Writing for Good in the world


I love to write when creativity strikes and while I would contend that is in a place of unbridled creativity that my best ideas come it is not usually where I can expect to write polished pieces. But what is writing for Good? Often the moments of creativity produce sparks and tangents that take time, control, and discipline to flesh out into fully developed arguments that flow. I often have to go back after I have posted to fix spelling and grammar mistakes, and to add prepositions that my eye did not see before publishing. On one side it helps me to realize that i need an editor, or in the least a proofreader for my writing. On the other I become very aware that I still have a great deal to learn technically and stylistically.

Writing (even if you do it for a living as I do) is a skill, a muscle even, that must be exercised. Just like you use different muscles to swim than you do to run you must exercise the different muscles that are used in different registers and kinds of writing.
So what is writing for Good?

Producing writing of publishable quality can be particularly challenging. Each genre and discipline has its own rules about voice (these can even differ from publication to publication, website to website, journal to journal, and from country to country, within a discipline) and the use of “I.” The sense of “joining” a conversation can be daunting, especially when it feels like you stick out like a sore thumb or are wearing shorts and t-shirt and flip-flops [thongs for my Aussie readers] to a black tie gala affair.

When I was taking a graduate level seminar on Milton with Dr. Phillip J. Donnelly during my first semester of Graduate school in the US it became apparent to me that Milton scholars are some of the smartest people I have ever come across. If you don’t believe me go and read his book on Milton’s Scriptural Reasoning: Narrative and Protestant Toleration. I mean, hopefully, you can read really smart erudite people in every field (otherwise it may be problematic that they are experts) but as a whole the Milton scholars blew me away. Talk about tough – they are knowledgeable in rhetorical and classical forms, classical education, as well as the literature of the period, politics and history.

We were expected to write a publishable article as part of the Milton seminar. That wasn’t unusual in itself; in fact writing an article length paper and a conference length paper were almost always expected as part of every Graduate seminar I took. What was unusual was that I have never felt so out of my depth in my life – the quality of writing and thought was just extraordinary. One of my colleagues described it this way:

It’s like arriving at a skating rink and you know what the ice looks like and you’ve maybe been on the ice once or twice before and you were pretty wobbly…but then you realise that you are at the Olympics and it’s the final of the individual figure skating and you’re expected to go out there on rental skates and perform a triple axel.

It was a pretty apt image of how we all felt. But you know that sense of being humbled is growth-inducing! I don’t think i will ever let that Milton article see the light of day. It became something real and something tangible to show that I did get somewhere with it all and yet I feel like I need to leave Milton to minds greater than mine and seek to enjoy the brilliance of his work. Just cause you wrote it doesn’t mean you should publish it. There’s a good lesson: when you learn what you are not it is almost more helpful than thinking you know what you are.

Writing, whether for a Professor who has set you a deadline or for an editor who has set you a deadline, can be more a labor of love than a labor of love if you know what I mean. As the Vampire Slayer herself Buffy Summers once said:

I thought it was gonna be more like in the movies. You know, inspirational music and a montage: me sharpening pencils, reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked because in the montage I have glasses. Real life is so slow and it hurts my occipital lobe.

The reality does not always match the idealized versions in our minds. hammering out work to the beat of a deadline growing stronger in your ears, or spending 6 or 7 hours straight at a library table leafing through books isn’t always a movie montage of hurried, productive activity. In saying that, I love libraries and I’ve had productive times there. I’ve had lots more productive time sitting in an armchair or a couch with my laptop on my lap or a coffee table rustling through piles of articles and books to find the quote i’m looking for or wildly gesticulating to the imaginary muse with my my hands in these grotesque shapes as I search for the right word in a given situation. Pushing through exhaustion, hunger, and a desire to do pretty much anything else, in order to finish a piece of writing is not always a pleasant experience and one I hope not to have to repeat too often.
However, it has taught me some things:
  1. I can always keep writing no matter how tired I am but it might not be very good
  2. I really need some time to proofread and self-edit
  3. I rarely can write piece longer than 2000 words solely on a computer screen. I like to write all over physical drafts.
  4. Draft 4 is usually infinitely better than Draft 3, but beyond that changes are cosmetic.
  5. You need to have at least two runs at a grant application, giving yourself at least 3-5 days between each of them.
  6. Organizational leaders are busy people. Make the best use of their time and your own.

I guess though for something good to come out of it, hard work is a must. But there is a difference between hard work and self-masochism. I, of course, can say that in hindsight.

What does it mean to write for good in the 21st century?

This is part practical, part philosophic!

“Sharing Meaningful Stories”

Part of the process of living a contemplative life (or any kind of healthy life) is to know and understand how you work best. How about you? Can you write completely on a computer screen? Do you know when and where you write best? Who am I kidding, we all need to know how we live best not just work. What drains you and what fills you up? When do you work best, when is best for errands and other tasks? with music or without music? do you eat to live or live to eat? what does exercise do for your state of mind? are there certain people who bring sunshine into your day?

I relish and make time and space to enjoy reading for its own sake and benefit from the quality of thought that results from a peaceful heart and mind. I have had periods of time in the last ten years where I feel like i have chain-ganged the muse  – working when i am utterly exhausted and writing an inordinate amount of words on demand.
I am always suspicious of claims that one should be able to write 1000 words an hour. Writing 1000 words an hour is really not that hard, writing 1000 quality words is what is difficult.
I want to muse, to wander and create. And I have to the conclusion that I need physical space and not just intellectual space. Cities and I are not generally in creative sync!  Breathing in that beautiful country air and looking out over a landscape I love is important for me. That’s what fills me with joy – my family, my friends, my country.
 Never work just for money, or for power,
It won’t save your soul, or help you sleep at night
– Marian Wright Edelman

I’m not sure I’m any closer to a definition of what it means to write for good in the 21st Century. Reading because you want to and not because you have to might be a start. Carving out physical and intellectual space might be another step. Allowing yourself time and energy to create may be another, including being willing to drop what you should be doing to write and create. My practical upbringing means i feel slightly guilty about dropping the practical to pursue the creative but my sanity thanks me and that, my friends is worth more to me than productivity.

Speaker. Reader. Thinker. Writer. Traveler. Advocate

rp_IMG_9822a.jpgAnna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Social Enterprises, socially-responsible businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers. Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, Instagram, facebook page, & Twitter.
Have you checked out EMPOWER, our monthly e-Newsletter?

Sign up here to have this valuable resource delivered directly to your inbox: http://eepurl.com/bRhGkH