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Monday, November 11, 2019

Myths about writing

The main myth about scholarly writing is that one's relationship to it must be negative. The sub-myths include these:

:it never gets easier

:if you aren't unhappy doing it, you aren't doing it right

:all writers produce bad first drafts, which only become good through arduous revision

:nobody likes doing it; it is someone one does to get tenure or promotion

:nobody reads it anyway, so the important thing is having the items listed in your c.v.

I don't deny that people have an unhealthy relation to their own writing practices; what I question is the assumption that this needs to be true. My attitude is this:

Writing is like anything else: one gets better at it with practice. Thus it does get easier with time, experience, and intelligent practice. The unhappiness has to do with the expectations surrounding the writing, not the writing itself. There are many ways to be an unhappy writer, but these are all based on a cognitive distortion.  Some of us do like it, and the reason to get tenure is to be able to do more of it, not less.

The idea that you can't learn to write more easily does not line up with the practice of any other human activity. Things that were difficult for me to play on the piano a year ago are now somewhat easy. Why would writing be something so different from anything else in life?

I see some of the reasons behind the myths. The romantic idea of the struggling artist in his / her agony has a great deal of appeal. Maybe the idea of the bad first draft is supposed to encourage the student whose drafts are still shitty. The idea of negativity has a great deal of paradoxical appeal, in that suffering can be a badge of honor. I don't deny I have suffered at some stages of my writing career, and can be proud of my persistence and resilience.

1 comment:

Leslie B. said...

But apparently only writing is hard for people -- they only suffer over that. It's one of the things I suffer least over. It is difficult, sure, and takes concentration but it's something I enjoy. I have a hard time concentrating on other things -- certain kinds of class preparation (like figuring out the best way to have students play jeopardy in Spanish), grading, etc., and I'm not the worlds very biggest reader of literature -- I like theory, history, essay, poetry but I am a slow reader of poetry and theatre and not a fan of narrative and do not read it recreationally.

The negativity -- well as my dissertation director and many other Easterners said, if you are not suffering and do not look unwell, you are not working hard enough. I felt sorry for them but also oppressed by this idea, and I don't like working in unpleasant places, and I find that joy and interest help get things done, and drudgery does not -- but I'm in the minority and I guess, so are you.