Writing is a sort of moving target. It moves in ways that are chosen by professors and assignment sheets and styles. Writing is daunting and more than often challenging to even an experienced writer. As a graduate student, I still struggle with writing those terrifying essays known by even scarier monikers: “critical essay,” “research essay,” and so on. Writing with a bent on the analytical and the logical is difficult. Most students know this, sure, but perhaps more threatening than those papers which will rest cozily among other academic pieces are creative pieces. Writing is hard, but creative writing is harder.
The skills useful in academic writing can be learned. They can be polished like stones smoothed shiny. Skills like researching, organizing information, synthesizing and summarizing texts and reforming them to fit an essay can be acquired after diligent practice. These skills cannot be mastered instantly like the making of a perfect cup of ramen. However, like instant ramen, academic writing does follow a series of steps. You begin with an idea, add well thought out research and textual analysis, cover with an easily understandable organizational structure and clear grammar, cook with as many drafts and re-drafts as it takes to make your essay palatable to your audience, and serve.
If academic writing is the ramen of the writing world, then creative writing is like Japanese cuisine—the recipe is rarely followed without adaptation. Of course, the skills used in creating a research essay can be used in a work of fiction or poetry. In fact, drafting, grammatical clarity, and some semblance of organization are all needed in an academic piece as much as in a creative piece. But creative writing requires a breaking of the rules of a recipe. Like a chef using exotic seasoning, it’s up to the creative writer to experiment with different styles and forms of expression.
So where does that leave the student? Some students find even making instant ramen difficult (as dorm fire alarms can attest to), so how can they ever hope to follow those recipes which writing is built on? The answer is simple. Like any skill, writing (and cooking) requires practice. It requires reading, reading, reading, as well as trying new things. Like testing recipes, mastering writing (any writing) requires false starts, disastrous results, and practice, practice, practice.
And how do you test those finished recipes? Taste testers, of course! And if you find that your friends and family are unwilling to savor your new and maybe less than tasty writing (or they don’t have much advice for ways to improve your writing), there are other options. At the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall) you can find friendly restaurant critics willing to sample your cuisine—whether creative or academic—and offer unbiased opinions as to how to improve the taste of your writing.