Prof. Jessica Penner | D304 | Spring 2022

Allen Shen, Final Reflection

At the beginning of the semester, I was confident in my academic and technical writing abilities, but not in my creative writing. At the end of this semester, I feel as if my initial opinion is mostly reaffirmed. My technical writing ability seemed to be above the level of most of my peers and what was expected of me in this class. At the same time, my lack of experience in creative writing had me struggling with macro-level issues such as intent and purpose. 

One of the largest differences between creative writing and academic writing is purpose. Academic writing is meant to inform, educate, and explain, while creative writing is meant to narrate and entertain. At the beginning of the semester, I had initially struggled to figure out what I should be writing about. My first memoir drew a critique that went something along the lines of  “this memoir sounds like a review from Amazon.” Indeed, my first memoir, about a specific computer mouse, was more of an explanation than it was a story. I eventually came to the realization that memoirs, and creative writing in general, needed to be stories, either a memorable one or an entertaining one. Simply describing an object that I felt was significant wasn’t sufficient; anyone could look up what a specific computer mouse was like. However, no one else can explain why said mouse is relevant to me specifically. My personal experiences and ideas provide a niche within the pseudo-infinitely sized space of ideas and stories that humankind can conjure, a niche that I have the exclusive ability to write about and narrate with. 

This niche extends to and exists within everyone. Everyone has their own experiences and ideas. Of course, at an intellectual level I knew this beforehand. Of course every other person that exists on this planet is different and has lived differently than I have. Even then I was pleasantly surprised by how unique everyone else’s writing felt. I actually enjoyed everyone else’s stories, whether it was about mental issues with toxic work environments, complicated daughter-father relationships, pranking people with smart watches, or even some obsessive woman whose life purpose was to make cubes. While these stories were obviously much lower quality than the published novels I have read previously, they were still interesting in their uniqueness. 

I think what I had yet to understand, even if I already acknowledged it intellectually, was the sheer extent of variation between people. I think the variety of stories that I was able to read in this class was only possible given the lack of economic filters. Whenever I would read books, short stories, or whatever media exists to be consumed, the stories that I read were ones that were picked out by publishing companies that only care to generate profit. All the unique stories that weren’t “interesting” enough to generate enough sales fail to make it to publications. Stories written by college students compelled by their desire to not fail a college class don’t have this same economic filter, so there is a larger variety in the stories told. As such, even though I used to be an avid reader and frequently consume modern media, the variety of stories that I was able to read blindsided me somewhat. 

In the end, reading other people’s stories taught me two things about myself. One is that my experiences are fairly narrow compared to others, which should have been obvious now that I think about it. The other is my lack of creativity. When combined, those two weaknesses make it difficult to generate interesting stories, so while my writings may be technically superior to my classmates, they are overall less interesting and thus less entertaining because I use the most boring story plots. Even when told to write creatively with near unlimited freedom, the only subjects that I felt comfortable writing were about academics and politics. 

The second issue I ran into, and somewhat related to the first, is motivation. Between writing memoirs, short stories and poetry, I felt a lack of purpose. I didn’t know why I was writing the aforementioned memoirs, short stories, and poems aside from the fact that my class required it. There were a few moments where this had me struggling to write, as I struggled to force myself to spend even a small amount of time doing something that I felt was just a waste of time. Ironically, my solution to this problem was writing to complain about the course. My second short story was mainly inspired by my frustration that this course was not teaching me what I had expected to learn, nor did I feel it was educating me in any meaningful or practical way. While I did not feel the desire to stir up any drama, this solution not only spurred me into writing, but it helped me understand, beyond a meager intellectual level, that writers write because they want to share their ideas. When I came up with the idea to base a short story about my dislike of a course, my motivation and willingness to write completely flipped, and I was able to finish the short story easily. The next realization afterwards was that other writers likely undergo the same experience, where their motivation to write stories partially comes from the desire to share their ideas. 

Unfortunately, I’m unsure how I am going to be able to utilize these lessons in the future. Learning to narrate instead of explain, to find purpose before writing, and realizing my lack of creativity and overall narrowness of experiences are nice and all, but are only really helpful within the context of creative writing, and I have no intention of writing creatively in the future. In academic writing, which I will have to do, I have to explain rather than narrate, and I already find purpose in learning science or whatever I need to learn. I also don’t need to be creative to write a lab report, nor do I need to have a wide breadth of experiences to learn calculus. To be frank, the only reason this is being mentioned is because the prompt that this reflection is meant to address requires me to. On the off chance that I am struck by lightning and decide to become an author because of it, maybe I can utilize and build off of what I learned here. Otherwise, I lack the ability to see how any of what I outlined above provide any utility to me in the future. 

1 Comment

  1. Austin Vegas

    I enjoyed that Allen doesn’t have a filter and speaks his inner thoughts throughout this reflection with ease. This allows anyone reading to know where he coming from with his thoughts and feelings throughout the course. The one thing that changed throughout the semester for him seemed to be the motivation to try and write the pieces required for this course to pass. One thing that seemed to have changed is that Allen is more willing to review others work despite the lack of technical writing skills they may possess. This is due to the imagination that varies from person to person throughout the class. Most of the skills in this course wouldn’t apply to Allen due to the lack of need to in his major and future courses which I am in a similar boat in. One thing to improve on for this piece is summarizing his feelings and thoughts if he wants to compress his reflection down to less words.

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