What Counts as Writing?

Asking me to answer “What counts as writing?” is like asking me to answer “What counts as art?”. My first temptation is to answer “anything”, but I know I don’t really believe that.

. . .

Calligraphy… I was shocked to see calligraphy mentioned as a form of writing. Though calligraphy is very clearly written, it is appearance rather than content or purpose that identifies calligraphy.

Murals… Like calligraphy, murals are also identified by appearance. However, an effective mural has meaning. It tells a story.

Calligraphy… I don’t think calligraphy can tell a story. Or maybe it can. Maybe different styles of calligraphy can portray different emotions. Maybe a jagged font could portray anger. Maybe a soft, rounded font could portray happiness. And maybe an exaggerated sized font could portray excitement.

Murals… Murals are art, though. Art that is very clearly not written. Murals are painted or drawn or printed. Does writing have to be written? I think it does.

. . .

I think writing has to be written, but not always by hand. Writing can be typed and still be writing. But written words that have no purpose and tell no story aren’t writing. They are written and nothing else.

A Few Words Can Change Everything…

Scrolling through the posts, the first thing to catch my hard-to-reach attention was the Instagram picture from Lia – a beautiful ocean with the sun setting perfectly in the distance. “Wow – ” I thought to myself – “that’s beautiful, but is it really writing?” After pondering this unusually deep thought for a moment, I came to the conclusion that, well, I wasn’t sure. However, I then saw the caption below the picture that read, “the sun falling asleep over the ocean.” I quickly glanced my eyes back to the picture and felt akin to surveying an entirely new scene – as if suddenly invigorated with life. The ocean was all of a sudden more blue; the sun was in a blink of an eye almost emotionally serene; everything was simply perfect. It was amazing, I thought, how these seven little words could change the picture so dramatically

I then, in a rush of excitement, went back to the board, trying my hardest to find another such example of a word or two with such incredible meaning. I was about to give up and return my attention back to football when my eyes passed over Emily’s post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Now, I can proudly say I have never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I have been more or less filled in on its contents (my mom was reading it on a plane this one time – it was weird). Studying the cover of the book, with this weird-angled tie thing in of coarse grey, I speculated as to if the book would have the same success with a different, somewhat-less captivating title. What if the book was called, “A Promiscuous Romance”, or “This Dude Seems Kind Of Weird”? But seriously, I doubt the book would have had its success without such an entrancing title.

But, I thought again, what exactly was it about these words that made such an enormous impact? I decided it was the words “falling asleep” in the picture’s caption that described the setting sun, imparting a nearly living dimension into the photo. I decided it was the mystique of the words in the book title, “fifty shades of grey,” that communicated a dark, enigmatic message to the reader. That, I think, is the ultimate form of writing – when seven words can make a beautiful photograph even more beautiful, when they can make a raunchy novel into an international phenomenon – when just a few words can change everything.

The technology behind writing

One post that surprised me was Christina’s post about lists. I had never really thought about lists as a form of writing before, but I, too, am unable to function unless I write everything down in a neat order. Lists can often say a lot about the person who wrote them. Just by reading the content and observing the order of what’s written, one can tell a person’s interests as well his or her priorities. A more detailed list may indicate that the person is more detail oriented. A neatly written list with color-coded items may indicate that someone is either highly organized or has too much time on his/her hands. My own lists say a lot about myself as a writer. Just as my lists are scribbled haphazardly, my writing process also begins in a slightly chaotic manner but always comes together in the end.

One post that interested me was Enni’s image of the telegraph. When I originally looked at this assignment I only thought of writing as the meaning behind a string of words on a page rather than the technology used to create and transmit these ideas. Examining technology is important because it dictates the kind of writing that can occur. The telegraph allowed more instant communication than letters, yet the high cost per word led people to develop a concise writing style that conveyed a message but lacked full sentences as well as emotion. Emails today allow people to instantly send messages that use complete sentences and convey the writer’s feelings if they choose. However, other forms of modern writing such as texting and Twitter constrain people to a certain number of characters, and thus acronyms and emoticons emerged in order to get around this barrier.

Technology has had a great impact on my own writing style. Had I been born in a time without computers I would have been unable to produce as much writing as I do now simply because writing things out by hand would take way too long. On the other hand, I might have learned how to write by hand much faster and improve my penmanship. Being alive in an age of the internet and social media has allowed me to write more than I would have in previous generations. While my parents used to talk on the phone and occasionally write letters to each other for entertainment, I am constantly texting, messaging, and tweeting at my friends. Although social media may not allow me to practice the highest quality writing, I still feel that practicing any type of writing is better than not writing at all. If nothing else, my social media use has vastly improved my typing skills.

When we talk about writing…

What are we talking about when we talk about writing? The first things come to my mind are words and phrases, and these are the forms that we use most often in our writing. However, if we think deeper as we try to connect everything with writing, we found a new world that includes much more than words and phrases. Therefore, I would say writing is the only tool that people use to communicate besides speaking and gestures. It might sound inaccurate because human kinds have developed so many ways and media for communication throughout the history, but if we analyze writing layer by layer, we could see that the core of writing are messages and stories, and of course, message-delivering and story-telling  take different shapes and forms. Thus, writing is a much broader concept that we, as writers, might have ignored through our entire writing period.

It was not surprising to me that we have such a variety of categories; instead, what left me thinking is the contrast between the number of social media and traditional media that have been selected. Indeed, we are proud that we are able to complete almost anything with the Internet with the rapid growth of technology. On the other hand, we are gradually losing the originality, the style, the texture and the sense of physical writing without even realizing. Letters drew my attention among all the writings in the gallery. The new generations can hardly see any hand-written letters, let alone write a letter by themselves. I am lucky to once hold the yellow paper and read the faded sentences from older generations.  It was like listening to the person talking with her unique tone and voice, and as I kept reading, I can feel the connection and emotion in the letter. Words and phrases were valued more at that time when people were using handwriting because it took longer to deliver than emails today that can be sent within a second. Nowadays writing becomes more rational, informative and purposeful, and people seem no longer enjoy writing to each other.

What counts as writing? It is still a question that I could not give a definite answer, but I am certain that it is not only the content in writing that matters the most, but also the form of presentation. For writers, the art and excitement of writing can always be expressed through both the stories and the ways that we tell stories.

abstract thinking about writing

As we went over the galleries and completed the exercise of what counts as writing within our class, I gained a new perspective of what I consider as writing. With the new shift of the “importance” of social media in our day-to-day lives, there is also a new shift of writing. Not only do we now put in long hours to pound out a 4,500 character paper (7 pages), but also perspectively spend equivalent amount of time just to write a 140 character tweet or small caption for Instagram.

One example that interested me was Lia’s addition of the Instragram captions.  Lia stated, “I would argue Instagram captions could be considered persuasive writing because if written effectively they can convince people to ‘like’ the associated image. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a clever Instagram caption is worth a thousand likes”. This stood out to me the most because in the social media world, how you appeal to your audience is very important to receive “supportive” followers. All avid instagram users know that not only is the picture important, but also how you caption it to receive more ‘likes’, therefore, displaying this as persuasive towards your audience to convince them they should throw a like your way. This allowed me to consider how I use my own social media. I am continually understanding the importance of social media in our society through my communications classes. Therefore, to have the ability of understanding how to appeal to ones’ audience is significant to having an interactive audience.

These examples of  social media really make me think about writing because now, it is no longer the traditional way of writing a research paper to appeal to a specific audience. Due to the limitation of 140 characters for twitter, more and more people have to understand how to get their thoughts or words across in a limited space. This exercise has also allowed me to reflect about the lengths of my message/writing. The cut-up exercise of our minor applications has allowed me to understand that I can use my own words and turn an one paragraph into 3 sentences. From now on, I will be always thinking about what kind of audience I am trying to appeal to when it comes to any kind of social media postings, newspaper postings, emails, research papers, etc, while considering the length of my writings as well.

The roots of writing

One post that surprised me was the one of Chance the Rapper lyrics. I find hip-hop lyrics particularly interesting because they are often so charged and personal. Although rappers often get stereotyped into vulgar and womanizing, hip-hop can also be a powerful mode to express oneself artistically. It surprised me that I did not think to consider music lyrics as writing when I first did this assignment. I think the hip-hop industry is an interesting case study is that artists are often not respected unless they write their own lyrics. In knowing that, the listener of their music already has a unique, personal perspective into their lives. Songwriting in any genre takes an immense amount of talent, creativity and honesty in the case of creating your own lyrics. While I was never particularly talented at writing song lyrics, I enjoy analyzing the thought and effort behind composing music that evokes such powerful emotions.

Another post that stood out to me was the one of a young child’s letter to a parent. As we get older and we write more and more academic papers and critical analyses we often forget that writing is a communicative source as well. We use writing to connect and communicate in it’s simplest form. That’s why many of the students in our class were shocked by the other categories of writing we elucidated and had at first unknowingly disregarded. Something as simple as a handwritten note becomes so rare as we get older but there is certainly a charm to the authenticity in returning to the basic roots of writing.

I suppose with those points considered, to be a good writer today, it’s important to reach people. Whether it’s through a research paper, a tweet or a song lyric, writing should connect people and provoke thought. The fundamental purpose of writing should be to create some sort of impact, whether personal or public. I often write to work through a situation or particularly situation. In doing that, many others can probably relate to the same issue and your thoughts may shed some light on their purpose as well. Writing is a way to express yourself and in that honest expression, find a way to relate to others.

 

Social Media Counts?

I found it interesting how many people used social media as examples of writing. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram- it never really occurred to me that “OMG just saw a baby laugh at a puppy #cute” could really count as writing. When I think of writing, I suppose I conjure up images of the traditional books, poems, articles- the stuff of Kerouac and Hemingway. But it makes perfect sense- in this fast-paced modern age,  our writing should be much quicker and more concise. Social media really is an excellent way of keeping us on our toes as writers. Word and character limits force us to get our thoughts and ideas across in a brief, yet entertaining manner. Likes and retweets are forms of instant feedback from readers. I think it is a sign of how we as writers need to evolve to keep up with the new forms of writing that come with new technology. Social media adds pressure to the budding writer by forcing him or her to produce new, concise content that is immediately judged by the public and has a viewing span of a few hours or days at most, however, it also removes pressure from the writer in many of the same ways. Social media puts publishing in the control of the writer, it provides an immediate audience, and does not have to be extremely long to be appreciated.

I also found it interesting that calligraphy was mentioned as a form of writing. Obviously, it is based on written text, but it always struck me as more of an art form than pure writing, but I suppose that is my archaic, and rigid definition of “writing” holding me back again. Calligraphy almost seems to give more weight and importance to the written word. While social media is based on rapid mechanical typing, calligraphy celebrates the beauty of the words in themselves, as each letter is painstakingly drawn out with care. I suppose one would have to choose words more carefully when writing in calligraphy because it takes so much more time to write each letter. In a way, calligraphy almost has the opposite effects as social media does on writing. I guess the whole exercise of outlining what really counts as writing really shows me how narrow my previous definition of writing was, and how the different modes of writing can really have an effect on the content itself.

Is anything inherent in writing?

When I think of writing, I think of what I am used to writing in school.  I think about research papers and analytical essays. I do not think of tweets, headlines, or schedules. More specifically, I think about creative words and coherent sentences, not short hand notes or abstract photography. Completing the “what counts as writing” assignment and reading what my classmates had to say opened my eyes to the importance of writing for disciplines that may not be academic.

A schedule, for instance, did not strike me as a typical or important form of writing. When I think writing I think sentences, and I definitely don’t use sentences in my schedule. My schedule- quite literally- runs my life. It tells me what I need to do, when I need to do it, and who I need to do it with. I hand write it, so it also serves as a doodle pad and a journal when I feel the need to get some thoughts down on paper. I never realized how important the actual writing on my schedule was until this assignment. I write in short hand, barely legible print that no one else could possibly understand, but I could not get through the day without it.  I don’t use sentences or punctuation, I make up words, and no one else would understand it, is it still writing?

The other post that stood out to me was the painting. A painting communicates the same way as, say, a persuasive essay or a narrative. The painter creates a piece of artwork to try and get across some sort of message- be it trying to convince viewers to believe something or to simply tell a story. But paintings have no words, so can they still be considered a form of writing?  In Enni’s post, she showed a mural that was created when words were not an option. But what about now? Are words inherent in writing? I definitely don’t have an answer, but it’s a question this assignment made me think about.

Gone are the days of long-form…Can it be saved?

As I sit in the reference room reflecting on the “what counts as writing”, I can’t help but think what the person sitting next to me thinks about the same question. She’s currently drawing chemistry molecules, yuck, and most likely considers that writing. I consider that more of a foreign language, but to her, writing a blog post could seem like more of a tedious task instead of writing. Whatever the case, it goes to show how versatile “writing” is.

Throughout the whole process of deconstructing what writing means, most striking to me to me was the emergence of shorter, more digital writing. Gone are the days of essays being the only form of writing. Enter tweets, Facebook statuses, headline writing, Instagram captions and more. I found this shocking. As a person who uses Twitter for unhealthy amounts of time I, honestly, never thought of it as writing until now. Rather, I just thought of it as another task. Reflecting now, I see writing a Tweet almost as difficult as writing an extended essay. With a long paper, a writer has nearly seven pages to get their point across. On Twitter, you have 140 characters to get your whole idea across. Think of condensing your seven-page paper into one or two sentences. It’s not easy.

Next, this activity really made me think about the changing culture of humans. That is, of course, the shortening of attention spans. No longer does someone want to read long-form piece of journalism. Rather a reader would like to scroll through a Buzzfeed list. No longer do people want to read books. Rather they want to read Tweets. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, although as someone who is trying to enter the world of journalism it can be a tad disheartening, but rather it goes to show what writing is evolving into: Short, simple, clever posts.

It’s not to say that long-form is totally dead or that people don’t read longer pieces. Instead, perfecting the practice of “short writing” such as writing headlines or captions is the key to success. If a headline or caption doesn’t catch a reader’s eye, there’s a certainty that they wont read it. However, if the caption is there, perhaps the long-form piece will get read. I dealt with this all summer at the New York Daily News as a sports writer. The stories I wrote nearly always hovered around 500 words, which can be long to people. But what the News mastered was the art of writing titles. A top every story was an engaging headline that drew readers in. In fact, there a job at the News’ sports desk dedicated to only writing headlines. That’s how important it is in this day and age where Print Journalism, as bleak as it sounds, is slowly dying.

Writing is everywhere. This activity shows that. It’s versatile and that maybe selling writing short. Writing can be used to become organized, get good grades, learn, as a hobby, as a job, to heal and many, many more ways. For now, though, what used to be known as writing is certainly changing for better or worse.

 

 

Murals=Writing? Maybe…

One of the gallery examples that surprised me, and that we didn’t discuss much in class, was the Yelp restaurant review. There is much more to these reviews that meets the eye. They fit under many of the umbrella categories of writing we discussed in class, like entertainment, advertising, and personal. While these articles aren’t held to the same standard of professionalism as an advertisement and are not being graded like a piece of academic writing, the reviews are being read critically by consumers and their selling points can be influential.

The other gallery item that gave me pause was the mural painting. After reading the description below the image, I am still unsure whether or not I would categorize the painting as a form of writing. However, Enni makes some very valid arguments on why murals can be considered writing: like writing, the murals deliver a message and express emotion. This example made me second guess my definition of writing as something that had to be done with pen and paper or by a computer.

This activity, and the reflections we have begun to analyze in Writing 220, have helped me to expand my definition of what qualifies as writing. In the “cut-up” activity, I was reminded of the creative freedom writing allows, which goes way beyond just making an argument. This “What Counts” gallery was another reminder of the creativity present in such a wide variety of writing genres. Everybody’s definitions of “What Counts” as writing can be flexible and can differ from one another, and that is where so much of writing’s creativity stems from.