What’s in a Name?

Every six months, I go through this cycle where I wonder if I’m a sham.

I’ve identified myself as a “writer” for most of my (young) adult life, but I frequently find myself in a self-loathing moment where I wonder, “If I don’t write, can I call myself a writer?”

That niggling assertion frequently gets countered with: “Well, that’s a silly question to ask. It’s not that you don’t write; it’s that you don’t write for YOU. You write comments on students’ papers, you write hundreds of e-mails, and hundreds more notes. You write text messages and you write to-do lists. You’re writing!”

This is the logic I take with my teaching, too. I try to empower students and help them to believe that they ARE writers even if they major in biology and chemistry and animal science. I suppose at the heart of it, I like to say that all of us can identify as writers as long as we make the commit to thinking about our writing and being mindful of what we write, how we write, where we write, and why we write.

A question I find myself drawn to in my studies is, “how do we gain the awareness of our writing practice necessary to understand both the affordances and constraints of that practice?” The question to naturally follow this might be, “Well, what does it matter? Why should we be aware of the affordances and constraints of writing practice?”

I’d say the answer is simple: to ensure that we’re smart producers of content. What I’m afraid of is the knowledge that so much of my current writing practice in the digital age occurs in a place where content is endless. I write in a (virtual) institution that swallows up knowledge as quickly as possible, just gobbles it up. So, how do I remain aware of this institution that shapes the way I write without becoming completely paralyzed by it? I don’t want to produce content that doesn’t DO or SAY anything, but I also don’t want to be voiceless.

So, how does one get past these competing desires to be identified and to have a voice, but also to be mindful of the fact that it is very difficult to assert one’s voice in a room of chatter? I don’t yet have the answer to this, but maybe the answer doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s still about speaking just loudly enough to create a small tremor of sound in the ceaseless murmur.

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