“Bad” writing and the need for clarity.

Originally from Boise Weekly

Beginning a new semester is always exciting and nerve-racking for me. On the one hand, it’s a whole new 16 weeks of new information to take in, wrestle with, and engage in. On the other, it’s a load of work that most people in their right mind would never submit themselves too. This semester in particular, I am stepping out of my comfort zone of literature classes to take a writing course. I know, I’ve only written about writing on here, so a writing course should be right up my alley. Well, I haven’t taken a course like this since my undergrad, and that was in 2007. It’s been awhile since I was in the environment of a peer-led workshop.

On the first day, we took a look at some examples of “bad writing” and wondered what the disconnect was between so called “creative” writing and “critical” writing. The class consensus was that creative writing, in the popular mindset, is more “open” and “inclusive” whereas critical was more “specific” and “exclusive” (the words of classmates, not my own). We then analyzed some samples of some literary theorists/cultural philosophers as examples of “difficult” writing. From a grammatical stance, much of critical writing would even be considered “bad.” Half page long sentences are not uncommon and the very specific, philosophically informed language can make the meaning very muddy. Our in class exercise for these writings was to do something creative with/in response to these “bad” writings. What I found interesting is that most of the people who offered to read their response, got the meaning of the difficult passages. Granted, we are all highly intelligent graduate students, but I still think it’s interesting that people were able to engage with these texts.

I think this goes a long way towards demystifying the idea that critical writing is too unapproachable and too specialized. However, I do think that often times this type of writing is difficult and “bad” simply for the sake of being so. It’s because of that, that I appreciate the work of someone like Terry Eagleton, who can show off his intellectual prowess, but is incredibly lucid and inviting with his writing. There is clarity, creativity, and critical thinking. This is the kind of writing that I hope to do. To bring complex ideas forth with clear and engaging prose. Hopefully, this blog can be used to help me accomplish that end.

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2 thoughts on ““Bad” writing and the need for clarity.

  1. Interesting observation. I’m a visual artist, so I often think about how my medium affects my thought process. I’m starting to think the different types of writing serve a similar function for authors. Each has its own place and purpose, and each encourages us to think differently.

    I’m often intimidated by complex academic or critical writing. But I think if I let it have its own space as a separate medium, it doesn’t bother me as much. I know this isn’t exactly to your point. But I, too, prefer clear, direct writing. And thinking about complex writing this way frees me to focus on my preferred medium. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    1. Thanks for reading the post, Sara! I’m glad that it was thought provoking, I’m always a little worried about if my writing does that or not.

      I definitely agree that different types of writing serve different functions. I guess my goal is to try and push on those functions and see what comes of it. You know, blur the lines of distinction so as to see what is inside the space between. Thanks again!

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