As I reflect on the difficulty I had in one writing assignment, it seems to me that communicating in writing is often not perceived correctly. That is, we understand that we have ideas to express and that clear writing is the most effective means of accomplishing this, but then we face the real and multiple dimensions of the process itself. Clarity, for example, is no simple matter, if only because it requires more precision. As we struggle to better define our ideas, then, it is easy to get lost in excessive explanation and work against the clarity desired. Then, there are all the considerations of tone, style, and approach. In the end, that single assignment forced me to confront the limits of my abilities, as well as the universe of possibilities within any type of writing at all. This in turn led to my conviction that writing well is no set skill, but an ongoing and evolving process which makes new demands on the writer each time they enter into it.
The actual assignment in question was basic: recount a personal experience which had great emotional meaning, and/or generated a new way of thinking. Upon receiving this, I was relieved. It seemed to me that the work would be extremely easy, as I imagined merely sitting down for 10 minutes and composing an anecdote. I would, I thought, take any incident and “inflate” it to provide the required import. As the assignment was inherently personal, also, I was confident that I would succeed in the eyes of the professor; after all, how severely could I be graded on work based on my feelings? I remember thinking that, if this was any indication of the challenges facing me in college, I would have an easy time of it.
This confidence faded within moments of sitting down to write, and I recall very well a number of frustrations arising even as I tried to compose my first sentence. To begin with, I was suddenly struck by the awareness that something more than a simple account was asked of me. I realized that, even as no directions called for a high level of expression, it was important that I write in a way reflecting some maturity and perspective. Beyond this, I understood as well the rather startling reality that I was expected to write like an adult. It seems obvious but at the time this was a new and unknown consideration. In a word, the awareness intimidated me, and my first efforts were continually deleted as I tried to find, for the first time in my life, an adult voice.
From the start, then, my “simple” assignment took on frightening proportions. I did then try to begin writing in a mature tone, but these attempts were deleted time after time. What I discovered was that I was adopting a forced and unnatural tone in my desire to seem adult and thoughtful. Even a few sentences of this disturbed me, as I read them as artificial. I then decided to try as simple a structure as possible, to make the writing completely basic. This failed as well; the simplicity translated to an almost childish form of expression, and my frustration grew. It was incomprehensible to me but, the more I worked at expressing myself in a direct and clear way, the more I saw the writing as false, uncomfortable, and poor in quality. Adding to the frustration was that initial knowledge that all I was required to do was recount a personal experience.
After some time, I finally chose to “stop thinking.” I tried a new method of only jotting down phrases related to the experience and my reaction to it. These I set down as they occurred to me, and then I placed them in a kind of order, moving from experience to reaction. From there I then expanded the phrases into sentences, and then I shaped those into paragraphs. A good deal of editing went on, but I had at least content I could work on and improve. When I finished, I was not completely satisfied with the result. It was, however, adult writing that met the requirements, and I believed that it was honest and natural.
What stays with me from that one assignment, however, is the universe of possibility that so intimidated me as I first tried to write. In a sense, it was an epiphany because I had not before considered that writing anything is an enormously open arena of choices. In my mind, the process was nothing more than using the rules of language to transmit thought, and I had believed that the rules themselves created the basic work; they merely needed to be applied. Instead, I found that expression goes far beyond this, and that good writing never happens so easily. It is in fact only as good as the commitment made to it, and even that by no means assures quality because, again, the potentials are endless. In plain terms, I realized that writing well is no skill, but an evolving process which makes new demands on the writer each time they enter into it.