Writing is such a strange thing

Posted: December 14, 2007 in meta, writing

I’ve been writing for most of my life. Not just my adult life; I started writing when I was six years old and found a typewriter in the closet. I wrote a ‘novel’ then, thirty six pages of typed story. It was awful, but I was six, so it’s okay.

I started writing real creative work when I was about ten or eleven, picked up speed when I turned fourteen, and wrote my first novel my Freshman year. I’ve since written about 15 others, one which was a hair’s breath away from being published by Bantam books (they did ask for a rewrite), and several more that might still be published some day.

Of course, that writing isn’t academic writing. But even that I’ve been doing for a long time.

I learned how to write a little bit my freshman year in a course for that purpose. I refined this ability over the next four years, learning pretty well how to write philosophy papers. I learned about syllogisms, I learned about arguments, and I learned great ways to structure papers. I wrote a 42 page paper (yes, it was 42 pages intentionally), and wrote well enough to accepted to the University of Illinois for a PhD program in philosophy.

I only stayed two years, took a Master’s and went on with my life, but I like to think that I learned to write even better during that time.

Then I began a degree in English, and learned MLA style (though I’m still shaky on it–likely not as shaky as I think I am, though) and learned how to analyze literature and how to talk about composition and pedagogy. I learned how to adjust my tone and, I thought, a whole different way of writing.

When I started writing this paper that’s been consuming me lately, I had to learn how to write all over again. The syllogisms have to go. I need to write more in chronological order, not break the fourth wall, all kinds of rules that I never had before. When I wrote my master’s thesis in Philosophy (a 76 page monstrosity), I wrote it as a narrative story about a man (Bill) and his ruminations about his own identity. Can’t do that in my new field.

I’m not bitter. Not at all. On the contrary, I’m glad I learned. I feel like my writing is stronger now than it was before I had these lessons.

I just think it’s interesting that my writing experience can buy liquor, yet still I have to learn how to do things all over again every so often. A lot of that is because writing is such a diverse field.

It’s a question of Equivocation, really. In this post, I’ve used the word ‘writing’ to mean several different things. I used it to mean creative writing (which in itself needs to be unpacked–horror writing is VERY different from romance, or from action, or sci fi, or espionage, or Literature, etc), but I also used it to mean writing philosophy papers, logic papers, literature papers, and composition/rhetoric papers. They aren’t the same. Academic writing, like creative writing, is a phrase that needs to be unpacked. Every discipline has its own style, not just of notation, but also of structure.

I just rewrote a paper from one year ago. One single year. And, not to be too harsh on myself, it was awful. I don’t know how I managed to hand that in with a straight face. I rewrote it from start to finish, cutting probably two pages and adding two and a half pages of solid detail in there, and now I’m rather proud of it. I’ve learned so much about writing in the last year–and, to be perfectly honest, I learned almost all of it this semester. I feel now like I can handle upper level graduate work, where I couldn’t before.

It makes me wonder what it will be like when I look back on my writing a year from now.

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