What is Writing?
Welcome back students to the Spring semester of 2023! As we gear up for a new semester, the Writing Center, as always, is considering what we do, who we are, and what we represent. With all of these considerations, we got to thinking -- what exactly is writing? Is it grammar, or mechanics? Is it independent and dependent clauses? Is it idea, or is it story? What makes up our concept of writing? Kind of an important question to answer if we have a whole center devoted to it!
We got our amazing student director, Ethan Hulshizer, to give us his thoughts on what he believes writing actually is. Ethan is a Finance major, but he utilizes plenty of writing within his major. Let's take a look at his thoughts on what exactly writing is:
The rising wave of advanced technology has fundamentally changed the modern process of writing. However, this is far from a new concept. Writers have already experienced a shift in what it means to write. For instance, the service Grammarly became popular around 2015 and since has begun to reduce the technical aspect of writing. As spellcheck removed the need to memorize and manually verify word spelling, Grammarly started to reduce the need to learn and understand complex grammar and punctuation rules. As Grammarly evolved, it also lessened the need to examine word/phrase choice to set a particular tone. For example, Grammarly automatically suggests ways to improve conciseness and fit a specific style, such as professional. Indeed, even the final organization and display of the paper have been somewhat automated. For instance, formatting is often a large part of the writing process for technical articles. However, websites like "citethisforme.com" or "citationmachine.net" have also started eliminating the need to organize sources on a citation page manually.
Now, the second wave of advancing technology has arrived: artificial intelligence, or AI. Although it's important to acknowledge this technology, it is simply a more sophisticated version of what already existed. Technically, Grammarly is an AI, and the newer AI models take what Grammarly was doing a step further. Models like ChatGPT can construct a well-organized piece of writing in any particular length or style. It can produce works from a given prompt as well. It now "understands" how to interpret human questions, the rules of research, the structure of language, and how phrases relate to each other, which allows it to produce coherent answers. In essence, it has "learned" the "rules of writing."
As writers, this has raised a new fundamental question: "What is writing?" This question is critical to consider, especially for tutors at the Writing Center. I thought "writing" could fundamentally be broken down into one central purpose: to express an idea. However, if that is the case, then, as writers, we have already become obsolete. An AI can write and research far faster and more clearly than I ever could, not to mention it spells a whole heck of a lot better. However, I have found that writing has a diverse range of purposes. Writing is a way of processing information stored within your mind and creating new intuitive ideas. It's a way to express yourself, to transfer a part of your mind to another person.
Creation of ideas is distinct from the final draft. An AI can only give a final draft. It cannot begin to piece concepts together in a new way to create something entirely original. This methodology can be dangerous because the ideas an AI generates will ultimately become similar iterations of what already exists. For instance, if AI were around the age of horses and buggies, it would only be able to suggest improved ways of breeding horses or modifications to a buggy design. It wouldn't come up with a car. To quote Henry Ford, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." The answer is that an AI can only replicate current human behavior and thinking, not our innovative spirit, which is where the Writing Center comes in.
As tutors and writers, we must break away from merely teaching students how to format their writing in x or y format and move to help them be innovative and intuitive through writing. We're writers! We gotta think outta the box. You may ask, "how do we stop that?" and my answer would be, "I don't know." However, I will state some of my observations for you to consider.
Writing is an interface to your mind's complex and unknowable network.
Writing is not a final product of conveyed ideas.
Writing draws an idea from the unconscious mind into a fully articulated thought.
General writing conventions are a necessary aspect but don't constitute good writing.
Challenging well-established conventions is the gateway to progress.
As you read these observations, I hope you begin to recall your own observations and add them to mine to generate ways to help other students think in a fundamentally new way through writing. I would also challenge you to think innovatively about "writing" and what it truly means to be a "writer."
As you read this paper, you likely noticed I jumped around a lot. That's intentional. The point I'm trying to convey through a more "free thought" is that "writing" should focus less on the formalities and structure and instead reflect the writer's innovative and intuitive introspections. That is how we grow as individuals and as a society, and tutors at the Writing Center can help students generate introspections that change the world.
Thank you Ethan for your thoughts on what writing is!
Mary and Amy
The Writing Center is located on the first floor of the Leland Speed Library across from the Gore Art Gallery.
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Monday-Thursday: 9am - 8pm
Friday: 9am - 3pm