What is writing?

In class thursday, the discussion went on to resonate with me a lot more than I had anticipated. The overlaps that exist between ‘writing’ and other art forms are evident, and big enough to make one reconsider how exactly the medium ought to be defined.

A common denominator across most sub categories of writing I would say is the goal of some sort of catharsis. In song, poetry, fiction, even in non fiction, the author is working towards a connection between the self and the reader, one that conveys strong emotions. Being able to share these emotions through writing can be comforting and satisfying for the author. But what emotion is released from the writing of a recipe? An informational pamphlet? A page of notes from class? These gallery examples offered a valuable perspective from the other side of the spectrum. Surely they too count as writing?

Among the two of these classes, the highest intention is to communicate with another, to transfer information, whether that information be emotional or informational, to another human or to oneself (in the case of notes). The obtaining of information represents a recognition, from a state of ignorance to one of knowledge, and this may come about as cathartic.

Ong too describes writing under the breadth of communication, having to be interpretable by oneself or others. What sorts of symbols count as being interpretable by others however, I think is very broad and open for debate. As a student here under the minor in writing program, my aim is to use writing as an emotional vehicle, and I hope others will have no problem interpreting this!

Consumption, Communication, and Creation

I had never even entertained the thought of reading and writing as two mutually exclusive activities until I read Deborah Brandt’s article “The Status of Writing”. For a long time, I assumed the act of writing was dependent on the act of reading. Brandt acknowledges this in her article multiple times, often pointing towards the economical value of writing based on the breadth and prestige of is readership. Yet, Brandt’s article and our discussion caused me to rethink writing, reading, and the connection between the two.

Brandt emphasized the stigma of control, moral value, and protection of the consumer while examining the reader. It seemed that Brandt felt that the writer, at least in our society today, was subservient to the reader. Of course, we know from our discussion and our gallery that, as a society, we write just as much as we read (if not more) due to social media and workplace writing. I feel as though that shift towards literate equilibrium redefines writing from something that derives its value from readership to something that is utterly necessary for survival in the modern world. To write is to be.

The old idea that authors were dusty old men holed up in mahogany studies is disappearing. Writing is no longer an esoteric pastime of the elite. Our class is an example of the diversity writing fosters: all sorts of majors and ages elected to take on a concentration in writing. The ideas of writing are as varied as writers themselves. Even the definition of communication, perhaps the most basic goal of writing (or is it?), differs from writer to writer.

One of the most wonderful things I read in Brandt’s article was the series of quotations on page 157 from various subjects in Brandt’s study. To see the positive effect writing had on people who may not even consider themselves writers was especially heartening. It further proves that writing is a universal form of creative expression that can be used by bank tellers and college professors alike.  I feel as though those quotations reflect the goals I have for the minor. Precision, thoughtfulness, and clarity are all things I would like to achieve in both my writing and myself.

What Is Writing? Wyatt Frank

Writing is many things. Everyone has their own definition of writing because writing, like many things, exists differently for everyone. It also connects with everyone differently. Poem-reading in high school english class wasn’t necessarily fun, but at least it taught us that meaning in writing is often up for debate and discussion, if nothing else. In conception, writing is total freedom to be creative, abstract, daring, or just straightforward and informative. It is the ability to have a voice – yours or whomever you want to emulate – and to add to a network of discourse, reference and thought. And as Brandt points out in her example of plagiarism insurance, the “commercial value of writing is nested within the moral economy of reading” (Brandt, pg 143). AKA: as readers and as appreciators of writing, we all value the individuality of each writer’s voice, and the essence of writing’s individuality and the freedom it invokes, even regardless of how we may feel of the content. Ong builds on this idea in an interesting way, posing the question of voice as one “for myself… or how I hope others will imagine me” (Ong, pg. 101).
At the end of the day, you can keep your writing for yourself (and maybe have it released without your approval, after you die: see Harper Lee’s, “Go Set a Watchman”) or you can share it with the world – and these days sharing your writing and your voice is marvelously easy, and as always but now in new and exciting ways, daringly permanent. Writing in that respect can be scary, as there is always pressure to truly put your best foot forward in your writing, representing not only yourself, but what you want to be imagined as, in reference to Ong’s point. That being said, it is important to note, I think, how much goes into and comes out of any given piece of writing. No writing is simply about information, or voice, or context, it is about all of the effects and possible impacts and impressions it can have on the reader, and ever the writer, looking back after time has passed, on the voice of a past self.

Writing is a Portal

Whether writing is a novel, song lyrics, a to-do list, or a New York Times article, it is a portal to another place in time. It is a mode of transportation to your favorite character’s inner thoughts, the tasks you must complete, or the song that speaks to your emotional vulnerabilities. Writing cannot be narrowly defined because that would limit its capabilities. Yes, writing is communication. It delivers an intended message. It is entertainment. It is information. However, the thoughts and messages conveyed through writing act as a bridge to another place in time.

Essentially, everyone has a different definition of writing because most definitions in themselves are relative to a person’s field of experience. Some of my peers in class were dismayed by my submission of a calendar as writing. To me, my calendar communicates my daily ups and downs and ups. Without my calendar, I would be lost. Surely something that guides me through the written word can be defined as writing. Others in class proclaimed that anything with a message can be defined as writing. But does that mean the Mona Lisa is equivalent to a text message? Surely it cannot, right? But that’s the thing. In the age of relativity, comparing a piece of art history and a menial digital set of words is not unheard of. Because if we are going to define writing as a portal, as something that transports you to another place in time or another thought – then your best friend’s emoji-filled text message that lifts your spirits is writing. And so is a painting that causes your mind to wander to thoughts you could never imagine prior to that experience.

So if text messages, song lyrics, calendars, and paintings can all be defined as something that transports you to another train of thought, then they can all be considered writing. Don’t let this seemingly broad definition discourage you. We are taught to have concrete, core definitions in order to act in unison and harmony as a society. However, limiting or narrowing the definition of writing only keeps people from delivering and receiving messages, understanding their deepest feelings, and traveling to other places in their mind.

Writing as Complex Interaction

There is little question that the art of writing provides our modern world with a critical means of communication, one in which we employ each day. When speaking on our recent “What Counts as Writing” class activity, many of our entries provoked the various forms writing could take on, in relation to the true definition of modern writing and genre. The details of this assignment had been made clear, and it was my understanding that our class did an incredible job searching the web for what we believed, as individuals, counts as “writing”. The examples our class drew from attained various results, and as a class we attempted to argue that anything from iMessages to an assortment of McDonald’s coupons fit the bill when we attempted to define what writing is in the modern world. In addition, I enjoyed and was surprised by several other examples on what our class defined as writing, including but not limited to lyrics and musical notation, as well as a given comments section on YouTube. I believe we did a fantastic job in this research effort as a class, and I would ultimately say that my own personal views of the ways in which art (such as poetry) fits into a genre of writing were altered as well. I came to this conclusion: The human effort and technical skill needed to create a successful, imaginative, and interactive work of art, can be related rather closely to the effort and technical skill placed in a given work of writing.

In addition, my goals for the Minor continue to increase in scale as we build our way through class activities and individual assignments. I’m very much looking forward to what’s coming next in the Writing 220 curriculum, and beyond.

Re: subjectivity

I feel like it’s easy to automatically add a value judgement when you call something writing or not writing. For instance, in one of my classes last year the professor said that whether or not you consider a false façade architecture (as opposed to just being part of a building) is a personal decision that every architect needs to make for themselves. Maybe it’s just because it’s more immediate to me, but I like to take this as an over arching statement for topics other than architecture (like writing). To elaborate, I’ll rephrase it: whether or not you consider [insert words here] writing is a decision every reader needs to make for themselves.

Admittedly, I struggled with some of the posts to ‘What counts as writing?’ because of this. A couple that stood out to me as particularly questionable were the cereal box, the calendar,  and social media posts. These items are all trying to communicate/inform something, but like we touched on in class though most (if not all) writing communicates–not all communication is writing. Squares and rectangles.

Then again, listening to everyone’s different and at times very similar expectations of what writing is in class makes me want to rethink this. Especially in conjunction with the Brandt reading. There are so many different mediums and forms of writing nowadays. I’m not sure that it really hit me until Brandt was going through all of the various types of professional writing  just how pervasive and nontraditional writing has become in our society.

I suppose this realization (which in hindsight seems like a long time coming) coalesces with my goals for the minor in that I’ve been looking for a way to branch out with my writing in various forms to help create an understanding between internal and external. By which I mean lining up what I’m thinking with what I’m writing without sounding like a buffoon.

Defining Writing

Last week’s in-class discussion made me frustrated, but in a positive way.

As a student journalist, I think about writing every day. My view of writing has changed quite a bit since I landed on campus as a freshman, but I never thought writing could be expressed through a painting with no words or a video without captions.

And maybe that’s not writing. But it’s kind of more fun to believe that it is.

As we delved deeper into the definition of writing, I realized that any image really could be writing. “What about hieroglyphics?” I suggested in class. It gave me a massive headache thinking about how any painting could justifiably be writing.

I came into class thinking that my view of writing was already fairly broad. I listed three examples of writing the day before, and that included a screenshot of my Twitter (after all, posts are 14o character short stories!), a NYTimes video, and a Daily article I wrote this summer. Turns out, my thoughts weren’t really out of the box.

I think my most intriguing post was the NYTimes video because I defined it as writing merely because it tells a story, and that’s why writing exists. It was kind of a stretch. But think about it. How much writing went into creating that video? A lot. I know that producers poured over timelines and stories within the main story to reach the final product of a three-minute video.

Our class discussion clarified why we did the cut-up assignment a few days before. Sometimes an out-of-the-box view of polished writing can create ideas bigger and better than ever imagined. Ong claimed that writing is artificial, but I don’t think of writing that way. Some of the things I’m most proud are related to writing, and I don’t think that’s unauthentic.

So how do I define writing now? I think I’m going to define it as something that tells a story, and if I don’t believe it to be writing, all you have to do is justify it for me. I think if someone believes something is writing, all they have to do is make a case for why it is and I’ll accept it…

…within reason, of course.

Living in a Society of Readers

To me, writing is a method of expression of personal thoughts being made accessible to others. I like to use writing to help myself in understanding the world around me. It is also a way for me to create order out of mental intuitions.

I feel that I am at a point in my writing career where I am the only person who is able to benefit from the things that I develop. I aspire to be able to create a piece of work that is not only a learning experience for me but will also teach, help, or inspire those who read it. I think that writing is an awesome opportunity to contribute to the lives of the people around you.

As Brandt explains in “The Status of Writing”, writing is a way of “generating and sharing information”; however, reading and writing are different by the ways in which “they are accessed, practiced, and experienced” (p.142). When I write a piece, I have trouble with understanding how others might respond to it because, as the writer, I carry different experiences than those reading my writing.

In the text “Writing Reconstructures Consciousness”, writing is any “visible or sensible mark” left for interpretation, which is an idea that runs in line with the conclusion our class had come to after asking ourselves what writing actually constitutes as (p.83). I feel that I need to do a better job at being flexible with different mediums of writing and learning to express my thoughts in more creative forms. As I know from studying architecture, drawings tell stories, and so does art. I aspire to push myself to this extreme of varied medium in expression through writing.

Organic writing

Writing is a craft that has been present in the world for thousands of years, with its definition becoming more ambiguous as time progresses. I believe, in a very simplistic manner, that writing is simply the expression of thoughts and ideas by etching them onto another surface. Even though these etches can take variety of forms, they all have one thing in common; each one has a single defined meaning or can be joined with others to obtain a meaning, regardless of the language. Looking at the class’s gallery of what counts as writing, all of the answers had some form of text in it, which I believe to be a crucial component of writing.

As for what writing has to do with me, I believe it to be an integral part of who I am today, leading me to disagree with the notion that writing is artificial, external, and alien in Ong’s piece. While it may appear that way in society today, with politicians having their written pieces being politically correct to prevent public wrath, there is still that desire to express one’s true thoughts in the written domain, to be genuine in the content that is written (at least, that’s how I feel about writing). I can understand the idea that learning to write is artificial, since there are various rules and regulations to master in order to communicate a thought or idea effectively. However, once they are mastered, the writer can start to truly become genuine in his or her writing, allowing that person to truly become a writer in the sense of the word.

In high school, my English teacher would often say that my writing was inorganic. To him, organic writing didn’t mean to try and comply with his standards in order to obtain a good grade. He would argue that this is not the point of writing, that it was about letting your thoughts flow freely without fear of regulation or backlash; otherwise, you can’t express what you want to express to the fullest extent. This belief ties in with my goal for the minor, where I want to be able to have my writing become inherently expressive of who I am without needing to make it feel artificial.

Writing and Rewriting

All writing is rewriting.

My professional writing professor last semester drilled this idea into my head and, at first, I didn’t see the connection between that statement and the question of “what counts as writing?” that we discussed during class.

However, after the readings by both Ong and Brandt as well as the gallery composed by our class, I’ve found the multifaceted and totally ambiguous answer. What counts as writing is constantly in revision, which is why it is so difficult–I’d even argue, impossible–to narrow down what “counts” as writing.

Writing, to me, has always been a form of communication. The physical act of putting pen to paper or writing code on a computer is in an effort to relay a message. When I write, I have some sort of audience in mind, whether it’s myself when I’m writing in my five-year diary or my boss when I’m crafting a blog post for work. What distinguishes writing, for me, from other forms of communication is the physical nature of creation, which Ong iterates. “There is no way to write naturally.” Ong explains, “…writing is completely artificial” (81). Whereas oral speech can come about organically, writing requires agency and action. The gallery showcases this “action” in the form of videos, Google Maps, and recipes–things I wouldn’t usually think of as writing–and supports the artificiality and physical nature of writing Ong presents.

Another aspect of both Ong’s and Brandt’s readings that challenged me had to do with the idea of trust that the reader instills in a writer. Academic institutions constantly reinforce how unethical plagiarism is and the consequences of carrying out such an act. Still, plenty of students copy and paste sentences from papers they find on the Internet or even take another student’s paper and submit it as their own. Clearly, this paragraph mention in the syllabus isn’t working. However, as Brandt points out, “Plagiarism is a form of material theft but what makes it so morally egregious is that it betrays the trust fundamental to the act of reading; it interrupts the moral transfer of the good from the writer to the reader” (143). This idea of trust and lack thereof places writing on a moral pedestal and requires us, as writers, to think of our obligation to the reader, which is something that I have never considered over the 15+ years I’ve been writing.

When I write, I am telling my reader that I can be trusted. I am telling my reader that my words and thoughts are my own and that, even if they don’t agree with me, they come from a genuine place of communicating.

What I look forward to most about this course is being challenged. I believe that it’s easy to get into the habit of agreeing with others because the potential for failure exists and being vulnerable is unnatural. I feel that the minor will challenge me to take my preconceived notions, my vulnerability, and my passion and create work that provokes others to push themselves out of their comfort zones.