As someone who has wanted to start a blog and then started it, I love writing. I love putting words on a page and making the thoughts in my head coherent. But academic writing has always been the sort of writing that was draining instead of life giving. I have loved all of my English teachers immensely. They’ve boosted my love for literature and I don’t fault them for my troubles with academic writing.
In my humble opinion, writing should be to help you figure out your own ideas, to make a point, or to entertain. But academic writing is a means to an end. There’s a set of criteria that can feel confining for generating critical thinking and interpretations because we aren’t allowed to bring ourselves into our writing.
I don’t know about you but growing up, I was always told “don’t use I,” “be formal,” and “write in a 3 to 5 paragraph form.” But if you have been reading this blog for some time or even if you’ve just stumbled onto this post, my writing on here isn’t like that. I use tons of I’s. I meander and wander. I sometimes call you out as the reader. I don’t write perfect 3 to 5 paragraphs. I (probably) butcher grammar rules that most English teachers would cry about. I abuse the standards and rules because they are confining and I think that the best writing is one that allows you to consider yourself in the subject matter.
I’m not saying there isn’t room for distanced, academic writing where you don’t use I. Rather, I’m arguing that having that as the default way of writing is stifling to exploring ideas effectively. Yes, the world isn’t all about ourselves. But ignoring our life experiences as we write is actually an act of lying – we are lying about the inherent biases that we bring to the writing process.
I am writing this sitting at my place of work in one of the study rooms, the front room, after returning from in person office hours. A luxury in Covid times. My English professor was just reading through my paper that’s due on Sunday. So I shared it with him, as you do with Google docs, and he laughed out loud.
I should clarify the above statement by saying that I start most of my Google docs for papers by writing a funny title. Because why not. The outline was titled and I quote “we needed an outline because everything hurts, plus i’m tired, also could use a hug from a human rn rt rt.” School is hard when there’s so many papers and exams and finals season is just around the corner with no break in sight.
Some of the other titles for my past papers are as follows – “big yikes energy” for my Hookup Paper, “everyday i’m trifling” for a play called Trifles, “midterms are just lies, ugh” for a study guide, “a treatment, a cure, a vaccine, eh?” for a radio treatment.
For most of these (with the exception of the radio treatment), the title was the most engaging part for me to write. That’s sad to say, but it’s true.
Removing ourselves from academic writing actually hinders our ability to care about the pieces that we’re writing. I think it would be a lot easier for me to care about hookup culture if I included the stories of people who know people who engage in it and what it has done for them/to them. It’s a lot easier to care about a paper on pain (the paper that’s due on Sunday) if I write about my own experience of pain, as a woman and as a Christian.
How’s that going for me?
I think part of it is this. It’s writing the way I want to write about the things that I want to write. Writing to inform, writing to entertain, writing to remember who I am at a particular moment in time.
Writing can be so hard. The work of putting words on a page and hoping another human can relate or in some way have an emotive reaction to your thoughts is hard. But I don’t want to do anything else. A string of words, one after the other, flowing intently into the mind of someone else – that’s how I connect.
And so I listen to podcasts. And to music. And I put myself in the story.
My place in the story is where the magic happens. Because then the work comes alive. I have a personal stake in it, and you the reader get to have one too. Going forward, I am placing myself in the story, what some might call ~main character syndrome~. But I call it a shifting perspective that takes something far off and brings it close.
I hope you are recovering from the agony of academic papers and finding new life in a different form of writing!
Here’s a little message of hope –