My Writer’s Vice

Back in Writing 220, I described my writing style as follows:

To shed some light on why I do write, it is essential to first understand a few things regarding how I write: First, as you may have noticed, I had to bend over backwards to avoid using the second person in that last sentence. Second, I’m cringing so hard that it’s actually becoming painful at the thought of how many contractions I’ve used thus far. And finally, notwithstanding these grave violations of my writing morals, you will never see me stoop so low as to start a sentence with a conjunction or, God-forbid, use a pair of those hideous parentheses (except as a citation).

Ok, while this description was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek at the time, what I find almost as funny is how much my writer’s mind has changed since I wrote it a year and a half ago. What I then regarded–almost with pride–as my defining style, I now acknowledge–almost with regret–as my greatest writer’s vice.

What is this vice, you ask? Kind souls call it “a tendency to be overly formal.” Others, less inclined to euphamisms, call such a style what it is: “stuffy”, “impersonal”, “distant.”

To be sure, formal writing has its place. In fact, much of what I would consider my finest writing is of this style–a term paper on Michelangelo’s famed Last Judgment Sistine Chapel fresco, a literary analysis of “Special Duties” a hilarious short story by Graham Greene, and a lengthly research paper on the Catholic Latin Mass.

Yes, formal writing has its place. I just need to know when to use it. Or better yet, when not to.

Oddly enough, one of the classes that really helped me in this regard was none other than a class on professional writing. Coming into the class last semester, I thought professional writing would fit right within my writer’s comfort zone. As you might imagine, I soon became uncomfortable. More than merely resumes and cover letters, where the writer can hid behind fancy words and job titles, I found that professional writing extended to all the way to personal statements and social media, genres which expose the writer and from which there is no escape. It was then that I learned that “professional” does not mean “formal” as much as it means “appropriate”–appropriate for the given audience and rhetorical situation.

Fast forward to today, and this struggle has by no means disappeared. But one thing has changed with regard to my writer’s vice–I’m at least aware of it.

2 thoughts to “My Writer’s Vice”

  1. Joe, this realism of professional vs. formal writing seems like something that you are indeed passionate about. Indeed is as much not “indeed” as I make it sound. I think you are passionate about this topic. I remember you briefly bringing something similar up during our conversation with Julie and the more similarities you bring you, the more you let us “reading-writers” know what it is that strings importance to your writing. I find it rather interesting because I’ve never taken a professional writing class nor do I know the difference between the formal and informal writing styles. I’ve only taken poetry, creative non-fiction, and scientific writing classes. I like these ideas and it’s intriguing to know your awareness and growth as a writer.

  2. Although you may see formality as your “vice,” it looks to me that it is also an important part of your voice! Truth is, formal writing can come off as pompous if it’s done deliberately. However, with you it appears to be an unconscious part of your writing, so it is very genuine and enjoyable to read. What you mentioned about formality not necessarily meaning professional is very interesting. In fact, professional writing may at times be informal. The difficulty is in determining when it is appropriate to be formal and when it is more appropriate to be informal, even almost humorous.

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