Assignment #1: What is Writing?

In preparation for the second week of class, I’d like you to think about these questions and others related to them.  As we will soon find, there are no easy answers to these difficult questions.

But how will we know what advice is helpful and what isn’t?  There seems to be as much advice on writing as there are writers, and sometimes they contradict one another.

Is it possible that the answer to “what is writing?” is as simple as “making marks on a blank page with a pencil or making a blinking cursor dance on your Word document?”  Or do I need some requisite skills before I can call myself a writer?

The first part of this assignment is to read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts”

Shitty First Drafts

and also to watch the Youtube clip at the link I’ve included below.

For me, the essay and the clip are helpful.  In my experience as a writer, I’ve found that my first draft always sucks, but it doesn’t mean I suck; that’s just the way it goes.  But it’s exhausting to be awful at something for a long time, which is why I agree with James Scott Bell that, by making a ritual of the writing process, you can trick yourself into writing a lot.  You will become a better writer in the process, too.

Once you’ve read the essay and watched the clip, I’d like you to go to Youtube and search the keywords “writers on writing” or “writers on the creative process.”  Look through the search results for something that looks interesting.  If you like film, maybe a clip about Quentin Tarantino’s writing process will yield some helpful advice.  If you like history, look for a clip that details how a historian begins her book project.  That is, the clip doesn’t have to be about fiction writing, though many of the clips that come up are usually about that.

Watch a few of the clips that interest you, but I want you to choose only one.  Then I’d like you to write 500 words that accomplishes two things: 1) summarize what the author/thinker/politician/writer says is essential for his/her creative process and for writing and 2) an account of why or how this advice is helpful for you in answering the question “how can I write well?”  For this second question you can talk about your personal experiences with writing, if they help you answer the question.

Print this out with your name TYPED at the top and be prepared to share your research with the class.  After you’re done speaking, I will ask you to submit your typed 500 words to me.

Yes, unfortunately, I’ll be asking you to speak aloud.  Speaking, writing, and reading are all intensely interwoven, and practicing one will bolster the others.

Good luck!  I look forward to our roundtable discussion on the questions “what is writing?” and “how can I write well?”


About melissamott

i can't believe i'm creating a blog, and i hope it's one i actually use. i probably won't though.
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