Writing is like life; it’s a different experience for everyone. Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Everyone has a different method of getting past the drilling and blasting. But if there is one point of agreement among writers and non-writers alike, it should be that writing is the most powerful tool in the history of man, mightier than the vastest armies, and the most advanced weaponry.
This is true because although modern technology may be able to wipe out entire populations with the push of a single button; it remains an accepted fact that the mind is the base upon which popes, monarchs, emperors and presidents stand. Without the support of the masses, no leader can lead, no ruler can rule. And it is still—even with the tremendous, perpetual advance of technology—the pen that directs the minds of men.
Okay, maybe not the pen. Maybe it is more correct to say the keyboard since most writing is now done on computers. But nevertheless, writing, whatever its mode of creation, is still the key form of human communication. This can be observed by analyzing modern media, which plays a key role in public debates over any of a number of issues in society. Despite the decline of the historical print newspaper, journalistic organizations are finding new ways of communicating with the masses.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to say that newspapers are dead because they are certainly not (at-least not yet.) However, their popularity has significantly declined. Some news organizations have even abandoned print, and now publish only online. These online news-sites still play the role of informing the public on key issues throughout our society, and lets face it, they also work as propaganda tools for certain groups.
By this I mean that some interest groups use the news (and thus writing) to proliferate their views. Newspapers have always done this and they will not stop anytime soon. In fact, papers (online and print) are not even the most effective medium to do this anymore. Television has long held the title of chief-propaganda tool. Through this 20th century invention, voices and opinions are read and engraved into the minds of the masses.
I do not mean to say that we are all being brainwashed in some kind of grand conspiracy. I may be crazy, but I haven’t reached that epoch yet. My point is that any particular interest group can promote their ideas by using writing combined with the various forms of mass media just discussed (television, newspapers and others not mentioned such as radio.) All this demonstrates that writing is indeed the most powerful tool in the history of humankind.
History points the way
March 29, 2013 marked the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War; A war that was based on lies (or at-least ‘bad intelligence’). But the war itself is not my subject. What was it that gave legitimacy to the “facts” that were coming out of The White House in the run up to the war. Simply put, it was writing. The articles that adorned the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post said that the administration was not lying and that the regime of Saddam Hussein did indeed possess weapons-of-mass-destruction. And the teleprompters of CNN commanded anchors to tell the same story to the masses.
And so the conquest began. It did not take long before the public learned that Iraq did not have weapons-of-mass-destruction. “Whoops,” said the media. But the deed had been done. One of the most polarizing, costly and defining wars in the history of America—maybe the world— was launched based on lies sold by, you guessed it, writing.
There is no doubt in my mind that different articles and scripts in the press would have changed the outcome of history. Maybe we would not have gone to war. But again, this is not my point. Whatever you think of the war, this is an irrefutable example of the power of writing to control public opinion, and ultimately, to direct the ebb and flow of history.
And so the pen really is mightier than the sword.
Phil Bianco has been a Peer Writing Consultant at the MVCC Writing Center since Spring 2013. Come visit the Center to sharpen your pen with him.
Let me begin by saying I love Miley Cyrus’ music. “What does that have to do with writing? Isn’t this article supposed to be about writing?” you may ask. Well, someone has to write her songs. I’m not absolutely positive just yet about what career I want to pursue in the future and if it will consist heavily or lightly of writing-based tasks, but right now, something writing-related that really interests me is music-related writing.
In music lyrics, people can express a message sometimes better than they could using any other writing medium. Writing a song is also an appealing way to reach people or express a message to people because while some people love reading, some also don’t, but almost everyone enjoys music in some form or another. When I hear a song I love, I do acknowledge the singer as a great deliverer of a message, but I also have a great appreciation for the songwriter, too. For instance, Faith Hill has a CD called Fireflies. On it are three songs written by Lori McKenna. She appeared on Oprah because Faith Hill was going to be on to talk about Fireflies and she wanted to bring Lori with. Lori was nationally recognized for the songwriting she did and it was a beautiful thing because a great songwriter is a great artist and, unfortunately, songwriters don’t get enough acknowledgement and credit as they should.
I particularly love Miley Cyrus’ music not just because of her amazing talent but because her songs have messages that are easy for me to relate to. She sings a lot of songs that are written with a girl my age in mind. What makes me love her even more as an artist is the fact that she co-writes many of her songs. Her songs are so great – it just goes to show what a true talent she is. She is a real triple-threat being able to write a variety of songs ranging from fun and flirty to inspirational and relatable.
A friend of mine who writes songs doesn’t share her songs with anyone, but she has shared with me that when she writes, she tries to write in a way so that a variety of people can relate to her messages. She thinks that if the message of her songs cannot reach a multitude of people, her songs will not be successful. She hopes to be a real songwriter one day, but for now is just keeping her talent to herself. I cannot speak about the nature of her songs because, as I said, she never shares her songs with anyone; but if she has a great talent, I hope she puts herself out there because great songwriters are essential in the music business.
Songs can move people in ways poetry cannot, and songs that make it big reach more people than poetry typically does. And it is important today to keep songwriting alive and to keep it new and original, which will be harder and harder to do as time goes on because that just means more and more songs are out there. So while there are many forms and mediums of writing, the writing of songs is something that has always intrigued me.
Jacalyn Grohovena has been a Peer Writing Consultant at the MVCC Writing Center since Spring 2011. Come visit the Center to talk [song] writing with her.
Take a break when you are writing, don’t use scientific words, unless you have to write a scientific paper, don’t be afraid to show your writing to your friends, family members, coworkers, classmates, etc. Accept critique gracefully, always keep a piece of paper and a pen close to you, so if an idea comes to your mind, you’ll be able to write it down anytime. Reread places (paragraphs, sentences, phrases, words) that you feel most insecure about in your paper… There are so many advices that you can give to the one who is struggling with his writing! But strategies that I personally like and use the most are: read, observe, and listen.
No matter where I go, I always have at least one book in my bag, and for this habit I am more than thankful to my first writing and literature teacher who kept saying, “If you want to write you must read.” I know, in the beginning this phrase might sound a little paradoxical but as soon as we ask ourselves: “how would I learn to express my ideas, my thoughts, as well as to construct sentences stylistically and grammatically well without reading?” Reading indeed develops all aspects of the writer; it helps not only to avalanche our imagination, but also improves our writing skills. And it doesn’t matter if we are reading a book, an article or just a short blog entry, – every time we are reading, smaller or larger part of that text stays in our head. Like novelist William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.” Moreover, reading also enables us to learn from other writer’s mistakes or even gives us an opportunity to “steel” some words, phrases, ideas. For instance, writer Susan Orlean wrote her book The Orchid Thief after she had noticed a short article at her local newspaper about orchid poacher John Laroche when he had been caught along with three Seminole assistants as they emerged from southern Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, a vast swamp, carrying four pillowcases containing more than 200 rare orchids and bromeliads. That article aroused her curiosity (it gave her an idea) and she decided to make research on Laroche, who then inspired her to write her national bestseller The Orchid Thief. She didn’t plagiarize the article that she read; instead she just took an idea from it, a small piece of story, a name. It’s easy to do, just we have to be ready to absorb, and be alert when we are reading!
Another strategy that helps me when I am writing my paper is observation. How to “observe” I’ve learned from my acting professor couple of years ago. He lectured me and my classmates using Stanislavsky’s system that was developed over years of trial and error by the Russian actor, producer, and theoretician Konstantin Stanislavsky. Our professor wanted us to understand the importance of empathic observation. Using this type of observation we had to observe people, animals, nature (everything!) in many different situations. This way he wanted us to develop a wide emotional range so that our onstage actions and reactions appear as if they were a part of the real world rather than a make-believe one. That’s why I realized that using same strategy might be very helpful when we are writing a paper as well.
Readers want to get emotions from that what they are reading. Moreover, they want to read something that will leave them with many experiences and that will make them want to say, “Hey, that happened to me as well!” or “I know how it feels.” These types of readers’ emotions may be aroused by the writer who was able to describe well, who was a good observer. And it doesn’t matter if we are writing about horizons or waterfalls, people or emotions, animals or insects; everything requires some type of observation. If we will learn how to observe, we will be able to say more in our paper using language that is more sophisticated and vivid. Also, we will make our readers want to read our writing.
Even when I found reading and observing very helpful when I am writing my papers, the strategy that I use the most and that appears to be my favorite one, I call listen!”
Today probably would be hard to find a person who hasn’t read, or at least hasn’t heard something about highly anticipated Suzzane Collin’s book The Hunger Games, and two other books from her famous trilogy. Many people even refer this book as, “the best book that they have ever read.” But did you ever think why? Where did the writer get her ideas from? Ideas that make readers startle once they are reading the book? The answer is very simple, — Collins knows how to be a good listener. In the end of her third and last book from the famous Hunger Games trilogy The Mockingjay she thanked her father “for educating his children on war and peace” (Collin’s father served in Vietnam when she was little, so war was his favorite topic), and her mother for “introducing her to the Greeks and ski-fi.” Other people wouldn’t probably pay that much attention to that what someone told them when they were little. But Collins was able to memorize and use these stories, was able to sum up her father’s memories about the war, and her mother’s stories about Greeks and ski-fi and create a national phenomenon, – The Hunger Games.
That, what she did, might look very simple, right? “She just summed up what someone else told her long time ago,” you may say. But to be a good listener is actually a true gift, sometimes people listen but do not hear. Most of the time, we do not take enough, of that what we hear or of that what we learn. We do not take time to think and realize that what was said. As long as, we often forget that there are so many living sources around us that we can get our inspiration from anytime. Our grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, even neighbors are the best place to start when we do not know where to begin once we are writing our paper. Their life stories might be our source of inspiration, the key that will help us.
As you see, we have to be ready not only to absorb once we are reading, be curious when we are observing but also alert once we are listening. We don’t have to force ourselves to produce a piece of art every time when we are writing. We don’t even have to try to be perfect. Instead, we have to try to use what we have read, observed and heard. We have to learn how to use all these sources around us wisely, and after some time we will be amazed to see, – it works!
Karina Polovinkina has been a Peer Writing Consultant at the MVCC Writing Center since Fall 2012. Come visit the Center to talk with her and perhaps find some inspiration of your own.