Monday, April 23, 2012

What is Writing? Am I a Writer?

Today, in class, I assigned my students the following prompt:

  • What is writing?
  • Why do we write?
  • What makes someone a writer?
  • Do you consider yourself a writer?

The following is the response I wrote for my class as part of my class-linked blog, but the ideas were ones I thought were worth sharing and getting responses from a larger audience:

I think it’s safe to say that my answers to these questions– what is writing? why do we write? what makes someone a writer? do you consider yourself a writer?– are vital to my role as a Composition professor. They shape the way I teach, the way I think about my students’ writing, and the way that I educate myself.

To me, writing is a social transaction; it is used to carry messages from one person to the next, from one generation to the next, or even to a single person from one moment to the next. I used to think it was something that happened when someone sat alone in a room and scribbled until they became a famous author, but I don’t think of it that way anymore. Writing happens every day between billions of people. It is a technology for thought. By writing something, I can keep a record of my thought, one which I can build upon and shape over time.

We write for all sorts of reasons– to communicate, to find solace, to record. I, myself, write for many purposes on any given day. This I see as one of the beautiful aspects of writing. It evolves to suit the purposes I need it for. I can keep notes from class or call the world to action. I can share a goofy story with my five-year-old cousin or memorialize my deceased grandfather. It is only a matter of what I am willing to put forward.

Along with the multiple purposes of being a writer, I do not believe there is only one “type” of writer; in fact, I think anyone can be a writer. Perhaps, only literary geniuses can be famous authors, but I believe that anyone can learn to use writing to express themselves, to fulfill daily purposes, to record stories and histories, etc. My definition of a writer is simply this: a writer is someone who has learned to use written language to achieve their communicative purposes (sharing, transcribing, recording, whatever).

With that said, I think it’s pretty obvious that I do consider myself a writer. I may not always be a great writer, and I am certainly far from a fiction writing national best-selling genius, but I am a writer none the less. I set out to use my written language to achieve a purpose, and for the most part, I feel those purposes are fulfilled. I can use my writing to help my students understand assignments. I can use it to create fictional worlds. I can use it to write a cover letter for a job position. I can write the heck out of an academic essay at this point. Furthermore, I love written language, both the act of writing and of reading it.

What I’ve learned, though, is that it takes patience and practice to be a good writer. It takes a willingness to sacrifice time to putting words on a page, time to revising and not just fluffing up broken words, and time to polish ideas. Time is money, and time is life. Helene Cixous once said something to the effect of “writing is dying,” and that’s true. Every minute I give up to the page is a minute that I have not lived my life. To write involves great sacrifice, which is why I commend all of my students for being writers and I take great pride in what I have produced. Being a writer is being a martyr, dying for the words that you write.

And yet when you write, you live for something, for an idea, for a purpose, for a cause. Indeed, writing is a beautiful thing. This is why I love sharing the art of writing, for whatever purpose, as a living, both through teaching and doing.

1 comment:

Susan Partlan said...

I love the idea of writing as being "a technology for thought" especially as writing technologies themselves emerge and evolve.