My four year old writes with zeal. She's so excited to be able to craft letters that have meaning and can be read by other people. She loves the whole process, and displays her work on our fridge, held up with our ABC magnet set. Meanwhile, I have been staring down a blank blog page for 2 days. It is living in my browser, quietly judging me for not writing. Is it calling me coward? Is it making assumptions about my ability to craft a coherent sentence? I can hear the empty whitespace whispering evil nothings in my ear- who am I to think that anybody wants to read what I have written? And then I click over to something else. And once again I walk away without having written a word.
It struck me on the drive to work this morning that this is the way our students often feel - writing is hard, and sometimes it's easier just to ignore it. The sheer number of words that we expect students to put to page and share with an audience every day is staggering, and looking at it from their point of view, I can see how overwhelming it may seem. After all, when students turn in writing, they *are* being judged both on their conventions and on the quality of their ideas, not just taunted by an imaginary fiend who lives in their browser. As adults, we know how important this practice is and how crucial constructive feedback is to developing voice and clarifying ideas. As a student, I remember it being petrifying.
In this brave new world of technology, writing is more important than ever, specifically the ability to communicate thoughts clearly and intelligently with text. Email, texting, status updates, tweets - our society, despite the many claims I read to the contrary, is inundated with words and ideas that beg us to engage in dialogue, often publicly. But once it's written down, it's out there. Forever. It can be archived, commented on, criticized, and misappropriated. Students shy away from the academic writing, while embracing the tech world like it's home. Words have power; this is what makes writing scary.
Writing serves as a stand-in for our physical presence, and trumpets our ideas to the world. Even informal genres are open to criticism, and it can be hard not to take the icky stuff personally. So how do we get back the youthful zeal that young children show when they learn to form letters? How do I encourage my students to practice, to try, to share, all in the face of certain criticism?
My daughter sees nothing but possibility in her words. She's sure that her ideas are worthy, and that writing is just the first step to ruling the perfect Barbie-LaLaLoopsy-Mickey Mouse Clubhouse-fairywonderful world. Maybe regaining that kind of youthful zeal starts with remembering the possibility that words promise: maybe you really *can* change the world. Maybe your words and ideas can make someone's life just a little bit better. Maybe, just maybe, it's okay to take a chance, and put your words down. Silence the fiend. Write.