Three weeks ago, I sent a colleague a sample of an unreleased writing piece, with the express intention of critical analysis to be given. He eagerly agreed to save himself from a lull of concentration towards work and immediately went to work on it, insisting I meet him at the local coffee spot to discuss and review when I arrive. With nothing planned that afternoon, I was obliged to rendezvous with the architecturally-minded fellow.
The following hour, we were drinking freshly-brewed espresso coffee in the late afternoon sun in the peak-hour Perth CBD. In his hand was a folded-in-half printed copy of the document I sent to him. I could see the numerous thick sharpie pen marks from where we sat, and I knew that he did not interpret the term ‘analysis’ lightly – although, it did not surprise me in the slightest.
After casual conversation and the usual pleasantry exchanges, he handed over the pieces of paper. With trepidation indifferent to the days of high school report cards, I unfolded the paper and began to scan what was an analysis that worried me. As I read through the first few sentences, he removed a cigarette from his packet and unceremoniously puffed the sickly fumes – a practice that he was all too familiar with – and observed the silent reading.
As I turned to the last page, the horror of bluntly-written words screamed out to my eyes. The bitter words were hard to swallow. I finished reading and looked at him, halfway through his second cigarette by this point, the end burning fiercely like a warning beacon to the pending conversation. He began to speak – the following I repeat with a measure of paraphrasing but for the most part, verbatim:
“You’re continuously sinking back to this ‘bright-eyed intern’ who knows nothing. The first time, yes, it’s interesting to read. But after the second time and beyond, it begins to get tiresome at a fast rate. Give yourself some more credit to the work that you do.”
It’s true. I have been writing with the element of modesty, this self-effacement quality being one of the idiosyncrasies that I have identified within myself long ago. It has been so second nature to my personality, as such, that I have been subconsciously exhibiting it within my writing. He continued:
“You've mentioned in this paragraph that you’re still an inexperienced student of architecture that knows little, yet you've given a profound analysis of the definition of architecture later on in your writing. That’s something that architects spend years and years deliberating, yet you've taken it upon yourself despite your stated shortcomings to attempt to define architecture in a simple analogy of the ‘emotion of space’. It’s entirely contradictory of what you've previously written about yourself, and that’s not the only example of inconsistency.”
By this time, he was on his third cigarette. The remainder of my coffee has gone lukewarm, much like the confidence I had prior to our discussion. I couldn't formulate the responses to attempt to rebut his arguments, because he identified the qualities of my personality and state of mind that were all too apparent in my writing style.
At the bottom, he left a numerical value assigned to reflect his overall response to my writing piece. 7.5 out of 10, a number that I questioned based on the feedback given during our discussion. He responded with the concession that he was perhaps too harsh in his analysis, but reinforced that he needed to be if I was looking to submit it to a magazine to be published.
“In a magazine? No, it’s for my website.”
A sense of embarrassment overcame his facial expression, followed by a sincere apology for the last twenty minutes that he had made me endure in his critical company. This immediate back pedal confused me, as the acknowledgement of the writing for web publication only made me assume that perhaps a different outcome would have arose than the one unfolded at the present time.
At this point, I have to make the reassurance that I was not morose, disappointed or disheartened by the feedback given to me. How could I be? While it was more than I expected in such an insignificant time frame, it was somewhat anticipated that it was to be dissected at such a level that I would hardly expect from many others. The entire experience was akin to presenting to a studio coordinator – in which, you’re not attacked personally, but are challenged on your designs and concept in the attempt to instigate a more thoroughly-strengthened argument through the architectural design process. My personal experience in this instance did not detract my perception of my colleague – it only strengthened the respect and faith I have in his knowledge and advice.
The conversation flowed on to the writing process for journal article publication. As he has written a few articles for nationally-released magazines, he shared with me the main concept behind the writing style for these particular submissions.
“They don’t want your personal style in submissions. They want a complete publication that reads the same way throughout, so it appears to be written by the one author. Removing all idiosyncratic styles of your writing technique is the first move an editor will make on your submission. They will butcher it and slaughter the emotive sense from your perspective and insert the general writing objectives of the publication in question.”
While this was not the exact quote verbatim, this is what I took away from our conversation. This is what he realised after receiving negative feedback for the first few submissions he sent to publishers. It is something that he wished he knew sooner and something he urged me to consider if I was to foray into the side of article submission.
It’s been three weeks, and that general concept has been on the precipice of my mind between the shores of wanting to forget it all, and thinking of nothing else. I would be lying to myself if I stated that this event did not affect my writing entries since that conversation; evident in Interlude I and Part VIII, where writer’s block was attributed to the latter and an image-only narrative was supplied.
I have finally come to a conclusion after three weeks of mulling that day over and over again in my mind during sleepless nights, one that I can say with a slight air of confidence.
While I agree with the words of my colleague, I choose to reject the omission of my personal writing style in the context of my website writing publications. There may be a time in the future where I may find myself in the situation of submitting articles for publication, but I will choose to do so without sacrificing the self-recognition of the idiosyncratic writing style that I have so chosen to adopt. In the words of Lebbeus Woods:
“I am at war […] with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms […] that would chain me with my own falseness [and] my pitiful fears.”
It is a war that I do not fully understand, but one that I choose to wilfully defy in the pitiful fear of losing my own self-worth in this particular culture where your own identity is the defining factor in all that matters.
Three weeks ago, I had no firm place to call my own. Tomorrow, I begin the construction of myself.
- Cale Black