Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing in Response

Postcard
Flickr Credit: Toshiyuki IMAI
Do you remember writing reading responses as a kid?

You would have been in fifth grade, maybe. You read some dull novel at the teacher’s demand and received a buff-colored piece of paper (whatever color that meant). You’d behold the twelve lines she expected you to fill. Whatever her prompts were, the teacher basically wanted to know what you noticed, what it meant, and what you thought about it.

In fifth grade I found that exercise tiresome, but it was good practice. You still do that stuff in college, except you gotta write twelve pages. What did you notice? What did it mean? What do you think?

I actually love writing with that model. It’s easy to fall into summarization—even when I tell myself that I am not going to summarize, I still do. It takes a lot of editing time to pare down that summary to the basics and come up with an actual analysis. It’s worth it though. When I write, I seek to explain myself. This helps me remember that fact.

It isn’t even just essays.

Blog posts. Tweets. Diary entries. Whether it’s in a book or in real life, the things I notice matter to me. Rumor has it that keeping a diary is boring because it’s just recording what they did that day. They’re right. That does sound boring. Writing out my reactions in response to something, rather than the details of what happened, always end up more satisfying.

It provides an immediate prompt. So what if nothing happened to you today? You can just write about how you admire Juliet and Lassiter’s relationship on Psych (on account of it is the best) and still be meaningful.

It provides an immediate audience (even if your thoughts are totally private). In the past, I’ve written response posts to other bloggers (examples here and here), but the idea stands even if you’re using a private notebook. Response implies a talking back, a conversation, so you’re writing as though someone were listening. This helps me because I can think of what I want to say to the entity I’m responding to and what they would say to me. What pushback would they say? How would I defend my ideas in a real conversation? It makes my thoughts stronger in the end.

It’s more interesting than a summary. “Today I woke up. Then I ate breakfast. Then I went to work.” Are you bored? I am bored. Compare that to, “Why do people even eat Lucky Charms? I had them for breakfast today, and maybe kids like these, but they’re kind of gross. The charms make me feel like I’m chewing mice bones. Are they really marshmallows? Note to self: don’t buy Lucky Charms. Buy Cheerios. Cheerios will never fail you. And they won’t make you late to work.”

It generates a description of belief. A summary says what happened. A response details what one believes about the meaning of the event. Sure, maybe your beliefs are centered around Lucky Charms one day, but another day it might be about your school’s dress code, or your faith, or a current relationship. It’s significant because…

You can return to it later. Events vary from day to day, as do events in books and the things said on Twitter. People change, though, and so can your overall opinions. It used to be that I thought Lucky Charms were delicious and Harry Potter was better than Twilight. Now, my opinions are the opposite. That is because my mechanism for understanding those inputs changed. Because I wrote down some of those opinions, I have a better idea of what influenced me during my teen years.


For the record, Lucky Charms have never made me late to work. But they were a good example of writing in response to something. It’s kind of fun.

Do you like to record the events of your life in a diary or journal?


12 comments :

  1. I do, in fact, have a journal, but it's basically half summary and half 'prompts' e.g. greed, crying, jealousy in friendship that I set for myself. Writing in my journal is one of the first things I do every morning, and as a result I also often writing about my dreams and I'm sure the entries don't make sense half the time (last night I had a dream about turning into a snake and forgetting to sign in to study hall. PANIC ALL ROUND. ??) I do think that writing responses- even if the response is just to stuff that happened in your life, even if the audience is just you. Those reading responses are kind of why I like to write book reviews (and why I feel like a failure if I don't... silly Shanti)

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    1. Huh, that's pretty cool. I don't do that myself, but having prompts seems like a good way to write to responses and make sure that you write in it regularly. Writing down dreams is super fun, though—it's fun to look back at them every now and again. I like the idea of using those as book reviews. I've never thought of that, but that totally makes sense to me.

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  2. I used to journal quite a bit, and I need to get back into the habit. I'm one of those people who finds it really difficult to write about my emotions about or reactions to something, even if it's completely private. Then I wonder why journaling got so boring. Being honest about my own feelings is probably the hardest part of writing for me, even when I know that no one else will see it.

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    1. Ah, I can understand that. I'm maybe the opposite, or similar, but different? I sometimes have a hard time understanding what my feelings actually are until I put them on paper, and then I can move on. Still, that's something interesting about you.

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  3. I am an avid journaller (who hasn't journaled in a week shhhhh). It just helps me to deal with what happened that day and get my thoughts down when I don't always have someone to rant to for half an hour. (Plus I'm journalling in French now so it's good practice for me. (Although my journalling has gotten a whole less sophisticated because of it. (Today, [noun] did [verb] with [spelling mistake].)

    BUT CHEERIOS ARE THE BEST. I just have very strong opinions on Cheerios. That is all.

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    1. Don't worry, I won't tell. :) That is a great way to practice writing! I did the same thing as a Spanish assignment during my senior year, and that really helped me work on my skills for the AP test.

      CHEERIOS ARE INDEED THE BEST I LOVE THEM DEARLY.

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  4. I believe in writing in response, and it's so good when you're running out of ideas. I would say more about the importantness of this post and the fact that I have never had lucky charms or much cereal other than oats, cornflakes, and rice bubbles, and muesli (which is not an illness, american people! it's aka granola) but I really should be responding to In Cold Blood for a class right now...

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    1. Wait, muesli is just granola? :O I DIDN'T KNOW THAT. I totally thought it was something else. But I like granola. it's delicious. Fun fact, if you were wondering: People used to eat popcorn for breakfast. Because they could.

      Yeah, that might be a good idea. XD

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  5. Keeping a journal is one thing that keeps me sane. It's nice to be able to eliminate some excess thoughts before bed. I do some summarizing (especially if it's been a day of particular interest), but I often focus more extensively on emotions that are giving me trouble or problems that I'd like to figure out.

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    1. That's a great tool for you to use! I know that writing always helps me on an emotional level, and seeing it in front of you can sometimes help. :) Glad it's so helpful for you.

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  6. I tried to make book responses in school but I kept getting bored and off-topic.

    I don't write diaries anymore.

    And yeah, I really like Cheerios.

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    1. Ah, that can happen. But you can grow from that, perhaps.

      Cheerios are the bomb dot com! *hives*

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