Why you should write
Erin Thomassen | Thursday, August 25, 2016
Many students at Notre Dame can hold a conversation—a long conversation. If you have any doubt, steal a booth in the O’Shag café. Perch on a bench in Debart. Open the doors of the dining hall at 6 p.m., and you will be bombarded with crisscrossing sound waves, originating from the voice boxes of your fellow Notre Dame students. There can be no doubt: Notre Dame students have something to say. Why, then, do many of them shy away from writing them down?
We learn to write as children. We do not fret over whether our writing is good or not, for we are not self-aware enough to critique ourselves. We are simply content to perform the act of writing. We write in gel pens and scratch-and-sniff pencils. We write in cursive, print and inscrutable letters invented by ourselves. Everything we do is wonderful, as confirmed by teachers and parents. I, for one, was completely satisfied with my story about an Octopus who lost one of his eight shoes, and then found it stuck on sidewalk gum.
In elementary school, most of us continue to be confident in our writing abilities. This may be a reflection of the literature we read at the time. “One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish.” I could do that, our third-grade ponytails bounce in assent.
But then we graduate to the seven-story world of Harry Potter, and our synapses are connected enough to commence the dangerous comparison game. How could we ever create a plot as intricate and integrated as J. K. Rowling? We are dazzled by the glamour and moved by the darkness of F. Scott Fitzgerald. We chuckle at Oscar Wilde’s wit and cry at Jane Eyre’s despair. Our writing could never rival the greatness of these greats, so we put down the pen and pick up a book instead.
Yet there is danger in consumption without creation. Our generation has things to say, and they are not all being said. There are scores of students blogging for Odyssey, which has been revolutionary in motivating college-aged students to write and share their writing. Yet, for every student who is writing reflectively, there are hundreds who are not.
Everyone has something to say. Everyone has something to contribute to the discovery and implementation of truth. The world is far from perfect. We are now at the age where we can choose what we do with our lives. Will we actively oppose injustice, or will we pass on the problems of our time to our children?
Our forefathers explored rights and reason through writing. Thomas Paine gave men Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson declared that they had independence. One need not be named Thomas to write. Perhaps these men wrote often because they wrote well, but they also may have written well because they wrote often. So write often. You will undoubtedly write better than when you started.
Writing allows people to record their thoughts and then evaluate them. Writers can trace the progression of their argument, identify its flaws, and clarify their thinking. If Descartes argued that he existed because he was a thinking thing, and writing helps people think more clearly, it is possible that writing helps people exist more fully. A more full existence would sure motivate me to type, type away.
However, writing is not only about self-growth, but also about helping others think well. Writers who strive to publish truth are not self-promoters, but philosophic and political prophets.
What if aspiring writers cannot communicate truth effectively at their first go-around? That’s when the wonderful invention of editing waltzes in. Your coffee date might get annoyed if you take a half hour to respond to their comment. A notepad or Notepad, however, cannot complain. Your coffee date might be vexed if you ask them to repeat back to you what you said. When you document your thoughts, you can read them to yourself as many times as you please. But be reasonable with yourself. Do not read through your own work more than twenty-seven consecutive times.
I cannot read your mind unless you write it down. Even you may not be able to read your mind unless you write it down. When you start writing, you will discover thoughts lying latent, hiding underneath the dirt of daily distractions. Words, eager to animate your fingers, will make them tap dance on the keys, expressing emotions you didn’t know existed and beliefs you didn’t realize you held.
Warning: Once you start writing, you may not be able to stop. While exploring your mind, do not neglect your body. Eating and sleeping are physical necessities.
Erin Thomassen is a senior studying mechanical engineering. She lives at the Château off campus, with four friends and more crêpes. She can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.