Faking It? Reflections and Regrets from an Occasionally Insincere Writer
May 1, 2016
By Mark Anliker, Writing Tutor
I started tutoring at the Writing Center in the fall of 2013. Three years and several hundred sessions later, I'm ready to graduate this spring with degrees in Economics and Public Policy. Along the way, though, I've learned a few things about what it means to struggle through the writing process, and, perhaps more importantly, I've learned a few things about myself. As much as I want to be able to say otherwise, I've learned that I don't always give 100%. Despite developing a set of good life habits during college, I've still got room for improvement. Indeed, one of the biggest regrets I have academically is that I didn't always rigorously complete my coursework, especially when writing was involved.
You'd think that, as an employee at the Writing Center, I would have it all figured out. You'd think that my pre-writing process was pristine, or that my rough drafts turn out exactly as I envisioned. The truth is that I don't always create rough drafts. I don't plan out my papers as much as I should, and I probably don't do sufficient research for my writing assignments. I often procrastinate to the point of panic, like too many of my fellow undergraduates, leaving little time for things like revising or peer editing. I'm not proud of this. I've been asked to write this blog post in order to say something helpful and meaningful about college writing. The best advice I have, based on my own regrets, is this: Show some passion the next time you write a paper.
I know that writing is hard, and I know that it's easy to simply go through the motions when things get too difficult. Cadence and cohesion don't come easily, nor do catchy titles and cute conclusions. From an early age, we're taught that we can put our thoughts onto paper, but how often do we really appreciate how surreal of an endeavor that is? How can we materialize the immaterial?
That's what writing is--making the imagined into something real. That's why it's so difficult. Writing is the daunting task of making your present thoughts transcend time. Some even believe that it's the only way that the future can truly remember who you were.
The great astrophysicist Carl Sagan once discussed the marvel and challenge of writing in the episode "The Persistence of Memory " in his television series Cosmos:
What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
Now back to my original point: Don't just go through the motions. Writing may be hard, but it's hard because it's so ambitious, a genuine of act of time travel, a veritable form of working magic. So, when I clearly value writing as much as I do, why have I sometimes failed to follow my own advice, the same kind of advice I dispense as a writing tutor? Why have I not savored every opportunity to participate in humankind's greatest invention? Finally, why did I bother writing some things that I'm too embarrassed to share except with my professors who demand them from me? Why have I written essays now forever confined to be cached on my computer in forgotten folders?
I don't fully understand my own complacency, but I know that I regret it. Don't be like me, and don't be like your peers. Spend a little more time and effort with your next paper; you'll impress yourself, You might even want to share your writing with someone who's not grading it. Who knows, you might find that you enjoy writing more when you're not faking it. You might even take up blogging.