Formatting frustrations

I am a writer.

I have written papers about astronomy, early Christian and Medieval art, poetry, politics and ministry. You name it, and I have struggled through it with pen, paper and sometimes tears.

I am learning that writing is a discipline, that the more you write, the better you get. But my fingers tense and my creativity cowers in fear when I see the dreaded format guidelines.

APA, MLA, Chicago: you are the guards that lock me inside a castle of rigid writing.

It started in high school when my English teacher drilled APA into my mind. Running heads, title pages and proper in-text citations became second nature to me.

“Give me APA or give me death!” my English teacher would say in a Shakespearian tone. By death, he meant a failing grade.

Flash forward almost six years, and his words still haunt me. Just last week, I turned in a paper that I spent hours on, perfectly crafting my sentences by blending creativity and academia to create the most delicious combination of words that I hoped would leave a brilliant aftertaste for my professor.

But I lost points because I forgot a few hyphens.

Students go to college to learn how to be scholars and how to progress academically. Paper formats are meant to be guidelines to create polished and coherent pieces, but part of me believes that we value structure above content.

Hannah Kaiser, a junior English major, knows the ins and outs of paper formats all too well.

“Specific writing formats can really limit a writer if they want to write freely,” Kaiser said. “These formats can be helpful for college students…yet they can hinder a writer who wants to write creative nonfiction pieces.”

There are so many rules and formats, I can’t keep track. I have about six different metaphorical writing gloves that I use as a writer. I figure out what style I am being asked to write in and who my audience is, then I put on the appropriate gloves. I am constantly changing these gloves, sometimes wearing one of each. But I’ve realized I’ve forgotten what my own hands look like; I have forgotten what it feels like to write with no rules.

New York Times best-selling author Rupi Kaur, who happens to be one of my favorite poets, chooses not to use any capital letters in her poems. She has completely abandoned basic formatting and grammar guidelines. Her writing has no boundaries and her words are able to breathe without the shackles of proper formatting. This has led to the creation of beautiful poems that have reached many readers and inspired many writers.

Professors and instructors stress the use of paper formats for more than just a few reasons. But even Dr. Thomas Allbaugh, associate professor of English, knows that students struggle with crafting their creativity, leading to a misunderstanding of proper formatting.

“I will sometimes draw a line in my classes between inventing, drafting and revising a story or an essay,” Allbaugh said. “In the early stages of writing, format is secondary in some ways to inventing ideas and understanding audience.”

To me, paper formats are like bumpers in a bowling alley—they help guide you and lead you in the right direction, and never let you stray outside of your lane. But you’ll never know if you are a good bowler if you aren’t allowed to take off the bumpers.

I’m tired of writing in Times New Roman. I’m suffocated by the rigidness of 12-point font and double spacing. My mind is trained to stay in a specific posture when I write and feels trapped when I can only use one font, one size and follow one hundred different rules and restrictions.

There is a time and a place to write academically—now being the time and college being the place. But creativity has been stifled for far too long. So many students claim they hate to write or they are bad writers simply because they have never been given the chance to write freely without being condemned or restricted. Students deserve the chance to try to write with no fear and no inhibitions.

Oh, but don’t worry, this article follows all the AP standards and strict journalistic guidelines.