A Ramble On Writing

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Something interesting happened when Facebook went from being a closed community for college students, and opened its doors to literally everyone, exposing our undergrad-only environment to the world.

Suddenly, we weren’t just a bunch of college kids with a secret realm all to ourselves. Now, our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins (both young and old) were pouring into what had been an “underground haven” for university students around the country.

When it first happened, we were a little shocked. There was a general air of “What just happened?” as we all looked around with our mouths agape. We’d been found out, and now had to share this space with just about everyone we knew. And at first we didn’t know how to handle it. It was awkward. Everyone you knew suddenly had new insights into your life, and people began asking themselves, “Do I really want this person to see that? Is this post is going to confuse these people?”

You just knew certain people wouldn’t really understand “social media decorum,” and it soon became apparent. Before posting, we’d think, “I really don’t want to field the comments and questions from them. Maybe your aunt saw you post something at 3:00 AM, and later, you’d hear from your mom, asking, “What were you doing up so late?” Or maybe they were more overt, and your friend’s grandma would just blurt out, “WHAT IS THIS,” on a YouTube video they’d posted.

Not only were we having to adapt and change the way we approached our interactions on Facebook (not that we were doing anything nefarious, it’s just that you don’t interact with everyone the same way), but these newcomers were just figuring out what exactly Facebook was. Many of them seemed new to the internet, and computers in general.

But we eventually got over it and everyone acclimated to this all-in-one, virtual aspect of our lives. I’ve never heard it discussed, but I imagine other people have experienced the same thing — when everyone we knew joined our online social sphere, we were immediately exposed to all the ways in which our friends and family write.

To that point, I don’t think I’d ever considered it before, but in the face of everyone hopping into the same space, it became clear that the voices people use when writing are often different from the ones they use when speaking. That may not hold true for everyone, because I know there are some people who write exactly as they speak, but for most people, their writing voice is indeed different. This isn’t a new revelation, but it was for me.

Few of us consider ourselves writers, but the advent of blogging and social media gave everyday people a platform to express and share their thoughts — with large audiences of people comprised of friends, family and strangers — in a written format. It was the first time many of us had seen the writing styles of our peers.

What I’m getting at is that most of us only know one another by the way we express ourselves verbally and in-person. When we write, the freedom to collect our thoughts, flesh out ideas, and sculpt phrasing, allows for an exact and precise way of conveying what it is we mean to say with explicit detail.

Sometimes I’m a little surprised by how certain people speak in their writing. I don’t mean that in a “I didn’t know you could spell” kind of way, but more like, “that’s not the phrasing or voice I would have expected from that person.” Personally, I’m far more comfortable expressing myself through writing than I am through verbal, casual conversation, mostly because I’m not on the spot and I have time to process my thoughts. And of course, some people are just the opposite — they’re far more articulate when speaking verbally.

But the way we write, in the proper context, says a lot about us. If “u rite lyk dis n u dont care,” people are going to assume you’re not educated. Maybe you are, but it doesn’t come off that way. Whether we simply plop down prose, or more eloquently select our words, it’s not just our (in)ability to use proper grammar, correct spelling and appropriate punctuation. It’s also in the way we construct and shape our sentences and phrases. There’s a flow to the way each person writes, which helps establish a voice and tone. And you can’t do that if you spew the digital equivalent of inarticulate chicken scratch.

I almost never like to compromise the quality of my words, even in the most casual of conversations. I’m one of those people who, even when texting, refuses to use shorthand, abbreviations and internet gibberish, unless I’m intentionally being silly. With the rare exception of something like “lol” or “rofl,” you won’t really see me break from “proper” writing.

It’s kind of strange how the internet affects us. Within the realm of writing and reading comprehension, many people of the older generations might argue (and have) that the internet is actively making people (read: kids) “dumb.”

And while there are plenty of people my age or younger who don’t express themselves well through writing, a quick scan through the comments section of virtually any online article will show they’re not alone. There are just as many people commenting who didn’t grow up with the internet to make you realize that basic composition skills and critical thinking were eluding people long before anyone ever posted a rage comic.

The reason I even mention it is because I believe my writing has actually improved because of using the internet, and I think that’s probably true for a lot of people. Since about the time I was eleven years old, I’ve had some outlet by which to textually communicate with other people. I started out with the chat room for the online PC game, Starsiege: Tribes.

Eventually, I began using AOL Instant Messenger to talk to friends. From there, it was MySpace. And I then began regularly posting on internet video game forums. Around the time I was 16, I kind of got into texting (not technically the internet, but I’m including it), but it still wasn’t a big thing at that point. Eventually, Facebook came along roughly around the time I was 18, which acted as the major catalyst in finding my writing voice. But it was only recently that I truly immersed myself in blogging.

Of course, it helps that I majored in a writing-intensive field at a university where seemingly every class required (what felt like) hundreds of essays and papers. I owe a lot of my development as a writer to all of that, undoubtedly. However, the (almost) 15 years I’ve been communicating with friends and strangers through the internet has also helped tremendously. I think it takes a lot of writing to really find your voice. And once you have, your writing can almost always be improved.

I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, though, so I don’t want any of this come off as erudite or elitist. I’m not an authority when it comes to writing, just someone who’s cognizant of the basic rules of composition, and comfortable in my own voice. But I’ll be the first to admit that it always helps to have an editor.

And that’s maybe the biggest thing I haven’t mentioned to this point — receiving feedback. Not necessarily on your writing, specifically, but by interacting with other people. When you spend that much time talking to people, whether friend or stranger, you’ll certainly develop a feel for your writing. Or at least I did. But maybe that doesn’t work for everyone.

I’m just fascinated by the contrast in how we verbally communicate, and the way we speak through our writing — and just as interesting, the ways in which we’ve developed our voices. I’m sure there’s more that factors into it, beyond what I’ve mentioned, but those are the points most apparent to me regarding the way I cultivated my writing.

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