“I am not in the least bit intellectual.”-Joan Didion

I’m right there with you, sister. Ms. Didion had it right. Not everyone sits down with the intent to “create a work of art,” as Orwell put it, or inject some sort of metaphoric code to be cracked. These notions struck a chord, because I prefer reading and writing in a way that is more direct and less wrapped up in creating an intellectual persona.

I used to write to tell stories. My first story ever was about a dog with a heart shaped face named Jenny. My “book” is still in the basement of my house if anyone is up for a compelling read. I think part of the reason I used to write was because I was good at it, and in turn, got good feedback. Who doesn’t like receiving praise?

Post-elementary school, I wrote mostly because the state of Connecticut said I had to. I wrote because there were certain requirements in order to move on to the next grade. I wrote because the College board told me I needed to if I wanted to pass the S.A.T. I wrote because the University of Michigan demanded to know my thoughts on diversity before they would consider me for admission. Granted, these  tasks weren’t all negative. The Connecticut Mastery Tests had us writing stories based on a prompt, and I secretly loved these exercises, though I would never admit to being uncool enough to actually enjoy anything school related.

I loved the position papers that were required to pass eighth and eleventh grade. Joan Didion noted that writing is a way of telling people what you think and why that thought is right. Maybe that’s why I liked writing these argumentative papers on positions that I thought (and still do think) are indisputable. Yes, pre-natal drug use is child abuse, and no, abstinence only sex education does not work. I have the statistics and conviction to prove it.

I began to enjoy writing more once I entered college and got to pick my classes, who’s topics I found much more interesting. I’ve come to enjoy writing again provided the topic is of some interest or if I can write for myself.

Throughout all of these experiences, I can say with conviction that I always wrote because writing is essential. My parents raised me to believe that writing was one of the most important skills a person could have in any field, and both happen to be excellent writers. That is why I first decided to apply for the writing minor. Writing matters. 

Though I never considered myself a writer, and still don’t, I felt a surprising connection to both Didion and Orwell’s pieces. Part of why I enjoy writing position papers is my “desire to push the world in a certain direction” (Orwell). Like Joan Didion, I often write “to find out what I’m thinking.” As a psychology major and aspiring psychologist, you’d think that I would be good at sorting out my own thoughts. I’m great at reading into other people’s, but I like to think of my mind as a filing cabinet with papers coming out of it every which way. I need to get my thoughts out on paper or even just by speaking them to actually sort through things. As I’m writing this I know I’ll need to go back and delete things because this blog post in its infancy is just me rambling.

The reason I write, aside from enjoying it, I have decided, is two fold. First, because it is a way for me to organize and figure out my thoughts, and second, because I plan on doing research and discovering things that I think will be important to share with the world. I plan on being a researcher and clinician. I want my research to change how the world looks at psychology. Is there some of the egoism Orwell mentioned? Yes. Partly in the notion that people will actually want to read my research, and also, to be honest, I like the idea that my less formal writing might entertain someone, and even provide a few laughs.

I still do not feel as if these reasons are concrete and I do not think they are absolute. I doubt I’ll ever be able to say “this is why I write, plain and simple,” but that’s okay with me. I think the act of writing is such a critical tool for self reflection, that the reason is less important than the process. Seven hundred forty five words later, I think I have a clearer picture of who I am as a writer than I have before.



Six-Year-Olds Can’t Comprehend Hemingway

Re-reading over both Orwell and Didion’s well-known essays “Why I Write”, I was struck by a sort of despair.  Both Orwell, who believes that the act of writing about oneself at once concerns the wider public, and Didion, who insists that writers are writers because they “do not think in abstracts”, bring up genius ways of looking at the question, and I don’t dream of challenging their opinion that writing is inherently self-centered because it is as close to fact as opinion can be.  I was struck with despair because all the while I was reading I was disappointed that such greats had chosen to answer that question.  Because when it comes down to it, “Why do you write?” is a presumptuous question.  It yearns to be answered coldly, disdainfully – “because I like to” – and left at that.

Surely, I felt, “why I write” is a question beneath the dignity of answering.  And then I stopped mid-grumble because I realized that my snappish answer of “because I like to” would not only be uncharitable but untrue.  That is when I realized I couldn’t seriously answer the question, and that is where the despair came in.  But the more I think about that question (which is, after all, still foolish), the more I think it doesn’t matter to me why I write.  At least not yet.  To me, the pertinent question is not “Why do I write?” but, “Am I writing, and if not, why not?”.

This is a more telling statement than I’d like to admit.  Simply put, it means I haven’t had the time to work out why I write.  This confession may make some people consider me lazy and ill-motivated.  But some things in life can’t be sought out, and life-experience is one of these things.  To answer now with certainty the question of why I write would produce results as laughable as a six-year-old explaining Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  That’s just the problem with being young, and being in school.  You haven’t had time to become self-centered in an introspective, proportioned sort of way.  And in any case, by virtue of being in school any of this writerly brand of introspectiveness you may have gained in your short years is promptly labeled “beside the point” and beaten out of you.  Sure, you are taught to think critically and to solve problems, but the manner of introspectiveness that I am talking about can only come when you are somewhere remote from everything, either physically or emotionally, after a long bout of experience.

Or so I’ve been told, by a number of credible and greying people who also happen to write.  Not having had vast amounts of experience at writing – real writing, not what Orwell calls “the made-to-order stuff” – I suppose I must content myself with the more immediate needs of becoming good at writing: paper, pen, and a good stack of writing by older, experienced writers.

Response to Orwell’s “Why I Write”

After reading George Orwell’s “Why I Write” I find that I am able to relate to many of his ideas; at the same time, however, I am not able to relate to many of the motives that Orwell lists for him becoming a writer.  The first idea that I was able to relate to was writing pieces that are “made-to-order.”  As a college student, I find that the majority of my writing is done based on a given prompt or assignment—there is very little flexibility in the level of my own creativity if I want a satisfactory grade.  It is this lack of flexibility that makes my writing feel “made-to-order,” as Orwell describes.

Along with understanding Orwell’s discussion of producing colloquial and subsequently uncreative writing, Orwell’s love of words also resonates with me.  One of my favorite parts of writing is using new words.  I often structure sentences around single words or a string of words that, to me, has a certain flow or sound.  While I do not change the spelling of words or make words up as Orwell often does, I can relate to the “joy of mere words” which Orwell expresses in his essay.

While I am no way a writer in the same category as Orwell and I have never written a novel, it is hard for me to imagine that all writers are “driven on by some demon.”  While there are definitely those who may be prompted to write due to an inner demon, it seems to me that Orwell is making a generalization when he makes this claim.  Why can’t people write because it is fun?  After reading this essay and realizing that the majority of my own writing is “made-to-order,” I am left hoping that, unlike Orwell, I will continue to write not because I feel I have to, but because I want to.

How to add a new WordPress blog post

Hi All,

Here is a link to a short video taking you through the steps of signing in to your new Minor in Writing blog account and creating your first blog post.

One key point is to assign your blog post the appropriate categories and tags.  Please use the “2011 Fall Cohort” category for all of your posts to the blog, as well as any other categories and tags that will help your readers sort your posts and find them easily.

How to add a new WP blog post (video)

Please note that if the video window appears too large to view in its entirety, after clicking on the large arrow to ‘play,’ you’ll need to scroll to the lower right of the window to find the icon for viewing in full-screen.  Move your cursor over the bottom right corner to make the icon appear (it looks like a small screen or two rectangles).  Click on the icon to size the video to your computer screen.  Press ‘Esc’ to exit full screen mode and return to the blog.

Enjoy, and happy blogging!


Welcome to the Minor in Writing!

Dear Minor in Writing Students,

Welcome to Sweetland’s Minor in Writing.  We are delighted that you will be taking part in this exciting new program.  WRITING 220, the gateway course, will prepare you for your journey through the Minor.  In addition, a member of our faculty will serve as your advisor from this fall until you complete the Minor by taking WRITING 400 and submitting your capstone electronic portfolio.

As you know, the Minor in Writing is designed to help you develop your ability to write effectively across disciplines, respond to a variety of writing situations, reflect on your writing practices, and build a rhetorically savvy electronic portfolio demonstrating your skills as a writer.  You will begin building your portfolio in WRITING 220.  Throughout the Minor in Writing you will save writing artifacts in an online archive from which you will choose the work to include in your electronic portfolio.  You will find information about the portfolio and archive on the Nuts & Bolts page of this blog.

To help you achieve your goals and assure your progress through the portfolio building process, you will meet at least once each semester with your advisor to plan, assess your progress, and get answers to any questions you may have.  You will be able to make an appointment with your advisor through the Sweetland Center for Writing online appointment scheduling page for undergraduate advising.  You will also have the benefit of continuing contact with a cohort of other students in the Minor through a regular group meeting each semester and a shared Minor in Writing blog.

We look forward to working with you!