This is the fourth in a series of articles that I wrote for a Feature Writing class at Kennesaw State University in the Fall 2002 semester. The link where the article was originally published can be found at the bottom of this entry. Feel free to comment. (Also keep in mind that any links at this point may or may not be accurate.)

The bittersweet agony of writing

By Brekke Ferguson

Staring at this blank canvas, my heart pounds in fear. I know that this article must be written; yet, neither the motivation nor the creativity is there. So, this is where I begin to type, letting words flow onto the computer screen. It’s insanity, most of what is written, but I can never tell where a story will come from.

Sure, I have an outline, but that is only the basic idea of where I want to go, not so much what I want to say and how I want to say it. I am now guessing readers everywhere are wondering what this article is about.

Well, it’s about writing, of course.

According to, writing is “the act or process of one who writes as: the act or art of forming visible letters or characters.”

The writing process. There are thousands of books on writing and the writing process. Want to know how to write a research paper? Go to an online library catalog and type in “research paper” in a keyword search. (For an idea of the number of results, my school library’s search engine came up with 10,000+ results.) Want to know how to write a letter? A memo? A business proposal? All of these subjects have many books published on them, and that doesn’t count articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers.

All of this begs the question: Why is writing so seemingly important? Writing is a form of communication. It can convey thoughts, ideas, and intent. Writing as a tool tackles multiple fields and multiple forms. Each form has its own set of rules.

Academic writing is a form of writing that most high school, and all college students are familiar with: In college, we are drilled in Composition 101. Then we journey to “Comp 102,” hoping we have retained some of what we learned before. The basic idea is that there is one standard form of writing for academia, and that is what most classes will require. Unfortunately, these professors often fail to mention that there are multiple bibliographical forms and sometimes classes will require knowledge of more than one (Read: There is more out there than MLA – the Modern Language Association’s guide for writers of research papers.)

On the opposite end of the genre is personal writing. This type of writing takes many forms in itself. It can be words scribbled on lined paper, on napkins, in a journal – basically, any writing surface becomes the canvas for the writer’s thoughts. This personal writing can also have many motivations behind it. It also involves different thoughts on being a writer.

When I was thinking about this article, I starting asking some of my friends about their ideas on writing, and I got some interesting responses. I asked several different questions, and there were two that, to me, revealed themselves as most important.

The first was “Do you call yourself a writer when you talk about your writing to other people?” and the second was “What is your motivation to write?” Both questions prompted interesting and sometimes surprising responses.

The answers to the first question were a bit surprising to me, because I often fail to call myself a writer even though I have been published and even though I am almost constantly writing something.

Amanda Hurst said, “Yes, but usually I call myself a poet, since I write more poetry than anything else.” Another friend, Tom Brazeau said, “Yes, although I very seldom bring up my writing in conversation with people who don’t know me on a personal level. Guess I’m just kind of shy about it.” As a side note, he added, “[I] will probably be less so once I’m published.”

This question also came up in one of my classes, and most people said that they did not consider themselves to be writers, even though, like me, they were writing all the time.

Another form of personal writing is applying writing as catharsis. Merriam-Webster online gives this definition of catharsis: “a: purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art; b: a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.” Writing is an art, and emotions definitely are purged in personal writing.

What brings about this need for emotional purging? Traumatic events often cause very strong emotions, and sometimes writing them down can help. Sometimes a single strong emotion, such as anger, can prompt someone to write down what they feel. This idea of writing what one feels, however, is not just my own personal, random idea; it has some basis in fact.

I remember a therapist once suggesting I write a letter to myself, and to tell myself I was so angry about a particular thing. I did write the letter, and I gained a sense of clarity. I am apparently not the only person to experience something like this. I’ve had multiple friends say, “My counselor said to write this,” or “My kids’ counselor told them to write that.”

This type of cathartic writing also is a prevalent suggestion in self-help books such as The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass or Susan Zimmerman’sWriting to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss Through Writing. They offer suggestions for writing, giving different types of writing and different topics to help a person deal with a particular issue he or she is trying to deal with.

What motivates people to write? Staring at the blank page of a word processor has rarely given me the idea of what I want to write. The words have to come from somewhere, and I suppose that is my brain. Although I have often wondered if my fingers were doing the thinking on some of the things I have written!

The concept of motivation was the other question I asked friends to address, and I believe the most profound answer was the one Tom Brazeau gave, “I’ve got too many ideas and concepts rattling around in my head not to put them down, for better or worse. I like to make people think and take a look at the world from a different perspective. Hopefully, I succeed. What it really comes down to, though, is that I just enjoy writing. While I dream of getting published and seeing my work in bookstores, my writing is truly done for me.”

That, I think is what personal writing is all about. The idea that there are so many ideas in one’s head that they just have to be gotten out, and that it does not matter where your work ends up, so long as it written for oneself.

Now, if only I could remember that on those long nights I spend staring at a computer screen begging a paper to pop out of my sleep-deprived mind.


Copyright © 2002 by Brekke Ferguson. All rights reserved.