Unquestioning Writing - When Good Is Good Enough

by Ron Samul 

As writers, we are constantly thinking about the audience and the impact of our writing. It is a fundamental element of teaching, thinking, and writing. It made me think, when I saw this tweet by Maha Bali, when she mentioned this moment. 

This is a complex idea, and from a writing standpoint, it is also a brave idea. Writers as communicators and creative generators always seem to humble and diminish their craft. In this case, Maha is confident and sees that sometimes - no one comments because of the "powerful". I really admire the confidence and the realization that sometimes - that the power of writing can overwhelm. Why? 

Social Media 

The concept of finding something meaningful and important on social media is relevant to me. Online courses, MOOCs, connected learning, creative spaces -- all interact through social media. For me, learning, thinking, and listening to very smart and creative people comes from my interaction with social media. However, not everyone comes to social media to find that kind of connection. 

Some people are connecting with family and friends, some are just passing by while they watch their favorite TV show, some are broadcasting on Periscope as they walk to work. Why people use social media is tailored to each person. The depth of reading and interaction really comes down to the user. And it isn't happening in real time, it is happening along a timeline that could be shifting through time zones and cultures. Sometimes, the most important statements or blog posts don't get the attention I think they deserve, merely because I posted them on a Friday afternoon before a holiday (fail). 

But more importantly, people are looking for an interaction that is quick and reactive on social media. Things that make them stop, think, and experience deeper level thinking, (which relates to selective solitude, pausing, and deep reflection), may not fit into the "Like" or "+1" world of immediate reaction. This has spurred the age of important, meaningful quotes on stunning images. 

In this scan and click age, deep thinking and impactful ideas sometimes need a difference venue. It sometimes needs a blogpost, or some area where things can be expanded and slowly unpacked. And sometimes, the "Like" or the "Share" simply doesn't relate the importance of meaning at that moment. Sometimes, I see an image or a concept and I want to keep it. I want to hold on to it. But where would I keep it? Social media lets you keep it on social media terms. But when something is meaningful, we want to do more than just throw it on our timeline. Perhaps it is merely my personal need to embody ideas, art, and writing in tangible ways. Social media isn't going away and perhaps a thirty-year archive of my Facebook posts will allow me to go back and find that poem I recall so sweetly. But I want to make moments my own - outside of the screen. I want to print them out and save them. I want to fold them up and leave them in a book to discover them in a few years. 

Student Writing 

Being a writing teacher is a complex beast. Following syllabus standards, rubrics, college standards, your own vision, and the student's vision - we create a position where we are looking for the right answer to the assignment. Writing is subjective and I am looking at process, not the right order of words in a sentence. I am looking at critical thinking, how you cite sources, how you can create a document that convinces me. There is some excellent writing that comes by in terms of student writing, but I find that those elements are the product of good thinking, critical research, and planning. It comes from students who engage the learning process. And sometimes, compared to the whole class or the entire writing section, you have to acknowledge excellence as it comes to you. And sometimes, after two or three rewrites and a clear process of thinking and learning - there comes a moment when you don't need it better. They have learned - they have more than met your requirements, and they deserve to stand in that moment and feel the significance of their work. 

Creative Writing 

Creative acts are a different beast. When you apply rubrics and grading schemes to a poem or a short story, it gets awkward and complex. The "powerful" concept that Maha tweets about can be emotional, formative, and change the way we see the world. That is what art does. And sometimes, from a creative writing mentor point-of-view, you have to judge something that isn't vetted through a rubric or a course guide. It comes from emotion, it comes from form and content magically aligning to make a moment (perhaps in time if read or spoken) that matches our time and space with the ideas of someone else. 

I always question my role in interfering with the creative process. It isn't my story to tell, it is my job to make the writer think about making the story better. That is complex. And my suggestions are never - "throw this out and start over," because I would be devastated if someone told me that. But this "powerful" part of writing and speaking is fascinating to me. And there has to be a moment when we realize that expression and time meet you when you need it. There are so many poems, books, and important things written all the time. When I need them (personally), they will be there. I don't always see them now because I am looking at different things that I need now. We are all on different paths and moving in different ways. We find those moments that are "powerful" because we are looking. We need to stop counting "likes" and stats, and imagine that if one person moved forward because of the power of our words, it is always... always worth it. 

I don't think I am done defining Maha's "powerful" because I think there is a lot to the creative elements here. There is an important conversation here in defining the "powerful" in our writing, in our expression, and in our ideas. We need to value them - make an earnest and important effort to value those words and ideas that can change lives. It may not make you famous or popular, but it is a rich and deeply thoughtful life, one without regrets. 

by Ron Samul -- want to know more about me... go here. 

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DigiWriMon+: Rumination on Selective Solitude

Community and connections are a critical part of the digital world. Writers who are selling their own wares because big publishing is still trying to figure out their world -- we see audience builders and creative ways to sell books and stories. People who may never have considered themselves professional marketers are now creating their own book tours and creating their own connections and sales.

I recently finished True Detective Season Two, and while I won't spoil it for you, I know I was disappointed. In looking for a reason or cause for my dissatisfaction, I came across an article that suggests that the writer, Nick Pizzolatto was influenced by the feedback and criticism of season one of the series. *In creating the second season, he had to live up to the expectations of season one (which is largely acclaimed) and yet create something new and different. While this might not be the type of show you like, the point is simple - the criticism of the past haunts what you create now. In many ways, this is an intrusion of the solitude that we are talking about.

Are we, as writers aspiring to write a better and better novel? Or is the idea to write new and different stories? Telling different stories is better than telling a better story - isn't it? If we are telling stories based on the characters and the story they represent -- then we must accept that this isn't a better story than the previous, but just that it is different. Some of the concerns with my writing are just this issue, that I want to tell a variety of stories, not optimize my ability. Everything we write makes us better writers, but it doesn't make the stories that we tell better. That is where we need selective solitude - the ability to define truth in our art and in our stories. That isn't to say we are writing a true story, but that we are creating something that is in line with how we see ourselves in the world. That is close to a truth - to write something that is a direct line to our own vision of the world. That being said, it is very difficult to write with the voices of our harshest critics in our ears. It is very difficult to write with confidence when we feel like we are under scrutiny. And that is where writers tend to seek seclusion in an artistic sense. It is better to try something and fail (alone) than be surrounded by people who will judge them and criticism them while they are still thinking through ideas and connections. It might be worth noting that it is easy for a writer selling books - to disappear for three months to write, but it is a bit more complex for people with a nine-to-five job to disappear from the world and start a novel.

In the end, we have to find our motivation and our space to write. And sometimes, that comes by way of an hour, an evening, or a few days. Sometimes, that means writing a thesis for an MFA degree. Sometimes, it means shutting down all those things that speak out against you. It means finding selective solitude. Not only does it mean using your ability to create selective solitude, but it means using this place as an important tool in writing and thinking. Selective solitude is just as important as plot, character, and your lyrical poetry. It is the executive function that opens the door for creativity. It is there you will go back to what is most important to you: words, images, stories, and characters that are waiting to take their place on the page.

*It should be noted that True Detectives also starts with new characters and stories every season. We aren't stuck with old stories and connections that don't make sense. They are free to begin again. 
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