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Writing – my journey

| Thursday, March 17, 2022

There is a certain conceit in writing about writing, but the act of writing is a conceit of its own, so why not indulge myself? That is, if you, dear readers, will continue to humor me.

As my loyal readers will know, I am on campus as a fellow in the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). It is a yearlong program of study and reflection. I am having the most wonderful time in the classroom with students and faculty and participating in the many social, athletic and cultural activities available on campus. A central element of our program is to teach a class in our Designing an Inspired Life course. My professor, Steve Reifenberg, has been encouraging me to teach about writing. This regular column in The Observer has been a source of joy and reflection to me — far beyond what I anticipated when I submitted my application last summer. Steve suggested that I entitle it: “Writing as a journey of Discovery.” And, that is has been.

Years ago, when first at Notre Dame as an undergraduate, a friend, then the Editor-in-Chief of the Observer asked if I would occasionally do a news story for her. I agreed. Little did I know that she was likely short-staffed and would put me to work on the necessary but inconsequential piece. A review of The Observer archives finds five stories from that era. In one that ran on April 2, 1979 — likely published in a special edition of The Absurder — I even name-checked myself. Talk about conceit. I did have one story published on the front page, though below the fold.

My corporate career was not designed to hone my writing skills, though I always tried to be clear and crisp in memos and emails. The quarterly 600-word column I submit to the Notre Dame Magazine for our class notes hardly developed my writing chops, though it has brought me close to every corner of our class.

Rather, I elected to write for The Observer this year with a few goals in mind: I hoped to hone my craft, to realize the clarity of mind that comes from creating a 700-800 word piece. I wanted to explore a range of ideas, even creating a spreadsheet to outline one semester’s worth of topics, and then another semester. I know that in this fashion, I have taken a different path than that of my fellow Viewpoint columnists, but it is my path and it has been a rewarding one. In fact, far more rewarding that I ever expected. As Prof. Reifenberg suggested, writing has been a journey of discovery. And a discovery of things both anticipated and unexpected. I frequently begin writing with one path in mind, one approach to a topic. I find that I discover a new angle along the way or a new dimension I hadn’t anticipated. I realize that what I choose not to write about is as important of a decision as that which makes the final cut. That editing is a critical form of self-reflection.

In fact, I began preparing for this column by reviewing the spring course offerings at Notre Dame. Did you know that Notre Dame is offering 459 classes dedicated to writing? Presumably quite a number are duplicates of courses cross-listed in a number of departments. My favorite is actually offered by my faculty advisor, Prof. Jeff Speaks. One can enroll in PHIL 98696, Shut Up and Write — a community designed to help philosophy doctoral students write their dissertations. An admirable goal, but not mine.

My writing for The Observer has been a journey of discovery. Each column’s topic I elect to write about is a conscious choice. I must have something to say and feel that it is more important than other ideas I might consider. I must select the best words I have to use and some will be left behind. I will please some, hopefully prompting them to think and earn the space I occupy in the paper, especially in the print edition. I might even trouble a few — hopefully to a good cause. I have had the opportunity to remember two fallen friends. May I have done justice to their memories.

And, I must admit, I have enjoyed the responses I have gotten. It’s not seeing my name in print so much, but the unsolicited reactions and acknowledgement. I am seen and read. People have made a choice with their time. I have earned their consideration. I even reconnected with a friend of 40 years ago. As the semester and my time in ILI nears an end, allow me the final conceit: Thank you to the editors at The Observer, my fellow columnists and reporters and my readers. This journey has been one of discovery and you have guided my path, informed my writing and challenged me to be better. I could not be more grateful. I do have two more columns, so there’s that.


Mary Ellen Woods is a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 1980. She has returned to campus as a Fellow in the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). As an undergraduate, she lived in Breen-Phillips and now lives off campus. Her columns appear every other Thursday. A longtime resident of Chicago, she can be reached at [email protected] or @MEWsmuses on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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