Musings: The Lost Art of Writing

Marian Daniells

I used to identify as a writer. I left journalism because it didn’t inspire me, and—let’s be honest—because I couldn’t support myself. Plus, a reporter, I thought, is a sad devolution of a writer. Reporters piece together others’ words, throw in a few transitions.

Ask my former co-worker and friend (currently an editor at a New York daily) if she’s a writer, and she’ll laugh. She tags articles for search engine optimization. She edits other people’s listicles. She says the publication hasn’t done original reporting in years. The writing ecosystem has changed.

When I studied writing, I thought it meant diving headfirst into my thoughts, my musings, my half-baked ideologies, me. I thought writing was a life-long career in self-discovery. I wanted to shrink the definition differentiation between prose and poetry. That, to me, was writing.

I probably definitely haven’t done that in a long while. Somewhere along the line, I’ve forgotten to see the world in synonyms. I think and write now in 140-character tweets, in listicles, in 400-word blog posts, in problem-solution-vision format. The lost art of flow, of unconscious writing has all but disappeared.

I’m either blessed or cursed. Since we didn’t have air conditioning growing up, my mother took us to the library often. My father, too, believed firmly in the importance of reading—I remember many Friday nights when the entertainment for we three kids was to pick out a book at the bookstore. When my mother became an English teacher, all bets were off. Pause words—“um,” “I mean,” and the ever-present, Valley girl “like”—were not tolerated in our house. Think, then speak.

I treasured summers for reading. My best friend and I had reading sleepovers. I was downright vain about my book collection. It was an expensive passion. Like I said, blessing or curse.

But words—written, read, spoken—have always been my preferred, most valuable currency.

Is it still? When I read content now, it’s been pre-chewed for mass readership consumption. There’s no thought involved in reading, or even still in writing. Articles come published with the important sentences bolded. Books on Kindle come with others’ most popular highlights. And I may be fueling the fire. If others are trained to consume as such, should I not cater to their style?

When did prose become vintage?