The Problem With Writing in College

Recent efforts to write for myself more often have proven that I have become a little rusty. The problem, I have found, is that I don’t know how to approach writing anymore if it isn’t for a professor. As I mentioned in a previous post, last semester I took a creative non-fiction class in which the only assignment was to write a thirty page portfolio. We could write about anything that we wanted, there were no real rules or limitations, other than the stories had to be true. I struggled in the beginning to find my footing, but once I had the content I still had no clue how to actually put it on paper. I have written a good bit of fiction over the years, and more essays for professors than I can remember. But I had never written any non-fiction and I had no clue what I was doing.  When I presented my first draft to my professor, and he called my work a collection of personal essays, I was completely thrown for a loop.

I didn’t think of my work as an essay at all. Sure I was writing it for my professor but I didn’t think of it as the stiff, highly researched, blah blah blah essay that I have become accustomed to writing in college. Don’t get me wrong I’ve learned some interesting things over the years in my research for essays. But if I’m being honest I get bored writing essays more often than not. But I’m an ENGLISH major! I know, I know. There are usually so many restrictions and rules to essay writing in an academic setting that I get caught up in trying to make sure the structure is perfect and I end up feeling like I could have done better in the end, no matter what grade I earn. As the semester went on my professor noticed that several of us were struggling with choosing between  letting our work speak for itself or guiding it in a way that resembled an essay tailored for a professor.

The subject that I wrote about was pretty personal and the process of telling my story and telling it in a way that clearly communicated the emotions that needed to be shared was difficult. One day my professor told the class that we needed to each figure out who we were writing for. Well of course as we went around the table we all answered that we were writing for him only to be told that if he was our intended audience, we needed to re-evaluate our approach to the assignment. I went home that day and really thought about what he had said and realized that he was right.

Audience is extremely important when writing any type of document.  For someone like me who wants a career in technical writing and editing, understanding the audience that will read and use the document is imperative.  If I hadn’t finally realized that I was writing my pieces for my mother the essays would have been less effective, I wouldn’t have gotten an “A” in the course, and I probably wouldn’t have thought I deserved it. Moving forward it is important that I continue to put an emphasis on audience analysis in everything that I write. Over the years I have found writing for professors to be both a hindrance and useful. While every professor is different there is an overarching expectation from them that I have come to know very well. I have had the cushion of writing for them, and knowing exactly how to approach it, for five years. But as a technical communicator and a writer it is time that I give up the cushion and embrace all different audiences. Writing effective documents for different people that clearly communicate the message is the task of any writer, technical or not.

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