Theory of Writing: Version 1.0

I’ve said in the past that my mouth dislikes words. This remains true. The physical process of speech is challenging for me. The process of writing however, comes more easily.

During our expedition across the DU campus, we encountered a range of definitions for ‘writing.’ The concept that “writing is thinking” has been in the back of my mind for a long while. I suppose because this definition most closely aligns with my personal view of writing. “To write” is an act. ‘Writing’ is the physical product of having written. I differentiate between these two because I think that writing and composition, while intertwined, have different roles to play. Writing in the noun sense can be consumed, it is past and present. What has been written is, to a certain degree, permanent. The compositional sense of writing, writing in the verb sense, accounts for the present and future. It is in the moment and amorphous. Simply put, writing is tangible while composition isn’t.

When we write something down, there is a sense that something has been “stored” for later retrieval. Usually, things that are written down are intended to be viewed  again at a later date, but with the intention of arousing certain thoughts or ideas that played out at the time of composition. While we are doing the physical writing down (composition/writing as a verb), there is a degree of uncertainty and of malleability. In that instant, when nothing has yet been committed to the page, we must call upon our thoughts and organize them (or not), we must choose what will be written down. This is not to say that, at times, everything thought will be put onto the page, but it is to say that everything put onto the page has been considered before being put there. As soon as we make the shift from ordinary thought to the consideration of what will be placed on the (metaphorical) page, everything slows down. There is instantly more at stake. We must consider who will be reading what is written as well as how we want to come across to those individuals. Sometimes this takes a noticeable toll on the end result, other times it doesn’t and other times, there’s no knowing the extent to which entering a compositional mindset has on what is produced.

I say “compositional mindset,” because I think that the same mode of thought existed before writing (as we know it today), was common practice. In Ong’s discussion of primary orality he notes that formulas were relied upon in order to communicate. People relied on parables and cliches–banal “everyday speak” as we’d call it today–in order to relay stories or even oratories. Were people from the time of primary orality entering the same sort of compositional mindset that we enter today when we write? I’d argue that, indeed, they were. The very notion that primary orality relied on formulas and “banal speak” suggests that primary orators were, first and foremost, concerned with audience and enabling a degree of accessibility to that audience.

In some ways, writing can be seen as a single-sided conversation. Ong points out that writing requires a level of foresight in order to be carried out well. He also points out that it allows for a greater degree of “craft” because of the ability to effectually self-censor. When we write we must know which words to use and at what times to use them. In primary orality this holds true as well. Knowing when to use a certain saying, to employ a certain formula, in both modern-day composition as well as orality is crucial to maintaining accessibility to an audience.

As technology has progressed and even overshadowed the traditional forms of writing, so too has the manner in which we interact with audiences. Accessibility remains paramount and the level of accessibility has become a new problem that modern day writers must face. In an age of “secondary orality,” where everything takes place through digital media, where technology is no longer a tool, but foundational to our existence, the question is not whether audiences will be able to access and understand a given work, but to what degree and in what capacity.

Nowadays, we can self-publish works online and instantly provide access to people across the world as a result of the internet. These “works” are taking all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are traditional novels, poetry and prose, but there are also new forms of media–social media being chief among them.

At this juncture, I think it important to note that writing takes on many forms, but at its core it always remains the same. Whether we are compiling a social media page or designing signs for a park, we enter into a state of composition. The questions posed in this mental state will remain the same as well: What am I trying to get across? and; to whom? Of course, many other questions will arise that pertain to a specific project more directly, but they will all stem off the two aforementioned “bigger” questions.

The biggest question of all (in writing at least), is “what do I want to do?” Inherent in this question are many others: where do I want to go? how to get there? real or unreal? and on and on. Ultimately, writing is objective-based. It accomplishes something. The compositional component to writing is the time in which we search for the route to achieving the desired end.

Yes, my mouth still “dislikes words.” I suppose this is because words that leave my mouth don’t always serve a purpose and as Ong would say, spoken words ‘die’ as soon as they leave the tongue. Rather than release words into a decaying void of nothingness (hyperbole I know) I prefer to contribute them to something lasting. Whether or not those words will continue to be read is another question altogether, but writing that serves a purpose and achieves what it set out to achieve (achieving nothing when the destination is “nowhere” counts here as well) deserves to last.

When I was formulating ways in which to complete this assignment I posed myself the question “what is writing to me?” over and over again. I wondered how I’d go about saying this in words. I thought about what I’ve said in the past about writing. Between my actual reflecting on what to write and my actually writing it now (minutes before the midnight deadline) plenty of time has passed. I played in a concert, I worked on homework, I ate, I laughed at my grandmother, I listened to music, I drove, I sat, I walked, the sun rose, it set, it rose and it set again. In looking back over the past few days while I’ve been actively thinking about this assignment as well as reflecting over the quarter/course on the whole, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is thinking–or, more precisely, thinking is writing. All of the consideration before anything even gets put on the page, all of the questioning, wondering, reflecting, audience-identification, vernacular/formula selection; all of it falls into the compositional mindset–because writing is a state of being, it is a reflective and considerate action and in the end, it is the byproduct of all these things.


A Techno-historiography

I’m writing this in a lobby at a car dealership.

The very notion that I’m able to write–that is–“compose” this piece at the car dealership is indicative of my digital history and my literacy. It requires my use of a laptop and my presupposing that the dealership would have wifi. It is also indicative of the “always going” “always working” environment that technology and a networked culture encourage.

Here I am . . .

Looking around I see various levels of technological dependence. All but one woman is looking at a phone or computer. Though, that particular lady is looking at one of the three large flatscreen televisions mounted before her.

Technology is requisite for most social interactions in our networked culture. Through this computer and its connection to wifi and that wifi’s connection to the modem and that modem’s connection to the greater internet I’m connected, in a sense, to a network of people. I suppose my influence isn’t that great. If I were to post something pertaining to a poor experience I’ve had with Comcast, I suppose I’d only receive a phone number for their customer support line, if anything at all.

How is it that I’ve come to this point? How is it that we as a society have come to this point? Jenkins discusses the viral nature of media. It is participatory in that media is spread to areas by individuals who notice a lacking of said media within their network. I suppose that as a society we’ve established a means of getting what we need where we need it, and getting it there quickly. Now that I’m able to fulfill assignments like this from just about anywhere (I suppose I could’ve used my phone’s internet connection if there wasn’t Wifi here, and even without the Internet I could’ve saved this post for later) it isn’t so much what I say as much as how it is said, how it is spread.

I can remember a time before I was connected to the internet and all the networks therein. To a time before I had a cell phone. Of course, I had a computer before I had a cell phone. Perhaps in third grade, or maybe even before that I had my own Dell desktop. I got one of those thin monitors too. Before that my sister and I shared an old computer and played simple games on it–that one was large and heavy and sat in our crawl space until my mom threw it out this past summer . . .

When I first got my first computer I felt free. Of course I wasn’t free in the sense that a computer connected to the internet may offer. In that sense I was very much limited. But I was enabled access to a whole new realm and whole new atmosphere in which to manipulate things to my own liking. Aside for doing brief writing assignments for my primary-school classes, I used that computer to play games. I would play strategy games–ones in which I was opened up to yet another realm of possibilities. I still get lost in a sense of nostalgia thinking about it today. I was and still am proud of the cities and empires that I built back then. I can only imagine where they would be now.

circa 2003

I gained a personal connection to the internet sometime in middle school. Around the same age when I attended a summer camp where we got to make our own computer games. There wasn’t much coding I can remember, it was all put together through some sort of platform–the name of which is escaping me. Middle school was also the time where I finally got a cell phone! That phone was the missing link in my educational experience. MY sister and I would stare with jealousy at those of our classmates who eagerly pulled out their cell phones in 6th, 5th, even 4th grade. Looking back it seems absurd that I felt the need for a phone that I felt a need to be connected to the internet, but I suppose as Jenkins notes, it is the collaboration of technology and people’s relationship with that technology that hinder the former necessity. If my classmates hadn’t been telling me how great it was to have a cellphone I never would’ve felt a need to get one. In the same way, I never would’ve felt a need to join a social network.

At Campus middle school the social network of choice was Bebo. Everyone asked if you were “on Bebo.” MySpace had been deemed passé I suppose. Bebo was what was cool. Just as the tangible experiences shared with my friends and peers determined my getting a phone, those same networks influenced my joining Bebo. To be completely honest I cannot remember exactly what Bebo looked like. There was a personal page, themes you could change and ‘friends’ of some sort. Just as Jenkins notes the corporate obsession with statistics all of us middle-school-aged ‘Beboers’ were obsessed with tracking who had the most friends on Bebo. This led to my happily befriending anyone who “didn’t look sketchy” though I did have a few sketchy messages that ensued shortly after friending some individuals.

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Bebo Looks very different today. It appears to be some sort of group/collaborative platform.

After seventh grade, Beboing died off as Facebook took over. As social networking interactions actually began to have an influence on actual interpersonal/face-to-face interactions the internet and technology use also began to take more and more significant hold on my life in general. School began to need computers more and more, it began to rely on collaboration and accessing information through technology. From there my technological roots were established and continued to evolve to the point that they are at today.

This is a very abbreviated account of my coming into technology as I use it today. The main thing that I’ve noticed though, is that after being introduced to social media “for real” that is, social media that has a tangible impact on my daily interactions, I feel that my life has been forever changed. There’s no reverting back to life pre-facebook. I suppose this correlates to Jenkins’ notion that media “invit[es] people to shape the context of the material as they share it within their social circles.”

And now I’m back at the dealership where I’ve learned that now I can watch a video of the mechanics checking my vehicle. I suppose all of those rumors of mechanics ripping us off may finally be set to rest, but now, after reading Jenkins, I feel that I understand more in the way of ‘why’ technology has come to be so critical. In the end, I guess that we’ve gotten to where were are now because we are all human beings looking to know the truth.

Today my use of technology is intermixed with most all aspects of my life. Jenkins writes “We must all be careful not to suppose that a more participatory means of circulation can be solely explained solely (or even primarily) by this rise in technological infrastructure.” And to an extent, I agree with this. In my own life I’ve seen how critical the role of other people’s voicing/making known the wonders of technology or a given media, but I think that it is certainly a dynamic landscape today where more and more interactions continue to be filtered through technology as people move away from those around them and into the devices that connect them to who they want to be connected with. I should know as I’m still waiting here in the lobby at the dealership and as of yet no one has struck up conversation with their neighbor. We’re all so fixated on getting to where we want to be that I suppose what lies before us is sometimes lost.


Digital Reflection 7

Before I was an English Major I was an EDP (Emergent Digital Practices) major, before an EDP major, a Computer Science Major. I’ve moved, perhaps, towards a direction that, at first glance, seems to retract from the current time’s technological boom. Of course, after a bit of reflection, and having taken this course, it seems safe to say that in fact, the opposite is true. Rather than going to the specific, I’ve moved towards the broad and all encompassing. Literacy and composition are foundational to our use of 21st century technologies. What it means to be literate in the 21st century, however, is changing.

Yancey argues that technological literacy is necessary for verbal literacy in this day and age. It is inarguably impossible to write without using a culmination of technologies. Before computers there were pens and paper, before that quills, before that chisels and stone . . . Today the computer, internet, and the collaboration and access that these platforms enable  has opened up an entire realm of new possibilities for writing. The film I’ve selected for my digital reflection this week deals with the sort of issues that can arise when we begin to manipulate authorship in ways that were previously impossible. Catfish deals with the issue of authenticity, but also with authorship. It deals with a question that we’ve touched upon in our discussion of creative non-fiction and “the facts,” how much “truth” must there be in “creative-non-fiction?”

While I certainly agree with Yancey’s claim that education needs to be brought up to a level that recognizes how technology is shifting the greater landscape, it is important to consider just what the ramifications of doing so may be. There is already a mounting concern about student’s interpersonal communication skills. While the networking capabilities and direct-link to a wealth of audiences is great for the landscape of writing, I worry whether people will still have as much to write about as less and less interaction takes place face to face and more and more of it takes place behind a screen.

What will that look like down the road? We can only wait and see . . .

Image 7

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This screen-shot displays the online platform for my Sustaining Life class. The class is a hybrid course which means that half of the coursework is completed online while the remaining half is covered in lecture. The move of education to a digital platform and to incorporate more and more technology aligns with Yancey’s view that to learn how to write for the 21st century we must adapt pedagogical practices to fit a more and more technologically inclined/leaning society. 

Yancey: On Writing in the 21st Century

Kathleen Yancey argues that writing pedagogy doesn’t align with its application in the 21st century. She notes how society’s approach to writing has stayed constant while the role that writing plays in society has continued to evolve. Standard writing pedagogy focuses on the process of writing rather than the multi-dimensonal entity that constitutes writing today.


Our poster tries to emphasize three important characteristics of writing according to Yancey: writing as technology, the accessibility of writing, and the collaborative aspects inherent in writing. The image at the center illustrates all three of theses characteristics in that it depicts students using technology and working together to compose pieces of writing. Yancey stresses the importance of changing pedagogical practice in order to accommodate evolving technology and its influence on writing–outlining three steps: 1) develop new models of composing, 2) design new curriculums that support these new models, and 3) create new pedagogies enacting that curriculum.

Education has never taught writing as a singular (separate) discipline. It is almost always discussed/taught in context or in conjunction with something else. Children write stories before they’ve mastered paragraphs, people apply writing to other disciplines without fully recognizing its capabilities. The two stories that Yancey included in her address–one about a girl who wrote seeking response to flooding in Melbourne, Florida, and another regarding AP testing and a “smart-mob” that took place therein–are further examples of this sort of “running before you can walk” ideology. These stories were only successful because they occurred along with the rise other other technologies (namely social media). Just as these students wrote without, necessarily, recognizing the implications, we must continue to strive and press the boundaries of composition before we can fully understand what it is.

By adapting own own experiences: yielding what technologies are present, collaborating with those around us and in our networks, we can “author ourselves,” and as Yancey suggests: “Through writing we are”.

Joan Didion and Walter Ong walk into a bar . . .

There was a thoughtful-looking Jesuit sitting on the patio. His hair was combed up and back. His plate, pushed away, was empty save for grease that’d collected on the bottom. He wore rectangular glasses and a clerical collar as well as an expression of amusement as our eyes met. “Father Ong” I called out drily. It seemed paradoxical to meet a priest in a bar, something was skewed, but I went with it.

“Ms. Didion, the pleasure is mine!” the priest proclaimed. We took seats at opposing ends of the grease-covered plate and regarded each other for several moments before either of us spoke again. “How would you like to begin?” The words charged the space with expectation. He looked to me with interest, a slight grin forming.

“I suppose it has already begun” I said. I thought of his works on orality and on literacy. Interesting and intriguing works, valuable, perhaps, for their insights into the way people lead their lives as a result of writing.

“I suppose it has,” he replied. “Would you like something to drink? To eat?”

“No. I’m fine thank you.”

“Alright, well I’d like to mention how intrigued I was to be reading The White Album, it’s a fine example of how literacy can effectively capture personal experiences, though, some of it was a bit dry for my tastes . . .”

“Dry? What about it seems dry might I ask, Father”

“Well, for starters . . .”

“For starters? Not the sort of articulate response I’d expect from someone so well-versed in orality and in speech-making.

“My apologies. The work itself seemed to lack that “something,” while it is inarguably an exceptionally well-crafted body, anthologized essays may not always ‘mesh’ as intended”

“Ah, I see. You’d rather that the entire collection be penned, not as a collection at all, but as a novel. Singular in destination, singular in perspective. Locked-in.”

“Not exactly, suffice it to say that I found the lack of a ‘fixed’ audience to have an effect on the consistency of voice and tone throughout.”
“Perhaps that was the intention? Did you ever consider that to be my possible intention?”

“Well—no, but I di—“

“Exactly! You assumed that I intended for each essay, each part of the whole, to speak to an individual audience rather than the combination to many audiences, to incorporate many topics, events, and histories. My very intention was, in fact, to blend, to combine, to blur the lines between different experiences. A collage if you will.”

“Fair enough. I suppose I would’ve like a bit less breadth and a bit more depth at times. Less exposition more development I suppose . . .”

“Can there be a story without context?”

“No, I wouldn’t say so. Even—especially, in primarily oral cultures, one would be bound to express whatever story, concept, or the like, using parables, using pre-formed phraseologies.”

“Exactly my point Father, could it be that my combination of works, my anthologized stories still work to communicate a larger over-arching theme?”

“. . . That is an interesting point. I suppose I hadn’t thought of that, then again, I haven’t really ready much works done in this sort of style.”

“New forms are like new technologies; wouldn’t you say so? They may be frowned upon in the beginning—even by you it would seem, but in the end they may prove to revolutionize the way things are done.”

. . .

Stories: Conclusion

Waiting in Green Aprons

Faces cannot lie. Mouth corners, eyebrows, noses, and jaws can only speak the truth. We tell ourselves that we can say anything, that we can do anything. We tell ourselves lies with the hope that those lies somehow become truths. Any interaction at any time of day is prone to be a lie. We listen to misgivings, observations, hopes, dreams, achievements. Some of them are true, some of them less so, some of them hold no truth whatsoever. Does it matter? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless of the factuality of a statement, the honesty behind an interaction, at the root of it is a desire for what is said to be true, to become fact. We tell ourselves lies because we hope that they will, one day, become truths. Until that time, we wait for the time to pass and fill it with stories. We know the people around us are in the same state. Waiting amidst an ambition guised by falsehoods: order and patience and happiness.

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