Writing Log #3: Portrait of a Process

Bethany Herold

Professor Egger

ENGL 2060 E01

27 September 2015

Writing Log #3: Portrait of a Process

How do outside forces influence or shape writing? Although there are many important elements of the writing process from technique to revision, the inspiration and critiques one receives from outside sources, both direct and indirect, play a large role in the final product. Different opinions on the origins of these exterior sources, as well as the weight of their impact, vary from writer to writer, but most seem to agree that their writing voice is largely shaped by experience and exposure. What follows are takes on the aforementioned aspect of writing by three distinctly different, but equally talented, writers.

Michael Luo is a domestic correspondent and investigative writer for The New York Times. He has written award-winning series and helped front multiple journalism investigations. Luo asserts the significance of keeping a “good writing” folder which contains notable articles worth studying and styles worth imitating. Every time he completes a piece that he feels is truly worthwhile, he “believe[s] some of that rubs off on [him], even if it is just inspiration.” Editors have also played a large role in Luo’s career, and he credits much of his growth as a writer to their critiques and direction. The habit of matching the interests and desires of given editors has made him more adaptable and well-rounded as a writer. This trained him to seek out stories that actually interest people, and has increased his generation of reactions and reader participation. Ultimately, outside forces have trained Luo to match the ever-changing flow of what intrigues readers at a given time and place.

Beverly Cleary is an award-winning children’s author, famous for beloved stories like Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Cleary started out working in a bookstore, and was deeply stuck by the stereotypical child characters in the children’s literature of her time. She constantly witnessed little boys and girls in stories undergoing an evolution into flawless and superior little humans. This was far from the truth in her eyes, and she sought out to create a character that was a more accurate depiction of childhood. Cleary loosely based one of her most memorable characters, Ramona, off a “rather impossible” child that lived in her neighborhood. She also drew many concepts from the influence of her own life, as well as stories in the local newspapers. Many names were even selected for her characters all because she overheard them while eavesdropping on conversations. Her fan-base even had some sway in the stories, as she chose to write a story about a boy with divorced parents after receiving a request from two little boys going through a similar situation. Cleary strove to keep her characters as real and accurate as possible, and always valued the voices and opinions of her readers.

Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the literary greats, and had written many successful award-winning novels and short-stories such as The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms. He didn’t care as much for outside influence and opinions, and was more or less religious when it came to his writing habits and schedule. He did think very highly of certain authors like Twain and Shakespeare, and swore that reading the work of the great authors begot great thinking and therefor writing. Outside forces such as his work space greatly influenced his productivity, and he believed strongly in writing in the morning while standing up. He mentioned on several occasions that his most successful writing was completed while he was in love, hinting that adoration and acceptance freed him up and gave him confidence as a writer. Aside from romantic partners, select writers, and his editor, Hemingway felt that most outside influences were counter-productive and in some cases detrimental. He essentially believed it was best to limit the number of sources capable of influencing his writing.

For me, the answer is not black and white nor simple. I see truths in all of the perspectives of the mentioned writers. Like Luo, I know the importance of emulating good writing techniques and adhering to the interests of the readers. I appreciate Cleary’s uncanny awareness to real-life accuracy with her characters, and her tendency to write about less than desirable subjects like divorce, all while spinning it in a positive light for her young readers. Hemingway was wise in limiting the amount of people capable of influencing his work, and was just as selective with his schedule and customs. There is something to be learned from all three, and I have my own forces that influence and shape my writing as well. For me, it’s important that my writing be truthful; not just facts, per say, but also true to who I am and what I believe. I surround myself with those willing to be honest with me, but who are also reliable and trustworthy. I read often, and strive to always have a classic piece of literature at my side. Although it’s only one aspect of the writing process, outside forces play a crucial role that can set up a piece for success or failure. It’s commonly said that you are what you eat, and likewise your outside forces often become your writing. Surround yourself wisely.


Cleary, Beverly. “Transcript from an Interview with Beverly Cleary.”Reading Rockets. Reading Rockets, 2006. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/cleary/ transcript>.

Plimpton, George. “Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21.” The Paris Review. The Paris Review. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction- no-21-ernest-hemingway>.

Schulten, Katherine. “Why I Write: Q. and A. With Seven Times Journalists.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 17 Oct. 2011. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/ 10/17/why-i-write-q-and-a-with-seven-times-journalists/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1#ML>.


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