Hege Library & Learning Technologies

Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Defining and Freeing the Self

Here's a thought for a bad day. Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek) suggests that writing can actually save the universe. Whereas it is widely theorized that the universe has a natural tendency toward entropy (i.e., randomness and disorder), Dillard notes that writing's essence is to weave fragments into a system, to bring order to chaos.

Thus writing may help keep the universe from falling apart.

You may have noticed the same principle operating in your own life, though on a smaller scale. The more you learn about the world and the more you open yourself to what is around you, the more you are threatened by the confusion of it all, by what Joseph Comprone calls "the clash of contending facts and philosophies." In Writers on Writing, Comprone argues that one must write, for writing provides the individual's "primary means of giving coherence and individual expression to the potential chaos of experience that intellect and learning create." If you take advantage of the liberal education that Guilford offers, you will certainly experience the clash . . . and thus the need to write.

Writing can thereby liberate us. Plato suggests in his famous allegory of the cave--which compares human life to a chained existence in a cave, where "reality" appears as shadows on the cave wall--that we are all prisoners. The purpose of a liberal education, as the root liber indicates, is to free us, free us from inherited belief systems which are not truly our own, free us from self images which are no longer adequate, free us from external forces which seek to constrain us.

To be nobody-but-yourself--in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. e.e. cummings

Writing, more than any other activity at college, enables you to fight the battle cummings refers to, enables you to free yourself, for in writing you act to define who you are and what you believe. Even more so than reading, writing enables you to take charge of your education. You survey competing possibilities and contrasting interpretations, synthesize them, then forge and articulate your own--and share them with others.

Novelist E. M. Forster once wrote, "how do I know what I think until I see what I say?" Writing makes it possible for us to know what we are thinking. By putting our thoughts on paper, we can see them--and ourselves--honestly and critically.