If what South African writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, J.M. Coetzee, claims is true, that “[a]ll autobiography is storytelling, all writing is autobiography,” then there is much more at work or even at stake inside the work of writing and communication (Doubling the Point 391).
This does not apply exclusively to any particular mode or genre of writing (hence Coetzee’s “all writing is” claim), though the autobiographical element may appear absent from many works that adhere to specific rules, such as lab reports or legal documents. One way to approach writing as an activity of self-revelation or exploration is to see writing as an intimate communication of the self—and, more significantly, to see communication itself as a means of revelation and discovery.
When we speak, we choose specific words over others, we use certain tones and accentuate our speech with nonverbal speech or body language. When we write, we engage in similar choices, privileging words so as to approach a more adequate communication of thought, inserting punctuation marks to alter tones, and applying different aesthetic qualities—italicizing or underlining for example—to further transform tone or emphasize particular passages. These stylistic maneuvers are, in part, reflections of ourselves, for we choose them over others (words, punctuations where appropriate); and if we do not consciously choose, they appear nonetheless. Being that these maneuvers, both in writing and otherwise, originate from or are connected to our thoughts, our intimate selves, then it follows that they communicate something about us.
It may seem intimidating, then, to have another individual read your work, perhaps as intimidating as it might be to speak in front of a group of people, or even just a stranger. If your writing says something about you, what does it say, and what have you not heard? The thing is, in the Writing Center the consultant shares his or her own self insofar as he or she communicates—via body language, word-choice, and more—with the consultee, in a similar manner to how any writer’s work communicates something to its audience. This exchange between consultant and consultee is not one to fear as the Writing Center is a nonjudgemental environment that does not approach consultations with aggression—consultants give advice and collaborate with consultees, rather than edit and revise their work. Additionally, each consultant brings his or her self to the table, much like the writer does with the work, and just as each consultation is an opportunity to improve one’s writing, so is each consultation an opportunity to improve or alter one’s own skills as a consultant. And if communication is at least partly related to or involved with conceptions of the self, then each consultation is a means in which two different identities collaborate to not only understand more about each other, but to also understand more about themselves.
To be conscious of your writing as a means of communicating something about yourself, then, is empowering: you as the writer have some degree of choice as to what can possibly be gleaned from your voice. Moreover, you stand to learn something about yourself when you visit the Writing Center and work with another, just as the consultant stands to learn more about his or herself. There are many ways to improve our writing, and learning more about ourselves—especially inside nonjudgemental discourses taking place in the venue of collaboration that is the Writing Center.
Coetzee, J. M. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Ed. D. Atwell. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.