A recent report from the UK's National Literacy Trust indicates that in a survey of students 9-16, those who blogged and/or participated in social networks were more likely to enjoy writing and think of themselves as good writers. If you look at the study, you'll see there's a fairly significant margin of difference as well. We seem to see these kinds of studies on a regular basis now. It's understandable, maybe, given the explosion of social media that we'd want to investigate their effects. Also, such studies tend to counter the reactionary mainstream perception that social media are melting our children's brains. After all, that's what we have tv for.
But I digress. What makes me curious is this integrated relationship between enjoyment and writing, as well as the interest in our self-perception of being "good" at it. None of this really impacts criticisms like Mark Bauerlein's, when he observes that today's "dumbest generation" (sic) has an inflated sense of self. So of course they think they are good writers. Right?
Now my basic position on all of this is that in order to become a "good" or "better" writer, one first has to be a writer. I.e., you have to have a writing practice. So if you are a blogger or a regular writer on a social network, then that is something to build upon. So I am all for encouraging students to engage in these kinds of practices and for helping them see writing in their own lives, wherever it is, rather than telling them "that's not writing."
However, I want to get back to this question of "enjoyment" and being a "good writer." The two seem related in the study, and that's understandable. In most areas of life, it is easier to enjoy doing some activity once one has some skill at it. But here's the thing reading this made me think: do I enjoy writing?
It's a weird question. As you think it over, it's like saying a word over and over again until it just becomes a garbled sound in your mouth. Enjoy? What kind of callow, tea-party affect is that anyway?
Often, in my experience, writing is a grind it out experience. There are the demands of deadlines, audiences, genres, but many times it is the demands of writing itself. Writing smirking at you saying ha ha, you can't do that. That won't work. Now you've got to rewrite that whole section.
There's the writing that infects every moment of your waking (and not-sleeping) life with critique and counter-arguments and rhetorical tactics employed in/on/about/against everyone you encounter. I can be a lot less nice when I am deep in a writing project, or even in the middle of a sentence in an email.
And there is the writing that is working, like that old childhood candy volcano rocks popping off inside your brain, as you struggle to catch up with it, as you try to capture in words the eureka moment that's slipping away.
Are we enjoying ourselves yet?
I guess enjoyment is one of those after-the-fact judgments. In the emergent moment of the event of pleasure does one say "I am enjoying myself." Or does that come later? Maybe at some point, when I am done writing this post, I will reflect on it and experience some enjoyment. Maybe I will enjoy someone's response.
I know this all sounds rather curmudgeonly or perhaps (on the flipside) even overly romantic (you have to suffer for your writing.). But I don't know that we are going down a good path if we really try to tie enjoyment to writing. And, honestly, if you think you are a "good writer"…. well I suppose "good" is a relative term, but you probably haven't given it much thought.
All I am willing to say about my own writing is that I am sitting here, hacking away at it, right at this moment, seeing where it will take me. Am I enjoying it? I don't even know what to do with that question. Do you enjoy thinking?