Sunday, April 19, 2009

What is Writing?

When I sit down to write (whether it’s an essay, a poem, a research paper, etc) I go through somewhat of a ritual. First I sit in front of a blank computer screen, starring down the back-lighted blank page hoping that words will simply begin to form in the pixels—which has never actually happened :( When I an idea starts to form, I let the words flow out either onto the keyboard or in a nearby notebook while simultaneously spell-checking and reworking syntax. When I reach the end of my thought, I go back and re-work everything crafting transitions, images, and various grammatical details that escape me in the first draft. Needless to say, my writing is hours upon hours of creation and re-creation (not to be confused with recreation, though that too occurs occasionally), a constant perfecting of the craft.

I believe that many writers have processes, both similar to and different from my own. We take into consideration audience and the impact that we want to have upon them; we use this information to build our work through revision and editing. But does this act, the acquiring of a process, make us writers and our work writing?

Before last year, I would have been inclined to argue yes. However, during a personal interview, my friend and colleague Nikki Caswell changed my mind. We were discussing the definition of writing when she brought forth this idea: “When a child writes one word on a piece of paper, that one word has meaning; that’s why mothers keep it. That’s writing.” I turned this idea over in my head for awhile, honestly not wanting to accept it and make my endless hours of process meaningless by comparison. If a child could produce writing in five minutes, what made my work more significant aside from perhaps vocabulary? If the process was not essential, what makes writing, writing?

Finally I decided that Nikki must be right; writing was simply anything produced with intentional and effective meaning. This at least meant that the processes writers follow are not in vane. Because writing is intended to have meaning, writers spend time perfecting their work to convey the meaning in an effective manner; thus the difference between writer and child became an element of craft.

This was an idea that I could accept—a way to rationalize what writing is without undermining the process that creates it. But this idea too is now being challenged. A few months ago, I was browsing the web when I came across a site called Found Magazine. This website is a collection of notes, letters, photos, etc. that have been misplaced by their authors and found by others; the notes are then posted online for anyone interested to browse and comment on. This means that the writings were intentionally produced, but they may or may not have been created with the meanings that viewers have in mind (mostly because the viewers are not the intended audience).

With this discovery, I would like to pose this simple question: Is this writing? I have done a research paper on this topic, but I am always looking to challenge and update my opinion of what writing is and how it can be defined, so please let me know what you think.

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