Thursday, August 4, 2011


What do I mean by “personal writing,” which is the name of this course?

It is writing in which, unlike most academic writing that you do in college courses, you get to use the personal pronoun I.  You get to express and exhibit your own point of view, your own attitudes, feelings, opinions, and values.

It is not, however, private writing, like a personal journal meant not to be read or appreciated by others.  Personal writing has two audiences: first, yourself, for whom you write in order to articulate overtly what is vaguely on your mind.  Your motto for doing so would be: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”  It takes words rolling out into sentences to give shape to your otherwise inchoate thought.  Talking can and does do that, but writing, a slower, more deliberate and revisable process, can do it better.  Your second audience as a personal writer is any other reader to whom you wish to open your mind, a mind now clarified and specified and made comely by the writing process—a presentable mind.

Ultimately, then, the formal writing you do in this course is meant to impress others with the character and quality of your mind as it represents itself in prose.  Although your mind may display itself in poetry, in song, in music, in visual arts and other ways; in this course, essays are your medium.  An essay, literally, is an attempt: you essay (a verb) to express and convey your thoughts in well-made prose; the better your attempt, the better your essay.

A particular motive for doing personal writing, one especially pertinent to this course, is to make up your mind, a phrase that suggests both constituting and beautifying.  By engaging in the process of personal writing, you should come to see your thoughts growing more ample, orderly and impressive.  They are not blurted and scattered, as in conversation; rather, having been more carefully pondered during the slower, intermittent process of writing, your thoughts shape up artfully, not uttered, but composed.