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Writing for the readers

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MAY 08, 2014

A few years ago, I came across an article to “aspiring authors” that denied the term altogether. The gist of the argument was to cut out the qualifier: You’re either an author, or you’re not. There is no “aspiring,” only writing or not writing.

This Yoda-esque concept, an essentially “do or do not” attitude, has resonated with me throughout my college years, but it was hard to adopt this attitude when I first came to UC Berkeley.

I moved to Berkeley in August 2012 as a junior transfer student, and I felt inferior. I wasn’t sure how I ended up at the number-one public university in the world. I went through my first semester in complete awe of the people, both faculty and students, who surrounded me. I loved my new home, but I didn’t really get involved with any campus organizations.

My one saving grace was that I enrolled in the Chernin Mentoring Program. My mentor that semester was Rosa. During one midsemester meeting, many of us transfer students were feeling overwhelmed by all of the opportunities available to us. Rosa, ever the optimist, encouraged us to take advantage of the rich history of UC Berkeley and get involved.

One Friday morning during my spring semester, the constant encouragement of positive people like Rosa came to a head. I was sitting there, reading the front page of The Daily Californian, when my roommate Lamisha asked me, “Instead of reading the paper, why don’t you apply to write for them?”

I have identified as a writer for as long as I can really remember. I published my first poem when I was 9. But it was coming to UC Berkeley that solidified my ambition to write for the public. Joining the blog department at The Daily Californian gave me an opportunity to write regularly for an audience.

Majoring in English, minoring in creative writing and working for a newspaper: These are the kinds of things people tell you don’t “do” anything. Those people will tell you writing is a nice hobby, but you should shelve it. They will tell you there are no careers with big retirement plans for writers.

I continue writing because I still believe it does valuable work. You’re never going to convince me people don’t want to read stories. There is still an audience out there, somewhere, that enjoys and gets information from reading a well-written news story, opinion piece and, of course, the witty blog posts on everyone’s Facebook newsfeed.

And, yes, I also still believe there are people out there who will be moved by a good poem. I can’t be the only one.

I’ve written for the Daily Cal for three semesters and one summer. I’ve written across the blogs and a couple columns. Not everything has gone viral, but every now and then, there was something I wrote or edited that helped people or got their attention.

The first time I remember one of my posts on the Daily Clog getting traction on the Daily Cal’s website was when I dashed off some words of experience about riding on Amtrak. I got on the train to go home for spring break and went online to find that my listicle of tips for taking the train was somehow one of the five most-popular articles on the website that day.

That was the first time it was made real to me that I wasn’t writing into a vacuum. Real people out there were reading my work, critiquing and commenting on it and passing it on to their friends.

I get emails from people reading my articles, asking questions or directing me to other potential stories. There are people out there reading what I write, and that’s enough to keep me writing.

But even though I’ve had a great time at the Daily Cal, as of today, I don’t know what I’m doing after graduation. I’m going to go home to Sacramento and figure it out. Maybe I’ll pursue journalism. Maybe I’ll take a day job and keep writing on the side. Maybe I’ll go on an entirely different track that I’m not even aware of yet

Whatever I do, even if it’s not in journalism, I refuse to stop writing. I am a writer. Writing is more than a job description, more than what I will tell people when they inevitably ask, “What do you do?”

Writing is how I think, even if it’s only in fragments that will have to be rearranged a hundred times to make sense. Writing is what happens when I look at the world around me and imagine how I’m going to tell other people about it.

Being a writer is not just what I aspire to do with my life. It’s who I am.


I send my gratitude to:

Chloe and Sabrina, who are brilliant and make me want to be better.

Jasmine and Shannon, for working with me and encouraging me.

Sujin, Ilaf, Gabe and Daniela, who are going to take the blogs to great heights.

All the Cloggers, the Eating Berkeley team and the travel blog contributors.

Maggie, my first friend in Berkeley.

Liz, Alicia, Lamisha and Fiat, my first “family” in Wada Hall.

Nathan, for being Nathan.

Rosa, for inspiring me to truly experience UC Berkeley.

My parents, for their love and support of their writer-daughter.

Nicholas, Rebecca, Benjamin, Jonathan, Anna Claire, Nathaniel, Jennifer and Christina, for being the family to whom I can come home.

All of you, the readers, for being an audience for writers

Jessica Rogness was an assistant blog editor for the spring 2014 semester. She joined the Daily Cal in spring 2013 as a writer for the Daily Clog. She will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in creative writing.

MAY 08, 2014