Self-discoveries in Writing

Aside from partial, half-assed attempts to do NaNoWriMo last year and a myriad of other false-starts littering my documents folder, this semester is the first time I’ve actually ‘completed’ any original fiction. On the other hand, I haven’t written anything in my journal since an obligatory end of summer entry. I’m really proud of myself for finally forcing myself (or allowing myself to be academically motivated) to work on the story part of my world instead of staying in the safe world-building realm again this year, but I’ve definitely been neglecting the more personal aspect of why I write.

I still consider writing in a journal to sort through life a central part of me as a writer, but if that’s the case, with me not having written in it can I still consider myself a writer? Granted, I have still been doing other writing so this is maybe a bit of a melodramatic approach to this blog post. However, I think there’s a lot of truth to the whole “if you aren’t writing, then you aren’t a writer”. I think that’s paraphrasing Stephen King, but I don’t quite remember. book cover

Maybe the “why” has changed? (Either that or I’ve been neglecting myself, but let’s go down this path a bit.)

I think “why” depends on the format of your writing. A lot of Orwell’s reasons seemed more specific to writing novels, though he supplied a few poetic examples as well. Lately, my writing has been primarily academic, with a decent dose of creative flare (thank you Minor). Not to mention this blog. Most academic writing is kind of stressful. There’s so much riding on it. I mean, if you write something to be published, there’s a different sort of classification you’re upheld to with just as much rigor depending on your venue, but grades are kind of important. A lot of academic writing is stressful because it’s for the grade, and yet a lot of times you don’t even get a specific rubric so it masquerades as something more creative than it’s supposed to be. This post may have just gotten a bit off topic with that rant. My apologies.

My creative writing is still fun though. When I was writing my vignettes I really enjoyed the rhythm that occurred. I’d just get going and then keep going until I was finished with what I had to say. I also got way into the revision process–in fact, the bulk of my writing was during the revising process. It gave me a bit more time to reflect, make changes, and reconsider things. A lot of my past writing was done in tandem with revising for the first draft. Now, however, I use the draft to get out my initial thoughts, and then do revising after to form it into something more coherent and relevant. Pretty sure that means I’ve “normalized” my process.

Why I Write III

My title “Why I Write III” was simply an attempt to poke fun at the fact that not only did George Orwell write an essay with the same title, but Joan Didion claims she “stole the title for this talk from George Orwell.” She claims that one reason she likes the title is simply the way it sounds, and I would have to agree with her.

She goes on to say that writing “is an act of saying I, imposing yourself on other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act.” This resonates with me, as an assertive and often domineering voice, in that writing is constantly a form of communication but often persuasion. Another specific piece of the essay that resonated with me was “grammar is a piano I play by ear….all I know about grammar is its infinite power…The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind.”

I found this lecture so inspiring that I decided to investigate Joan a bit more, and found a quote that truly defines why I write:

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” – Joan Didion

This truly encapsulates why writing is essential to my life – I have a horrible memory, and I want to be able to treasure my experiences and feelings and thoughts. I want to remember who I was and who I am in each and every moment, and the thoughts and feelings that form that being. And by thoughts I mean that writing is not only a form of recording events, dialogue, and moments, but a medium of expressing one’s most inner thoughts and feelings. I think often incredible, profound and unique thoughts are lost in the jumble and chaos of daily life, and writing down those thoughts can save them before they fall into the deep abyss of lost ideas.

Writing is really the only intimate time we have with ourselves and our own inner thoughts. Whenever we speak, we are usually directing it toward a certain individual, but writing can be indirect or direct, and directed toward someone or no one at all. I think often this ability to be in touch with oneself is why certain people disdain writing – you hear of students dreading their academic essay, or even 4th graders complaining about writing a story. It’s because as individuals we are afraid to be alone in our thoughts, and even worse, physically manifest our thoughts in a form of writing that could potentially reveal our true selves before we are ready to realize that truth.

But this truth, this net catching our ideas, thoughts, loves, and who we are before they reach the empty abyss of forgotten memories – is why I write. I write to remember, to love, to understand, to feel. I write to never forget who I am.

Post 9

Orwell’s account is really interesting, because he goes through his major phases of writing. He expresses different reasonings for his writing, and for which any writer writes, but he also alludes to his own success as a writer, finding the one true tic that could allow him to produce “artwork.” He is best known for his works Animal Farm and then 1984, political and social critiques of his era and his predictions of the future. Seeing into the mind of a literary genius is always fun, and he has cool things to say. I also agree with many of things he points out.

He argues that any writer wants to or at least starts out wanting to write out of sheer egoism, among other things. This was definitely true for me growing up and even sometimes still. I oftentimes feel unmotivated to actually write about things, and sometimes the easiest motivation can be found in convincing myself of possible self-glory… Or even just the prospect of writing something that sounds good – and I think the idea of writing something that sounds good just sounds awful, and that oftentimes led to cycle of convincing myself to write then convincing myself that writing for these reasons is usually silly. Anyways, much of the writing we are accountable for is meant to be shared with others and meant to express our unique outlooks and research perspectives. Of course I want those who read my work to find it interesting and profound. In breaking out of this habit, however, I have been able to find my voice in my writing.

Writing for this class has helped me write with my voice, my opinions, and my informed (or uninformed) perspective on the world. I have been able to write uninhibited by the pressure to be smart of profound, just honest. I know that if I write work that is bound is research and that personal, political, social tic that Orwell speaks to, I will write work that represents me, and that is all I can ask for in my writing. Writing about my neighborhood and the issues that bother me and intrigue me has been a wonderful experience. I have discovered that I can have opinions of complex topics and I can learn enough to write about these topics and share them with experts. It is scary and anxious at times, but it is the only way I can really learn from others and take a step forward in my writing in that arena.

Why I Write

Looking back at my last two and a half years of college, and more generally all of my life, I am realizing I technically have always been a writer. When I was in elementary school I would write and illustrate my own books about whatever caught my attention that week. After I finished each one, I thought they were all masterpieces, I would give them to my teacher and beg them to laminate it for me. I don’t know why but they would always do it, but now I am extremely thankful that they allowed me to explore/rewarded my creativity.

Then in high school I jumped at the opportunity to do a similar thing with a younger student. It was part of an elective class, a class which all of the older kids said not to take but everyone took anyway. We would go back to the elementary school and work with a first grade class and help them create their own books. I was matched with Claire because we both had blonde hair and loved sports and dogs (I think). She told me what she wanted her book to be about and I created it for her. Her favorite game was CandyLand, so I wrote a story about her playing a game with her family. I illustrated the pages, laminated them and met with her one last time to share our publication. Seeing her enjoy a book she made brought me back to my years in elementary school when I began to enjoy the same thing she was enjoying in that moment. I also took every English AP course that my school offered while everyone else was taking calculus or physics. I always have preferred to write a paper than take a chemistry exam.

In the sense that I have been a ‘writer’ since a young age, I can relate to Orwell’s piece. My motivations and inspirations were different; mine were not out of loneliness or isolation. My subjects were also different, I tended to write about animals or my family while Orwell took on bigger issues. However, I don’t connect with everything he says. I don’t agree with his claim that every book is a failure. It seems strange that he would think that as a successful author. I can understand that his opinions of his writing changed, I change my opinions on my own too, but I never thought that a popular, successful writer would be so honest and open about that, clearly not worried that it would affect future readers. If that is what he thought, he was right. People still read his books, people still love his writing and style despite his somewhat negative opinions. I also think it’s interesting that he had that mindset when he was only a few years from writing 1984. I have always liked Orwell as an author and like the books of his that I have read, but I am currently unsure if this piece made me like him more or less.

Writing about my thoughts on why I write in response to why I write

Bit of a convoluted title, isn’t it?

When I read George Orwell’s Why I write, I was incredibly surprised at how much the article resonated with me. Despite its cynical nature, the four motives of writing he describes are all feelings that I have felt when composing various pieces. It was eerie how much I agreed with his understanding and perception of writing; it felt like he wrote the indescribable feelings I had toward writing (although I would never compare myself to someone as talented as he).

When compared to the piece we read earlier this semester, Why I blog, I feel like George Orwell’s interpretation takes a far more pessimistic and darker stance than the one present in the Why I blog piece. Ergo, it makes it difficult for me to find connections between the two other than the following: writing is an expression of one’s self, regardless of its form. In the end, isn’t that the ultimate truth that is present in writing?

Anyway, I digress. As for my development as a writer, I was initially unsure as how to answer this question because I didn’t do the type of writing I expected. I would have never imagined writing a script and creating a comic as being the two major pieces of writing I am doing for this class; I expected analysis of academic argumentative essays and other stereotypical bland english writing. Thankfully, this was not the case. Writing outside the stereotypical academic essay has undoubtedly helped me develop as a writer, as it forced me to think about the various aspects of writing that I generally ignored. When writing the script and the comic, I had to consider audience, tone, syntax, ethos, logos, and much more. Ultimately, as a writer, I’d consider myself to have begun the process of breaking the narrow minded shell I was trapped in. Cracks are starting to form, and when I am done, I will become a far greater writer than I have ever been before (hopefully that doesn’t come off as too boastful!)

Why I Write

I find it very difficult to articulate my personal motivations and passions. For example, I grew up loving sports and friends and the outdoors, but I never really knew why. I just did. And as I entered high school, and eventually college, my lack of words and concrete reasons behind my passions never seemed to clear up. Today, I know without a doubt that I want to be a doctor, and I know without a doubt that I appreciate the empowering nature of writing. But I still struggle to articulate why. These things simply feel natural, and I have never had a reason to question my seemingly inexplicable passions.

Reading the Why I Write essays of Orwell and Didion marked the beginning of my process towards introspectively understanding why I write. I felt disconnected from the Orwell piece from the very start, because, unlike Orwell, I have not known I was meant to be a writer since age 5. In fact, I didn’t know I was meant to be a writer when I entered the writing minor. But something seemed to constantly guide me back towards writing. I am not guided back to writing by a lack of interest or focus in other subjects, like Didion. But still, something seems internally natural about writing. I finally began to understand why I write midway through the Didion essay, all thanks to one 9 word phrase in her essay:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.”

This may be the reason why I have never been able to articulate just why I write; I haven’t been able to offer concrete reasons as to why I write because I have never written about them–I have never found out what I was thinking. This, too, may be the reason why I have always lacked the ability to articulate my passion for becoming a doctor. This line stood out in Didion’s essay, and the more I write about it, the more I understand why. I write because I have to. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.

Furthermore, I have discovered a lot about myself as a writer this semester. These personal discoveries have been broad, and range from discovering what I define as writing to the very reason why I write. Most importantly, the regular blogging and reflective writing in this class has exposed one of my most prominent writing tendencies: I write first and think second. By this, I mean that I most often think of my arguments and ideas while I write, as opposed to before I begin the writing process. No matter how much I brainstorm, the direction of my writing cannot be predicted until I begin writing.

This tendency explains both how and why I write.

Wait, When Did I Become a Writer?

When I first read the prompt for this week, I was kind of taken back by having to verbalize how I feel I’ve grown as a writer. I guess I haven’t given much thought to the growth that I’ve had–though I know it exists–because I’ve been so caught up in the checklist of projects we have to accomplish. This happens often for me, where I forget the big picture and get lost in the details. Of course, this class has been no exception.

Spongebob Writing

Taking a step back, as this blog post has caused me to do, made me think about George Orwell’s four motives for writing, which he mentions in his piece, “Why I Write.” I would say that my strongest motive is “aesthetic enthusiasm” because I just love words. As a Latin buff, I’ve always been enthralled with the construction of words and where they come from. I love the way that a string of words can produce such a palpable and beautiful image, in the same way that lyrics make up a song.

Given both Orwell and Didion’s points, I still can’t figure out who I am as a writer, and I think that’s okay. I’m only 20 years old and I haven’t even written very much yet that I actually enjoyed writing, which I think is kind of sad. It’s a testament to the way the education system works in the U.S. though. As students, we are forced to read books and write papers about books. We are encouraged to “be creative” but within the strict confines of a three-pronged thesis and five-paragraph essay. I’m not saying that education should be a free for all, because I do think that there would be a significant number of people who would never write if they didn’t have to. However, I do think that time should be made to write freely about what you want to write about, not what you should write about.

One thing I do think would help me figure out myself as a writer is time dedicated in class to just write freely on a piece of paper and then discussing with the entire class what everyone wrote about. Not only do I think this would bring us closer together as a class by getting to know everyone’s style and preferred subjects to write about, it would get the creative juices flowing before we delve deeper into our projects. Oftentimes, I feel like I walk into class with big ideas about life. For example, just last week I had received an email from my aunt whom I rarely talk to and an hour later, received a $5 Starbucks gift card from one of my friends on a whim. Both of these events made me feel so special and all I wanted to do was write about it. Of course, I could have waited to journal like I do every night before bed, but writing during class, surrounded by my peers is a totally different experience.

Theo James Thumbs Up

There are two (or more) sides to every story.

As we continue to be consumers of information and followers of the mass media, it can be difficult to sort through the quality, or not, of the information that digital media hubs continuously provide us with. As defined by famous American writer and statistician Nate Silver, we can often sort the information we receive in our digital world into two distinct categories: “signal” or “noise”.

Signal is in essence a bit of factual information that builds toward knowledge and a real understanding of the ways in which the world operates (i.e. learning about financial markets and their policies signals the ways in which social and fiscal inequities exist throughout the world), usually in an objective context. “Signal” information travels from Point A to Point B, with minimal distortion. “Noise” is information categorized as a deviation from the facts, such as in the role many social media outlets can play in passing information from Point A to Point Z. A lot can be lost in translation when relying on Noise for the facts, as there are an incredible amount of hands in the pot.

All of this being put together, the truth is we live in a world where any individual, given the resources necessary, can create and interject their opinion into a discussion through use of the internet. By definition, lots of this information can be defined as Noise, as there is little to no fact checking when it comes to the processes of posting on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

As for why I care about the voice and accuracy of today’s digital rhetoric, in high school I had a few year gig as a YouTube partner, for reviewing video game products. I would post in weekly or bi-weekly intervals most months, and would take pride in providing my honest opinion on the latest and greatest Nintendo products. In all, I love the process of video editing, there’s no single hobby that I care for more. And being able to earn money in exchange for something I love doing really struck a chord for me as a teenager. Overall, my content reached 2.7 million views across five different YouTube networks, and I’m pretty satisfied with a 0.89:1 like:dislike ratio that I hold on my content.

But as with anything, there are two sides to every story.

I cannot stress enough that no one individual is perfectly impartial to bias, and this is particularly true in the video game reviewing industry. By the time I started to receive tens of thousands of views per month on YouTube, I was receiving my games for free, sometimes weeks in advance, by companies interested in having me share their products with my audience. As much as I said I was immune to the bias bug, I don’t think that receiving my games for free hurt my developed image of the product I was reviewing..

And so, was I contributing to the mostly objective set of Signal information, or the largely subjective Noise that the internet provides a constant stream of? 89% of viewers “sided” with me..but what about the 11% who did not meet me eye to eye? You can’t please everyone, sure, but did my digital rhetoric not pursue a worthwhile venture in gaming for these viewers? I guess I’ll never have that answer for sure. All I can say is, when sitting there at my desk recording my reviews, I said it like it was.

Reviews are inherently subjective, I know, but the difference between a good or bad video game is very nearly black, or white. And from where I’m watching now, I ask everyone to be careful about what they read online, particularly given the added financial incentives reviewers have to say positive things…

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.

A Precursor to an Answer

In preparation for answering a broad question– Why Do I Write?– we have turned to a variety of others that have answered the question before us, which I would like to partially respond to. In doing so, it might look like I am entering the conversation (which wouldn’t be entirely wrong), but really, for now, it’s closer to me dipping a toe into an ocean and calling it swimming.

Out of the three texts we looked at in class to help us answer this question– “Why I Write” by George Orwell and another of the same title by Joan Didion, and “Why I Blog” by Andrew Sullivan– I definitely connected to Didion’s response the most but I pulled the most concrete and relevant explanations from Orwell’s.

Didion seemed to pull some concepts from my own head. Namely, the idea that she doesn’t think up a plot and run with it so much as seeing an image and being unable to leave it alone, prodding it with questions and demanding an explanation for its circumstances and appearance. Of one such instance she points out that,

“Had I known the answers to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.”

I LOVE this idea and its phrasing. It was the image and the questions that she made up about it that compelled her to write. I completely connect with that. I have had similar experiences of seeing something– not even something strange or out of the ordinary– that my mind wouldn’t leave alone; it needed to create a new reality for it to exist in that would explain why it was and how it came to be and where it was going and the way others would interact with it. Some people get songs stuck in there head, but I get images and lines of monologue lodged in mine.

Didion also claims at one point that,

“I knew I couldn’t think.”

Obviously, this isn’t true in the way that one would immediately assume, but it made perfect sense to me and in the context that she used it in. She thinks differently. She sees the world in unique ways. She lets the world speak to her first and then she responds to what she observes with further questions and stories of her own rather than attacking her landscape and imaginings for answers.

Orwell, on the other hand, lists 4 main reasons that he writes:

“Sheer egoism… aesthetic enthusiasm… historical impulse… [and] political purpose.”

Save for the third point (which did not resonate with me nearly as much as the others), I definitely agreed with the sentiment behind each of these explanations. I won’t lie; I write for ego. Recognition. Gloating rights. To be taken seriously. I imagine myself on talk shows and NPR, an inspiration on social media, discussing how I possibly managed to come up with such brilliance.

And I won’t apologize for that ego. I’m not the first to dream of fame and I have no shame in admitting I want it to. What I would do with that, though, is more important and brings me to his last reason about politics.

One of my goals in writing is to be as supportive to those that are disadvantaged in society. I want to be an ally and part of a solution that calls for increased positive representations of those that the elite ignore. I want to write human stories about those outside of the Norm– black girls in wheelchairs and south Asian bisexual men and poor kids in rural Colorado that don’t feel they fit into any gender role and they don’t know what to do about it. I have political motivations but I’d like to think that it’s because I want to be fighting the good fight and not because I want to be different or edgy. I wish these topics and depictions weren’t even considered in this way.

Aesthetic enthusiasm just makes me smile though.

I like words. I like those words about words. I like sounds and phrases that I can chew on and roll around and say slowly. I dream of writing lines that make someone put down what they’re reading and walk away for a minute because they can’t believe someone said something about that in such a perfect way and they have to go digest it some and tweet it and plan a new tattoo around the words. I want to put things in a way that readers wish they’d put the same thought into the same words in exactly the same way because it was just that good. Oh look, we’ve circled back to ego. How fitting.

When it comes to Sullivan, I feel I have a lot less to say. I don’t blog in the colloquial sense; I am on tumblr which has a basis in blogging but, for the most part, has become quite a bit like twitter with sharing clever insights in a concise and informal way. I also don’t have too much interest in journalism on a personal level; I don’t plan to make a career in it, at least. At the same time, as a citizen of the modern digital age, I understand the need to convey thoughts with a sense of expediency. Weigh in quickly, jump into the conversation before it’s forgotten. I do this more on Facebook than anywhere else, but not often even there. I don’t like to create arguments online where it can be difficult to gauge the tone of those you’re speaking with. It’s an interesting sounding board for ideas, but it’s often also frustrating and, just, not ideal.

I… did not mean to write this much. Gosh. Kudos to anyone that stuck with me though this stream of consciousness ramble for this long. Have a gif of Anderson Cooper and some french fries as a thank you.

anderson fries