Some Inspiration

There is a common misconception that writing always comes easily to “good” writers. “Good” writers seem to have a never-ending supply of words, ideas, and creativity, while “bad” writers struggle. Regardless of your level of comfort with writing, I think we’ve all had those days (or late nights) when we’ve stared at the blank computer screen, waiting for essays to magically write themselves or for the writer’s block-dam in our brains to burst.

I recently came across an article from O, The Oprah Magazine called, “Advice for Aspiring Writers” in which six best-selling and award-winning authors (including Toni Morrison, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Cunningham) discuss the difficulties and frustrations of writing as well as the joys that can arise from it. Read more here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Advice-to-New-Writers/1

Whether you’re an aspiring writer or a student who only writes in order to pass a class, this article shows that writing is often a difficult task for everyone regardless of their experience. So, the next time you have a bad case of writer’s block, just remember: even Pulitzer Prize winners have their off days.

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Just Do It: Write!


Image from Naked Lunch, directed by David Cronenberg

            Today my roommate, a biology major on the pre-med track, asked me why I write, since it makes me so neurotic and frenzied.  I was able to quickly come to the discipline’s defense.

Sharon Crowley’s article “writing and Writing” articulates very logically the struggles that occur during the writing process, and why we do it anyway.  She separates writing into two tasks: to find meaning and to find form.  One never achieves perfection in writing, yet one continually strives for the “Ideal Text” only to inevitably fail.  Crowley associates invention and power with writing, and I think this is a wonderful idea to teach all undergraduates because it gives a dreaded task a positive appeal.

Kenneth Bruffee’s definition of writing as a “social artifact,” from his article “Collaboration and Conversation of Mankind” also represents the task positively.  All humans are social creatures by nature, so this implies that writing is also an innate desire within all of us—some just plunge into the mystery of the process more readily than others.  I agree that writing needs to become more of a social interaction and a collaborative learning experience.  David Bleich’s article “Collaboration and Pedagogy of Disclosure” also advocates for a collaborative learning experience, with a focus on disclosure so that the students feel more like people and less like numbers.  I think Bruffee and Bleich would support the Barnard Writing Center, which involves conversation and an open environment devoid of judgment.

What to do when writing feels really, re-eeaaally really hard.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about their unsolvable procrastination habits.  We’ve all heard about students who write papers the day before they’re due, and frankly, we’ve all been there, probably more than we’d like to admit.

The biggest problem, though, is the advice I give to these students, which is equally predictable:  “Make an appointment at the Writing Center.”  “Make up a fake deadline for yourself a week before the paper’s actually due.”  “Free-write, even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  “Write a draft the day you get the assignment, even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  “Do an outline, or a web, or lists, or a cartoon, or — heck, make a mobile!  Even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  Or — maybe the most frustrating one of all — “Just do it.”

In my defense, writing is a different process for everyone, and if you’re hearing the above advice for the first time, it actually can be pretty helpful.  Besides, if you’re really stuck, you’ll probably find issues with all of my advice anyway, no matter what it is.  (And I absolutely sympathize with that feeling, no matter how mad at me you are.)

While I can’t guarantee that all of my personal strategies will work for you, I can give you a few ideas for when the above advice just doesn’t cut it.  Here are some more “alternative” strategies for when writing feels like lifting boulders with toothpicks:

1.  “Writing isn’t about being a good girl,” Professor Gordon told me yesterday.  Interpret as you will, but it made me feel all rebellious — the seed of motivation and creativity!

2.  Talk to yourself about your ideas (out loud).  Really get lost in it, like you’re mad at your friend and practicing that speech where you tell her off in a really smart, thoughtful way, but know you’d never actually say any of it to her, so there are really no limits.  Be as condescending and passive aggressive to your paper as you please.

3.  Allow yourself to write something horrendous.  Really embarrassingly bad — unconventionally bad.  That can be a first draft, and it will probably be pretty funny to read to yourself, and you know they say laughter is the best medicine.

4.  Write an email to someone about your paper — you’ll probably write about the part that’s most confusing to you, which is probably where your best ideas are hiding.

5.  Write a blog post!  (See how many ideas I have that I didn’t know I had before?!)

6.  As you are writing, pretend you are in that scene from the last Harry Potter movie where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are running through the wreck of Hogwarts to get to the Shrieking Shack, where Voldemort is hanging out.  The soundtrack will make anything feel heroic (and thus motivated!).  I have to give credit to Connor Spahn (CC ’12) for this one.

Have any good advice?  Send it to clie@barnard.edu, and Fellow Voices will share it with all those people who are in the same boat as you.

SOPA: What do you think?

It was only a matter of time before government regulation caught up with the massive amounts of illegal content, including music, tv shows, and movies, that is streamed through the internet. When I first heard about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a piece of legislation that would give Congress the ability to shut down websites that the government believes to be associated with piracy, my first thought was “Oh no! Does this mean I won’t be able to stream my favorite old episodes of How I Met Your Mother on websites like Megavideo or Sidereel?” Although I was initially disappointed to hear that I would no longer be able to access free media and entertainment online, I acknowledge that the content I enjoy so much is illegal and that music artists and productions are robbed every time I stream music and watch my favorite shows online. SOPA was inevitable and sounded (admittedly) fair.

However, it was only after I did more research on SOPA that I understood the serious limitations that this legislation would put on Americans freedom of expression on the Internet. The government would have the ability to shut down blogs that site links to websites that contain illegal content and could even shut down discussion boards that include or link to websites that are suspected of piracy. This legislation would strictly limit what Americans will have access to on the internet, and what freedom they will have to express themselves via blogs, comment boards, and personal websites. As a writer, I feel strongly against this bill because I believe that it gives government too much power to restrict our right to free speech and expression. Even though I agree that there should be a way to limit access to media and entertainment that is protected through copyright and intellectual property laws, this bill has the power to restrict much, much more than illegal content.

If you are interested in learning more about SOPA, here is an article that was published in the Huffington Post that gives a good overview of the bill: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/14/sopa-protect-ip_n_1140180.html

Also, here is a link to a great op-ed that ran in the NYT last week. Unlike my oppositional stance to the bill, this op-ed presents a more critical analysis of the boycotts against SOPA. Really interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/opinion/sopa-boycotts-and-the-false-ideals-of-the-web.html

What do you all think about this bill?

Animate Education

RSA, or the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, defines itself as an enlightenment organization for the 21st century.  Like TED talks, it is an intellectual hub that supports research and debates about “the future prospects of the human race.” Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms raises many important questions regarding the future of public education across the world (mainly, “How do we educate our children to take place in the economies of the 21st century?”), but its main interest to me is its presentation.  RSAnimate uses a media not generally utilized in academia – animation.  The continual unfolding of Robinson’s narrative, audibly and visually, facilitates memory and understanding, as well as the pleasure of hearing a story as it progresses.

Most of us know that everyone learns differently.  We’ve heard about visual learners and tactile learners, but our education system is nonetheless centered on one type of learning, especially at more advanced levels.  In college, most history professors don’t consider acting out the arrival of the pilgrims in class as I did in elementary school, or having students render the fall of the twin towers in a poem as my 6th grade social studies teacher did shortly after 9/11.  These activities were not only fun – they made me enthusiastic about learning.  RSAnimate brings some of that creativity and enthusiasm into the world of professional academia.  It makes me wonder – could “academic ability,” as Robinson calls it, be more effectively harnessed if lessons were still playful in a college setting?