Wednesday, July 30, 2008

But Wait, that's Writing, Too...

I've noticed something in myself lately. When I'm writing an academic essay, I'm tempted not to see that as "writing" in the same way working on my novel is writing. Journaling, I see as writing, if informal writing, but writing an email I don't think of as writing.

When I think about this from a definitional standpoint, this seems very odd to me. The oddest distinction is that between writing an academic essay (not writing) and writing a creative non-fiction essay (definitely writing), particularly since I use somewhat similar processes to produce both pieces of work, and often each can inform the other.

Looking at this distinction more closely led me to some insights as to why this might be so, but has also made me more determined to break down this bizarre understanding of what's "writing" and what's not by applying the lessons I've learned in the academic world's view of writing to my creative writing, and vice versa.

Here are some of the things I can gain by cross-pollinating the understandings from the creative and academic writing worlds:

My creative side:

  • Recognizes that writing, even non-fiction writing, is a creative process
  • Understands there is an intuitive portion to writing, and that emotions often get involved
  • Recognizes that the way my brain--and the creative process--works is a bit mysterious at times

My academic side:

  • Knows how to narrow down a topic and find material to work from
  • Moves from material to finished product
  • Sees how my work as a contribution to a discussion
  • Seeing writing as a legitimate thing to spend time pursuing (since it's part of what's expected of me)

Now if I could just apply the lessons from each side to what I do in the other side, and learn to see that as a legitimate thing to do, my view of writing would be a much more holistic one. And then if I could also incorporate what I've learned from informal types of writing, such as blogging, emailing, IMing, etc. into that view, I'd really be getting somewhere.

Of course, I'd still want and need to focus on different genres at particular times (and I'm still likely to get a little grumpy if I have to spend too much time on my less-favorite genres), but it would be nice to feel that I was accomplishing something writerly and learning lessons about writing no matter what I was working on...

Anyone have similar noticings about weird beliefs they've had privileging kinds of writing over others? I see the recent article about digital literacy in the NY Times (thanks to Rob Bruno for pointing it out) as addressing a similar concern by asking questions about what "real reading" is...


rilla said...

I found when I was doing academic writing I considered it "work," but when I am doing creative writing it's "play." I think we're kind of on the same page in that academic writing requires a fixed set of skills, such as research, revising, editing, reading, and usually there is one process that each academic writer will follow from conception to completion. Creative writing takes all sorts of turns and twists as you continue through a project.

Deborah Leiter said...

Ril: I totally get what you're saying about academic writing feeling like "work" whereas creative writing is "play." That's why I think it's so ironic that when I think of "getting some writing done" (in general) I think of my creative writing instead of my academic writing. When I talk about getting some academic writing done, it's more of "get some of that essay done." I know this involves writing, as I can't...stop...seeing each essay from being it's own creative-ish writing project that's not done until I've said exactly what I want to say in just the right words. But I don't think it fulfills quite the same function for my psyche as creative writing does, which is what I associate with "doing some writing."

That said, you're not really saying, are you, Ril, that your MA project paper had no "turns and twists"? :)

rilla said...

Oh, my M.A. paper had turns and twists alright. Nonetheless, the process that I used to get the paper done was relatively fixed. Even though I found myself needing to add more things, change subjects, etc., I always started by reading --> researching --> synthesizing --> writing. I don't have a fixed pattern for creative writing.

Deborah Leiter said...

Ah, interesting. I suppose for me creative writing does have a process, though it's somewhat fluid. But interestingly, it's not that different than the one you mention. My "research," though, is always going on in a variety of areas--(1) in the world where my story's set (e.g., trips to Alaska) or places where I can learn more about my characters, (2) online (e.g., subscribing to emails from the Anchorage Daily News or finding blogs by people similar to those I'm writing about), (3) in the library (especially if I'm thinking about doing something historical), or (4) in my own thoughts and journals. And the synthesizing is more done in the imagination than on paper, but sometimes it involves writing notes and scenes just to get to know the characters, plots, and such better.

A difference with the creative process for me is that I often have rules about what I am NOT allowed to read or research at certain points (no similar fiction during the first draft, for instance) to keep me from potentially being too influenced, which isn't ever the case with academic writing.