition teacher had talked about when she tried to convince me not to be a composer. She described how she had sacrificed everything, even pushing her family to move around so that she could meet with professors and compose. She said it was a selfish, bitter lifestyle that made the heart hard, and she wanted me to stay out of it. In the end, I couldn’t handle it, and I gave it up.

It’s uncomfortable to think that all artists who are successful and famous are all vain and selfish people whose sole ambition is to be recognized and remembered. And yet it makes me wonder that if these people didn’t have that kind of ambition, would they have been able to reach the top? Or would they have given up from the beginning, like me? To be honest, I’ve definitely been motivated by the “sheer ego” that Orwell described. So I wonder how much of this is true for everybody. Is it a necessary motivation in order to survive the world of creative arts? It would be too much of a generalization to say that all writers write just for the ego. There are probably different levels to how much of it is ego and how much of it is the love of writing. Because if it were all just pure ego, somehow I feel like the writing wouldn’t be as genuine. There has to be some appreciation of the art form. But I think Orwell is reaching an honest and unsettling point that deep down inside, we all have that desire to be known by others. I just hope that becoming a writer doesn’t make me vain and selfish, because that is unsettling.

 

Writing on Writing on Writing

I like to think of a chord as three notes, although I suppose in most sophisticated musical pieces a chord consists of at least three notes, but let’s not kill the metaphor before it’s even begun, deal? When the chord is played, each note compliments and provides both structure and context for its companions. These notes don’t even have to be played at the same time, but can overlap and blend with the lingering tones of their predecessors to form the chord, in the baroque style. While they are not companions in the most literal sense of the word, George Orwell, Joan Didion, and Andrew Sullivan are all members of the writing community who have written about writing. As such, I’ll consider them companions in the metawriting sense of the word. Their companionship in subject matter allows each piece to give context to the other two pieces and allows for each theme to build on those present elsewhere. Each of these three pieces strikes chords of varying strength and resonance with me as I read them, and in order to continue my metaphor I’ll make note of the strongest and most resonant parts of each piece.

I really appreciate Orwell’s strong sense of self-awareness. His assertion that four influences (“sheer egoism, …aesthetic enthusiasm, …historical impulse,” and “political purpose”) balance to motivate every writer, combined with his straightforward assessment of his ego’s disproportionate weight in this balance, give Orwell’s writing a frank honesty that I enjoy. I found Orwell’s melodramatic description of his childhood frustrating, although using the term melodramatic feels a little condescending. Part of me is unwilling to admit the extent to which I identify with Orwell’s description of a lonely childhood and uses the term to distance myself from this identification. I am no stranger to long afternoons spent with imaginary friends (usually dogs, preferably Dalmatians, inspired by none other than Dodie Smith), but that time of life was extremely unsatisfying and I do not remember most of it fondly. (Nor do I enjoy being reminded of the discomfort of that period.) However, I do appreciate Orwell’s reminder that our entire lives, both the exciting and uncomfortable parts, affect the balance between each of these purposes in our motivation to write.

Having read Didion’s piece before, I know what to look for and enjoy once more her descriptions of traveling through California while studying at UC Berkeley. No matter what a piece may be about, if it involves my home state (specifically, the San Francisco Bay Area) it will elicit an emotional response that overwhelms anything other emotions I may have regarding the subject matter or author’s style. Although I am not normally a fan of Didion’s style, I consider it somewhat distracted, I grasp hungrily at each detail of her memories in California. Even though the “rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light” are rather dark, they represent a piece of the place I call home. To a homesick college student, any news of home is always welcome. On a less emotional note, I also appreciated Didion’s willingness to prioritize what she finds important in the world around her. Rather than learning what is expected of her (Milton’s “Paradise Lost”) it is comforting how she takes note of the physical details of the world around her (the butter on the train, the lights of the bevatron).

I find each of the previous notes struck by Orwell and Didion resolve into a chord with the addition of Sullivan’s defense of blogging. Once again, the emotional appeal of the piece intrigues me and prompts internal reflection. I am encouraged by Sullivan’s defense of the importance of emotion’s influence on a blogger’s attitude: “You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.” I am not used to including my emotional inclinations in my writing, and appreciate the encouragement to do so here. The “richness of personality” present in a blog builds a writing community unique to the technological era. I am looking forward to becoming a member of such an online community over the course of this semester, and am excited about taking the first step to do so. I find Sullivan’s analogy between jazz’s relationship to classical music and blogging’s relationship to traditional writing encouraging. In the same way that jazz tips its hat to classical while finding a new way to express an old idea, I am encouraged to see blogging as a way to develop my skills as a writer. In the same way that jazz augments the musical community, blogging enhances the writing community; although it is sometimes more difficult than pulling eyeteeth, this is what I am inspired to do.

Orwell “Why I Write”

George Orwell’s Why I Write was the article that resonated with me the most. It’s a question I don’t often think about. I write because I have to, or I write because I want to. I don’t force it, perhaps to prevent myself from resenting it. Orwell discussed the common traits that writers share. He believes they are sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. While he does not say that every writer is confined to these traits, each person possesses them at different levels. Though it sounds worse than I mean it to, I connect to his sense of sheer egoism. I myself have written two manuscripts and am currently working on a third. His quote, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand,” resonated with me more than anything else we read so far.

While I wouldn’t claim that my writing is fully driven by demons, it is driven by my desire to let people see things from my perspective. I’ve found myself in some unusual situations (by anyone’s standards—they have almost been laughable) over the past two years. While some people have come and gone, some I wanted to leave and others I didn’t, it is the need to immortalize these things that motivated my writing. My hope is that these books serve as a guide to readers letting them know they are not alone in their struggles of their college years and that it does get better, with a little effort. Though some of these things have been painful, frustrating or just amusing, I feel that I have something to say, which is my greatest motivation. As Joan Didion said at the end of her article, “had I known the [answers] I would have never needed to write a novel.” Writing helps me to understand just as much as I hope to clarify things for readers. It is not as much a need to be remembered, as it is a means of healing. It is both amplifying and correcting those who have wronged me, or those whom I have wronged, whether accidental or otherwise.

Writing is the one place where you make your own rules. The confines of academia are not permanent—the formatting guidelines, word counts and hard structure only last for so long. Writing is with you until the end. What makes it so much different from other learned skills is that you are never done learning it. My hope is that through this class and through these blogs, I will figure out why it is that I write and to build my skills enough to be able to develop my story in the way, I believe, it deserves to be told.

Written in Isolation

As someone who disdains all monotonous handwritten homework dealing with numbers and concepts, the assignment to read three articles about writing seemed like one to immediately embrace. So, upon the date of receiving said assignment, I ran home to pore over them. Now, six days later, after the immediate resonances I found with each, I can confidently say I have digested the readings and they have made a far more profound impact on my memory than did any other work I completed this week. Now, with a second perusal and a class discussion under my belt, I’m more convinced than ever that the deeply personal side of writing is the best motivation to create, and that the ability to get a glimpse of the personalities behind these three great writers is an absolute gift. Because of this, I cannot focus on just one aspect or author who resonated most within me, but I want to discuss how I was so inspired by the combination of the three articles.

Understanding the desire to write is one that I think can only be understood by fellow aspiring writers. I know that I haven’t quite discovered what my own motivation to write is yet, but it’s inside me somewhere, because I was captivated by Didion’s, Orwell’s, and Sullivan’s articles. I was fascinated by Didion’s need to write simply for answers, fascinated by Orwell’s commentary on the four main motives to write, and even more fascinated by the completely unique style of Sullivan’s blog-like article (which is the current motivation behind my attempt at eloquently casual writing).

Of course the three articles were vastly different, but I think I was most stricken by how each conveyed a certain sense of isolation and distant observation in writing. Right out of the gate, Didion acknowledges the concept of “I” within writing (based on the title), and how much the author imposes him or herself unto the reader. By furthering her discussion of writing as a means to gain an understanding both of herself and her surroundings, it left me with an image of a sole person sitting in a crowded area, completely absorbed in a notebook. And I don’t mean this in a sad or pathetic way, I mean it in a thoughtful and pensive manner. Didion’s use of a single image to create backstories for her actual surroundings and characters turns this isolation into a personal world.

This thorough creation of stories reminded me a lot of how Orwell claimed he made up vivid descriptions of his actions, surroundings, and loved  finding the proper wordings for both while he was growing up. Within the first few lines of his article, Orwell associates his lonely childhood with his need to make up stories and fictional conversations. Moving on to his discussion of egoism, I gained an even further sense of the individualistic nature of writing.

However, then I moved onto Sullivan’s article and I found the theme of isolation to be completely different. Sullivan focused on the need for conversational and instant feedback from his blog, and how important it was to be accessible to with his readers. Ironically, this connection allows for the blogger to be more raw and personal, creating an even bigger schism between readers and writers, despite the two sided dialogue. Furthermore, as an avid blogger, Sullivan has to defend the art of his writing style against those who believe it is less meaningful than a thoroughly researched and edited piece of work. This isolates him from much of the writing world in and of itself.

Ultimately, I sit here and could have talked about the parts of the articles I found funny or charming or sad, but what truly resonated within me was how deeply individual these articles each were and how I aspire to achieve such a level of uniqueness. After all, who wants to read something they’ve already read? I think maybe the trick to great writing is understanding how to use your isolation as a personal microscope of the world. Everyone writes for a different reason, but it seems to me that each different reason is just a variation of a desperate need to write simply to gain some kind of better connection to the world.

 

Self Published

We live in this age now where we are able to be published writers at a click of a button and this is the most freeing feeling. It allows us to be uncensored and raw. Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” resonated with me because it made me think about why I blog.

Sullivan presents blogging as an engaging and connective piece of writing between the author and the writer. Blogging allows the writer to grow and be more knowledgeable than ever because readers will critique and correct their pieces. This is in contrast to normal, pen to the paper writing since the author does not always receive feedback unless it is in the form of peer editing. Blogging allows me to connect with people who I would normally never see. It is nice to know other people are going through the similar things as me or feel the same way and I feel a connection between them. My blog allows them to get a glimpse into my mind that some of my even closest friends do not have access to.

Sullivan mentions that the subject of a blog post comes from what is familiar which often leads to ourselves: our thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I agree. People start from their own interests and these passions translate into something special that the audience sees which keeps them reading. George Orwell said that one of the reasons he writes is because of his ego; I think this point applies more to bloggers than traditional writers. There is that gratifying moment when someone likes my post, and I think about what I could possibly write about that someone else can’t. I can be honest and not feel apologetic for it because this blog is my own space. Blogging is a platform for people to feel like individuals and a platform for people to be praised.

Sullivan says that bloggers’ deadlines are now, and while that is true that does not mean that some bloggers do not spend hours a day thinking about what the best topic to write about is or what the best image to post is. Another post aching for another reader. Bloggers are always thinking about how to attract more readers, more comments, more shares; I know sometimes I am. Back to ego.

It always come back to the first person pronoun. I think that… I want… What is in it for me? I can’t believe it. If anything blogging allows people to really focus on themselves. People are raised to believe that they are individuals, but in writing they are presented with a bunch of rules about not using first person. Blogging breaks these rules and relieves this need of feeding our egos and allows us to focus on ourselves.

The question to why I blog is still not that simple to answer. Sullivan talks about this interaction between readers and writers as a friendship. I think what blogging ultimately allows us to do is be a little less lonely in the world. We are fighting for our piece of attention on the internet, social networks, life, and a blog is our chance to finally have that spotlight. The best part is that it is open to anyone and there isn’t a need for competition. Since I know there is a chance that someone will stumble upon my blog, I know that there is some sort of audience out there and there is that focus on me even if it is for only 30 seconds. As I click “publish,” I know that someone is reading this and I know that there is a possibility of a new friendship in the horizon.

Why I Resonate

Didion writes in the last sentence of her piece, “Why I Write,” “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never had needed to write a novel” (1). Although I am not a novelist, I do consider myself to be a writer—a very passionate writer. Writing is therapeutic to me. When I think of writing, I can imagine a key unlocking a cage of untapped ideas and realizations. Therefore, I use writing to explore these ideas, shape thoughts that I have, and vent a little. I can truly relate to this quote because I completely understand what Didion is saying. It’s almost like saying: If we knew the answer to the problem, there would be no problem. I use writing to try to understand and organize my mind, and ultimately solve problems. I find that when I keep things inside my head, I just constantly think and overanalyze. When these ideas are on a piece of paper, I free myself from the prison of my mind. Every time I write something, I feel as though I’m letting out a big sigh of relief (but that may be in part because I have a bad memory, so I’m impressed that I remembered to write the thought down).

I resonate with Didion’s piece the most because she recounts her experience becoming a writer. She explores questions she had starting out as a writer and reflects on her early stages of writing.  She uses personal examples, imagery, and details that allow the piece to come alive. For me, the piece seems honest and real. I want to be real and honest with my readers, truly allowing them to share my exploration with me. Her honesty is portrayed when she writes, “By which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on a piece of a paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer?” (1). I love this line. Here you have an acclaimed and prestigious author speaking so truthfully about her life. She continues her piece by saying she uses writing to explore her thoughts and fears—something very honest and tangible.

My English teacher last semester often said, “the most personal, the more universal.” At first I always thought: What the hell does that mean? But Didion does a good job of letting the reader into her mind by writing honestly and straight to the point. It’s like I’m in her head—or better, in her personal journal.

Here I am thinking about my future as a writer. I can’t help but worry: Where will writing get me? How will I sustain a living? Is this even possible? And Didion helps to guide that answer. She maps out how she started as a writer and conveys what I think is the most important aspect of writing: gaining access to your mind—a powerful, yet incredibly difficult thing to tap into.

Although I have turned to Didion for her honesty and truthfulness to help consider reasons why I write, I also resonate with Terry Tempest Williams’ “Why I Write.” I had to read this piece in my English 125 class my Freshman year. It clearly made an impact, as I still think about it two and a half years later. Check it out!

I’m “trying to think”

I really enjoyed Didion’s essay. I connected with her story; as a college student with a love for writing, I could relate. However, I think there are some aspects of her essay on which we can agree to disagree.

I loved the part of the essay where Didion describes traveling during college to discuss Milton’s Paradise Lost and what she learned, not from the book, but from living in the moment: the buses, trains, travel, what she did and saw, when ironically in pursuit of this higher literary knowledge one can theoretically only get from reading. This resonated with me because my ideal learning style is learning by doing. I do not remember the specific words I read for my Memoir and Social Crisis class with Ralph Williams, but I remember his words, I remember the classroom, him shaking my hand every morning and complimenting my headband or scarf, listening to my peers cry because his mere words on the topic were so compelling and moving. It was the unique experience of the class that stuck with me, not as much the texts I read.

When I think about images that, as Didion puts it, “shimmer,” I think of writing about the things I am passionate about and how telling a story about those interests seems so much easier than anything else. This ranges from telling the story of my local city owned ski area to save it to writing essays for my education classes to writing letters to my best friends. However, I hope to get to the point where, like Didion, I can put down words when I think of images that sparkle. “The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind” (Didion 270). I want to become a better writer so the arrangement of the words I want on paper, or the words that make up the image that shimmers in my head, are the ones that come to mind. But even as I write this, I am continuously backspacing and rearranging my words because they do not come out as I picture them. I hope to get to the point of expression, through practice, where I can say what I want and revise to the point where I feel the words really showcase that image.

While there was a lot I took from Didion’s piece that I was able to apply to my writing and way of thinking, her argument about thinking and reflection on her college experience “trying to think” confused me. She writes, “…when I was an undergraduate…I tried…to buy a temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forget for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract” (Didion 270). How do I know if I am failing at trying to think? In some ways I think that trying to think is actually thinking itself and is a process in which one cannot fail, or even succeed.  I’ve taken classes at Michigan that have been so difficult for me that I spent every day “trying to think” about the material and ideas, but I would never consider it failing. Through the process of this endless effort to grasp concepts, I learned about myself. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses, my learning style and what inspires me and bores me. Maybe that thinking led me in a different direction than actually understanding the motives of characters in Greek classics or knowing how to analyze a financial statement at first glance, but these struggles are what actually allow me experiences like Didion had on the bus to learn Milton.

Does blogging’s informality drive its formality?

I enjoyed each of the three articles we read. However, the only one I vividly remembered was Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” Perhaps it was his laid-back tone–a way of representing blogging’s essence– that drew me into the piece. Although I’ve had minimal experience with blogging, I agreed with Sullivan’s description of what defines a blog.

It’s informal.

It’s written quickly.

It incorporates links and images.

As I read through the article, I found myself agreeing to these concepts without a second thought. They’re all pretty basic blogging concepts. I’m pretty we can all agree that blogging’s a tad more informal and can incorporate more technology.

But as I neared the article’s end, I reached one of Sullivan’s points that got me thinking. The haste with which blogs are written creates some interesting (if that’s the right word) effects. Since bloggers must immediately write posts, they don’t have time to become experts in every topic they write about. Sullivan verifies this, saying “A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does.”

This creates quite a difficult position. Being a writer, a blogger’s job is to convey an idea accurately and effectively. However, to really succeed in the blogging world, these writers must publish their content immediately, running the risk of providing incorrect content for their readers.

Bloggers must be under serious pressure. I mean you’re going out of your way to write something, and someone writes to you saying how much your article sucks.

But as I continued reading the sentence, Sullivan explained the benefits stemming from a blogger with a lack of subject knowledge. “They [people more knowledgable in a field than a blogger] will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity.” Sure, it sucks to hear that your argument is logically less superior to another, but at the end of the day, this caused you to learn something. More likely than not (as I’m sure you’ll correct your readers) you can make a new post clarifying whatever you learned.

If you held a misconception on an issue, I’m sure that someone else reading your blog did too. In fact, more likely than not, I’m sure a lot of people reading your blog held the same opinion. Herein lies blogging’s strengths: its ability to self-correct. A post leads to a conversation, and a conversation leads to sharing and revising ideas. It’s almost as if a blog post’s “final draft” occurs outside the confines of its words. It’s the sparked conversation that leads to a more thorough understanding of a topic.

And if blogging truly revolves around this self-correcting tendency, doesn’t this informality drive blogging closer to a definition of writing? Since writing intends to express and explain ideas, simply writing a post on a topic opens the door to a vast community that can build and clarify ideas.

As I conclude my first blog post, I won’t lie; I don’t think much of what I’ve said applies to this post. I doubt Sullivan will find this blog, and even if he did, I can’t imagine him needing to clarify my ideas. The point, however, is that he could. Any of you could for that matter. Blogs don’t necessarily need to be corrected. They could, after all, state an all-encompassing, accurate opinion. What’s important is they can be, and knowing that perfection and blogger aren’t the same will help me take more risks throughout the semester.

On the resonance of Orwell and Sullivan

Maybe I myself am generalizing out of my own sense of ego — that same ego that drives George Orwell and so many self-reflective writers — but it seems to me that all writers must confront the question: why do I write? More often, I ask myself how the hell am I going to turn writing, I mean writing in its purest, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keys sense, into a sustainable career? I’m sure we all do.

What Orwell tells us is, like Nike, we’ll just do it. He argues that writing is not motivated by money or a job or even for public service. It is inherently selfish in nature, so selfish that this burning desire can often overwhelm the person itself — the need to write is so much so that it may, after all, hinder more economically fruitful job opportunities that have nothing to do with prose. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness,” he says, warning us that this is not going to be fun. His honesty resonates as both daunting and comforting at the same time. I know now that I am not alone, up at night tossing and turning over my writing.

This is my first blog post ever.

So when Sullivan says, “unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory,” I am immediately drawn to the form. As a sports writer for the Michigan Daily, I have been subjected first and foremost to AP style guides — the Oxford comma, the long dash and the use of “just” to indicate a few and “only” for one. Furthermore each and every article I have written, from a game story to a profile or column, has been put through the meat grinder that is three (four at times) rounds of edits that exceed simple comma and spelling changes. For the ego-driven writer, this process was most painful with my first few articles but still stings each time. Why would I subject myself to that, too? Ask Orwell.

Like Sullivan says, journalism is extremely porous. In sports journalism, specifically I’ve seen a column written as a letter to Denard Robinson, a game preview written as a Christmas song and features that have made me cry. The wiggle room within journalism for creativity is truly what you make it, which is something I am fond of. However, blogs, like Sullivan argues, give the author the power to simply think and say without the rounds of edits that are associated with journalistic writing. He says that blogs still hold their writers to the same responsibility as journalists, by virtue of the internet and the freedom possessed by those commenting. What’s more, blogging allows action and reaction — for a writer to see or hear something and to respond without having to back up a claim with anything more than thoughts and feelings.

I think his most outstanding line is: “No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.” Well, I guess now I’ll just go cry myself to sleep. He’s right. Journalists are also fact checking and using the politically correct terms to describe scenes without emotion or bias. When I sit atop Yost Ice Arena, I don’t get to write about my clenching fists as the Michigan hockey team skates towards its opponent in overtime.

I hope that blogging will help me to unleash the inner mystery that lies within my writing, for me to be able to write about the penalty shot or the big fight through my eyes and words, and not those of the AP style guide.