Finding My Rainbow Connection: the Creative Writer, the Academic Writer, and Me

The Rainbow Connection

 

As a writer and a reader, I wear two very different, very fabulous hats: I am an academic writer and a creative writer. As anyone who lives in both world knows, those types of writing tend to be quite different from each other. As an academic writer, my goal is to inform and to persuade. As a creative writer, I am trying to entertain. Rather than having one writing process inform the other, I often feel like two separate authors occupying my mind. I even visualize myself differently when I think about myself doing each: Academic Tricia wears her square, black glasses and has her afro tied back, is hunched over a keyboard and surrounded by piles of open book, consulting each in turn and feverishly typing. Alternatively, Creative Tricia casually types with one hand, is dressed in pajama pants and a tank top with her hair kind of all over the place, just going where the story takes her. It doesn’t help that I usually don’t write in these different ways at the same time; during the school year I am confined to academic writing and creative writing is a fun summer project. Because of this, I have always wondered: would  the two sides of me as a writer could ever be unified or  would I spend the rest of my writing career as a delightfully fractured psyche? I found the answer to this question over the summer as I was reading to help me start to write my first fantasy novel while taking two English courses.

In my opinion, if you want to write, you have to read. No matter what the genre, there are conventions a writer has to be familiar to convey their point in the most effective way.  I am always baffled when I meet writers who claim not to read regularly. In turn, when I began writing my fantasy novel, I began to read fantasy extensively: I started with Octavia Butler and worked my way forward to George R.R. Martin. Though I had a story line in mind and that I knew I would be writing a dystopian novel,  I was stumped on how to give my reader the history of the dystopian society, so the reader would understand the context of my story. What I didn’t want to do was  make the reader feel like they were reading a history text. I began scouring dystopian novels for the author’s methods of history delivery: what I felt was effective, what made me want to skip over it. Once I found a method I liked, I began to tweak it to my story and make it my own.  The beginning of my novel followed the conventions, but was unique. As I was finishing that chapter, a realization hit me: the process that I had just performed in writing my novel was the same one I had used the week before to write a paper on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I had an idea about the text but wasn’t sure how to begin my essay or frame my argument. I researched essays dealing my idea and the novel until I found several that spoke to my argument. I then looked at the ways the author began their argument and paid attention to how they set up their ideas. What I ended up with was an essay that was still original, but read like it was in conversation with the other  essays on the topic, because I was familiar with what was said and how other writers had said it. Both of my reading processes added up to the same issue: I had to find my niche, where and how I could say what I wanted to say effectively. In both cases, I learned how to get around a writing problem by studying how other writers successfully navigated it.

 

I’m still working on my novel: the semester began and it had to take a back seat to my academic writing once again. However, I no longer feel like I am falling out of practice with my creative writing by focusing on my school work. Instead, I am honing the skills I need for both writing processes through my reading. For me, reading is a way to get over hurdles in my own writing. Or, said more creatively, reading is my rainbow connection.

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1 Comment »

 
  • Julie Candio Sekel says:

    This is such a good post, T! I, of course, like your description of how you are almost two different writers because it is just so YOU. I didn’t know you were working on a novel (which I now need to hear more about in person), but I think it’s so interesting how it takes the actual attempt at writing for you to realize that your two processes are a lot more similar than you think. That seems to be how it works though… that we see these things in retrospect. But it seems like you’re totally equipped with a new perspective of your academic writing since it is only preparing you for winter break, A.K.A. the time that graduate students actually have the luxury of doing the type of writing they love.

 

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