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What constitutes a writer, and a good one, for that matter?

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Basic conversation between myself and someone (outside of the literary community) inquiring about my major:
Person: So what’s your major?
Me: I’m majoring in English.
Person: Oh… So what are you going to do with that?
Me: Well I was planning to go to law school, but I think I’m going to pursue something more in the English field.
Person: Oh… So you want to be, like, a writer or something?
Me: Umm well I sort of already am one… I think…
Person: Oh wow! What did you get published?
Me: Well… Nothing, yet.
Person: So how are you a writer?

Many current English majors are stuck in this really weird Writer’s Limbo, like the one exemplified above— myself included— between average person and inspiring writer. So many of us actively seek the validation that publication brings, but have not yet gotten that lucky email reading:

Congratulations (Enter Super Awesome Writer’s Name)!
The (Enter Super Awesome Publication’s Name) has decided to accept your work for publication for our next (Journal, Chapbook, Poetry Book, Short Story, Screenplay, Novella, Novel)! You will be receiving an edition in the mail. Please send us more work, you are super awesome.

Sincerely,
(Enter Person Who is More Established than You’s Name)
Editor-In-Chief
(Enter Super Awesome Publication’s Name)

I see these beautiful, beautiful words in my dreams every night, but my dreams of professional status have yet to come true. So this has me thinking… Am I a writer even though I’m not published? Some people don’t think so. Many people consider the “prestige” of publication necessary to consider someone a writer— even if the “hard-hitting insightful article” is published on some stupid, mindless website like “totalfratmove” or “totalsororitymove” .com. Sometimes I come across these shallow and ridiculous articles on Facebook and click on them just to read them out of spite and scoff at them— I skip down to the “Artist Bio” and think to myself, this person isn’t a writer, why are they published, and I’m not?

Those who consider published work necessary to defining a “writer” usually exist outside of the literary community; and I’d like to think that, as someone who exists within the boundaries of the literary community, I am qualified to say that their one-sided definition of a writer is utterly and completely wrong. Many famous writers were unpublished, or only published very briefly, and didn’t achieve a high level of publication and notoriety until after their deaths, like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau. They were still writers, and great ones, even as they existed under the radar of the public scope. Likewise, I know many writers, which I also consider to be good writers, who are completely unpublished; many of them are my peers, and I’d like to say that I also belong to this group. I hope that we all escape the Writer’s Limbo before our deaths, which will hopefully not come premature like so many of the great writers who came before us. Because of all this, I am inclined to say that someone who is unpublished can be a writer, and not everyone who is published is necessarily a writer. So if the status of publication does not constitute a writer, what does?

The question of what constitutes a writer seems so simple, but there are many implications that make it much more difficult to answer than it would seem. Is a writer anyone who scribbles something down on a sheet of paper, or types an email on a laptop? I’d like to think that it’s a little more complicated than that. In some way, shape, or form, all college students are required to write during some point of their college career, but does this make all college students writers? However, no one wants to just be considered a writer, they want to be considered a good writer; and this brings forth a question that is perhaps even more challenging to answer than the former: what constitutes a good writer? These two questions bring a lot to the table, and before I came up with concrete answers to them, I thought it’d be helpful to ask a couple of my fellow college students— all with a wide variety of backgrounds and relationships with writing— what they thought.

Adrienne Dunham is an International Studies major at DePaul. Her thoughts on the first question were, “A writer is someone who translates their thoughts from mind to paper.” She struggled a bit more with the next question, but eventually concluded, “To be a good writer, you have to be able to take on different positions, whether its academic writing, creative writing, or something different entirely; a good writer should be able to convey their message through any genre of writing.”

A student in DePaul’s Public Relations and Advertising program, Mary Hoerner, asserted, “A writer can be anyone who writes, but a good writer is someone who writes something interesting that people care about; something that people are willing to take the time out of their day to read.”

Maggie Arndt is also in the PR/ Advertising program at DePaul, though she had a much different answer to the question. She claimed, “A writer is someone who expresses themselves creatively through words, and a good writer is someone who writes with a purpose and has a thesis.”
Marketing major at DePaul, Ben Keyport, had a short, sweet, and simple answer, saying: “Writers explain, good writers inspire.”

Sam Baines is different from the rest of the students I asked, as he hails from England, where he attends Birmingham City University, and is only in Chicago for an internship. Despite this, his answer sort of echoed those above. He explained, “A writer is someone who writes, but a good writer is someone who writes works that speak to people, people care about, and that people can relate to.”

DePaul Writing Center employee and English Literary Studies major, Alex Chomik said, “At the Writing Center, they say anyone who writes is a writer, but I don’t agree, because we all write every day, and this definition means that anyone with a Twitter account can be considered a writer. A writer is someone who sits down to write, not because they have to, but because they want to; writers have no other medium to express themselves besides writing. Good writers are usually fucked up people. A good writer is someone who has mastered ekphrasis in the sense of transforming thought to written word, with all types of writing, whether it’s realistic or fantastical; and a good writer is one who has universality within their work, and can resonate with a wide variety of people.”

Rory Mencin is double majoring in Sociology and English with a creative writing concentration. He claimed, “A writer is someone who writes because he or she feels that they have to write as a medium to express oneself, and if he or she considers themselves a writer, no one else can tell them differently. The difference between a writer and a good writer is that good writers are masters of imagery, and have the ability to convey thoughts and emotions coherently through writing, so that other people can understand the message they’re trying to get across.”

It is interesting to see how students with varying majors think much differently about what constitutes a writer and a good writer. Despite their background and relationship with writing, everyone I asked these questions had difficulty forming an answer. The lines of definition of a writer are not bold and clear, but rather fuzzy and dashed. However, not one of the students even considered publication as an aspect that constitutes a writer.

It is apparent that the students with less creative majors, like Marketing, Advertising, and Psychology, had a little bit more general definition of a writer, basically, anyone who writes. They also mostly attributed good writing to writing that people care to read. Though I agree with this to an extent, my definition is a little less clear cut.

The two English majors, although they came from differing concentrations of Literary Studies and Creative writing, had similar ideas as to what constitutes a writer, having to do with the need for creative expression. This goes hand-in-hand with their definitions of good writers: having to do with creatively expressing their thoughts in an effective way.

It is not surprising that my definition of a writer and a good writer aligns more with the other English majors. I do not think that just anyone who writes is a writer. Alex brought up a point that really struck me with the example of Twitter. In today’s society, mostly everyone is literate. Everyone reads and writes, mostly every day. But I do not think those who post mindless tweets and Facebook status updates about the anti-climactic events of their day— blahblahblah tweeted: took my dog 4 walk got some fro yo now watching Netflix!— are writers. To me, a writer is someone that feels the need to write, for their own benefit. You might have to write a paper for your class, but if that’s the extent of your writing career, I do not consider you a writer. Writers have creative minds, and often feel overwhelmed by the sea of thoughts perpetually floating in their heads; and the only way to ease the multitude of thoughts is to get some of them out on paper. Writing is a medium for creative expression, just as art and music is. However, I also agree with Rory’s point that if you consider yourself a writer, no one can say otherwise, which brings back the aspect of publication. If you consider yourself to be a writer, regardless of your publication status, and of whether or not anyone even reads your work, you are a writer. Writers may want to be published, but initially, writers write for themselves as a way to express their ideas and emotions, and it is, in a way, almost therapeutic. For me, being a writer is not so much about putting a pen to a piece of paper, it’s really about using writing as a tool to harness one’s thoughts, and ease the trials and tribulations of life.

A good writer is trickier to define. On the contrary to some of my peers, I do not necessarily attribute good writing to writing about things that people care about. In that definition, someone could define The Twilight Series as good writing— I need not say more. And to be honest, I could give two shits about writing about things that people care to read. I think that’s definitely a component to successful writing, but once again, not all successful writing is good writing. A good writer is someone who is able to arrange their words in a matter that effectively conveys their intended message, while remaining captivating and thought provoking. Good writers’ work is not just the story that sits on the surface level, but it has deeper meaning to it. However, they do not have to come straight out and explain the deeper meaning in a rudimentary way, rather, they display their message through imagery, characterization, and allusions. If there is no deeper meaning to the story being read, and you don’t have to think about it too much (ex. Twilight), I do not consider it to be good writing. When I say deeper meaning, I am referring to a meaning that displays some aspect of the human condition, whether that be love, loneliness, religion, or something else entirely. The component of deeper meaning is what makes the work speak to and resonate with a wide variety of people; so instead of writing to purely appeal to a wide audience, write something thought provoking and beautiful, and the universality will come naturally.

If you want to be a writer, and a good one for that matter, then write. Write every day. Write for yourself. Write what you’re feeling. Write what you see. Write what you know, or even what you don’t. Just write. Don’t overly-concern yourself with being published, if you keep writing, your beautiful, beautiful email will eventually come.

Citations
Arndt, Maggie. Personal interview. 13 Mar. 2014.
Baines, Sam. Personal interview. 15 Mar. 2014.
Chomik, Alex. Personal interview. 15 Mar. 2014.
Dunham, Adrienne. Personal interview. 16 Mar. 2014.
Hoerner, Mary. Personal interview. 14 Mar. 2014.
Keyport, Ben. Personal interview. 15 Mar. 2014.
Mencin, Rory. Personal interview. 12 Mar. 2014.

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The Dollhouse Reading Series

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I am writing this post pretty much in real-time right now as The Dollhouse Reading Series #31 just took place; the writer in me just can’t avoid procrastination of deadlines… but, let me preface my thoughts by saying that I am new to the literary community, and I really enjoyed this reading, and would love to attend these sort of events more regularly. Good people, good vibes, cool though provoking poems… “That’s that shit I do like”, in the words of contemporary poet Chief Keef, sort of… The reading took place in some very nice people’s apartment, which is cool because they invited tons of people–it was pretty packed in a decently big Chicago apartment— purely because they love poetry. Unfortunately, Peter Davis, who wrote the book of poems I just read, Poetry!, Poetry!, Poetry!, couldn’t make the event due to an illness, but, they started the reading with one of his poems discussing his idea that saying “Happy Thanksgiving” has perverse and grotesque undertones.
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The second reader was Sarah Fox, who read a lot of feminist poems, with a comedic nature that empowered without sounding repetitive and extreme.
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The reader who followed was Tony Trigilio, who teaches at Columbia University in my hometown of Chicago. Tony read poems discussing his re-watching of the series Dark Shadows, which he first encountered with his mother at a young age, and it gave him nightmares.
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The last poet to read was Hoa Nguyen, who had a very eccentric and exciting sort of reading style. She read poems discussing her children, and raising them in a sort of frightening and decaying society, and also poems about her awesome mother, who apparently was a Vietnamese motorcycle stunt woman.
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It was interesting to hear all of these poets from a seemingly very different background, read poems that hit close to home to them. It lends a certain kind of understanding to the audience of the author’s true intentions of their poems.

A Poem Addressing the Feelings I Have for You

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I find it thoroughly impossible
to arrange my words beautifully enough
to accurately convey my feelings for you.
I like to think that as my words pour onto this paper,
my soul pours onto it too, and engulfs it with the essence of my being.
Giving you this poem is giving you a piece of my soul,
for you to keep safe, cherish, and love
until our consciousness’
dissolve into thin air.

-Victoria Mendicino

George Zimmerman vs DMX: What is Wrong With You America?

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When I first heard about the George Zimmerman vs. DMX fight, I thought I was a joke or an Onion article but nope it’s real life… What the fuck America? This is absolutely disgusting. We are making a murderer into a celebrity for profit! Has the Martin family not been through enough yet? They lost a son/grandson/brother all to a senseless act of violence, and their heartbreaking loss was used as an image to fuel a race war and political agendas, but that’s not it. Now they have to watch their son’s MURDERER be immortalized on TV, and hear about people making bets on him. Now I understand the want behind it, to kick George Zimmerman’s ass because he deserves it, but this is just ridiculous; there has been enough violence, when will it end? Read the rest of this entry

5 Ways To Cure Writer’s Block

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The creative writing community is a tight knit one, and an experience that each member can identify with is that of Writer’s block. It’s terrible, especially the anxious feeling of doom that comes with an impending deadline. Even as I’m writing this right now, I’m finding trouble in getting my words to flow because it’s 7:39 on a Saturday and due in a few short hours. So it’s time to practice what I’m preaching, and relay to you a list of techniques I find helpful to get rid of my Writer’s block.

1) Get Out Of Your House
It is impossible to do work in a room where you sleep or eat, and most of us don’t have the pleasure of living alone, so there is the perpetual distraction of roommates as well. I always go to the library of a coffee shop to get things done. Leaving comfortable surroundings and traveling to one that is associated with quiet and work is the first step to climbing the wall of Writer’s block.

2) Turn Off Your Phone, Deactivate Your Facebook
The constant distraction of the constant connection of the world is one of the most detrimental factors to the hindrance of the creative process. Restrain yourself from the petty distractions of real life! Reading, “Alex Smith wants to be you’d friend!” Or “heyyyyyyy wut r u doin 2nite?”, does absolutely for your writing, so just stop it, seriously.

3) Listen to Calm, Thought Provoking Music/Block Out All Sounds
I guess this tip is kind of relative to the person and type of writing. When I write creative writing, I always like to have headphones playing music quietly (sometimes mellow chill beats, sometimes classical musical), but sometimes with academic writing I just need silence; but some people can’t write with music under any circumstances. Do what is most conducive to your own creative process, while taking the type of writing into consideration.

4) Take a Damn Break
Sometimes I see people in the library who look like they’re strung out on heroin because they’re so exhausted, physically and mentally, from the work they’re doing; don’t do that to yourselves. Take the appropriate amount of time away from your writing, though not too long to the point of procrastination. In certain situations it’s good to just walk down the street and get some coffee or something, but in others just get some sleep; writing that comes from an exhausted mind can be down right haggard, so save yourself the time it would take to edit, and just don’t do it.

5) Sensory Deprivation?
If all else fails, it might be time to take out the big guns and deprive yourself of all your senses. Sounds a bit extreme I know, but I’ve been doing research into the topic and it seems to be a really enlightening experience that provokes the mind. How one goes about doing this is to go to a place that offers the service, and you enter this giant tank that is both sound and light proof where you float in body temperature water. The point of it is to deprive your body of all of it’s senses, so nothing is distracting the mind from thought. I think this is awesome and I really want to try it. I found a place called Space Time Tanks, that is right by DePaul University, and offers this. I think I am going to try it and I am really curious if anyone reading that has. If depriving the mind from every humanly possible distraction doesn’t cure your Writer’s block, I don’t know what will.

Fishing for Answers

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Lately, I can’t stop thinking about the nature of existence. I mean, it’s fucked up if you think about it, have you ever? We’re just like a fish bowl, you know, the little ones for fucking goldfish or betas or whatever—my friend used to have a beta, it would eat all the other fishes we put in with it… we would take bets on how long they would last before they became a sort of Silence of the Lambs style sushi… we’re JUST like a little fucking fish bowl, sitting on some snot-nosed kid’s desk (the kind of kid whose OCD parents eat Xanax for breakfast and think having a dog in the house is just too messy), but walk down the stairs, past the “open-concept modern blah blah bullshit modernist kitchen/living room”, out the door, and down the block and what do you see? A fucking OCEAN… Did you know that we still haven’t figured out what dwells at the depths of our oceans? Our world is a grain of sand on the beach and we’re still not even familiar with our own grain… We might be as insignificant as the fish bowl in size, but surely not in being… We are billions strong, spawned from the most perfect coincidental accident, interwoven in degrees of separation throughout time and space; we ponder the beautiful, form unions, deceive, invent, destroy, and dream… Or are we? We could be as meaningless as the fish bowl that sits on the desk of your distant cousin’s neighbor’s friend’s snot-nosed little kid; you are as indifferent to that as the universe is to you.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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I love re-reading books. I always pick so much more up the second time around. I just finished reading one of my favorite books A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and I am once again finding myself thinking intensely about my path as an artist. The novel is written in a stream-of-consciousness style and goes through the life of Stephen Dedalus from boy to man. As a whole, the book is sort of hard to digest, and you’ll spend a lot of time on one page, but definitely worth the read. Stephen’s journey to an artist begins as a boy at Clongowes Wood College, he later transfers to Belvedere College after having to leave Clongowes because of financial constraints. The book has strong connotations of religion, as Stephen is taught by the Jesuits, and on track to become a priest. He excels at Belvedere, but there he discovers his love for prostitutes. At the urges of his parents, he returns to the church after straying, but after seeing a beautiful girl, he decided he must describe her beauty. He decides to leave Ireland to be an artist. A beautiful quote from the book is

The ambition which he felt astir at times in the darkness of his soul sought no outlet.

Thinking about ones path to an artist is interesting, as it varies so much from artist to artist. Stephen Dedalus’ path stems from the strife in contradiction and the detriment of hypocrisy on his soul. If you think about it, the path to an artist is never-ending as the artist is constantly growing and evolving with every experience that sparks inspiration. When can one consider oneself an artist? I guess there is really no definition. But I think one becomes an artist when one makes an attempt to translate the ambition within their soul into words on paper.

The Drunken Boat

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The online literary journal The Drunken Boat, publishes all kinds of contemporary creative works, fiction and non-fiction, some besides just literature. In their newest edition, they feature poems, short stories, personal statements, and book reviews throughout the categories of Debt, Fiction, Librotaficante, Ocean, Poetry, Reviews, and Video_Dumbo. Their page is rather interesting, I gather from looking at past issues that the more specific topics change each issue, which allows the journal to not just publish beautiful pieces of creative writing of random topics, but also highlights a group of creative works all delving into a certain issue, giving the reader a broad perspective. The layout of the journal makes the different categories easy to discern, being labeled across the top of the page, and the design is appealing to they eye. One of my favorite categories is “Debt“, which is aptly named, and features a collection of poems and short works about debt, something a college student can definitely relate to. One of my favorite poems about debt was written by Brian Laidlaw named “Ante Matter”:

Pretty good work if you can get it, making paradises in abandoned banks
Stony exterior, marble interior,
The registers like a failed carillon (toneless) striking all hours at all hours.
Every noon the ghost attendants ghost-walk up to the kiosk,
Throw down nobody’s money
(The two days you are proud of a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it)
Trading in the heart for the farm, buying the farm,
Selling the bucket to kick
The can, selling the farm when you kick the bucket.
It doesn’t make sense to dream of a time after the apocalypse because
That’s a time of permanent wakefulness anyway: high-level emissions,
Grainy disturbances. Until then
Remember the language of contracts: you can bank on love
& When that bank collapses, your worries are the least of your worries.

Another category that sparked my interest was “Librotraficante“, a collection of works by people associated with the Librotraficante movement, which is a group dedicated to smuggling banned books to certain high schools in Arizona and Texas who have omitted Latino studies from their curriculum. They hand out the contraband literature, set up “underground libraries”, and organize press conferences in an attempt to stand up for the banned literature. The group is what I’d like to refer to as “literary martyrs”.

The journal definitely takes advantage of the online medium, by posting sound clips of many of the authors reading their work. They also feature many videos in the journal, like on the main page of the category “Ocean” which contains videos of scuba diving as well as a vivid photo galley. The “Video_Dumbo” section is devoted solely to visual pieces of art. My favorite piece, named “Mixed Signals” by Lee Arnold, was abstract to say the least, trying to emulate synesthesia with a flash of different bright colorshttp://www.drunkenboat.com/db18/lee-arnold.

At the moment, The Drunken Boat is not accepting general submissions, however they editors are looking for humorous short stories, essay, poems, and audiovisual performances, with a maximum length of 750 words, to feature in their Spring 2014 edition. The Drunken Boat publishes a great medley of different creative works, both literary, audio, and visual, and I would definitely like to submit my work to them because of their incorporation of variety into their journal.

Lord Byron, the 19th century Charlie Harper

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I’m a loyal Byronite

Lords of the Drinks

Lord Byron (1788-1824) was a poet from England, who later in his life became a national hero in Greece because of his leading role in the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. But most of his fame he probably achieved with his extravagant lifestyle. George Gordon Byron had numerous love affairs and punished his liver severely on a daily basis. Basically he was like Charlie Sheen from the TV-show Two and a Half Men in the early 19th century.

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