Letting Go of Conventional Communication

Letting Go of Conventional Communication

Anna Leclere

“‘Sometimes there comes to me a feeling that I should not betray the story of my life’, he writes.  On the other hand, ‘No pleasure has any meaning for me without communication.'”

Communication is one of the most important skills to have in our society.  Having the ability to articulate complex thought is equated with intelligence.  For some, conversation is a beautiful form of communication.  I, myself, would prefer to write than to speak.  For example, whenever a teacher gives the option of writing a ten page paper versus a ten minute presentation, I will take the paper every time.  I don’t mean to say that all people are divided into two groups–those who talk and those who write.  On the contrary, I would like to begin this ‘essay on the essay’ by claiming a complete lack of argument.  I will not be arguing or proving anything in this writing.  I am merely exploring the differences between speech and prose, informal and formal voice.

Why is there such a difference in the way we perceive speech and prose?  While both are just compositions of words designed to communicate an idea, they are very different, both in the way they are created and the way they are received.  I think that speaking can be intimidating.  However I also think it can provide a more authentic persona, while, in writing, you have to compose your own voice.  This kind of calculated word choice and organization can come across as too constructed, especially in a more informal essay.  There is something more genuine about speech.  When we talk, audience reception is immediate.   However, writing allows time and space to think, edit, and revise word choice.  Finally completing a body of writing that says exactly what you are trying to convey is one of the most satisfying feelings.  Knowing that you have successfully and eloquently communicated a complete idea is everything you could hope for in writing.  I do not think this level of preciseness is attainable through strictly verbal communication.

The distinction between speech and prose is very much reflected in the difference between formal and informal essaying.  Formal writing tends to suppress the individual voice, while informal writing embraces it.  The two are on opposite ends of a spectrum of voice.  Formal essays tend to be based on fact, research, theory, and a specific argument, while informal writing tends to be more arbitrary content-wise.  Phillip Lopate discusses the content of the personal essay in his essay What Happened to the Personal Essay? in the anthology, Essays on the Essayist.  He says, “Informal, familiar essays tend to seize on the parade of minutiae of daily life: vanities, fashions, oddballs, seasonal rituals, love, and disappointment, the pleasures of solitude, reading, going to plays, walking in the street”.  Informal essaying is, in some ways, very similar to Stream of Consciousness writing.  It is a steady flow of thoughts, unshaped by the rules and formats that come along with more formal writing.

I think that there are valuable techniques in both forms of essaying.  Informal writing really makes the writer think about personal voice.  Which is a very important thing to have in mind as a writer.  However, throughout my education, it was very rare that we were encouraged to express ourselves through our writing.  In the same essay, What Happened to the Personal Essay?, Lopate says, “Essays are usually taught all wrong, they are harnessed to rhetoric and composition, in a two-birds-with-one-stone approach designed to sharpen freshman student’s skills at argumentation.  While it is true that historically the essay is related to rhetoric, it in fact seeks to persuade more by the delights of literary style than anything else”.  It is very true that we are not taught to write with our own voice.  We were taught to remove ourselves from our writing–that the use of “I” would never be taken seriously, that any personal inflection would discredit the point we were trying to make.  We were taught to argue a specific point and to support that point with research.  There was no room for unbiased opinion or individual voice.

The essay itself is a form of writing which can easily move between the formal and the informal.  An essay can be factual, or opinionated, or both.  Many informal essays are merely long rants about literally anything, from a particularly nice walk in the woods, to social justice issues.  An essay is thought to paper.  Robert Atwan’s definition of an essay from his writing in Essayists on the Essay, Notes Toward the Definition of the Essay, says, “The essay, whether long or short, narrative, expository, or polemical, is a literary genre that enacts the processes and possibilities of thought and self-disclosure in a distinctive prose style”.  In all honesty, I am intimidated by the familiar essay.  I have never really written this way before.  It is difficult to shape your own voice in order to come across a certain way on the page.  I hope this course helps me to be able to move more fluidly between the formal and the informal.  I want to practice and get better at speaking with my own, unique voice, while not abandoning all that I have learned from writing formal essays.



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