Reflections on Writing 200

We’re not at the end of our fair writing class quite yet, but it’s getting close, and it’s been a journey, so some reflections are in order.

I think I realized the greatest benefit of taking Writing 200 yesterday during a job interview. I must have alluded to my writing skills and fondness of writing in previous correspondence with the company, because one of my interviewer’s first questions was to elaborate on the topic. I told him how I’m not too shabby at writing political sceince papers and arguing policy proposals after spending quite a bit of time in the academic world, and also how my current writing class is giving me phenomenal experience and knowledge of New Media Writing.

The company’s purpose is political campaign strategy, and my interviewer started telling me about the work he does for their clients. A large portion of his job was computer based. He launches websites, blogs, social networking pages, and organizes huge events via these resources. I was quick to tell him about my newfound affinity for blogging and new media. I told him how far I have come in this discipline. From knowing an absolutely marginal amount about blogging and expressing my writing in non-traditional ways, and even having a negligible amount of respect for the field due to this, I know own my own blog, and have confidence writing in this new medium. I know how to appeal to my audience better, and feel able to reach them through new media using pictures and links.

This interview was significant for two reasons. It was obviously productive being able to relate to this possible employer’s work, and being able to prove to him that he should consider me as a candidate. More importantly, however, was the opportunity to hear myself articulate and reflect on the benefits of Writing 200. I have learned how to utilize new media forms which, as I have come to realize, are an increasingly prominent of how people everywhere are writing and how businesses function. Leaving college without this knowledge, stuck in my critical viewpoint of blogging, would be a gigantic inconvenience in searching for a job. I am thankful, and feel I will be even more grateful in the future, for having spent time with blogging and new media so that I can go forward writing online for my own purposes and audiences as well as for my boss.

Minor Epiphany

I’ve been struggling the past two days to get going on my essay due Friday. I really am stumped, and it’s times like these, I’m realizing, that I really do not like writing. Sitting alone for hours and not coming up with anything worthwhile because of a) lack of motivation besides shame in a poor grade and b) cognizance of the many ways in which the paper can be done wrong but the few in which it can be done right is quite uncool, perhaps, if you will, as uncool as a submarine with a screen door.

Composing SMS text messages to boost my morale during these trifling times prompted me to realize that the beauty and allure of writing only makes itself apparent when it is not demanded by an outside official figure. That just sequesters the fun right out of it. Only when writing is done on behalf of the writer is it most effective, fun, and indicative of the writer himself.

To prove this, I could ask myself to create a short story, and I could expeditiously come up with a tale about a bandito and a peasant seamstress who fall in love much to the dismay of her father, the deputy of the town and a capricious robber baron. Ask me to write this paper on the themes of my class, and I fall by the wayside.

My inclination toward writing of my own will could stem from a lack of maturity, where I’m still stuck in my rebellious stage and frown upon all sources of authority. I think Mr. Bacon made mention of something like this the other night. I think it is more so, however, that I become sheepish when writing for someone else because I feel that I have to exceed their standards and, you know, make my mom proud and all that. I don’t really want to do that. I like to write freelance style, shooting from the hip with the things that catch my fancy. Those are my best pieces, the ones I get a kick out of writing, and the ones that compel me to deem myself a fan of writing.

Writing with Ambiguity to Facilitate Greater Audience Participation and Subsequent Understanding and Internalization of the Material

Which is the more successful format that writers can pursue to reach their audience: writing declaratively, explicitly, and thoroughly, or writing with brevity, supplying little more than what is fundamentally necessary for the reader? Each has its own merit. Under some circumstances, a writer may carefully and comprehensively lay out his argument to say to the reader, in effect, that this is my topic and here is what you need to know about it. Writing in this manner seems traditional and practical, something that we all use especially in the academic world. However, one cannot discount the benefits of writing with more abbreviation, in a more open-ended format.

Spurring my interest in this topic is a recurring theme in my class on the Supreme Court. The most important document in establishing American identity and the values that makes us unique, the Constitution, was intentionally written in vague terms. It is interesting to ponder the implications of this. How can the backbone of America’s political system and in many respects society be ambiguous? Why wasn’t such a significant document approached with  decisiveness, clarity, and exactness?

Many have argued that writing the Constitution using exact language that covered every potential aspect of the nascent country would have ran contrarian to the idea of limited government. If the writers of the Constitution wrote as students do in their scholarly pursuits, freedom for the people to decide and comprehend the law themselves would have been sacrificed. Law is vague and variable  in order to preserve the liberty of the people (the audience) and open-ended in order to reflect the constraints of codifying such an immense and nuanced subject.

Writing in this format is useful in other cases than the Constitution. When a writer wants his audience to do some self-exploration on the topic he is addressing, he may consider writing so that the reader is prompted to carry some of the load. Rather than explicitly laying out his main points and the conclusion he made from them (that the reader should know), the author may intentionally leave some ends untied, inviting the reader to knot them up on his own. That is not to say writers pursuing this format lack conviction. Writing to influence others may be more effective when it is done with a dash of ambiguity to get the gears turning in the audience’s head, inspiring them to digest the topic and framework and fill in accordingly. Such participation has value in the greater likelihood that the author’s main ideas will stick, and, as we saw earlier, in the affordance of maintaining audience open-mindedness. Structuring the writing, perhaps by posing questions, in a way that invites the reader to fill in some of the missing pieces and explore the topic himself is one way to facilitate this form.

There is something to be said for writing in the “thesis, topic sentence 1, topic sentence 2, topic sentence 3, conclusion” format. It is expeditious and pragmatic in its conveying to the reader that this is what the reader thinks and what you need to remember about it. Some topics do not lend themselves to such comprehensive writing, however, and it may very well be that abstaining from direct, scientific writing may prove to be more accommodating to the reader, which would in turn assist them in remembering and using the author’s argument going forward.

 

Blogging to Overcome Media Bias

The news has a bad habit of disseminating some stories with urgency, conveying a sense of national importance, only to over-report it for a couple of days and never speak of it again. The BP oil spill? The June 2008 midwest floods? Even Hurricane Katrina. These events affected many people and their surroundings, in some ways permanently. However, the average media consumer (read: drone) would struggle to remember such events shortly thereafter their prominence in the news cycle shortened.

 It is almost as if stories lose their novelty to the media outlets, as if the people in Iowa saw the billions of dollars in damage disappear over night or the people in Louisiana suddenly had their houses back six months after the fact. Even other stories fall victim to journalists who write and publish frenetically around the clock, only to be talked about a few weeks down the road, if ever again. That debt ceiling debate sure seems to pop in and out of the national eye. One week it’s the end of America as we know it, but the next week you don’t hear a word.

I think blogging can help fix this problem with today’s news stream by taking the topic of reporting out of the hands of executives strapped for resources and into the hands of the people who are affected most by prominent issues. News firms understandably operate under a lot of pressure to obtain viewers and sell papers; they have other motives than just reporting the news. That’s fine, but I think Americans need to stay up to date with the stories that matter. A nationally significant story one week should not leave their purview the next because ABC has moved on to what it thinks are bigger and better things. Although it is easy enough to watch the news everyday and forget about yesterday’s headline, I think inattention to the larger picture of  complex issues and reporting without consistency is a problem.

Blogging provides a spectacular opportunity for ordinary people to keep others caught up with the stories the media feel are no longer up to snuff for national coverage. Real people with a firsthand view of the issue are able to report to the rest of us, without needing a shiny desk, flashy jingle, or makeup artist. It is no longer the case that people rely on one source for their news. The advent of the blog permits it to be now covered by anyone anywhere. So while their story lost the 5 o’clock breaking news story last week, the people affected by the event, who didn’t see their problems disappear with the headline on Fox’s website, can keep the rest of the country posted on what is going on. Someone by the Gulf can blog about what the conditions are like from the spill, or a Habitat for Humanity worker can report on the natural disaster that struck his area a few months ago, which people are still recovering from.

Bloggers have the ability to allow us to skip the fanfare of media outlets and get to the bottom of what’s really happening. As long as bloggers report with high standards, one of the most important forms of writing, news coverage, can regain its commitment to stories and dedication to those affected most.

Meet the Writers

Yesterday our class took a field trip to North Quad to gain some insight into writing from professional writers themselves. We met Melody and Joshua, who took us through their careers, motivations for writing, favorite genres, and personal (and slightly quirky) advice. Melody mentioned her process of taping her work to the kitchen wall in her apartment, and taking scissors to it in order to understand the bigger picture of her work. She reaches a point in her writing where it no longer makes sense to her on the computer screen. Displaying her work on the wall allows her attach points and ideas to others and develop her train of thought more concisely.

Joshua talked about his writer crush, who is a Russian (I think?) poet is prolific at what she does. He also talked about the long hours he puts into his trade, and how he can’t always be around people while writing. He is picky about who he gives his work to, but makes sure to at least try to see how those comments whom he trusts would work with his idea. This is where one of his main points emerged: the revision process is never final. Joshua encouraged us to explore many different venues with our writing in order to find new inspirations or ideas. He stressed that you can always go back to what you had. We asked Joshua for comments on repurposing essays, at which point he elaborated on his trifecta of writing genres. As a fiction, poetry, and screen writer, Joshua knows what it takes to switch up his styles and appeal to different audiences.

I thought it was beneficial to get to speak with real writers, mostly because I don’t believe I’ve ever really met a writer, which sounds bizarre. I certainly have never talked to a writer about his or her writing practices. I gained some good tips and motivations to improve my own writing throughout the minor.

In the spirit of interviewing writers to hear their opinions and strategies, here is one of my favorite interviews from Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Roberts:

 

 

A Rookie Blogger’s Reflections on Sullivan’s Article

I remember being surprisingly impressed the first time I read Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” I was under the impression that I was going to get very little out of this guy’s egotistical banter regarding why he blogs his other egotisitical banters. However, I took much more away from the piece than I originially expected.

Sullivan’s article does more than explain why he personally feels the need to blog; it offers a history of the practice, predicitons for where its going, and, most importantly, what makes it such a significant form of expression. “It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought,” Sullivan explains, a revolutionary means for a writer “to publish himself and reach—instantly—any reader on Earth.” Having my guard up at first to defend traditional writing, I was quickly persuaded that blogging is in fact a beneficial and worthwhile practice. Although the expression of pure thoughts and feelings, instant publication, and opportunity for others to crtique are all amenities blogging affords, Sullivan understands that blogging is just a different form of writing; each medium has its place.

I knew after completing Sullivan’s work what blogging was: a conversation of personal opinions that are scrutinized but hopefully impactful. I have enjoyed exploring and experimenting with blogging over the past few weeks, and am garnering a deeper understanding and respect for it. The most important message I took away from Sullivan’s work was his comparison of blogging to conventional writing. His analogy of jazz and formal music really stuck with me and motivated me to try my hand at writing. It also reveals the different modes of writing that exist, and seems to imply that a truly good writer, in today’s age, must exhibit proficiency across all genres. This discussion will aid me in repurposing an essay for project two.

I agree with the distinctions Sullivan drew between blogging and other mediums. It allows for a more honest submission, and possibly more concrete and accurate one due to the instant array of scrutiny a piece faces in the blogosphere. I have learned to adapt my style to fit blogging, which demonstrates a difference in the writing forms. I have grown accustomed to writing persuasively and academically, removed from the text. Blogging, a more conversational entity, invites practitioners to reveal more about themselves and their opinions than traditional writing permits.

That’s what I plan to do for the second essay. I am going to take a wordy political science research paper and morph it into a short story. The topic is about where voter preferences and party alignment come from. I’m thinking of creating a story that shows a child’s maturation into citizen who thinks and acts very similar to their parent(s), as well as their surrounding environment including school teachers. It should be interesting to adopt such a polar opposite tone and style. I am still confused at how I will incorporate my scientific evidence into the piece, which is something I will need to work on.

E-Portfolio Observations

At first, I didn’t quite latch on to what an E-Portfolio was. At the inaugural Writing Minor meeting, I was a bit confused as to what we put into these portfolios, what we do with them, etc. After perusing a few of my peers’ E-Portfolios, however, I am starting to grasp on to what I am supposed to do. I am also contemplating the benefits of having one going forward.

“I have found a number of rewards in writing despite its exactions. Writing disciplines its practitioners; it forces them to clarify and focus their thinking.” These words are John V. Lindsay’s, Mayor of New York in the ’60s. Although he was full-blown flip-flopper, his commentary on reasons motivating him to become a politician, and what ideas he hoped to

bring to fruition as a public servant, interest me.

I think writing as a way to establish not only to yourself what you want to do but also to any fellow citizens who may be interested is a good way to use the E-Portfolio. As we have discussed in class, writing is valuable because it lets you take a snapshot of the ideas and goals swirling around in your cranium and parse them out physically. The beauty of the E-Portfolio is that others can partake in this process with you. Especially from a politician-standpoint, making available your thought processes and projects to others seems to be an effective way to interact with others and lay the foundation for future interaction. Whether it be getting a small foot hold with the public or displaying your writing to potential employers, the E-Portfolio can serve as a megaphone for your thinking, not only making it louder, but more concise and concrete.

I examined Dana Narens’s E-Portfolio. She provides a welcoming web page for people to get a better idea of who she is and why she is doing what she’s doing. I skimmed through her “Why I Write” materials, which I am currently working on myself. What I found particularly interesting was her inclusion of past writing for different courses. I am proud of some of the works I have produced in the past, and think including them in my E-Portfolio would be beneficial. I think Dana has produced a solid representation of herself and her goals, all by displaying her writing.

Lindsay said writing gives your thoughts structure . I would add that E-Portfolios give your writing influence.

Constructing Meaning the Rhetorical Way

I wish I would have asked myself what my definition of reading is before I read Haas and Flower’s article. Or at least what my strategy for reading is. Do I simply construct knowledge from looking at the words on the page, maybe highlighting what appear to be a few key sentences of content and information? Or, do I read rhetorically, “imagining audience response, acknowledging content, and setting [my] own purposeful goals?” That is, a rhetorical reader takes a text and constructs meaning from it by thinking beyond what is written on the page before her. What are the author’s intentions for me? How does this information relate to my experiences? How do the author’s concepts function outside of the discourse of the topic? These are some strategies a rhetorical reader might utilize when obtaining a richer representation of an author’s work.

I honestly do not know which method I would have said I used, or was closest to using. Haas and Flower’s studies show a strong reason to believe that readers who take purposeful actions while reading to make a representation of the text, are more likely to detect the explicit and implicit intentions of the writer. So certainly I’d hope that when I sit down to read “The Basics of Judicial Review” or “The Moral Reading and the Majoritarian Premise” I read a little deeper than the words on the surface.

Haas and Flower ascertain that a reader can grasp a greater understanding of a book or academic article by transcending merely “figuring out” the content. For example, in my reading of those tremendously entertaining texts I mentioned above, I should be constructing meaning by implementing a tool box of strategies so I can make sense of these esoteric topics. I should be looking at a what the words mean under a greater viewing lens, building a relationship with the author’s purpose and effects of the words she writes.

The parallel between reading and writing in Haas and Flower’s heuristic is that both require us to construct meaning. How we do this creates a divide in the understandings we each come away with from engaging in these disciplines. As a reader, in all honesty I probably would have said that I read by carefully following the lines on the page to remember the most important sentences later, rather than dissecting the author’s points and intertwining them with rhetorical strategies.

As a writer, I want to attempt to incorporate some of Haas and Flower’s findings into my next essay or paper. By thinking deeper about the interrelatedness of my ideas and use my own strategies, not some industry standard, to express myself. Perhaps I can attain a greater ability to construct more persuasive writing by following the concept of rhetoric. In past writing, I think I have begun to do such things. Taking into account the audience I’m addressing and the possible

As I wrote this blog post, I became more and more convinced that I do enlist the help of rhetorical thinking in my writing and reading. Referring back to my first blog post and issues with getting the wheels of a work rolling, I think I am very cognizant of rhetoric. Sometimes I think too deep into a piece–wondering how it will be interpreted by different people, what points, if any, other than the ones I expressly argued will permeate out of my work. Doing so allows me to become better equipped to confront any rebuttals or critiques of my work later, while giving me more confidence in what I am writing prior.

I think the strategy of rhetorical reading and writing emanates out of critical thinking. Looking deeper into the words on the page or your own thoughts as you prepare to write afford the opportunity to build more concrete final products. I can use the same diligent and substantive skills I use to look at others’ writing to become a better writer myself.

Dreadfully Fearing the First Draft

Before I focus on the main prompt for this week’s blog, I want to talk about the relief that Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” bestowed upon me. It has become common practice in my scholarly career to commence work on papers precipitously close to the deadline. I was starting to accept that I am a slovenly procrastinator, but after reading Lamott’s chapter I think I may be a little too hard on myself.

She mentions that very few writers sit down with the confidence or enthusiasm required to produce solid work. And many experience fear and panic over that whether what they are about to attempt will be any good. With the swarm of voices and possible writing venues that are competing in one’s head at the onset of the writing process, it is difficult to draft papers. Personally, it is a time when I’m extremely critical and dubious of my writing, which really doesn’t make any sense considering it’s a first crack at a new essay. As Lamott explains, it is even more nonsensical to approach writing with such inhibitions when the writer realizes that no one is going to be seeing his or her first draft. She advises to just throw down on the screen whatever thoughts are in your head, then revise the “shit” out of it later.

Confidence from the getgo is one skill I plan to gain from the Writing Minor, optimistically another ULW class and especially before Writing 400 comes along. Instead of ruminating over every sentence or direction I could possibly begin my paper, I need to confidently spill my first thoughts and revise accordingly. Doing so will improve my writing and make my life better.

My “Why I Write” essay seems to be a good place to implement these resolutions. Of course, the biggest obstacle for me to overcome is the natural hindrance I feel when beginning a project. So instead of analyzing my gum structure in the mirror, I instead acquired some confidence and elected to create an outline, attempting to organize some of the possibilities for my paper. I am striving to maintain a clear mind and to not befuddle myself with feelings of inadequacy during the drafting process.

My essay is going to take cues from my first blog, in which I delved into how I view my writing and how much I respect other writers. I really enjoyed Sontag’s piece about writing, which I would like to incorporate into my paper. The author notes the connection between writing and reading, and how it’s easier to read and recognize a good author than it is to write yourself. Because of all the reflection I’ve done over the writing process, observing and analyzing my own weaknesses along the way, I think my main focus for the paper will be that I write to transcend and conquer some of these challenges. I think writing is an integral part of being a student and more importantly a person, so I think I write above all else in order to prove to myself that I can do it. I also plan to incorporate some quotes from authors who inspire me. I want to allude to their words and explain in my essay how I write to replicate their works and wisdom. We do far less writing as a culture than older generations did, and I think subsequently some of the human experience becomes lost. Why should I write only for school? Why is it no longer appropriate for me to attempt to write a story like I did in the third grade? While all of my thoughts are not meant to be preserved through history, a little confidence and conviction as a writer could allow all of us to produce something that will survive the test of time and inspire someone down the road.

One aspect of the paper that I find compelling is the self-reflective comments requirement. I’ve never used Word’s comment function because it has always been off limits to anyone other than a GSI. While being forced to judge my own work could perhaps make me doubt my initial attempts at writing this paper even more, I think it will in fact be a beneficial exercise. It should come in handy during the revision process, as it will allow me to zero in on the particularly convoluted portions. Who knows, maybe it will even be advantageous in its extraction of some of the voices that are skirmishing in my brain. Instead of closing my eyes, picturing them as mice, and locking them in jars, maybe a less odd means of focusing on drafting is to jot down anything that troubles me which I can later revisit to see if it’s a worthwhile consideration.

Bloggers’ Search for Meaning: Struggles of a First Time Blogger

Writing is all around us. As I sit ensconced in the library amidst the plethora of books that call our University home, this realization is all too easy to see. The proliferation of ideas has progressed communities, countries, and ultimately the world in ways that will impact human affairs forever.

Writing’s immensity and inconceivable historical significance, coupled with my never before having engaged in writing in such a manner as blogging permits, makes me experience a sort of inner turmoil as I write my first entry. Who am I to think my sporadic, unrehearsed blog paragraphs matter to anyone or anything? Why should someone of my intellectual stature be permitted to write anything other than assigned essays pertaining to a professor’s course material? How can the thoughts of a person leading a relatively trifling life think he has any right to freely and publicly compose writing? The thousands of authors on the surrounding shelves stare down at me with disapproval.

I then get lost in thought of what a privilege it is to be able to write what one chooses to whom he chooses, not to mention possess the ability to write at all. My instinct for writing this is that it should be good; it would be a grave disservice to the great writers and minds whose works influence us, to those who designed this freedom I take for granted, and to those who wish to voice their opinions but lack the skills or resources to do so, to simply throw together some incoherent thoughts of mine or pontificate about whatever happens to catch my fancy.

Questions similar (though perhaps not as complicated) to my own internal, philosophical quarrel were raised by Orwell and Didion, two authors who took a deeper look at why it is they do what they do.

Orwell analyzed his childhood and the writing he produced during it to understand where he was as a writer. A lonely upbringing and a natural affinity for words and describing things let him know early one that he was meant to be a writer. He argued that the temperaments and attitudes gained from the early stages of one’s life influence him greatly. While all writers, he set forth, are vain, selfish, and lazy, their true motive for writing is a mystery. One of Orwell’s main motives was to turn political writing into an art as he reconciled the injustices and politics of his time with his own personal attributes.

Orwell’s piece resonates with me for many reasons. I think it touches on the complexity and mystery of writing that I toil with. One of the great authors of our time, it is comforting to read his discussion of what drives him to write, as well as his conjectures of why others write, which could be due to sheer egoism.

Didion’s piece of writing possessed more abstract qualities than Orwell’s. Rather than listing her observed motivations that writers have, she delved into her own mind to rationalize her craft. She discussed her inability growing up to switch her mind from the simple physical recognition of the world around her to one more thoughtful and introspective. She writes in order to understand what is going on in her mind, to make sense of the pictures that occupy it. Didion viewed herself as a separate entity from her head, which was sort of doing its own thing and the only way to figure it out what it was up to was to physically translate it on paper.

Didion’s struggle to understand why she should write (instead of just think) also resonates with me. I think it is useful to witness another, more advanced writer have doubts about her motivations.

I spent three quarters of an hour struggling to pick an essay that I wish to emulate or find intelligent. I considered Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 speech following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, a Supreme Court case decided by Justice Antonin Scalia, and an essay about camping by Ernest Hemingway. Also crossing my mind were Viktor Frankl’s short book Man’s Search for Meaning (for which my “blog” title is cleverly named after) and John V. Lindsay’s A Journey into Politics. Even an essay by Aristotle was considered. While I wish to emulate all of these authors’ writing, from the persuasive, argumentatively concrete decisions of Justice Scalia to the metaphoric, artistic works of Hemingway, I felt that such writers must be approached in a traditional book-report style. Great writers should deserve great attention and care, right?

I finally settled on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter to a Birmingham Jail.” His piece effectively argues for integration, for an end to racism. I find Dr. King’s rational, respectful approach to this letter particularly intriguing. Never does he scorn the racist clergymen he writes to, or deviate from an amicable tone even considering the injustices he and his people were experiencing. In addition to his powerful diction and use of the words of prominent intellects, Dr. King’s ability to present his ideas in a straightforward and respectful manner is something all writers should strive to replicate. Given his situation and the conditions of the ‘60s, it is remarkable that he was able to write the way he did. I see his style in this letter as lending him and his cause great credibility. His words simply could not be ignored.

I think the simplicity of the blog is something I have to work to internalize. After years of being told what to write about and how to write it, the sudden nudge to write more informally for more personal reasons has filled my head with the implications of blogging. I become flummoxed by the sheer magnitude of writing that is all around us, and the conditions under which those authors produced their timeless works. While part of me, especially after reading my entry, thinks that I’m over-complicating matters, I don’t feel right withholding the considerations I’ve presented here.

I plan to take the works of Orwell, Didion, and Dr. King with me through my blogging career. They help me figure out why I write, and what implications it has. Whether it is politically inspired, like Orwell and Dr. King, or simply to interpret what your brain is up to, like Didion, the works of these authors makes me realize that the only prerequisite to writing is that you are passionate. The writing gods won’t (or at least will be less likely to) scorn you, and your thoughts can inspire someone to think about similar things. As long as you have some heart in it, the rest comes easy. No one can take away from a piece of writing you care about, especially if it is persuasive and well-written like Dr. King’s letter. As I move forward with blogging, I want to focus more on topics’ meaning to me, and speak my thoughts in an articulate and thoughtful way. The mysteries of writing are plentiful; blogging can help us make sense of it.