Despite all of the writing classes I have taken, I don’t really consider myself particularly adept at writing compelling prose. In fact, I think my writing skills have deteriorated over the years. When I look back at my work from high school and even pre-high school years, I am often surprised by it’s quality and then think to myself, “Did I really write that?”
Maybe one contributing factor is that I decided to pursue a scientific discipline. In science writing, we are constantly extolled of the virtues of direct and concise writing, and from this I think my writing has become quite dry and literal — not at all enjoyable to read, but very clear. There are certainly advantages to this style, but I think it’s valuable to explore different avenues of creative expression, including narrative prose and even screenwriting.
As I’ve been thinking this through in detail, I realized that this shift is not uncommon, and is especially evident when observing people’s speech. Eventually as we mature, we develop a certain linguistic style. As our mastery of language comes more easily, we develop heuristics that we can rely on when we want to convey as specific message. We begin stringing together these building blocks rather than synthesizing new ways of communication entirely from scratch. The end result is that we keep using similar language and similar style.
Heuristic: a technique used to arrive at a practical solution without directly solving the problem itself
That over reliance on these heuristics is, I think, a major contributing factor to the reduction in creativity that I struggle with.
Looking back at my old writing, what sticks out the most is the vocabulary. In middle school, we’re still learning how to express ourselves through writing. We don’t yet have a grasp on the intricacies of life, and we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves. For that reason, we’re constantly experimenting with language and how we use words to express ideas — often incorrectly in my case 🙂 Yet experimentation is what fosters creativity. Maybe we no longer experiment for fear that we may be wrong or appear foolish.
There’s nothing wrong with having a consistent style. But for me, being cognizant of the heuristics that I rely on pushes me to experiment a bit more and if in that process I can be more interesting, then I don’t mind being foolish! At the end of the day, I hope that this allows to think introspectively about our writing. I think that when we examine our own linguistic biases, we tend to better understand the limitations of writing and communication.