W is for Writing



I like writing. Hence my major. Hence this column. Hence the weird satisfaction I feel when I write an essay and I actually enjoy myself.

My liking writing is irrelevant to my talent. I can skewer a few sentences together, order them in a way that makes a paragraph, mould the paragraphs to my liking and end up with something that resembles a finished product.

Does that make me good at it? Well, Durham thought I’d be alright when they gave me an offer. The columns editor for this online newspaper obviously thought that I was alright – otherwise this article wouldn’t exist. It’d probably be in a remote corner of Tumblr, not writing for the Bubble.

Anyone can write. But this doesn’t mean that everyone can. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, really. It’s easy to write, but it’s difficult to write well. And if you give a bit of thought to what actually constitutes writing, it renders the process less and less simple.

In The Writing Systems of the World, German linguist Florian Coulmas says that “As the most visible items of a language, scripts and orthographies are ‘emotionally loaded’…Rather than being mere instruments of a practical nature, they are symbolic systems of great social significance which may have a profound effect on the social structure of a speech community”. So, the way you express yourself depends on your social background. For instance, in Korea and Japan people use honorifics in certain circumstances, which is something that cannot be translated without loss of meaning or context. The way we choose to write out characters are different as well – the consonants and vowels cannot constitute a word by themselves, like “a” in English, for example.

I’d say learning to write is the most difficult part of learning a new language. You have to think about grammar, vocabulary, and countless other things. I’ve learned various different languages in my relatively short life, but writing and speaking have always been weaknesses. However, with speaking you’re allowed a little leeway. If you’re having a conversation in a language you’re not too familiar with, you can always rely on body language. But with writing I think we can all agree that you can’t wildly gesticulate to convey your meaning.

But back to what I started with: the act of writing. What does it mean? To what extent can you casually throw out the phrase “I can write” and still feel like you are entitled to say it? Can scribbling down various notes and phrases and pretty thoughts constitute a written work, something you can claim to be a piece of writing?

Writing is a deceivingly easy mode of expression, but I’d like to think that all of us are writers and that everything that we write is of some importance. After all, often it’s the context that matters more than the content: I’m sure that there are manuscripts about the most mundane of things that have braved the tolls of time. When historians read things we’ve written, although it’d be nice if they manage to find something they deemed good, even if they discover something like the grocery list of a penniless student, at least that will prove we existed. In fact, maybe that’s what writing enables us to do – prove that we existed. Although it seems like a romantic idea, it doesn’t make it any less true.

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