I can write, too

Off the beat

connor lin

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A few months ago, I made a promise to myself that I would write a column before I graduated.

While expanding my horizons beyond the design desk had always been a thought hovering in the periphery of my mind, I never considered writing a column a real possibility until I read someone else’s highlighting the importance of writing for yourself, and nobody else.

Writing is not my strong suit. I wrote for my school newspaper and took advanced English courses in high school, which can probably be said about many college newspaper staffers, but I never really felt confident as a writer. Writing, especially personal writing, requires a level of vulnerability that I try my best to steer clear of. And because I’ve pursued degrees in STEM fields at UC Berkeley, I have truly taken a step back from writing, to the point where I can’t even remember the last time I’ve had to write anything, academic or personal.

Ever since I joined The Daily Californian, I’ve been envious of my peers’ writing skills. Whether it be hard-hitting journalism or personal anecdotes, I’ve always been inspired by how my friends and colleagues could move me with their words. I would read pieces written by my friends over and over again, trying to fathom how they were able to tell stories so eloquently, how I could replicate this in my own writing and how proud they must be of their work.

It’s easy to be proud of your work at a newspaper when it’s written content and your name is attached to it.

Coming from a visual department, I felt disconnected from many of my fellow staffers in my first few semesters working for the paper. People would celebrate their written bylines online and in print, post about them on social media and show them to their friends, while most of my work as a layout designer went uncredited and largely unnoticed. When I was first hired, I remember being told that “the best layout design is invisible,” hinting at the fact that my role at the paper was to provide space for other staffers to showcase their work rather than my own. It was difficult to share the same pride in my work that staff writers were able to feel when my name wasn’t attached.

It’s hard to be proud of your work at a newspaper when you’re not a writer.

I’ve been asked time and time again what I do for the newspaper. Friends and family members always assume that I’m a writer — and when I make the awkward (but necessary) correction that I’m a layout designer, a design editor or the creative director, I’m met with confused faces and criticism.

“What does that mean?”

“So what do you actually do?”

The best visual elements of any publication are often easy to overlook. But it’s also tiring and overwhelming to put so much time and effort into something only for people to criticize how you spent almost all of your free time in college.

The easiest method I found to cope with these feelings of frustration and insecurity was to embrace the fact that I wasn’t a writer.

“I don’t know, I don’t do words.”

“I can’t write, I just do visuals.”

I would recite these words over and over again to my coworkers and friends outside of the paper whenever I was asked about written content. I meant what I said — that I can’t (or rather, won’t) write — but it was always met with a twinge of envy and a knot in my stomach.

I wanted to write, but I always told myself that I should stick to what I’m good at and leave the writing to the experts. The impostor syndrome within my own organization, even as an editor, was overbearing enough to deter me from writing a column for years. The longer I stayed at the newspaper and as I moved higher up the ranks, writing a column felt more and more out of reach. 

My job description has always been extremely visual-oriented, and it felt unattainable to do anything beyond the work that I was hired to do. But as my days remaining at the newspaper and this university dwindled into the mid-double digits, I had yet to fulfill my self-made promise of writing a piece for the Daily Cal.

And so I eventually sat down to write this column. I wanted my moment in the spotlight, with my fancy byline attached to my work. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write if I wanted to — I just made the conscious decision to pursue design.

“It’s not just that anyone can write, but that everyone can write. More than that, everyone can write beautifully.”

These words from my friend’s column stuck with me, enough to inspire me to write a piece of my own. These words helped me realize that I’m the largest obstacle to my own success and most importantly, I’ve proven to myself that I can write — and that I can write beautifully. And that’s more than enough for me.

Connor Lin is the creative director. “Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.