Rough Draft of introduction of ” The Cultural Politics of Healthy Obesity”.

In the last 30 years average BMI and the prevalence of obesity (definied as above a BMI of 30 or the 95th percentile for children) has risen worldwide (Wright and Harwood 2009). Culturally we have reacted to this phenomenon with acceptance yet alarm (Wright and Harwood; Guthman 2010); constructing obesity as an epidemic (Moffat 2010) and calling it one of the greatest public health concerns of our time (Guthman 2010). This social stance has driven the science of obesity from unbiased inquiry to that of stigma and fear. This stigma, which has existed historically in Western societies (Gillman 2009) and is growing worldwide (Brewis et al. 2010), is evident in the way obesity is approached and studied in the medical literature. As stigma is culturally constructed, obesity as a phenomenon is best characterized as biocultural; a term with describes an approach which attempts to define the space in which biology and culture inform one another dialectically (Ritenbaugh; Goodman and Leatherman).  With this framework, we will examine what has recently surfaced in the biomedical literature as healthy obesity, metabolically healthy obese (MHO) and the “obesity paradox” (refs).  We argue that this phenomenon cannot be considered without understanding the cultural politics of obesity as it has developed in the past few decades, which has precluded researchers from questioning how we define, clinically treat, and culturally view obesity as a diseased state.

Since 2006, a significant amount of academic literature has been published endorsing the idea of healthy obesity (Denis and Obin 2012). This contention suggests that up to 30% of individuals are categorized, according to BMI cut-offs, as obese, yet they do not possess the major health risks that are associated with an excess of fat (Primeau et al 2010). This group has been even further defined as the metabolically healthy obese (MHO), made up of individuals who are “enigmatically immune” to obesity related disease (Bluher 2012, pg. #?). Obesity research has also uncovered further inconsistencies with the discovery of the obesity paradox, a phenomenon where excess fat, in some circumstances, may be advantageous in mitigating health risk (Amundson, Djurkovic and Matwiyoff 2010). These inconsistencies are not the product of biological mis-steps but are born, as we argue, of the cultural politics of obesity.

These inconsistencies begin with the way obesity is defined, and also include the way in which it is studied and measured. As such, body mass index (BMI) will be examined, and its perpetuation as a tool used in obesity studies will be questioned. The concept of the Metabolically Healthy Obese (MHO) will be introduced and challenged as an appropriate interpretation of recent research. The ‘Obesity Paradox’ will also be briefly examined and be criticized with respect to its premise. We will aslso consolidate and validate these several mis-steps as a product of cultural influence and therefore suggest how they remain confusing when tackled solely through a biological lens. A framework will also be proposed – one that emphasizes the life course approach, which may be better equipped to manage the social, cultural and biological aspects of obesity as a chronic condition.

Blog 6- the conference presentation; Dr. Meldrum

For the sixth blog I would like to review a conference presentation that I found particularly effective. There are several ways to accomplish an effective presentation, but I do feel in particular- all good presentations include the telling of good stories. Good science involves good stories; sometimes adventure, and usually a mystery to solve. This talk is certainly embodies that spirit.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum is the speaker I will be focusing on. He is a professor of anthropology specializing in primate locomotion at the Idaho state University. He also has another  quality I find very appealing- He is a hardcore Bigfoot believer! Heres the link below, I hope some of you give it a go, and I will continue on to discuss why this is my submission for what makes a good presentation at a conference.

Presented at the OSS (Oregon Sasquatch Symposium),

I chose this presentation because i was immediately engaged when I first heard it a couple years ago.  I feel that it argues emphatically and obviously for an important point- good presentations are not always so because of their content. I think this point resonates with this presentation as it addresses different anatomical and anthropological approaches to bigfoot.

The set-up for this presentation is effective. The dual screens make it easy to focus centrally on the speaker while still paying some attention to the slides. One of the strongest pieces of Dr. Meldrum’s talk were the slides- they really helped communicate the story he was telling. When he would speak about a remote part of the world, the slides were ordered first as an overhead shot of the area, then some locals, and then usually Dr. Meldrum embedded in some part of the jungle. The slides also were easily comparable from one to the next, often showing an anatomical enfleshed rendering of bigfoot, followed by their footprints. I also liked the fact that he was not confined by the podium and often emerged from between the slides to engage the audience more directly. As this was the case, perhaps a clip-on microphone would have been more effect than the handheld model, maybe this type of expense could be covered in the coming years with generous donations to bigfoot associations around the country. Despite having only one hand to gesture, his use hand signals were in that perfect middle ground in which they were energetic and revealed the passion he had for his work, yet were not so over-board to where they were distracting.

The structure of Dr. Meldrum’s talk also deserves positive attention, especially since he mentions that his time is much shorter than he had planned for. I appreciate that he began his talk by emphasizing that his focus was regarding a specific bigfoot footprint in vietnam. As discussed in the seminar about effective journal writing, was the tendency for the authors to maintain a bit of a mystery as to their main focus. Dr. Meldrum was not guilty of this type of structural error, as he made clear his motivation for speaking that evening quite early. He also very skillfully weaved ethnographic anecdotes, personal anecdotes, evolutionary theory and primate anatomy and locomotion. These were often weaved together rather seamlessly by Dr. Meldrum apparently traveling down unexpected tangents of thought. Regardless of whether they were planned or not, this type of conversational tone I find very effective and entertaining. I believe he also knew his audience well. Although I could not be sure what types of scientists attend the OSS, I must assume they do have more credible scientific backgrounds, with perhaps only a passing interest in large mysterious Apes. Dr. Meldrum accurately assessed his audience as his use of jargon made his points more impactful, yet not to the extent to where I felt he alienated his audience.

His tone was also appropriate for the type of research and investigation on which he was speaking, despite being clearly rushed by the clock. It was even with subtle emphasis. Some people find smooth lecturers often hypnotic and difficult to maintain a connection with, but I find those types of talks soothing and amoung the more easier talks to engage with. An effective benchmark for a speaker is whether you feel after listening to them that you would like to have a conversation with them at a cocktail party- for me, and I suspect many others, Dr. Meldrum succeeds. I think Dr. Meldrum gave an effective talk, to an audience far beyond the attending members of the OSS. He succeeded despite having quite controversial and perhaps unattractive content, a real testament to what can make an effective conference presentation.



Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo

The Good, Bad and Ugly.

In honesty, I have yet to read a journal article that I felt was flawless, or on the other hand useless. There are however, seemingly stark differences between some pieces in a body of literature. These differences might be assumed to result from the wide range of specialities that exist within a given subject- the articles one might find incomplete or irrelevant are embedded in a part of a subject area in which one is unequipped to intellectually engage with.

However, from my time as a graduate student, participating in discussions with other students and profs of all different anthropological backgrounds, I have indeed found that there is good evidence that there are good, bad and ugly articles and that their successes and failures transcend the discipline of their readership.

Ben-Shlomo, Yoav, and Diana Kuh

2002 A Life Course Approach to Chronic Disease Epidemiology: Conceptual Models, Empirical Challenges and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. International Journal of Epidemiology 31(2):285-293.

This paper introduces the reader to ‘the life course approach’ to the epidemiological study of chronic disease. I have found there is a great tendency for articles that outline anthropological theories and frameworks to be frustratingly, and no doubt purposefully, muddy and vague. This mistake in not made in the description of this framework, and is refreshingly specific with examples to illustrate conecpts.

The theoretical approach to the structure of this paper makes the framework easily approachable and understandable. First the framework is established within the current study of epidemiology, as filling a certain need as highlighted by chronic disease. Most disease models focus on the study of pathology in a cross-sectional fashion, rarely accounting for the context in which an individual might develop a disease. The life course approach gets its explanatory power from attempting to bridge the divide between the social factors that influence health, and the biological systems in which they manifest. This approach focuses on risk, not linearly like most other models, but through the concepts of sensitive and critical periods of development, periods in which biological and social insults may be especially impactful in the short and long-term.

The strength of this paper is in its effective integration of somewhat hazy anthropological theory with specific examples. The authors illustrate concepts surrounding biological-social interaction in diseased states with a network of causes; and include 2 other diagrams which force the reader to have an accurate interpretation and conceptualization of the framework.

Finally the authors also pay close attention to context. This is important as the reader wants to know where a paper fits into their interpretations in the literature. Just as the paper began with some historical context, it wraps up by placing this framework in an evolutionary context. I feel this is again important. Evolutionary principles are ingrained in anthropological research, and a commitment to explore them should be more prevalent when it is available. The context of this theoretical approach is also discussed with reference to other frameworks that are already used- how they differ and how they may be used in tandem when tackling certain complex issues in the study of disease. Finally, there is an honest discussion of the limitations and challenges of this framework, namely databases and data collection, which may be a significant hindrance now, but might be later solved with more sophisticated data technologies.

Piperata, Barbara Ann

2008 Forty Days and Forty Nights: A Biocultural Perspective on Postpartum Practices in    the Amazon. Social Science & Medicine 67(7):1094-1103.

This paper researched the postpartum changes of lifestyle in women that belong to a particular community in the amazon. When these women deliver their child, there routines and feeding practices change markedly. At this point, certain cultural stigmas surround certain foods, which the women are not to eat. There contributions around the house also change and their responsibilities to the smooth functioning of the community diminish.  They tend to sit back as other family member take on the extra work. The authors approached this postpartum event and subsequent changes in hopes to address 3 questions- what were the ideas surrounding the consumption of certain foods over others; what type of commitment did these women have towards this practice; and whether this restricted diet and altered community chore commitment had a negative impact on their ability to breastfeed their child.

Their findings suggested that these practices were quite varied amoung the different communities and that this tradition focused on limiting the types of foods, ie. Certain sea creatures, that may cause illness in the mother. The authors also found that some women, those closer to the nearest town, did not subscribe to these practices to the same extent as other women, and finally that these women did a reduced caloric load, but this was offset by their reduced caloric expenditure.

I found this article unsatisfying because it did not do what I believe a good anthropological paper should- convince me that I should care. I understand that they are anthropologists who would move to the edge of their seat when provided the opportunity to learn about postpartum practices of rural women of the amazon. But they are likely in the minority. I feel the importance of studies like this is to elucidate certain anthropological principles that are larger than the population they are studying. For instance-

Why 40 days and nights? What is the significance of this amount of time? Are there other communities around the world that also commit to cultural practices for this period of time. Could they be compared and contrasted to reveal certain underlying principles?

How were these traditions about food choices transmitted from generation to generation? Is this type of knowledge transmission evident in other facets of the Amazonian culture? Is there any evidence that these practices have changed over time, and if this change is reflective of important qualities of other populations in the amazon?

Also, lets suppose that the authors did find that the reduction of calories expended during the 40 days was not offset by the reduction in calories ingested, what then?  Were they going to let the women in on that in hopes that it would change their postpartum choices?

Why were they spending all this time studying the postpartum practices of amazon women other than discovering the postpartum practices of amazon women?

There is also very little discussion about why this type of practice might have developed, and what this may suggest about the social subtleties in this community. Perhaps there is some interesting psychological factors that have allowed this practice to take hold in these communities- perhaps these women gain a type of satisfaction by having the rest of their family wait on them, that has a positive impact on their child?

Studies like this have a tremendous value in anthropology. But they must be framed in such a manner as to a least engage slightly with more universal principles. In this way this paper failed- in execution and more importantly, in imagination.

Fourth Thought

Blog 4 Research Annotated

With the amount of information now available to a researcher, organization becomes increasingly vital. An important tool available for reference is the annotated bibliography, which ideally toes the line effectively between brevity and clarity. Much is made as to the different software options which allow the researcher to be strategic in how they organize their information. As I progress in my academic career I am swiftly realizing that this type of software is swiftly transforming from convenient to necessary. Regardless of how comfortable you may find it to dive into new bibliographic software, it seems that annotating references is a valuable practice, and something I have neglected as of yet to engage in with in regards to my paper on obesity–

Sabin Janice A., Marini ,Maddalena,  Nosek, Brian A.

2012 Implicit and Explicit Anti-Fat Bias among a Large Sample of Medical Doctors by BMI, Race/Ethnicity and Gender. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48448.

This article is a survey to measure the implicit and explicit reactions that medical doctors have towards obesity and fatness in general. It would likely interest the psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist and clinician. This paper is typically structured as introduction, methods, results and discussion. The methods separate the implicit and explicit opinions of doctors. Explicit is measured as self-reported by MD’s as their opinion and comfort level with treating obese patients. Implicit reactions are measured by ease of association of thin and fat with positive and negative words. The question to be answered is whether MD’s have differing anti-fat bias from that of the general public. The general public have anti-fat bias both implicitly and explicitly.

This paper supports the contention that anti-fat stigma is pervasive in the general public. It also answers the question as to the reactions and feelings that MD’s have toward fatness and obesity. Most revealing in this paper is finding that the majority of doctors explicitly have anti-fat sentiments. This finding is important in two ways-

1. It supports my claims about culture and its influence in medicine. This is direct evidence that the dissemination of health care may not be blind to cultural influence. This anti-fat bias surprisingly and most interestingly is not necessarily a risk to obese patients. In fact, there is evidence to support that obese patients with heart disease risk factors have better outcomes than those with matching factors and whom are of normal weight. The hypothesis here is that doctors with their anti-fat bias treat their obese patients symptoms more aggressively and urgently, and thus their patients have better outcomes.

2. Also evident in this paper is that anti-fat bias is acceptable. Explicit responses from MD’s measure the amount of bias they freely admit to. This suggests that a large portion of primary care doctors believe it is acceptable to have such bias. This result really amplifies the contention that even among those of our population who are supposed to be the most neutral in terms of patient bias, they still find it ok to admit to biased thinking. I contend in my paper that obesity of one of the remaining acceptable forms of discrimination; this paper will be pivotal to that assertion. This article tackles questions about fatness clinically, psychologically and socially and is a very important piece of the obesity picture in that it makes connections with those three fields.

Kantartzis, Machann, Schick, Rittig, Machicao, Fritsche, Häring, Stefan

2011 Effects of a lifestyle intervention in metabolically benign and malign obesity. Diabetologia 54:864–868

This article describes a study that aims to bolster the mounting evidence supporting the separation of the metabolically healthy and unhealthy obese for the purposes of treatment. The experiment is lifestyle intervention (9 months), diet and exercise, and a comparison of the effectiveness of this change between the obese insulin resistant and the obese insulin sensitive. This intervention is designed to increase insulin sensitivity. This paper is especially relevant for primary care physicians and anthropologist who are interested in first-line treatment in over-weight patients. Methods, results and discussion aim to support the growing contention that special and separate consideration needs to be taken towards obese patients that have healthy insulin sensitivity. Moreover, this study also aims to show that patients who are obese and insulin resistance should be treated more aggressively since their insulin sensitivity can be quickly increased.

This article fits nicely into the popular topic of healthy obesity. The primary literature on this topic has been mostly speculation and experimentation on why this sub-phenotype exists and in what way we can therefore learn about the etiologies of obesity. This study firmly supports the assessment of an obese patient’s insulin resistance as the first step in developing a treatment strategy.

This paper has importance to the practical aspects of a resource limited field like health care. It struck me almost as a type of triage where the obese patient that can benefit most from the intervention should be given priority. In fact this paper could have effectively been reframed with a type of Malthusian tilt towards resource management.

This paper is especially relevant to my work since I am arguing that obesity is erroneously painted with the same brush. Since it is as much about appearance and cultural interpretation of health with modern issues of obesity, I argue that the assumption that all obesity should be treated wholesale is not biologically defensible. This paper is also complemented by several other papers that have tested obesity with respect to heart disease- they too have found that a significant sub-group of obese are not at any elevated risk, and that lifestyle interventions do not always improve outcomes.

Sims, Ethan A.H.

2001 Are there persons who are obese, but metabolically healthy? Metabolism 50: 12: pp 1499-1504

This is an early paper on those who are obese yet have a healthy metabolism. This article is much more like an anthropological discussion than it is like a medical one; it even begins with a lengthy anecdote about a woman who is doing everything to lose weight yet remains unsuccessful. This paper is important for anthropology and medical theory as it addresses why some obese are more metabolically ‘normal’ than others and how this is relevant to the practice of medicine. The organization of this article is reminiscent of a logical discussion as to the evidence of this sub-group, the number of studies that suggest this, explanations as to why this might be the case, and why this is important news clinically and academically. This paper effectively answers the question of so what; why should be care about healthy obesity. It also thoroughly addresses ideas about what to do in the future, and what this might mean as far as the obesity epidemic.

This is one of the seminal papers about healthy obesity. In fact the term MHO (metabolically healthy obese) had not been coined yet. This type of investigation into healthy obesity stems from some of the anomalous findings in the data when comparing BMI to health. This study is one of the first to suggest that these anomalies are because of this healthy sub-population, whose physiology operates as if they were of normal weight. This paper is quite bold in offering explanations as to why this might be -which is of great interest to my work. It suggests that healthy obesity may involve adaptive mechanism in the body. The authors claim that people who have been obese since early childhood preferentially display healthy obesity as adults. This claim has not subsequently been supported by evidence, but it has stirred myself into forming ideas as to anthropological perspectives in obesity.

This paper now is quite outdated; the MHO phenomenon has made a serious dent on the landscape of obesity study as of late. It does offer a more anthropological framework than the typical and more recent papers on MHO. It does focus much of its attention on the practical aspects of MHO; diagnosis in particular, but also more generally commentary on clinical thinking and physiological theory, aspects that I intend to be focused heavily on in my work on obesity.

Blog 3- obesity review

Obesity in Biocultural Perspective

Stanley J. Ulijaszek and Hayley Lofink

Annual Review of Anthropology Vol. 35 (2006): 337-360

Never before have I read an article in The Annual Reviews of Anthropology- my first one, titled ‘Obesity in Biocultural Perspective’ I would like to comment on in regards to its approach and argument in general. The article is only 7 years old but the face of the literature on obesity has certainly changed since this review was published. As such I will attempt to be more constructive than simply criticizing the outdated theories and ideas in the paper.

This review can be summarized rather simply but its content gets quite complex. Ulijaszek and Lofink have organized a good review of most of the prevailing ideas about the biology, epidemiology and evolution of obesity.  Rather typically this review begins be sounding the alarm in regards to the obesity epidemic and the force and swiftness in which it is sweeping both the developed and developing world.  Unfortunately this alarm now seems to have been muted some because of the prevalence with which it is used to begin any obesity paper.

First the article does acknowledge the fundamental flaw in the way the developed world measures obesity.  But simply admitting this and then proceeding like it is not influencing the way we study obesity is very dangerous.  BMI is weight over height squared.  With this measurement, favoured because of its simplicity and applicability, the fatness of an individual in almost every conceivable way is mismeasured.  BMI does account for gender, males and females put on weight differently, have different metabolisms and have fat tissue that is active in different ways.  It does not adjust for age, very important when considering that muscle skews the measurement upward because it weighs more than fat, nor fitness level. It does not account for bone or muscle density as well as water retention. You would be hard-pressed to identify very many professional athletes outside of billiard champions that would not be obese as measured by BMI- this system is a big problem and deserves more attention as a real issue in a real discussion about obesity.

The discussion then shifts and the authors take a position that humans have developed a propensity for obesity through the selection of genes throughout our and our ancestors’ history that would increase our ability to store fat.  This discussion included some interesting ideas about encephalization being man-kinds defining character; that our brains are metabolically hungry; and that they demand a significant reserve of fat on our bodies so it may function in times of famine.

The story then shifts again quite drastically to summarize the current ideas about the genetics of obesity and the specific proteins spit out by these genes that could be affecting how we perceive food and our appetites, and our ability to use the energy we consume.

The authors finally comment on the culture of obesity in the modern context and tackle issues of food security and inequality of access; our increasingly sedentary lifestyle; and issues surrounding the perceived attractiveness of overweight individuals. A point that was made early and often in this section was the inevitability of obesity considering modern technology and lifestyle. This is interesting, and worth discussion.

So is obesity inevitable? Is it like global warming, in that the relentless march of civilization forward may leave in its wake a couple unintended outcomes. Moreover, it is also similar to global warming in that ‘we’ don’t like the fact that we are globally packing on the pounds, but ‘we’ are unwilling to sacrifice any of the luxuries that are at the cause. Increasing evidence is suggesting that now that women make up a significant proportion of the workforce, parents generally have less time to prepare food and thus tend to serve their children more processed, less nutritional food. Does that mean we should tackle the problem of women in the workforce? I think it is incredibly naïve to think that in our growing attempt at sophistication of culture and sensibilities that there will be no negative side-affects. Video games have a price- they allow kids to spend their leisure time not moving anything other than electricity in their bodies and muscles in their thumbs. But kids can be distracted so parents can finish their work and technology can move forward.

The approach of this article is far too heavy on the biology and far less thorough on the culture. Their treatment of the biological aspects was quite comprehensive save any discussion about environmental affects regarding our fattening communities.  There is good evidence now that toxins in the air and in our food could be, what are referred to as in the literature, obesogens. These toxins are also postulated to be actively modulating the function of certain hormones and thus the homeostatic environment in our bodies.

Some of the real interesting theories that have emerged since the publication of this article focus more upon how we now live and how our culture is contributing to obesity. There are quite compelling papers now in regards to sleep deprivation and obesity; the fact that more people have heating and air-conditioning so they don’t spend the calories cooling off or heating up, and that less people are smoking cigarettes. What strikes me again, is the alternative. Should we be sleeping more and taking less care of our kids, should we be depriving families of heating and cooling and should we dismantle every campaign against smoking?

The answer lies not in undoing the causes of obesity but in coming up with novel solutions to the problem. The answer, like that of global warming, is not to stop progress but to be smart about it.

Writing project- Blog #2

This term’s writing project will be on obesity. This project began last year during a reading course with my supervisor. Originally the topic was mainly focused on body mass index (BMI) and its specific problems when used in reference to measuring metabolic fitness.  My supervisor and I tailored this topic as such because of a call for papers for an obesity journal that focused on ‘healthy’ obesity. Unfortunately problems arose with submitting our piece to this specific journal, and since the second term has begun, the paper has evolved to include a larger emphasis on the culture of obesity. Here is an outline of the newly designed paper, a general schedule to which I would like to follow in order to submit the paper at the end of the term, and some of the difficulties I am anticipating having to tackle in order to end up with a final product of sound quality.

This paper will argue for a shift in the way we view obesity. The first part of the article will describe why obese individuals not at considerably higher risk of disease than their normal-weight counter parts.  This will include discussion about a new phenomenon called ‘the metabolic healthy obese’ a sub-phenotype within the obese category of BMI over 30 who seemingly have no undesirable physiological symptoms of obesity.  They are not at an elevated risk for heart disease, they have normal levels of inflammation, and their lipid profiles are healthy. What this condition is suggestive of is that ‘fitness’ not ‘fatness’ is more important with respect to health and maintaining it. I will also introduce a phenomenon now prevalent in the obesity literature called the ‘obesity paradox’ which claims that in fact being over-weight or mildy obese, in certain circumstances, can be advantageous to health.

The second part of the argument will focus more on why we are so misinformed as to the health risks of obesity and how it is our culture that is driving this misinformed position. This argument will develop first from discussion of the BMI system and why it can be a deceiving form of measurement. I will also discuss what I feel is an interesting simantic point regarding the use of the word ‘paradox’ in the literature, and why this particular word, defined as ‘something contrary to its nature’, is important with reference to cultural perspectives driving biological ones. This section will also emphasize how skinny ideals are driving obese negativism and how issues of publication bias are perpetuating certain obese stereotypes.

In the third section i will discuss why we should care about cultural influences on the biology of obesity and why it matters to the health of our communities. Here I will discuss how body shape is used to make certain judgements regarding the character of an individual and how issues of morality and discipline tend to be conflated with body size. This obesity stigma also seems to be one of the only remaining accepted discriminatory practices and I will make an argument as to why this form of stereotype is still prevalent. There are also relevant clinical consideration in this discussion and I will outline why they are relavent  in the delivery of proper health care. I will finally discuss some evidence that the obesity paradox does not apply to measures of quality of life and that there are important mental health considerations in addition to the biological ones with regards to obesity.

Ideally, I would like to submit this article to an anthropological or social science journal by the end of this term.  My supervisor and I are anticipating that some revisions will be necessary if the article is fully reviewed and ideally the final revisions for this paper will be during this summer.

I am anticipating quite a few challenges with this writing project, and I am happy to be able to share some of my fledgling ideas here on a public forum. The principle challenge will be in the organisation of the argument.  The material for this article is from discussions I have had with my supervisor in our review of the obesity literature.  As such the pieces of the article are somewhat disparate and I have found it difficult to fit all of the points I would like to make within a logically consistent argument.  I feel that once I can clarify in my mind, and on the page, what it is exactly that I would like to offer in the article, the transition from ideas to words will come rather smoothly.


Blog1- Habits in Writing

I guess it is a good habit to write down what you think about your writing habits.

I have thought about this topic for the last little while, without writing anything down.  I imagine that is a pretty common starting point for most writing assignments, for most people. Before I jump right in about my writing style, I thought it best to comment generally.

I have noticed that people are generally unashamed to admit to their unproductive and superstitious writing habits.  Almost with pride people will confess that they need to listen to some classical composer or need to have a pencil laying atop their left ear.  I suspect people act in this silly way while doing a lot of other things too, but mostly keep those neurotic dependencies to themselves.  I don’t quite get why people are so excited to reveal their inadequacies as a writer. Perhaps the answer to that question is important to why people have them in the first place.

As far as I am aware I don’t have a necessary ‘thing’ that I need to do to write but I do tend to only function well while under some sort of time crunch.  It is not a very comfortable habit, and I suspect not one that churns out the best product.  When thinking about why I and why others need this imposed deadline to begin writing, I seem to think about all the possible directions a writing assignment can take for me.  It seems that before I am forced to begin, a writing assignment exists in many different forms, and I am unable, or hopefully only unwilling, to commit myself to choosing a specific identity for the assignment. It is only when the writing begins and the piece starts to unfold that its form finally reveals itself. I intend to take some of the mystery out of my writing and a good place to start would be in creating a more solidified plan before I begin to write.

No doubt one the biggest obstacles for me when creating a written work is my difficulty in engaging with my work with the same mindset once I have taken a break. I can achieve a certain momentum, probably both real and imagined, when I write that is very challenging to regain once I take a trip to the kitchen for a timeout. Perhaps this is related to the point above regarding not leaving a comfortable amount of time for a writing assignment.  If I cannot achieve that writing ‘zone’ unless time is not my friend, getting anything done before that point would be, and much of the time is, frustrating. It is a pity that people are so terrible ignorant of the origin of their habits, I suspect its because people are rarely able to change them and gain an outside perspective.

I think that the amount I end up writing during my career will depend on extent to which I can change my writing habits. I believe change comes from truly convincing yourself there is a better way. Perhaps it like an athlete who needs to perform several odd rituals early in their career and eventually lose those superstitions for more solid habits like proper preparation. I choose to believe that everyone can improve drastically in their writing as long as they are prepared to try. We do a lot more thinking than we do speaking and both of those a lot more than we write. With that in mind I am convinced that a key to becoming a better writer lies in establishing the habits which can allow one to most precisely translate the mind onto the page.

In my undergraduate studies I did very little writing.  From now until the end of summer I have several papers to write, a rather lengthy review type article for submission for publication and a major research paper. I fully except that this amount  of writing will require a change in my habits to produce the best pieces I can. I am eager to begin this journey which I believe should serve me well both in the upcoming term and in my career.