“So, I’ve got a question for you. It’s not a hard question, but it’s still a question. Are you ready?”
As I spoke, the two students I was learning with looked back at me through the screen of our video conference. Their faces showed apprehension and curiosity, and I had to imagine they were wondering what kind of question I might ask on this, the first day of our ad hoc quarantine-distance-learning-wish-we-could-meet-in-person writing workshop.
I continued: “Why do we write?”
Both girls, sisters, had looks on their faces that said, “Huh?”
I leaned just a little bit closer to the screen and asked again, “I know it’s a simple question, but why do we write? Why do we write?” I spoke slowly as I asked my question the final time. I know it’s not a hard question, but it’s not one that’s always easy to answer off the cuff. I knew that.
The younger sister spoke first. She started slowly, but over the course of just a few words she gained confidence.
“So we can talk to people, and answer questions,” she answered. Looking back, I think that’s what she said. Honestly, I was a little bit nervous too.
I waited, and the older sister gave her answer shortly after.
“To express our feelings,” she said, also gaining confidence.
“Okay, I can go with that,” I said. “So, when we express our feelings, is that like what we might write in a diary?”
She thought for a second, then answered that it was.
I turned, if that’s possible in a video conference, to her younger sister. “So, let me ask you this: If I was writing a shopping list, would I be expressing my feelings?”
Realizing where this was going, the older sibling quickly chimed in, “Yes, you’re expressing how you feel about what you want to eat.”
Sigh and smile. You know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, this whole teaching writing thing.
After a laugh, the younger said no, a shopping list wasn’t expressing our feelings.
I know there are a lot of answers to the question, “Why do we write?” and I shared my own. “The reason we write…the whole reason we write…is so someone can read what we wrote. That’s it. That’s why we write. The someone might be ourselves, if it was a grocery list, but that’s why we write. We write so someone can read it.”
Now, I’m a basics kind of guy. There’s a lot to writing, and it takes a long time to even come close to mastering the art and skill. There are many reasons to write, but ultimately we write to make a record that someone is going to read. We write for an audience, even if it’s ourselves. At least, that’s what I think.
For better or worse, my two writers didn’t argue, and both seemed ready to move on. I’m looking forward to seeing how the next few months go, and I’m pretty sure we’ll all be happy with the outcome at the end.
A quick word of explanation: During this quarantine, I’m learning alongside two sisters whom I’ve known since the older one was a student in my third-grade class, some five years ago. I like to write, they want to learn, so it’s a good thing for all of us. I think so, anyway.
If you want to, I’d love to see your answer to the question: “Why do we write?”
8 thoughts on “Writing Workshop: Day 1”
Tim, this is THE question, and you definitely make those sisters think. I write, for the most part, just to make sure my life doesn’t pass me by. At this late stage I think about Donald Murray’s book TheTwice-Lived Life and love that idea even more than I did when I first read it! I only wish more people know how writing for themselves is maybe the greatest thing. I’m keeping retirement journals and though much of it is tripe, I feel better for doing it. You cut to the heart of it here: “There’s a lot to writing, and it takes a long time to even come close to mastering the art and skill. There are many reasons to write, but ultimately we write to make a record that someone is going to read. We write for an audience, even if it’s ourselves.” Maybe every writer needs to think about the “even if it’s ourselves” more seriously. Thanks for the engaging way you write here. I am swept up in the dialogue.
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Thank you for your comments! Writing, and why we do it, is a subject the depths of which can never be realized. We write for so many reasons, but–as I was trying to impress upon my friends–it ultimately comes down to the idea of it being a record. I’m intrigued by your retirement journals. While I suppose it’s okay for you to think of some of your writing as tripe, I’m fairly sure the reality is that you’re creating a record that someone will/does find interesting. I need to come up with a way to write for myself as my only audience, at least as long as I’m around to read it!
This is so very interesting to read! And I love that you are learning WITH students. The best shift I’ve ever made in my teaching is to move from thinking about how I can teach my students to thinking about how I can learn with my students. And this is such a powerful question to consider–why do we write? I’m going to be thinking about this all day!
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Thank you for your comments, Elisabeth. I’ve always tried to see myself as a learner, even when–especially when–I’m working with younger students. I was given that perspective early on, and it’s served me well. I’ve been engaged with school issues over the past 24 hours, but if I’m not mistaken the idea of why we write might have made it into a post of yours yesterday. I’m looking forward to getting to it.
I love this conversation you have, and I love that it opened you all up to different ideas and viewpoints.
For me, I guess writing is whenever we have something in our brain that we need to put out into the world for whatever reason: to share with others, to prevent forgetfulness, to communicate directions or ideas…whenever we need to see what’s in our brain expressed through letters and words.
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Lainie, I like how you put this: “…whenever we need to see what’s in our brain….” Yes, indeed!
Hmmm, It is a great question and one not so easy to answer, as your young students found out. I want to preface that I did not read anyone else’s answer yet….. I write to express my thoughts. I find I can express them more clearly in writing than verbally – especially since if I am passionate about the subject. I also write because I have a lot going on in my head – most of the time! I need some way to get it out! Ha-ah! But, true! And, lastly, I agree with you, Tim, we all write to be read. I hope you enjoy your time with your eager writers. It sounds wonderful!
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Thank you for your comments, Carol. When I stop to think about why we (I) write, I come up with a different answer each time. I also write to express my thoughts, but oftentimes as I do so, I find that I need to go back and do some more thinking! Sometimes my passion gets ahead of my thinking. I am enjoying the time with my students; every meeting is a new adventure!