Vocal Writing or “How My Voice Told a Professor to Fuck Off”

“…Some callin’ me a sinner, some callin’ me a winner…” – Janelle Monae, “Tightrope”

This… this is a “clever way of venting and coming out superior” post about writing/being an English Major.  Buckle up.  If it all works out, this is basically my version of the third act of Cabin in the Woods.


So with all that said, let’s get this party started.

I don’t pretend to have a photographic memory… but there are a few instances where I can remember text perfectly as it appeared (it’s particularly good for some really sweet text messages I’ve received in my life).  This is not a story about a sweet text message.  Instead, this is a note written to me by one of my professors from the fall semester on one of my favorite papers I’ve ever written.

“I find your writing off putting because of your overbearing attempt at seeming more intelligent than you really are coupled with how you embrace a very quirky/odd voice with tendencies to be dismissive toward complex statements and ideas by stating them in the simplest possible form and then moving on to focus on some other menial concept or awkward nuance of the text.”

Now… I will save the best part of that quote for a bit later because it makes everything into a compliment (if you really know me)… That said though… here’s my response:

I’ll admit that I have a casual style that might bend some of the rules of Strunk and White from time to time but never in such a way as to make my papers “offensive” or “unworthy” of being submitted in a college class (or published somewhere).  That said, I write like I blog: conversational with a dash of my quirky personality/pacing/phrasing.  Anyway, so yes, I had written yet ANOTHER paper on Alien (go figure… me… writing about Alien... NEVARRRRRR) and that was the response.  It can be assumed that my “off-putting paper” received a C- and no added respect from said professor.

It was then voted best in the class by my peers and the two graduate student TA/Graders who recommended it be put up for a reading.  Yes, I had a SHIT.  EATING.  GRIN.  on my face when Professor-man was forced to tally the “votes” (almost unanimous… I voted for one that was a thing of beauty [and still should have won…maybe…] and I think two or three other people voted for it too) after having handed down that blisteringly douchey comment and grade.  Well… shit eating grin/HULKING OUT… so essentially, this:

I love everything about this woman. She is fantastic.

Now naturally, I understand that too much of a conversational style is a tad inappropriate for academia… to quote the Operative in Serenity, “I am not a moron.”  I also know the importance of maintaining an individuality and personal identity in one’s writing.  Your voice is what makes your stuff readable.  If I write something that is solely lodged in the elements of style and devoid of any personality/flair… well… I’d have something similar to some of Professor-man’s writings.  So at the end of the day, I’d rather present my informative works as both readable AND enjoyable.  Clearly, Professor-man and I disagreed.  No poor grade is going to make me completely overhaul my entire style (that said… I did wind up doing two drafts of each successive paper: a normal one and a “bland” one.  I turned in the bland ones but never got above a B on them… go figure, you argue with a professor or disagree with their points of objective interpretation and they screw you… because, ya know, COLEDG IZ FARE!).

Now after all that rant – oh fuck!  I totally forgot the BEST part of that story… the last lines of his bitchy, red-penned, vitriol inked note made EVERYTHING worth it (including the my overall grade from this asshole):

“It is inappropriate to turn in a paper that comes off as if it was written by Joss Whedon or Quinten Tarantino.  C-.  I expect better from you if you are to continue in this course.”

Ok first off, those two guys… yeah… they are a BILLION TIMES BETTER than me and if I can even come CLOSE to how those two men write and create, I’ll have a damned good life.  Second off, last I checked, they both make WAY more than some tenured English Professor.  Third-uh… hmm… Third-ly (because the third of anything has to have a little twist to it), if you are going to tear me a new one, don’t close it out with a compliment saying I am similar to people I admire, respect, and hold certain stylistic similarities with.  Let’s be real, I’d rather write Pulp Fiction or Cabin in the Woods than a “successful” (by Professor-man’s standards, at least) analysis of the “Masculine as the Feminine” in Alien… oh… and his name is spelled “Q-u-e-n-t-I-n,” not “e-n…” jackass.

If I could have said this to Professor-man that day... I totally would have... or rather, to his TA's to tell him.

So voice.  It is apparently a problem in academia to have “too much of one” and yet every single person and their mother will tell you to have more of it when you are in high school and your basic, gen-ed writing/speaking courses in college.  Then you get to the actual “meat and potatoes” courses and it’s all “agree with me and write without personality…” or some shit.  Well, from here on out, fuck academic writing.  I have (unfortunately) resolved myself to writing strictly rubric-style papers that directly answer the questions succinctly, have a larger vocabulary woven into them (rather than just plucking words from a thesaurus as that is PAINFULLY OBVIOUS), and not disagreeing with my professors.  I’ll let you know it worked when I graduate.

So anyway, you get interested in writing.  Say you write poetry or screenplays or just journal or whatever… write that shit as if you have an audience for it, even if you don’t!  There’s no reason not to.  There’s no reason not to aim to entertain while you inform.  How many of you readers/followers (and no looking back at older posts… you cheaters) have a solid image of what I look like and how I actually act and talk just from reading one of these posts?

Tall, geeky, and used to be a telemarketer. That's me for y'all...

Hell, a couple of you can probably tell that this post is being written while I’m listening to my AC/DC discography as I’m in my “mood of ass kicking.”  Call it a personal goal of whenever I write anything but I like to have all that information (what I look like, what I sound like, what mood I’m in, etc) be at least inferable (made up word… we’ll get to that in a moment) in everything I write.  To be frank (actually, I’m Justin but… yeah yeah it was an AWFUL joke… moving on), I write for YOU guys – my audience.  My journal is for myself and that’s very obvious when you’re reading that (note: most of you NEVER WILL read that) but everything else is meant to not only have an audience, but illicit a certain feeling or mood.

So how do you get to do that?  How does one get to develop his/her “voice” into as close to a “personality” as he/she possibly can?  Well, I’m still working on that.  It’s not something you ever really actually finish.  BUT I can tell you how to get on the right track.  First, know how to write CORRECTLY.  I’ll admit my comma usage is atrocious and I’m KING of all things that are not succinct (and I’m also a fan of ambiguous language/wording) but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to write.  If you’re really gung-ho about this, you have GOT to know the basics.  The basics means both at least a basic understanding of communication, the development of both spoken and written language AS A FORM OF COMMUNICATION, modern trends in said communication, and THE FUCKING RULES OF WRITING.  By that, I mean… well… this:

We all fucking hate this book. WE. ALL. FUCKING. HATE. THIS. BOOK.

Make sure you at least have a hand-hold on the beginnings and evolution of your craft as well as keeping yourself current and modern.  It helps beyond anything else you could possibly imagine as it serves as a foundation for everything that comes after it.

So now that you’re all experts on the evolution, structure, and usage of the English language, what next?  Well… what do you like?  Figure that out.  Then consume as much of it as you possibly can.  As much as I write (and I write at least 3000 words a day, regardless of whether or not I delete 2999 of those words tomorrow), I read even more.  Everything from blogs to books, scripts to song lyrics (and… ugh… I fucking hate poetry but I still read a Silverstine poem a day… and then some as several of my friends are awesome poets and I read their stuff… and the stuff that influences them) is consumed as part of my “morning routine.”  Hell, one of my favorite reads is… well… any Joss Whedon script I can get my spindly and eager fingers on.  Figure out what you like to read/consume and read/consume it… but ACTIVELY consume it.  If you like comedy, know the “Rules of Comedy” (yes there are rules to it) and what makes things funny.  If you like deep and serious thoughts/memorable quotes, look at the structure around said quotable material.  Never stop asking “Why?  Why do you like it?  What about it makes it stand out?  Ask yourself these things and make sure you know what you like… por ejemplo… Spiderman knows EXACTLY what he likes:

He knows what he likes...

Finally, how do you speak?  Not the whole “give a speech” shebang… how do you actually speak?  What’s your pacing, conversational vocabulary, stylistic molding of your sentences?  I can tell you that I speak quickly and energetically, I use a relatively verbose vocabulary but not so much that one cannot use context clues if he/she does not know a word, and I prefer things in threes.  That works for me.  I also have a propensity for making up a form of a word by tacking a suffix on the end rather than using a suitable synonym because it’s quirky and it’s how I think.  Know these things about yourself… and also know how the voice in your head talks.  That last one is a HUGE part of my voice (at least right now).  I think in run on sentences sometimes or in these wide sweeping tangential flows… so sometimes it’s just better to add that in as part of my written word.  I can also tell you that I speak and think differently as dictated to me by common sense and per each individual situation.  Nothing is worse than dropping “holy fucking amazeballs that rocks!” at a professional mixer with stodgy people.  Pay attention to your surroundings and yourself and ALWAYS have an intended audience.

So that all might get you a C- but at the end of the day… my peers respected the shit out of it and were actually able to get something out of my writing… and at the end of the day, I didn’t write that paper for Professor-man because fuck him… he’s a douche and has neither a sense of humor nor an actual personality.  I wrote that for everyone else in that class.

Just like I write this blog for you, my loyal troupe of followers.  You guys rock and if you were able to bear with me to the end of this very “instructional/autofellating” post, you rock even more.  And for that, I will leave you with a little (.gif)t…

See ya, Space Cowboy.

(PS… if you were wondering, this was over 2000 words and definitely counts toward my daily total).


OK really now… here’s a real present:


One response to “Vocal Writing or “How My Voice Told a Professor to Fuck Off”

  1. Pingback: Whaddya Got? | Marginal Chicken Scratch

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