According to some middle-aged woman’s blog, William Faulkner once said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” You’re amazing, Will, and we exalt your easy muse, but do you really have to rub it in? I’ve been sitting at my laptop for the past four hours and have written a net of absolutely nothing. I have what is known as the dreaded Writer’s Block.
I’ve switched the topic I’ve wanted to write about at least 15 times. Maybe I’ll talk about Chris Rock and the Asian joke at the Oscars, I muse. Perhaps I could dabble in an essay about how Sam Smith totally forgot there were other decorated LGBTQ people in show business besides him, as I dust off my tolerance and inclusion badge. I ate food today--maybe I could journal about how Chirba Chirba was also coincidentally the same noise my stomach made after eating their food. All pretentiously viable social justice-y and gastronomically themed options, but none of them really amounted to much besides an excessive hitting of the backspace button.
I am currently not inspired at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a modicum of wishful thinking. Writer’s block is one of the worst feelings ever. It pits my desire to write something meaningful for this editor’s note against my desire to just get it done.
Part of my drained inspiration stems from the fact that academic writing has flattened my creativity. To get to Duke, many students have been bred to write a certain way: superfluous and esoteric word vomit for academic essays and these elaborate and fluffy think pieces that are somewhat sentimental for personal reflections. On campus, there are many different creative outlets to hone’s one’s craft, but only so many students participate in these and that’s not necessarily the tenor of writing style set in the classroom.
I generalize of course, some of the student writers on campus are actually really, really good and make my best work look like used toilet paper, but a good portion of our campus writes to please a certain formula. It writes to please a certain professorial eye. It writes to be a profound emblem of gilded academic. My brain shifts to run efficiently rather than wandering abstractly. It decides that in the current time and place, taking chances on risky writing styles and voices and perspectives is not worth my time or the potential bad grade. Let’s just write what I know works. As a result, I can safely say that I have fallen victim to this rut of writing. I’m constantly battling whether I should try to write something meaningful or just finish the assignment and move on to the next one.
I had a professor my first semester at Duke, who shall remain nameless and who had a penchant for “good, simple writing” and stressed a form of writing different from that found in academia. This professor remains nameless because I’ve been quite convinced he Googles himself on a daily basis, and finding himself in the context of this editor’s note would give him too much satisfaction. He lived on the philosophy that much of academic writing can be simplified. He felt that using a vast vocabulary and expanding abstractly on ideas were egregious sins. Write as if you were speaking to your grandmother, he would say. And that’s fine. If I’m going to give someone a summary or general picture about something, then this is definitely the approach to take.
However, I noticed throughout the semester, my peers and my writing became reduced to bare Sparknotes. Our writing lacked the details and nuance that substantiated the writing and fully developed the ideas on the page. Yes, Grandma would understand what we were saying, but the writing lacked the ability to answer her questions about the subject at large such as how would this idea affect me or what is the background on this idea or who are you and why are you talking to me?
I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to write. Objectively, there is a consensus on a threshold for good writing—the ideas are well supported and the grammar/writing style is decent. This is tolerable. What differentiates good writing from killer writing is the voice that leaves clear and unique ideas and perspectives reverberating through the ink. Words that leave an organic impact on an individual in as few words and through a rare lens. Just don't use this editor's note as an example of that.
Dillon Fernando is a Trinity sophomore and Playground editor.
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