My Writing Process by Ian Marr


Sunday, January 6th. 9:13 AM.

I stare at my computer monitor. A blank sheet of paper stares back, untouched by words.

A research paper. Requiring eight sources cited with a minimum of 1,500 and a maximum of 2,500 words.

I tell myself that I’m going to finish it today. Who knows when I’d be able to make myself sit back down and work on it later?

I swallow and begin typing. It’s 9:34 now. Straining myself, I finish typing the last word of the title. 11 words. This is going to take a while.

10:50 AM.

277 words. I have 4 tabs open that are unrelated to the assignment. I’m not worried though. After all, the day is still young, isn’t it?

11:16 AM.

277 words. I found a cool new YouTube channel. This guy’s making videos about various stories he has to tell from his high school years. They’re pretty engaging. I should really get back to work.

11:45 AM.

346 words. I’ve more or less paraphrased the entire first half of one of my sources. That’s definitely how writing essays works. The teacher probably won’t notice.

12:20 PM.

381 words. Time for a lunch break! I heat up a few slices of leftover pizza from two nights ago. The pepperoni slices are still a little cold. Otherwise, it’s alright.

1:08 PM.

381 words. That lunch break took a little longer than I though. I sit back down in the swiveling chair in front of the computer. I can’t work on an empty stomach, can I?

1:40 PM.

473 words. I have come to the conclusion that research papers are incredibly boring. How any one person can spend hours grading these is beyond me.

2:33 PM.

604 words. I found a website with lots of games available that I used to play when I was younger. A quick trip down memory lane ought to be alright.

3:28 PM.

604 words. Did I really just spend an hour playing that? It wasn’t even that fun, now that I think about it. Still, it was pleasing for my nostalgia.

4:15 PM.

698 words. Almost halfway there; I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t be getting far beyond 1,500 words. I really need to figure out how to focus better… I think I’ll Google how to avoid procrastinating. That ought to work.

4:52 PM.

760 words. I’m finally starting to feel a little anxious about finishing this research paper. But, nothing for it but to keep chipping away, I guess.

5:10 PM.

802 words. I wonder if I can use a Wii Remote as a controller on my computer… seems logical to me.

6:29 PM.

802 words. The Wii Remote doesn’t work at all.

6:37 PM.

802 words. Mom says that dinner is ready. I’m glad; I was waiting for something to take my mind of the remote that wasted over an hour.

7:00 PM.

802 words. Mom wanted to watch some television, so I guess I have to go do that now.

7:55 PM.

802 words. I fell asleep in front of the television. Probably a well-deserved nap, but I really should get back to work.

8:36 PM.

911 words. I wonder how long it would take her to notice if I copied and pasted an entire source into my paper.

12:18 AM.

911 words. I woke up to find a massive line of sssssssssss lining the whole screen. There’s a little fewer than six hours before I need to get ready to leave for school. I can get this done by then, right?

12:59 AM.

1,032 words. My eyes keep closing and I’m losing my train of thought. Why did I do this to myself again? I need sleep.

1:45 AM.

1,126 words. I reread my latest paragraph to discover that I had absolutely no recollection of typing most of its content. I don’t know how I managed to do that, but I’m not complaining.

2:32 AM.

1,209 words. I’m going to make myself a bowl of instant ramen. Time for a late-night snack.

3:38 AM.

1,209 words. It turns out that it takes a lot longer to eat a bowl of ramen when there are memes to be browsed on your phone.

3:56 AM.

1,298 words. The day is no longer young. Maybe I’ll just finish the rest at school. At least two hours of sleep would be pretty nice.

4:34 AM.

1,367 words. I’m so close!

5:20 AM.

1,411 words. Seeing the morning fast approaching, my focus shoots through the roof. Just a little bit farther…

6:00 AM.

1,511 words.

I type the final sentence just as I hear my alarm going off from upstairs. As I stare at my finished handiwork, I feel a rush of relief… and remember that my next essay will likely turn out the exact same way.

Limited Vocabulary by Astrid Braun

I wondered the other day, as I lay in bed, whether writers are ever satisfied with their attempts to express emotions. The older I get, the more limiting the English language seems to me — I flip through my thesaurus in an attempt to expand my vocabulary, but there are concepts that have not yet been put into words. In our language, at least.

The Hindi word jijivisha refers to the strong, eternal desire to live and to continue living. The Spanish word querer describes a love of friends or family that is purely platonic; amor describing its counterpart.

Does the lack of terminology for these feelings in English reveal the blind spots of our cultural values, or does it only show a difference in language development? I assume both — language development and culture are tightly woven together. After all, even if I were to adopt jijivisha into my own everyday vocabulary, it would not convey what I want it to, because we don’t have the cultural understanding to surround the word.

But it could serve its purpose for me, if I developed its meaning enough in the context of my life. I cannot write papers for English class that use después, because somehow it fits better than “after,” but if I choose to do so in my own writing, I can employ whatever words I want. Eventually, still, I will run out of words.

So it is that same cultural understanding — the one that limits me so much — that I need to rely on in order to have any confidence that I’ve conveyed my feelings correctly. I have to know that everyone takes in the same short breath when they come across a deer in the woods, or the same joyful soreness in their neck after they’ve watched fireworks all night. But I know that no one experiences anything the same, and that will always be both my advantage and disadvantage.

No one will ever understand what it is to be me, but maybe my words can help them better understand what it is to be them.

Cliches: Avoid them Like the Plague by Astrid Braun

When I began my freshman year Journalism I course, one of the first lessons was to eliminate all cliches. This shocked me, because, like many other new rules established by Natalie Sekicky, the journalism teacher, it contradicted everything I had learned before. Writers imitate what they know, and I had grown comfortable with my collection of phrases, picked up over time from everything I had read or heard before.

Freshman year was the first time I had experienced any pushback on those phrases, and it left me struggling to fill holes that once were so easily patched with the words of writers who came before me. The blank spaces confounded me. I gradually cut the cliches out of my writing repertoire and, over time, found it easier to convey meaning through simpler words.

Now, even as I write blog posts, English papers, or journalism articles, I have a mental block against writing anything that sounds too familiar, and too simple. But that doesn’t solve the problem on its own. Cliches help us express concepts that are difficult to fit into the definition of one word, and to express them using separate vocabulary means forcing yourself to truly think about what the meaning of that cliche is.

I don’t like reading Orwell, but in his essay Politics and the English Language, his attitude on cliches mirrors what mine has become — that they are too easy. One cannot write only to write. We write to convey the thoughts in our heads to others through vocabulary that we’ve created in order to do so. Cliches attempt to connect different human experiences through one phrase, and to think that the cliche has only one meaning is to discount the individual experience of the user.

My goal when I write is to express exactly how I think and feel in words, and it is an unreachable goal. But at least when I attempt to use my own words, and not the words I’ve been spoonfed, I can strive to attain such a goal.