I began to write, both this and all other writing endeavors, because my high-school English teacher once told a younger me, “Your writing can only be cohesive and understandable if you follow this strict, no fun, five-paragraph format.”
Now, I believe she would detest the very thought of putting a quote into a topic paragraph or using personal pronouns at all. Alas, my writing is my own and I do not cringe at the sight of a quotation. I also do not plan on presenting any five-paragraph essay. I find that my writing is more fun and more real to myself when I write as if I am telling a story. I attempt to act as a tour guide taking my reader on a gentle float down my thought processes in hopes of conveying a clear point. The high-school English teacher may disagree with the idea of my writing being a free-flowing work of art, but that is my main purpose for writing. I want to write whatever feels real to me. That may include participating in a critical conversation or a research project that critics and intellects have started, but it does not have to be.
I fondly remember not feeling obligated to participate in a conversation about what Piggy’s glasses mean to my teacher in Lord of the Flies. I am sure she will read the same high-school-level papers on the same take about his glasses, and I fail to see what I can contribute. My theory with writing is that any piece of writing should provide something unique to the space it is being presented in. I do not understand the benefit of being forced to write something that does not appeal to me. That kind of writing, especially at a young age, creates a distaste for the wonders of English.
Naturally, it would be a logical conclusion to state that I went into English because of an avid dislike for structured writing, and a desire to see what writing as an art form could look like. To my benefit, learning to write well in upper-division university courses enlightened me to see what the art of writing looks like. A quote that I have close to my heart, was in one of my first classes at Biola University, Professor Davidson made the claim, “As a writer, you should be hospitable to your reader.”
This may not seem like a profound or exceptional understanding of writing, but it made all the difference to me. The difference between this and the high-school teacher’s claim is not that they are saying anything inherently diverse. A structured five-paragraph essay is probably the most hospitable a high-schooler can be to their teacher. However, in post-high-school writing, there is a sense that structured writing might not be the most hospitable an author can be. The new way to be hospitable becomes: to present a thesis, explain that thesis, and make a logical progression of ideas that prove the said thesis. For example, in this essay, my thesis is that I believe that I started writing because of a dislike for structured writing. I am explaining that by sharing this piece: my writing testimony.
Now, I write with a firm belief that any fictional piece or essay that I read or write is “good” if it holds a sense of hospitality. A British-American poet by the name of WH Auden—in a discussion about writing—claimed: “A work of art is good if its future effect is good, and, since the future is unknown, [...] the safest guide is the naive uncritical principle of personal liking” (WH Auden). Personal liking is subjective which is why he likely believes it to be “naive”. While obviously, the scale of “future effect” is impossible to measure the moment a piece is created or published because, as Auden says, the future is unknown. So, should a strictly formatted piece about Piggy’s glasses, which will likely not have a significant future effect be considered not good? Or, is it better to accept the value a high-school student went through working out the details of quote finding, secondary source researching, and drafting made the piece “good”? That student will have learned the necessary skills of research and drafting that, I believe, will have positive future effects for them personally. I think that is what Auden is getting at. It is not the future effect on society necessarily (though that could be true) it is the future effect of the individual student. Hell, who knows if this piece will become well-known in the future, but the work of drafting this and wrestling with the material means a lot to me. This piece has become applicable to my being as a writer, and therefore, will be good for me.
Applicable writing means more than just applicable research or an applicable thesis. Writing is applicable when there is a benefit to the author, regardless of if they realize it while writing. If there is a critical analysis of Piggy’s glasses, for example, that the author is passionate about, it is then, in my opinion, applicable research and an applicable paper. If the author is a typical 16-year-old high-school student who does not care about Piggy’s glasses but put effort into their essay, then I would also find that piece of writing applicable. WH Audren, similarly, claims about an author that “What he likes now, therefore, whether an impersonal judgment approves or disapproves, has the best chance of becoming useful to him later'” (WH Auden). Meaning, what an author enjoys will be worth writing about not just for the present, but the future as well. Also, when an author learns skills because of their writing it also becomes useful to them later.
In conclusion, using all of the compiled thoughts answers a question that many writers and students seek to answer: why write? Write because, to a certain extent, you want to. You have something worthy of the attention of your readers, be it colleagues, peers, anonymous readers, or whomever. Write because even if it is educational and not something that you enjoy, you understand that it will be applicable in the future. I write because I desire to see the art that writing can be and not the philosophy that all writing should carry a strict format. I do not agree that beginning a sentence with and or so should be criticized. If my reader can clearly understand what I am writing about then I have succeeded. I create a hospitable environment for my readers and allow them to coast down my stream of consciousness. My writing is not puzzling, philosophical, or littered with quotes that are embedded or married to two commentaries. My hope is that this writing is, as my professor likes to say, “hospitable to my reader,” and therefore I have succeeded in my purpose as a writer.