“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?”