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Writing to liberation

May 31, 2009

I am an academic, of course, and a journalist, so writing is pretty much my life. I teach it. I do it regularly. I even coach other academic writers. But I still struggle with it. Anyone who says writing is easy is a liar.
I’ve had to struggle with some decisions about my career lately, and some of it comes down to my commitment to writing my book, Married to the Media: A History of Women and News, which is under contract with Marquette Books.
I can continue to burn myself out over the next year doing all the stuff I normally do, or I can carve some time to write my book and pay the price in earned income. I’ve actually pretty much made the decision, having dropped several paying gigs and turning down a job because those things would be short-term rewards, while I’m hoping my book will bring the good stuff — the long-term but less tangible and predictable rewards.
My writing, I’m wagering, will get me somewhere — and not just to the end of a sentence, paragraph or chapter.
This idea of writing one’s way to something isn’t new. I’m sure there are lots of amazing quotes and writings about this from writers through history. But the idea is something bigger.
Good writing is about critical analysis — the embodiment of critical thinking, which is one of the things that makes it hard.
bell hooks has written that critical thinking saved her life; she likely would have had a very different future had it not been for the critical thinking she learned as a student.
Another of my favorite writers and intellectuals — Cornel West — expressed his critical thinking as a kid by beating up and robbing his schoolmates and refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance — a protest against the racial oppression and segregation sanctioned in every area of American life. He, too, learned to express his critical analysis in writing.
When I told a friend recently of my plan to make my writing a priority for the sake of my future, she responded that she had once done the same thing in order to leave a university she found oppressive and closed to intellectual exploration.
“I just couldn’t do it any longer,” she said. “So I made the time. I wrote my way out.”
She did. She wrote about women and media, and did the work and the research, and she landed somewhere much more suited to intellectual challenge and rigor in her chosen field.
hooks, West, and my friend and colleague make this bet seem like a sure thing, indeed.

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