There are without doubt two types of writing in my life. The writing I do for my personal pleasure that I inflict on my friends and family in the name of creativity and the writing I do for professional pleasure that is for the most part, inflicted upon me by lecturers, course requirements and this little thing called a thesis. As you've no doubt already worked out (being a smart university student who found the Writing Centre website), I have a slightly ambivalent attitude to writing which is a little odd in someone who writes and teaches writing for a living.
As any writer will tell you, some days the words are your friend: they dance from your pen (or in my case, keyboard), they fall into orderly patterns with just the right amount of "joie de vivre", they capture exactly what you're trying to express. But that's just some days, and as an academic writer, I have to admit that those days don't happen half as often as I'd like. Most often, my writing as an academic (well, an academic in training) is less a matter of dancing words and more a matter of kung fu words trying to kick me into submission. First they attempt to drown me with their sheer volume: really, university is about reading until your eyes fall out your head and writing (or typing) until your fingers fall off. Secondly, they confound me with their complexity. (For those who don't know what confound means, look it up! Looking up unfamiliar words is one of the most important things you will learn to do.) Thirdly, just when I think I'm almost done, they multiply madly and I find myself at least 2000 words above the word limit, sadly not something my lecturers can just ignore. That said, however, grappling with the king fu words is somehow satisfying. I may leave exhausted, bearing endless emotional scars but in the end, they are confined to the page, subdued in neat, orderly lines and there is a great sense of achievement to that.
So what do I now know about writing? I know it's a very personal process. I know that it's hard to put your writing out there for others to read, to criticise. I know ways to make myself write - little tricks to make the words, if not dance, then at least march along. I know to take advantage of the days when the words do dance and to churn out on those days as many hundreds of words as I can. I know that to write I must read. I know that to write I must speak - I must have a voice and something for that voice to say. I know that all writing even the most tiresome has its moments of triumph - a perfect phrase, a complement from a reader, a section completed. I know to celebrate these triumphs. And finally, I know to keep writing even if what I write doesn't always make perfect sense at the time. A little spit and polish tomorrow may well turn today's hunk of coal into a gem worth quoting.
Shanali Govender (MA in Linguistics)
Writing Consultant 2010 - 2011