What Counts as Writing

When I was choosing samples of writing to include in our class gallery, I chose convenience and picked three things with text that I had in front of me. I was eating a bowl of cereal, so I included the nutritional information from the box, I had just taken in the mail, so I included and advertisement I got, and I had an old football ticket on my desk, so I included that as well. I took what counts as writing very literally and picked three things that had words. But after looking at the gallery and our discussion in class I began to think of writing in a more abstract way. Some classmates argued that writing includes anything that communicates or has a message. Now I agree that videos or movies or works of art often, if not always, require writing to plan and execute their production and I don’t think there is a difference between what counts as writing and the products of writing.

For example, there was debate over whether paintings count as writing. I think, like Brandt says, writing is like a manufacturing process. Writing can be involved in manufacturing a painting, so the painting itself also count as writing. It’s like baking cookies, many ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, etc.) go into making the final product (chocolate chip cookies) which we consume, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t eating flour, eggs, sugar and chocolate chips that went into making the cookies. If writing went into the production of something, that thing is writing, too. Seeing people add things like pictures or videos made me think deeper about what counts as writing and come to this conclusion. Then discussing the topic in class definitely made me think even deeper.

In the minor in writing I hope to keep learning new ways to look at things that have always been present in my life. I am already gaining new perspectives after one discussion and I hope to gain even more insight from classmates with such diverse backgrounds. I also have more mechanical goals, like improving my editing skills and becoming more direct in my arguments. Overall, I hope to learn skills and techniques that I can use in the future, whether it is in other classes or a career.

Writing Becomes Fun Again

After reading the excerpts from Ong and Brandt and looking at the gallery compiled by our class of what constitutes as writing, I’ve come to a rather abstract conclusion. I still firmly believe that writing is not defined by written text alone, and to me, it’s a language that comes in various forms. Although after our discussion in class I found that some may disagree, I believe that any sort of compilation of work can, and does, constitute as a form of writing. Looking at the media gallery constructed by our class, the things individuals classified as writing ranged from something as controversial as a photo with no text to a seemingly middle ground of text/image compilations to examples as concrete as a purely written note.

Noting that most of our class comes from various backgrounds of every major and previous academic experience, it didn’t shock me that there was some disagreement amongst the group in terms of what counts as writing. I didn’t expect a Pre-Med major to perceive a painting as writing. Based off of my own preconceived notions and judgements, I unfairly assumed that because of the concrete, science-minded academic culture they’ve been entrenched in for the past two years, individuals of this breed wouldn’t be able to conceive the idea that something as obscure as a painting could count as writing. However it shocked me that others of more liberally academic backgrounds felt the same way. Many didn’t think a painting constituted as writing at all, and in fact, it seemed that most of our class agreed there had to be some text involved for something to count as writing. Is it because of the rigidity of our previous academic experience that most of us feel this way? As a Communications major I’ve spent the past two years of my college experience writing to analyze, argue and synthesize, as most of us have. I, as well as others, am fully aware that all of these things constitute as writing, but maybe the fact that I’ve spent so long doing all of these things is why I’m now yearning for a more open-ended of idea of what does count as writing. I think, even if it’s not (although I don’t really believe there is a correct answer), I want what constitutes as writing to be more open-ended than what I’ve been used to my entire college experience because for me, that’s why I love to write.

As noted in the Brandt reading, “Several people that I interviewed made analogies to the arts in describing their workplace writing, highlighting inventiveness and perspective taking often associated with painting, sculpting, filmmaking, fiction writing” (Brandt, 155). As noted in the reading, even in the professional world, writing can be as equally expressive as a painting. So, in my opinion, it’s a simple connection that not only can writing be like a painting, but it doesn’t feel far-fetched to say that painting is writing. Looking at what I enjoy as a writer, the array of examples in our media gallery and pulling from the reading, my goals for the minor in writing have become pretty clear to me. I want writing to be fun again. I would love to express myself, entertain others and weave in various media forms to convey messages. I think that throughout this course and the minor as a whole, I’ll have the opportunity fulfill these wants. Hopefully the minor will allow me to grow as an expresser and as a learner, so that all of the work I produce is something I feel is creative, but not too abstract. I feel like the minor will allow me to grow my creativity projected in my writing, hopefully making what I produce more powerful because of it. I want writing to be open-ended because I want writing to be fun again.

What Counts as Writing?

I found our conversation on What Counts as Writing to be very thought provoking. When I sat down to add my three screenshots to the gallery, I felt any form of words written thoughtfully or with the intention to communicate could be considered writing. For this reason I added screenshots of map directions, a research poster, and emails. However, the screenshots of art, videos, and sheet music found in the gallery made me reconsider my arguably simplistic view. Following the short discussion time in blog groups, I became satisfied with categorizing art, music, and videos as writing. After all, screen plays and songs involve substantial amounts of writing to produce. The full group conversation further pushed me to think deeper into the aforementioned examples.

The discussion point about communication versus writing proved to be a turning point and interestingly directed me back towards my original view. Although writing often goes into the creation of a video or song, the video and song as an entity should not be classified as writing. The “What is ‘Writing’ or ‘Script’” section of the Ong reading further solidified my personal classification of writing. As Ong states, notches on sticks led to writing, but did not constitute writing. Music, art, and videos can be thought to inspire writing (or be inspired by writing), but cannot inherently be classified as writing.

My goal for the writing minor is to become a more professional, effective writer through mastering control of language. While our What Counts as Writing discussion did not ultimately change my classification of writing (ie: I will still focus on writing words throughout the minor), it did open my mind to a broader range of writing genres and mediums I hope to explore. For example, I initially questioned whether the cut up machine exercise was actually writing but I now feel content classifying my jumbled sentences as such.

What Counts as Writing: Captions

I sat in awe as my friend ordered a pickle at Zingerman’s for the sole purpose of captioning her instagram “It’s kind of a big dill,” (pun very much intended). As a form of writing, “the caption” stuck out to me because it of its elevated level of significance in this day and age. When I did reports in elementary and middle school I was always taught that photos needed a caption. However, until recently, if I were to use a picture of a woman sitting in a chair, the caption “Woman sitting in a chair,” would have sufficed.

Now captions are expected to be creative and catchy, with word play as a very much encouraged aspect. The increased amount of effort that goes into captioning truly does effect how much a photo resonates with you. For a semi-goofy example, I follow a lot of food instagram accounts, and I will never forget when the caption on a really good looking bowl of mac-and-cheese was “I hope that one day someone will look at me look at me the same way I look at mac n’ cheese.”

Captions are a unique type of writing because even though they are significantly shorter than most other forms, they often are able to communicate the same message in often a more efficient manner. For example, on father’s day I instagrammed a picture of me and my sister and captioned it “Daddy’s girls <3.” The longer message that the caption was supposed to convey was that my sister and I were at a family dinner on father’s day at my grandparents house and and it was such a beautiful night that we decided to take a picture together to capture the moment. Because of the concise caption and the information that the photo gives the reader/viewer, the longer explanation is unnecessary.

Are short captions taking the place of long articles? Absolutely not. Is one better than the other? Although longer pieces are certainly more respected, there is something to be said for a particularly clever or savvy caption.

What Counts as Writing? Calligraphy

The example from”What Counts as Writing?” that interested me most was calligraphy. The idea of calligraphy as writing is interesting to me because it introduces aspects of art and design not usually associated with “writing”. Most of my writing “career” has been spent writing formal essays, and therefore I don’t normally incorporate design into my writing. In other words, my focus with writing is usually involved with the actual words used, as opposed to the way they look or appear. For example, I never really spend too much time thinking about elements like font choice when writing an academic essay. In reality, these design elements to writing are very essential to conveying a message to your audience. Therefore, thinking about calligraphy as writing really opens my eyes to incorporating design in my writing. As I progress though the minor, I will be thinking more about how my writing is presented. In addition to things like word choice and sentence fluency, it’s also important to consider font choice, font size, and presentation style. An extreme example would be to think about what would happen if a professor printed an academic article with a size 20 crayon font. Even though the article’s arguments might be insightful, the design and style of their presentation would undoubtedly affect the writer’s credibility.

Too many decisions.

In hindsight, I wish there had been more arguments in class last week as we were creating our master list of “what counts as writing.” All I can think to myself now is: a mural does not count as writing.

I regret not having said something in class; this is just one of those instances where I don’t realize I’m itching to say something until the moment has passed.

I guess this is the part where I make my case for why murals shouldn’t count as writing. A mural or an image in the context of what we discussed is used as a form of communication. And while all writing is communication**, not all communication is writing. Books and plays can communicate to me the plot of a character’s life or a larger symbolic meaning, the notes I take in class tell me what the lecture was about, and even the sticky note on the fridge can remind me that I’m out of milk. These were all acceptable to me as things that count as writing, mostly because they have one vital characteristic in common: they are words — written or typed or short-handed words.

Murals and other such images are not words; they are images that potentially communicate some sort of message, but they are not written.

After coming to this somewhat fragile conclusion (in the sense that I’m content with it myself but don’t expect others to be), I wondered where the Morse code fit into the mix. What about ancient hieroglyphics? On the seemingly fluid spectrum of what counts as writing and what does not, Morse code and hieroglyphics seem to be closer to counting as writing than murals are. Perhaps it is because they are symbols that denote a word in spite of the fact that they are not words themselves?

Clearly I’m too indecisive a person for this.

Yet in the grand scheme of things I feel like it doesn’t really matter what counts as writing and what doesn’t fit the bill. Writing is this impressively dynamic, democratic form of speech and communication, and whether I wish to write novels, articles, tweets, or even murals, I’ll just be glad to live in a country where the right to write (see what I did there?) is mine and everyone’s.


** Unless someone can comment and tell me some sort of writing that isn’t a form of communication, in which case I’ll apologize and also be thankful for because I can’t think of any at the moment.

Online journalism

What I noticed most immediately about the “What Counts as Writing” gallery was that there is one example of a print newspaper (The New York Daily News), yet countless examples of online news. There is the Boston Globe online, the Big Ten Network online, the Wall Street Journal online, notifications from CNN, online headlines, tweets, and blogs all conveying world news. The shift from print to digital publication was driven as much by the readers as it was by the writers. People today want their news quickly, conveniently and on-the-go. As articles began to be published online, every day newspaper readers stopped picking up the paper from their front steps and instead picked up their phones. A cycle ensued causing online journalism to become the norm and print journalism to approach obsoleteness.

As a reader, I generally prefer reading from paper. I don’t like reading books on a kindle or textbooks on my computer. The one exception, however, is reading news articles. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I initially learn about a lot of important news events via twitter. For example, I read about the Boston Marathon bombings and the Newtown, CT school shooting on twitter and then proceeded to online newspapers to read the full stories. Below are some examples of twitter accounts that I follow, which posted about the Marathon bombings and were my original source of information that day.

Tweets about the Boston Marathon bombings

Eventually, I also turned on the television to watch the news.  I, like most people, want my news quickly. Articles about the marathon bombings were published not even hours after the incident, and once I read about it on twitter, those articles were available to me within seconds of searching for them. For me, reading news articles is not a leisurely activity like reading a book. I only have to look at a screen for a few minutes to read an online news article rather than for the hours it takes to read an online textbook or a novel. The nature of news predisposes it for online publication, but the same cannot be said for all writing.

Concise Writing Always Counts

As I look at the what counts as writing gallery, I have realized that the most interesting posts to me were the posts about twitter and other smaller selections of writing. There were 3 different posts about twitter in the gallery and one very surprising post about a sticky note. Who would have ever thought that selections of 144 characters or something as small as a sticky note would ever count as writing. It made me wonder why, and I think I have an idea.

One of the main reasons these small texts are considered writing is not because of how big they are, but because of their meaning. In a twitter post, you are only allowed 144 characters, which is maybe about 3 sentences. On a sticky note, there is normally less than a square foot of space to put any writing. However, in these tiny samples, they sometime can explain more than a longer post could. Being concise is always appreciated in writing. Most readers do not have the attention span to read a post that is more than 2 or 3 pages long. If you cannot be concise in your writing, then you may fail to capture your audience.

As a writer, I believe that this should be my main goal. I have had a tendency to be very longwinded in the past, causing many of my friends to stop reading articles or blog posts I have written before they could finish. Seeing these smaller samples of writing in the same categories of what counts as writing shows me that it is something I can, and should improve on as time goes on.

The writing I will do this semester will hopefully reflect this. Where the ability to be concise while still writing a story will come from however is something I don’t know. Whether it be through editing and reediting several papers, or through preplanning all my assignments, I know that being as concise as possible will be something I accomplish this semester as I continue my journey and development as a writer.

What it means to be a good writer today.

With everything from tweets to satirical comedy counting as writing today, being a good writer is a more encompassing definition than it ever was. Before the turn of the 20th century, audiences were easier to anticipate because the only major mediums of writing were written books and newspapers. Now that the internet makes writing more accessible to a wider audience, writers have to be more conscience of the wider exposure that their writing will receive.  This means that to be a good writer today, a writer has to be able to write within different mediums (blogs, social media, academic writing) and write in a way that can capture the wide array of audiences that will see everything that is written.

What Writing is to Me

Writing in current-day society has lost a lot of the formality that once defined every handwritten sentence.  In the past, monks used to spend hours transcribing written texts and embellishing pages through extensive processes using rarities, such as gold leaf. But has a lessening of this more formal form of writing decreased what counts as writing in general?  I, along with my fellow Writing 220 classmates, would like to think not.

Upon reflecting on what writing means to us, we discovered just how many genres of writing exist.  We also learned that “writing” means something very different to each individual.

One of my fellow classmates chose an email as an example of something that counts as writing to her. This interested me greatly because prior to this assignment I did not realize just how essential this subform of writing is to me. An email requires professionalism when done in a business environment but can also offer a space for humor or storytelling for friends, family, and acquaintances. Thus, it creates a forum for imagination and seriousness, all depending on the situation. In this sense, it gives the author a lot of power over how their words will be perceived.

Another interesting example was that of the image of room 5 of Pompeii. Many of us have heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” and it is fascinating just how true this is. What I love about works of art is that interpretation depends solely on the viewer. It is a fascinating way of viewing writing – the observer essentially becomes the storyteller.

These examples, among many others, gave me great insight into modern-day writing. Emails, text messages, statuses, and tweets are all great ways of communicating quickly and efficiently. A sense of conciseness and directness encompasses these modes, and viewing how these forms impact my life made me realize the importance of directness in writing in order to maintain an audience.

The use of paintings and calligraphy also made me realize that a lot of our ways of writing have not changed over the years. There still is an appreciation for the written text.  Paintings, logos and other depictions still have great meaning in our lives, even many years later.

As a Minor in Writing student at the University of Michigan, learning what writing means to me is essential. I discovered that to me, writing is a sense of expressiveness and freedom. It is a way of gaining the respect of others, a way of telling a story in a new way, and a way of getting a message across in the best way possible. By using it to express my voice clearly and concisely, I have discovered that writing today, in even 140 characters or less, is still just as strong as ever.