Why Write?

An exploration of why we write and the difference between academic and creative writing

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by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

The act of writing outside the academic can become a nebulous, emotional territory. Entrenched in one’s head, it is easy to lose sight of purpose. Why do we write creatively? Is it an act of catharsis, of battling one’s own duende on the page? Or is it beyond that—must writing be external to be valid?

The Writing Fellows Program relies on the philosophy that all writers need a reader. So, opening the email containing my sixth rejection letter of the year, I consider, for whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, I can stop submitting writing. If I am writing for someone else, I should change my writing style to be something my peers want to read. Instead, I attempt to balance the two, oscillating between extreme adaption (I will write what you want) and extreme rejection (I will write octaves about plants).

This process leaves me exhausted and melancholic. I am left with mangled poems that are either too detached from my reality to be valid—or too personal to be read. When a student leaves the Writing Center feeling hopeful about her work, I am uplifted. This is why we write! Writing is neither for the self nor the other. Writing, regardless of content, is expression before communication. Yes, when we write academically, we seek to teach our ideas to the reader, but when writing for the sake of writing, for the art of it, we seek instead genesis—whether our material is new or recycled, it is something of creation.

When students stop me mid-question to ask what the professor wants them to say, I find myself at an impasse. Yes, the professor, being merely human, has goals and expectations—as much as they may try to be unbiased—and cannot transform into a neutral reader. But do not write what you think the professor wants. The writing produced by this filter is stilted. Write intelligently; write a response to the text and the questions raised between it and the discussion. I bite my tongue; there is a necessary space in academic writing between the art and the task.

Returning, then, to the purely artistic writing, we are freed. There is no task here—nothing to prove nor answer. And while we are released, we are also relieved of direction. Direction must come from the internal. Thus, we are back to the difficult questions to consider through writing: What is this? What are you doing? Who are you?

Proceed.

One thought on “Why Write?

  1. It’s funny. The best writing I’ve ever submitted/expelled sparked via writing for admissions offices. While I got denied from
    Barnard, I made one of the greatest pieces to come from my high-school-senior style in the process of writing the common app essay. When I got denied, I found it extremely hard to write for a while– what did I do wrong? Am I denied by what I consider my biggest form of self-expression? I realize, now, that I didn’t write about the right stuff (like my dream of joining the Writing Fellows) and Barnard’s decision was placed not on my writing style but, rather, on my subject matter.
    However, I am me. This is my writing. Thrilled for the next me, too.

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