Sunday, March 28, 2010

How I learned to stop worrying and love the blog

In ninth grade, we had to pass a state-mandated writing test. Every student submitted a 5-paragraph essay on the same general topic, and they were graded on a 6-point scale, 3-5 being passing and 6 being extraordinary (or the result of a grader's pen slipping, I'm still not sure which). I was one of those obnoxious teacher's pet types who thrived on those extra little notes of praise that came back in the margins of my papers, and I looked forward to the state essay test for weeks. I was going to destroy this test. The graders would have to raise the high end of the scale to account for my superior 5-paragraph essay writing abilities. My incredibly boring English teacher would throw her hands up and cry in her monotone voice, "That's it! I can't teach you anything! Class, Nicole will be your teacher from now on."

Never mind the fact that I hadn't written much besides English assignments and Dragon Ball Z fan fiction. Those margin notes on my class assignments had filled me with the ego of a god. On the day of the essay test, I walked into the cafeteria testing area with a swagger, sure of my imminent victory over the English language.

The subject of the essay was "Write about a time when you learned something." I wrote about learning how to draw in anime style, and I went through every element of the essay carefully - introduction, three supporting paragraphs, conclusion - writing exactly as my English teacher had told us to write. Transition sentences to link paragraphs. Restatement of the point in the conclusion. Impersonal tone with no "I" voice. I wrote the most by-the-book 5-paragraph essay any kid has ever written about how to learn to draw in anime style.

I scored a 3 - just passing.

My best friend wrote about a time when she learned how to walk across a log without falling off it. She scored a 4. Another kid I knew wrote some bullshit about learning to pilot a spaceship or something, and he scored the legendary 6.

Looking back on that essay, I understand now why it was just passable. First off, have you ever tried to write about drawing? Without context or personal stakes, it's about the dullest subject in existence, short of writing itself. Second - and this, I realized years later, was the big one - writing about something as personal as art without a personal voice doesn't work. I wrote my essay like an instruction manual, impersonal and redundant as the instructions my English teacher gave said to do. I eliminated the personal voice that had gotten those comments from my instructors, and all that was left were clunky statements of fact and redundant sentences. My friends who scored better had bucked the rules, used the dreaded "I" voice, and written what came naturally to them.

Now that I'm at the graduate level in writing, every text I read on how to write an essay encourages the "I" voice and the natural style of writing. Tell a story, they say. Give the reader something personal to carry them through even if the topic isn't in their field. Plunder the 5-paragraph essay format for structure tips, but otherwise, fuck it.

And further, "Don't alter your voice to fit your subject," writes William Zinsser in On Writing Well, a book I'm reading for class right now. It wasn't until I came across this sentence tonight that I realized I've been making the same mistakes as I did in that stupid essay test, right here on this blog.

I've been blogging here for a little over a year, and I've never gotten comfortable with it. I came to Blogger after parting with my 6-year-old LiveJournal blog, which was mainly about life stuff because mostly just my friends read it. I loved that LJ. It gave a relatively accurate view of who I was during the years that I kept it, because I wrote what came naturally and I didn't censor myself. But it became just a social tool for me, so I left the site to make a proper project blog, like all these knitters and writers I admire had been doing.

So I set up this blog, aiming to write about writing and crafts and art and only those things, without writing about myself. And I promptly fell into the same pothole I hit in ninth grade: writing about art (or writing or knitting) on its own is boring. Just posting "Here is a thing I made. This is how I made it," like I've been doing for the majority of the last fourteen months, doesn't make me excited to update. I've been slowly starting to write posts that don't bore me to tears, but the project-centric nature of the blog makes me feel limited to posting only on certain topics.

Meanwhile, on my fandom blog, I've taken to posting almost every day, when I have time. That blog has become a much better depiction of who I am, and a more interesting read, because it's uncensored. I'm not worried about how I might come off to random internet stranger over there, so the voice is 100% unadulterated me, and the topics range from inane babble to creative work to academic rambling. It reads like I actually sound, while most of this blog reads like a watered down, project-focused, scarcely nerdy version of myself. Hopping between these two blogs is jarring.

So I'm taking Zinsser's advice. This marks the end of me censoring myself, in terms of both language and content. I'm an open book elsewhere online and in person, so I'm going to aim to be more open here. (Not to the point of confessional poetry, but y'know.) I want this blog to be a reflection of who I am, not just what I make.

Here goes.

I ate a Dorito off the floor earlier.

...Okay, probably not what Zinsser was advocating, but I'll work on it.


  1. Beautiful! Actually this is making me rethink my blog a bit...


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