Let’s Talk About Literature

23 Dec

I feel a need to preface what I’m about to say with a potentially important note, so here it is:
The following article is by no means a reaction to any particular incident I have experienced, though I have experienced this as a writer. However, it is a general observation I have made over the past several years. It has taken me approximately three years to develop these thoughts on this subject. I would have written about this for my final project in my class on Topics in Rhetorical Theory and Practice three years ago (I think I might have tried to), but sometimes things just have to sit in the crockpot for a while. So I guess now it’s finally done!

I entered the blogging world during college because I was required to have one in several of my classes. I think I’ve had about 5 or 6 blogs altogether. Whew! [English major probs]

See, the thing about writing is that it is used to find or give meaning regarding a subject and promote meaningful discussions on the subject. That is how I have used my blogs–for writing. Writing is what blogs are for. However, other forms of social media, such as Facebook, give a different dynamic to reading and writing altogether; and to add to that, blogging itself has become more popular and therefore used in ways that involve a lot less substance. Because of this cultural shift in the writing world, I’m afraid that we have either forgotten or corrupted the whole purpose of literature. Instead of reading for the message provided in the content we’re reading, we find ourselves seeking out the feelings and intentions of the author and sometimes offering feedback that isn’t constructive from a literary standpoint, or even from a personal standpoint. It can range anywhere from negative responses such as, “I hate this. You are clearly uneducated.” to straight up trolling. The problem with this is that it is insensitive and sometimes cruel. It is purely an emotional reaction with no point except to express (vent) the reader’s feelings (not their critical thinking) about what they have read.

Through the increased availability and convenience of literature, I think we’ve become a bit lazy about reading and writing, and it is simply manifested through this empty language used in social media. Much of the “writing” online these days is really just a bunch of passive-aggressive reactions to other passive-aggressive reactions. So now we’ve started reading everything that way. From people’s Facebook statuses to the things they write about in their blogs, we try to find the reasons why they wrote those things. Well, folks, I might be bursting a bubble or two, but I’m a writer. I’m not the best writer, but writing is what I do for a living and as a hobby, and it takes a lot of work. I have made mistakes with words in the past, but as a writer, I don’t play silly immature games, and I would imagine most other professional writers don’t either. I spend time thinking about topics from multiple perspectives and organizing my thoughts accordingly. I write. I have been trained to do so professionally. The motivation behind why I write (or even read) does not determine the validity of a message I have written (or read). I can write about things I don’t even care about, and sometimes I do, even if it’s boring or I don’t like it. Welcome to the world work of writing.

Literature is the window for education, for learning new things. Do you know how some people have succeeded in life, going from dirt poor to CEOs of large corporations?

Books.

Thinking.

Writing.

Literature isn’t magic, but it sure is important. And the better we know how to handle it appropriately, the more we can gain from it by learning and challenging ourselves. Reading and writing can actually help us become better people. Yeah. Whoa, dude.

So what is the best way to read?

The same way that you best handle a conversation in which the other person is talking. You listen.
You put aside you prejudices and feelings and accept what the other person has to say for what it is. You practice patience.

For a writer who invests a lot of time and hard work into what he or she does, it’s very disheartening to share his or her finished product with others only to have it be immediately turned back on them through the emotional reactions of readers who did not take the time to understand what was written. Writing is a form of art that is created to challenge people’s minds. It’s understandable that a writer’s audience will not always agree, but in settings where literature is discussed academically, for example, there is a way of going about critiquing a writer’s work that remains respectful to the writer while providing constructive criticism and further insight that can encourage and motivate the writer. These are called “peer reviews” and are meant to help writers develop and increase their skills. As grueling and challenging as they can be for a writer, they are helpful. They focus on the task of writing and not on the writer. Any time attention is brought to the writer, it is to be done courteously, submissively, and respectfully. To tell a writer that you know what was going on in their mind at the time they wrote their piece is unacceptable and will likely get you kicked out of the circle/classroom. Why? Because it is simply rude and disrespectful.

As a critical thinking exercise (remember those from grade school?) to put this into perspective, think about how you would want your boss to handle your annual performance review. As you continue your use of literature and choices of language in representing yourself and/or others online, please consider these things and examine the way you go about communicating in the avenues of social media that you use.

Grammar Confession

10 Apr

In elementary school I was told that “Dr.” is for “Doctor” and “Dr” is for “Drive.” For about the past 15-ish years, I have purposefully broken this rule and placed a period after “Drive” every single time I write addresses with it simply because I LIKE it that way! Then, I learned in college that many of those English “rules” I learned in grade school are totally subjective and depend on the guidelines of the particular writing style you are using. So in your FACE, traditional English!
I also learned that guidelines can change according to the latest language trends. Maybe my teacher was making up stuff in elementary school… but I at least like to pretend that I totally started the “Dr.” trend. Because it is now acceptable…(as is starting sentences with “Because.” :)

Bachelor of Arts in Common Sense

13 Mar

About a year ago, I was engaged in a serious discussion with someone who felt the need to interrupt me and point out with a condescending tone that I can’t believe everything I read on the Internet.

.........No WAY!

…No WAY!

I wanted so badly to turn right around and show her who’s really boss on the topic of credibility by giving her an hour-long presentation on exactly what sources (of ALL kinds–written, electronic, and even verbal) that you can/can’t trust, why you can/can’t trust them, how to identify them, how to dissect them, how to review and revise them, how to compare and contrast them, and most of all… how to create them. Since that’s what I do or whatever…you know, not a big deal to me or anything.

Thankfully, however, I managed to stifle my rising pride in my passion for literature enough  to avoid any further conflict with the person, and we never revisited that conversation ever again.

People have often asked what I do, and “What is technical writing anyway?” I haven’t quite come up with the best standard answer for that question. I usually just give a few examples. But last night I was scanning my bookshelf for something interesting to read when I came across something that might help me out with this dilemma.

With tomorrow marking Week Three of my new job, I am living and breathing new information, combining technical writing with business development in the world of health information technology. So naturally, when my eye fell on Catherine Smith’s Writing Public Policy, I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick it up.

writing public policy

I have to admit… it isn’t exactly the most delightful book I’ve ever read, but occasionally a sentence or paragraph stands out to me because it’s so matter-of-fact about the things in my work. Take for example this one sentence:

“Written documents should chunk information, use subheadings, and organize details in bulleted lists or paragraphs or graphics” (17).

I should probably memorize this line for the next time someone asks me what my major was or what I do because it pretty well sums up my degree in professional writing.

Apparently it takes a technical communicator to communicate technical communication. It’s seems so easy, and truly, it is as straightforward as it seems, but only by definition. Actually doing the work is usually a messy process because…well, the whole concept of making something professional is that you’re cleaning it up…which suggests that was a mess before.

After reading this paragraph, I now believe I majored purely in the communication of common sense:

In public policy communication, what matters most is not how much you know but rather how much your readers or listeners know after they have read your writing or heard you speak. Information is expected to be useful.

Presentation is expected to be clear, concise, correct, and credible. Public policy work is information-overloaded. Especially in government settings, time is scarce, schedules are nearly impossible, and attention is always divided. Rarely does anybody have patience for disorganized, wordy communication or information that does not serve a purpose. Information functions best when it can be comprehended quickly, trusted as accurate, traced to authoritative sources, and used with confidence (9-10).

Smith, C.F. (2005). Writing Public Policy: A Practical Guide to Communicating in the Policy-Making Process.

New York: Oxford University Press.

Technically Tasty

28 Feb

When I heard the audience at 0:25 I thought… “And THAT guy is a technical writer.”

After that, all I could think about was how this clip of Brian Regan’s stand-up comedy has to be so much funnier for the people actually involved in technical communication. Enjoy.

Good writers just want to have fun

17 Feb

So tonight I went to see a movie with a friend and some friends of hers I’d never met before. One of the girls is studying English and Political Science (I think)–basically pre-law. We sort of talked about our similar interests in English before the movie, so that was kind of our connection after just meeting each other. I should have expected that after the movie, we would have a conversation about meaningful things regarding the movie (because that is pretty typical for English majors or anyone associated with the College of Liberal Arts, really).

So after the movie, my friend and the English major were standing in the hallway, waiting for the others to take a restroom break, and of course we were talking about the movie. Then the English major began to talk about how she saw the movie as an analogy to our society. Being the nerd that I am, I appreciated the things she was saying, and I had my own similar thoughts about the movie myself; But I also came to a realization in that moment…

There are two types of English majors–

ones that analyze post-entertainment, and ones that analyze as entertainment.

I am not the latter.

I have a tendency to experience every story I ever read (or write), every movie I ever see, and every thing I ever do for what it’s worth. Then (and not long afterward), I process it all logically, draw meaning from it like I’m a super concept magnet, form a deeper understanding of it all, and then I craft those mega thoughts into words that usually turn out much better on paper.

Looking back, this is something I noticed about many of my classmates in college, and I kind of wished I could have been like them. They seemed quick and well put-together, and it felt like it took me more time and energy to produce the level of thoughts they had. But then sometimes I realized that I actually had more to say, and what I had to say was my own genuine thought or opinion–something that is easier for other people… ordinary people… to relate to. In other words, I think this actually made me….

a better writer, perhaps.

I mean, isn’t that what “good writers” are?– people who write in such a way that has the power to capture the minds of all? That seems to be the way we have defined it, regardless of whatever trends and guidelines befall the worlds of literature and pop culture.

Anyway, that is my thought for the day. Maybe it will inspire someone. :)

Empty Achievement

11 Feb

The generation of standardized people has come! They’ll be prepared for every test that comes their way! Too bad it’s robbing them from understanding real life.

I feel sorry for the kids just knowing the fear and confusion that will devastate them when they discover there are no “prep books” for acing real life choices. They will have to figure it all out by themselves, and they won’t know how because they will not have been “programmed” to even pursue, much less attain, the skills required for adult-level thinking. This is so discouraging, especially because it’s not even their fault.

One of my former professors posted an article on this ever-so-popular curriculum emphasis which degrades our academic society from the bottom up. See Full article.

For Smarters

3 Feb

Ever had to read something immensely complex and then try to explain it, whether orally or in a loathsome paper?

This basically defines technical and professional communication. A technical and professional communicator is much like a filter, working between two or among several different subject matter experts and audiences. This can get a little crazy. Handling information for various groups of people can be a lot like handling a bunch of out-of-control children on sugar highs. College gave me some courses that embraced this kind of responsibility and taught me how to deal with information mentally–how to receive it, understand it, sift through it, organize it, and communicate it.

One of my literature classes  focused on topics of medicine in literature. After the first day, I was sure the class was going to be interesting, but I also thought it was going to be just another class. I had no idea what was ahead for me.

Aside from the…I don’t know–1 million (give or take)–articles we had to read…here are a few of the novels we were required to read for the class:

The Hot Zone

The Emperor of All Maladies

Mountains Beyond Mountains

 

All of theses books are outstanding, by the way! I especially loved The Emperor of All Maladies. :)

Unfortunately, there was so much reading to do for just this one class (and I was taking several literature classes during that fully loaded semester), so I didn’t actually get to finish reading all of them on time. However, they all made a huge impact on my understanding of the medical industry–from its history, to it’s connection with other fields, to its influence on people’s personal lives and even the shaping of entire cultures.

For example, I had no idea that pharmacists and chemists have had a history of being at odds with one another and that there are political implications as well which have had the potential to create shifts among professionals to the point that science as we know it can be altered. These are the kinds of things that are not talked about freely, especially if it means an entire country can be at stake. Not that there are any conspiracies, but after learning about the webs of communication and involvement within the medical industry and field of science as a whole, I certainly believe there are dirty under-the-table kinds of things that occur in our medical world today that (medically related or not) have significant consequences for people all over the world.

In other words, this class totally blew my mind. And so did the introduction to Elaine Scarry’s book The Body in Pain. I was assigned to write an 8-10-page-long paper with three concentrations on this introduction–a critical précis (which I’d never even heard of before!), an analysis, and a discussion.

It was so hard!

But in the end, I learned a lot about pain–from its contributing factors to its nature and its consequences. I was overwhelmed with insight just from reading and understanding Scarry’s introduction, so it was a powerful experience to be able to write a paper which regurgitated the things she had proposed in her writing in a way that could be easily understood by someone who was not a professional–someone who was not the doctor or a philosopher that she was. I felt honored!

So no wonder technical communicators don’t get much credit for what they do…because it’s already a major reward to just be the technical communicator!