Why “Writing Matters”?

By Jo Cohen

What is the most important thing you have ever written? Was it a card, a letter, an email, an essay?

No one remembers everything they have written, but you remember what matters to you. They are the pieces that made you understand something different about yourself or the world around you, the documents that shaped you for better or for worse; the things that you wrote as an offering to the collective task of human understanding, past, present and future.

Writing matters because no matter how rarely we do it, it has the power to shape our identity and the way we relate to each other. Even at a time when images, films and digital communications threaten to overwhelm us, what we write remains one of the most important ways we have to explain and define ourselves, communicate our most cherished thoughts and our hardest won conclusions to the world around us. From scraps of paper to perfectly formatted essays, what we write matters and it helps to make us who we are.

And so we work at it. Not all the time and not always successfully. But if we care about how we are heard and what we can say, then you do. Sometimes it is sheer joy and other times it is frustrating misery. Sometimes you look back over a day’s work with pride, other days with a sense of loss, that the time you put in doesn’t reflect the work you got out. Picking up a piece you wrote a year ago can be full of pleasure (I wrote that? It makes perfect sense/it sounds beautiful!) But it can also be embarrassed horror (why does it sound so awful/pretentious/clumsy?) Every writer who hopes to be better has all of these moments and more. When writing matters to you it takes your time, your energy and your emotion. But as a process it gives back. You can feel pride, satisfaction and relief; you can know that you have left something behind of your own that will stand.

If writing matters to you, in any way, this blog is for you. The QMUL School of History’s Writing Matters blog is a conversation about the ways we write and why we do it. Of course, as historians we are interested in how the practice of writing and the nature of history intersect. But that won’t be all we talk about.

In the coming week you can learn more about what we have planned. But our starting point is this: because we believe in writing as a personal process, we are not going to argue that there is any one way to be a writer. Rather, we want this blog to be a forum for you to share your experiences of writing: how have you succeeded and where have you struggled? What makes it worth writing and when do you want to give up? What have you accomplished as a writer so far and what do you think you might do with your abilities in the future? It can be about writing history or not. In fact, whether it is about the nuts and bolts of crafting prose or poetry or if you just want to talk about why writing matters to you, then add your thoughts (in writing) here.

And for the record, the most important things I have ever written (so far):

  1. A poem (sonnet in fact – my first and last) about my ex-best friend. I was 16.
  2. My UCAS personal statement (I said I was an “ardent dramatist” and it still makes me cringe to think about it).
  3. An unsent letter that helped me make up my mind.
  4. My first published article.
  5. A father’s day card on behalf of my daughter.

What are yours? Share them below.

4 thoughts on “Why “Writing Matters”?

  1. Please confirm that Jo will be publishing her sonnet on this blog?

    Also, it says there is already a comment on this post but when I click the link to read it I’m taken through to this page to write my own comment. Is this a technical problem? (or my own incompetence)

    This blog is a great idea – I’m sure our students will benefit, and I look forward to reading more posts.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, Dan. We’re excited about it too! I can neither confirm nor deny speculation about the content of future posts at this time, sonnets or otherwise – you’ll just have to keep visiting.

      On your technical question: one of the “comments” is actually a “pingback” from another blog post. Pingbacks track links to posts from other sources (e.g. other blogs) allowing readers to find other responses beyond the comments section. In this case the post that’s linked to this one is mine, on this blog itself, so the pingback’s usefulness is debatable.

  2. P.S. Apologies, I should also have got into the spirit of the blog by posting an answer to Jo’s question: “What is the most important thing you have ever written?”

    Off the top of my head, one thing that comes to mind is the proposal for my first book that I wrote to show to publishers. I’d focused all my attention on finishing my PhD, and hadn’t really thought about what to do with it once it was done. Then, a couple of months after finishing, I was chatting to a guy in a pub (we were in the pub because we were at a conference together – it wasn’t complete chance) who offered to set me up a meeting with the history acquisitions editor for University of Virginia Press at another conference we were both going to. Great – only the conference was the following week! So I spent the next few days frantically writing and rewriting this proposal, only 1000 words or so in length, on which the editor would judge whether he wanted to publish a 100,000 word book based on the PhD I just spent three and a half years writing. Long story short, the editor liked the proposal, and my book is out next year (Era of Experimentation: American Political Practices in the Early Republic – order early to avoid disappointment!). So for me that’s definitely one of the most important things I’ve written.

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