How Writing Leads to Thinking

As a former speech and debate competitor in extemporaneous speaking, I have been conditioned to prepare speeches under short time constraints for noteless presentations. In doing so, I have adapted a policy that fewer written words on my notecard and more floating thoughts in my head can magically assemble into a flawless presentation. Although it worked during my years as a competitor, I always felt my arguments were always far from perfect, which I accredited to the mere 30 minutes of allotted preparation time.

Lynn Hunt explains why I struggled with my arguments as she explores the reality of putting words on a page. If the mind is truly 95% subconscious than each sentence – each word – helps the writer explore the super majority of the brain that despite being so connected acts so distantly. My thoughts may seem logical and well-connected, but it’s not until I process the thoughts into written words that I can truly search for flaws or shortcoming.

Writing is a special process of truly exploring one’s self and the thoughts we truly have. The act of transcribing words on a page is an opportunity for a writer to act as an interviewer or psychologist to his/herself. When the words exist on the page, the thought and intentions behind them can’t randomly be lost – the concretely exist.

I am struggling lightly to write this blog post, but it’s not because I didn’t read the article or lack appreciation for it. I am re-digesting and internalizing my approach to writing. The Minor in Writing will perhaps incubate and nurture me to become more free in my thoughts – or I should say my writing. It will allow me to follow Hunt’s lead to stop thinking about notes and let the thoughts flow onto the paper and only then remove the “weeds” before the next radish count. There should be no rush to a masterful end product. My thoughts are a starting point and my writing should be the journey.

Perhaps my greatest struggle with my writing isn’t intellectual. Lynn is right. It’s psychological. I fear the words I write on the page because I fear being judged. I don’t care about being vulnerable as a public speaker, but something about words on a published page seem so permanent. Do I write actively? Is the story or argument worth telling? Does it make sense? Did I put enough effort into it? Will I be the only who cares about it?

The Minor in Writing will take me on a journey, one I hope that will help me let go and explore my mind. I’m ready to share my thoughts on everything from my psych midterm paper to my personal narratives. Isn’t the incessant sharing of thoughts and experiences the very thing the creates human progress?

My writing may start choppy and disconnected, but with every visit it will be refined. I have to learn to commit to not committing to first ideas or drafts and using them solely as a starting point.

Dear Writing Minor, I am ready to delve deeper into my brain. I want to see what I truly think about the world and challenge myself. I want to write, so I can share my thoughts with the rest of the world – let alone myself. I admit that I hate sitting down to write, yet I never seem to regret it once I stand up.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

Beginning a paragraph is like walking into a dark room to look for your glasses. You reach your arms out, and with a light touch, feel the surfaces around you. Although unsure of your directional progress, you know the only way to succeed is to keep trying. So you take a few steps forward, back, and sideways, get on your hands and knees, pause. However, if your glasses here represent clarity, there will be times when you don’t always find them. Perhaps you’ll see your darkroom differently—its cast shadows transform to landscapes and characters. Your end result was not what you imagined, or necessarily hoped for, but it’s an end result that changed your original perceptions nonetheless.

Writing is directional but non-linear. Ideas become words which inspire new ideas, and the cycle continues. In this semester course, and in the Writing Minor as a whole, I hope to exercise this cycle. I hope to cultivate my ideas, allowing them the freedom to grow and transform. With writing comes a great potential for discovery and surprise. This potential grows as it is supplemented with outside influences and peer feedback. The Sweetland minor will provide these essential components, which will challenge me as a creative and thoughtful inhabitant of our current world. My experience in the minor will also strengthen my mental relationship with writing and thinking.

I expect to build up my “writing stamina,” so to speak. I was taught how to run. I was taught how to write. There have been times when I’ve had to run a few miles here and there. I’ve had to write papers of multiple page lengths from time to time. But I’ve never been taught or obligated to go on a run every single day. If I had, maybe I’d be a marathon runner today. I’ve never been taught how to turn writing into an everyday habit. More than once or twice a week, I will journal about my thoughts or feelings of the day, I’ll tweet a fleeting thought, or jot down an overheard conversation on the bus. But I’m not sure that persistence and dedication is all it takes to develop and grow as a writer. Through the minor, I hope to equip myself with more tools, for both writing and thinking, that will help me get off the ground and will follow me for a lifetime.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

When I was writing my college writing sample for UofM, I thought that I was going to test out of the first year writing requirement. I didn’t.  Not only that, but the first year writing class that I signed up for (Salem Witch Trials) ended up just being the normal English 125 course. To this day I have no idea how that happened – but we will get to that.  Needless to say, I was confused and a little annoyed that I was going to have to write what I thought were “high school papers.”  Can we take a moment to laugh at freshman year me?  Who did I think I was?  At 18 years old I had already decided that I knew all there was to know about writing.  I thought that there was no room for improvement.

The papers I wrote in that plain old English 125 class are some of my favorite pieces of writing – not because they are amazing and extremely cohesive, but because they are not.  They are messy.  They are real.  I wrote about my mother’s diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.  I wrote about my insecurities coming from a small town and transitioning to a big school.  I wrote about the first time I broke a bone.  But most importantly, these pieces of writing were written at a time in my life when I was realizing just how much I didn’t know. Lynn Hunt writes, “[O]ne is not born a writer but rather becomes one.” I came into college thinking that my success in high school would automatically carry over to college. My freshman year, I failed a class.  I turned to English 125 to vent.  I invested my time into writing because I could not bear to open up my chemistry textbook. I learned how to write without constraints because of my constraints. English 125 became my safe haven.Realizing that there was so much more to writing than meeting the word count and getting an A, I began to respect the process of writing.  I began writing drafts; something I never did in high school.  I began revising and revising and revising and revising. But I have since stopped.  Now comfortable in all my courses, I no longer turn to writing classes for shelter.

I want to continue this process of revising and reconstructing in the minor in writing program.  Now a junior, I find myself cutting corners again when it comes to papers because I believe I have the equation down.  There is always more to learn when it comes to writing and I need to remind myself of that. It is easy to get comfortable in a routine and I find myself fighting the urge to settle. I need to stop looking at papers and thinking, “It’s good enough.” The goal of this journey in writing is to improve my process. Whether I am writing a paper about ethics or a poem about my mom, I need to get comfortable with the notion of, as Lamott says, “shitty drafts.”

 

 

How Writing Leads to Thinking

Lynn Hunt is pretty much my new spirit animal. She said everything in this fairly short article that I have every felt about my writing process. She has a lot of the same ideas as Anne Lamott, but, in my opinion, puts them in a way that’s easier to understand and connect to.

Sitting down at a blank computer screen overwhelms me in a very ironic way—I’ve never been able to adequately describe to someone how quite literally nothing can be so drastically terrifying. I always have to have at least the first sentence drafted out in my head before I sit down to write anything. That way, I have a takeoff point and can, from that first sentence, go wherever my brain decides to take me. Often times, I find myself stressing out about my first draft being a complete jumble of different ideas thrown onto the paper. However, similarly to Anne Lamott, Lynn has reassured me that this is okay. You sit down and write not because you have a clear opinion, but instead to figure out more. It’s within the jumble of nothingness (aka my first draft) that I often end up finding everything that I need.

Without a doubt I am the type of writer that hides behind jargon and humor and topics that I am comfortable with. As is the case with almost all human beings, I don’t like being told that something that I am proud of is actually really terrible. I do my best, therefore, to make sure that if I’m letting someone read one of my pieces, it’s a piece that I am completely comfortable with. If I’m going to be honest, this is a total copout and keeps me from writing anything that I have not reached a certain point of “clarity” on that we discussed the first day. Clarity is boring. Really interesting writing comes from sitting down and awkwardly writing about things that we’re unsure about. As Lynn Hunt says, you should be “naked and shivering out on that limb that seems likely to break off and bring you tumbling down into the ignominy of being accused of inadequate research, muddy unoriginal analysis, and clumsy writing.” So yes, I do understand that I need to step out of my lovely cocoon of comfort topics, but often times being naked and shivering on a branch for the world to see does not seem all that appealing.

To wrap up, I am going to work on being less of a happily cocooned and more of a terrified, naked writer and I am going to try to be more okay with knowing that the process is messy.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

At the heart of the argument, I agree. Writing can be stressful, and it is certainly time-consuming. Also, given my pages and pages of outlines which are usually longer than the actual essays, I enthusiastically concur that my writing forms my thoughts as much as my analysis shapes my paragraphs. However, I disagree with both of her rules.

The first rule, to me, simply seems silly. Don’t look at your notes? The purpose of your notes is to help create your final argument. Without them, you’re writing from memory, and while in the best of circumstances you can plug the loophole with a clever counterargument, in truly sophisticated arguments you may not be afforded that luxury, instead having a single misremembered detail unravel your argument until it implodes into a rhetorical black hole. Sure, you can just find the new argument from this point on; but that’s a lot of wasted time if you could have simply scanned your notes before plunging into the deep end.

Which brings me to the second rule. The second rule basically states that you write, write, write, so that you have something, anything on the page, which you can then grow and prune as needed. This is not how I write essays; that’s outlining. I write an outline, and then I write a more detailed outline, and one even more detailed, until I have my entire argument laid out before me. My actual writing only occurs after my entire argument is on the page, after the only thing I have to worry about is the writing itself. What she advocates is to write out an argument and trim it later, however that trimming may eliminate a crucial point needed in later paragraphs or create a complication that further paragraphs must address. It creates frustration that could have been avoided with basic planning and is again a waste of time that is easy to avoid if you just prepare beforehand. Which brings me back to how I wholeheartedly agree with her.

I agree that writing stimulates thought. I never have the argument fully formed in my head, like some cosmic Athena springing forth from Zeus’ skull. That takes working out my thoughts on paper, by writing, and writing, and writing, until some small inkling starts to germinate. Some little caterpillar starts spinning a cocoon from my ideas, and after a long process of rearranging, adding more, and rearranging again, in a spark of insight it bursts free from its transitory home and fully metamorphoses into an outline of my final argument. Just as Hunt knows what works best for her, I know what makes my academic writing click. I think the main point of reading this article in this context is to showcase how someone realized their writing process, and I hope the Minor in Writing can help me do just that and find my voice in non-academic genres.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

While reading this article, I was reminded of a research paper that I wrote when I was in 7th grade. The guideline for the research was to scour the books, encyclopedias, and databases that my middle school library offered and collect at least 100 bullet points of notes before we could begin writing the paper. I quickly collected my 100 notes, then collected another 50, then 100 more, finally only stopping when I was pulled aside by the teacher and told that I needed to start writing. Like Hunt describes, I was stuck in this thinking that I would never truly reach the end of all possible research, there would always be another article, another chapter that could finally bring me the inspiration I needed to master my topic. I also knew that doing the research is the easy part, and I was content to prolong it in order to put off the stress of pulling my first few thoughts out of the air.

This piece seems to go along nicely with the “Shitty First Drafts” paper that we read previously. Both of them seem to have the same idea from how I see it: writing is hard, but you can’t let that stop you. I can’t even count how much writing I have delayed until the last possible moment because I did not know where to begin, and I was insecure at the thought of not knowing where to begin. In my eyes, the Minor in Writing program is a way to open students up to accepting their shitty first drafts and not being afraid to begin writing, even if they don’t quite know where they’re going yet. We should write because we enjoy it, and the length of the process that it takes is not a mark on our abilities, but an indication of the passion we have for our subjects and how we convey them.

With that in mind, my goal is to be more forgiving of myself in my initial stages of writing. Too often, I spend hours on the first page of my first draft because I would feel shame to have it be any less than I have envisioned it to be. I want to accept the fact that the act of my writing will bring out the ideas hidden in my subconscious, and I shouldn’t beat myself up for not being perfect from the beginning.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

This article made me look at the minor in writing from a slightly different angle. Of course I assumed we would be improving our writing and learning along the way how best to do so, but Hunt so clearly captured the reality of how absolutely and completely stressful writing can be sometimes. I originally thought that the minor in writing program would improve our writing by making it easier. Easier how? I’m not really sure. I guess I felt like some magic would occur between our gateway and capstone classes that would make us effortless writers. Now I see the goal of the minor more geared towards helping us grow our radishes and when the time comes, weeding them out. In a sense this will make writing easier, just not in the effortless way I thought it would.

Throughout her article, Hunt emphasizes the importance of momentum over quality, because the bad stuff, like weeds, can be picked out later. Similar to Lamott, she inspires me to worry less about what I am writing and focus more on putting pen to paper. She says that, “most mistakes come from not being yourself, not saying what you think, or being afraid to figure out what you really think”, which results from not writing in the first place. A goal I have for this course is to allow myself to write honestly so that I can reach new places of thought instead of focusing too much upfront on what ideas I already had. I think a key step to this is not worrying about what others will think when they read it…to “discover that no one ordered [my] execution.” To me this is the hardest step, because I weigh advice from my peers heavily.

This brings me to my second goal for the semester. As writers we become attached to what we write good or bad. I want to be able to release the writing I have grown attached to if it benefits me in the long run. Perhaps if I am able to put pen to paper and gain momentum instead of rereading my notes, then I won’t find it so hard to let go of my writing. The more I have the easier it will be to pick out what is necessary and what isn’t.

Hunt’s advice on reading also struck me as something I would like to work on in this class. She says to pay attention to what grabs you in a book and then try and figure out what the author did to draw you in. I now find myself thinking back to some of my favorite books and wondering what aspects of them hooked me. Was it the writing itself? The choice of dialogue? Or perhaps the detail? I’m not sure, but moving forward it is something I would like to pay more attention to.

Most importantly perhaps, this article has given me perspective into how writing more means thinking more, but thinking more without writing can leave you at a dead end.

 

How Writing Leads to Thinking: A Reflection

Hunt’s first rule for writing is truly my number one rule for life; don’t look at notes. Looking at notes regardless of the situation gets you nowhere, the learning potential has completely stalemated. Reading over your own words for the 400th time is not going to all of a sudden inspire the utmost of creativity. It is with physical progress that one can continue to grow. Hunt’s first rule piggy-backs perfectly off of “Shitty First Drafts” and the idea that even the shittiest of bullshit writing is a step in the right direction. Words on paper. Ready for revision.

Don’t look at notes Hunt says. This idea is similar to “don’t dwell on the past.” When I’m sitting in bed, hitting myself in the face for the bullshit I faced throughout the day, I can’t help myself from peeking in my mind at the notes. These notes are my notes, the ones I made and stashed away to remind myself of all that had occurred. But thinking about the past and all that you wish to change doesn’t get you anywhere. It isn’t until you take the first physical step to turn things around that one can forget about his or her regrets. Thinking about it doesn’t get you anywhere.

But writing. Writing can get you thinking. And that kind of deeper thinking can get you moving in a direction, anything but still really which is what matters. Only writing can produce a change, a change directed towards a discovery for new thinking.

I’ve considered writing a book. Well I’ve thought about it. I reread my notes on thinking about it. Which, just as Hunt predicted, has gotten me absolutely nowhere. It will not be until I can follow the radish rule that progress will be made. My patience will have to be tested, but the end goal is possible. Don’t look at notes.

Reading Hunt’s piece reminded me about why I wanted to apply to the Writing Minor in the first place. I discovered writing when I least expected it, when I couldn’t find even the simplest of truths in myself on a surface level. It took practically rambling on paper and weaving through incomprehensible sentences to discover what was truly plaguing my self esteem. I was lost and the mechanisms of which I had once had to find myself no longer were successful. Finding writing was a blessing, a safe place to write until I learned. I learned about who I wanted to be. By not second guessing myself and constantly putting words on paper I hope that I will revise my way to clarity. Don’t look at your notes, Kelly.

How Writing Leads to Thinking: Response

In the article, “How Writing Leads to Thinking,” Lynn Hunt begins by stating straightforward facts about writing like, “writing is stressful” and “writing is time-consuming” (Hunt, 2010). However, she goes on to describe a less straightforward and simple account of the writing process. Hunt refers to writing as unpredictable and complex in the sense that a writer does not have complete control over the words that will come out onto the page. The thoughts that appear in a piece of writing are a continuation of the thoughts before them, and the thoughts before them, and one must encounter each thought before reaching the next.

After reading Hunt’s article, I now understand the minor in writing program as an exploration process through these thoughts that do not even exist yet. Throughout the program, we will constantly be updating our ideas and revising our work with the rise of new thoughts. It seems that new ideas and changes will be encouraged, rather than just settling with the current status of our work. The program will be about releasing any expectations about our writing and allowing the process to occur organically without constant control.

Even though Hunt begins her article with statements that remind the reader of why writing can be extremely daunting, she makes it clear that one can trust the process. This inspires me to set a couple goals for myself in this course and throughout my time in the minor. First, I will allow myself to trust the process even when I am discouraged and do not see, at the moment, where my thoughts are taking me as I am writing. I also want to allow myself to relax and explore ideas as I write instead of deliberately trying to form them.

Response to How Writing Leads to Thinking

For the entirety of my short writing career, I relied on a rigid, formulaic process designed to complete any writing assignment thrown at me. It went like this: read the assignment, think about what I want to say, write a detailed outline, and then carefully write a couple paragraphs per day until my first draft (which was often my final draft) was complete. I mastered this methodology, and it usually produced success both in terms of grades and in terms of my satisfaction as a writer. But after attending a few classes in the Minor in Writing program and after reading “How Writing Leads to Thinking,” I have come to a couple realizations. I now understand that the type of writing that I will be doing in this class is unlike any other kind of writing that I have done before. This will call for a new creative process (probably one that allows more flexibility, and probably one that is actually, well, creative). My prior writing process worked for the classic essay assignments that I have always been asked to do, but it won’t produce any satisfying piece of art in this class. Also, by reading about the art of writing, I understand that writing is so much more than what it can appear to be. Writing is about communication, and struggling over how to do so most effectively. Writing is a painstaking, frustrating, and worthy struggle that is owed more than just one outline and one draft; it is owed a deeper, and more creative process. Writing is about discovery of thought and about self-discovery. It is my hope that if I really engage in the curriculum for the Minor in Writing, I can discover new ideas, unlock my more creative side, and say something important to my readers along the way. I am intimidated by the blank screens that will have to turn into my ePortfolio, but I am also excited and willing to really get started.