We are constantly writing––composing emails, blackboard posts, essays, and dean’s date papers. In this two-part series, I am interested in understanding the different forms of writing students explore on campus. Specifically, I interview students who write for campus publications to see how they approach the writing process in their extracurriculars.
In this post, I Interview Serena Alagappan ’20, the Editor-in-Chief and a writer for Nassau Weekly. Serena is a comparative literature major who, for three years now, has shared poetry, cultural critiques, profiles, and fiction through the Nass. In my interview with Serena, we discuss creative writing and the connection she has experienced between her academic and personal writing. Serena encourages students to explore writing through the Creative Writing program and shares advice on how students can carry over the freedom and expression of creative writing into more formal and rigid academic subjects.
When I first asked Serena about the differences that separate her creative writing from her academic writing, I was surprised when she replied that she actually doesn’t see a big disconnect between the two. In fact, she has published pieces from her classes in the Nass. Serena describes her writing process as a constant stream. In courses, extracurriculars, and her personal time, she produces writing that spans multiple forms and genres.
One course that Serena highlighted in our conversation was Creative Non-Fiction with John McPhee, where Professor McPhee meets one-on-one with students each week to discuss their pieces and provides line edits. This is a process unfamiliar to most Princeton classes (and an incredible opportunity to learn from an esteemed writer) but quite similar to the peer revision process that the Nass and many other student publications practice.
Whether it is inside or outside the classroom, writing can serve as a means of expression and reflection on one’s own experiences, feelings, and opinions.
Serena pointed out another continuity; whether it is inside or outside the classroom, writing can serve as a means of expression and reflection on one’s own experiences, feelings, and opinions. Serena encourages student writers to take advantage of the Creative Writing program, where all courses are taught PDF only, as a safe space to be imaginative, explore new genres/forms of writing, and find your voice as a writer. (To take it a step further, Serena also spoke highly of Comparative Literature as a concentration that allows for personal expression and growth as a writer. Declaration period is here! I’m talking to you Class of 2021!)
This passion for writing in and outside courses is not just the privilege of Comp Lit or English majors. Admittedly, academic writing certainly carries a different tone, but as Serena helped me realize, it still can–and should–ignite the same energy and excitement in writers. There can be a similar feeling of freedom and expression.
What it really boils down to is finding an academic subject, or topic within, that you are excited about, and letting that joy fuel your writing the same way it would if you were writing for yourself. Serena concludes, “If you write about something you find beautiful, your writing will be beautiful! And when you’re writing about and pursuing something you’re passionate about, …you engage differently…[T]hat deliberate and meaningful engagement generates more positive energy in the world than you would otherwise.”
“If you write about something you find beautiful, your writing will be beautiful! And when you’re writing about and pursuing something you’re passionate about, …you engage differently…[T]hat deliberate and meaningful engagement generates more positive energy in the world than you would otherwise.”
So whatever it is you’re writing, no matter who it’s for, whether it’s graded or not, enjoy it, and let it be a space for you to explore your interests or express something about yourself.
— Raya Ward, Natural Sciences Correspondent