“Sometimes you have to write to figure it out.”

You might have seen Daniel Pink’s 2014 Commencement Address floating around the internet recently.  If not, here it is:

First of all, there are life lessons to be learned from this commencement speech, and I’m not downplaying the metaphor.  There’s something to be learned from the surface message, too.  The writing process sometimes fails.  The traditional approach to writing doesn’t always work or elicit the best material.

Though I’m a planner by nature (you should see my family’s vacation spreadsheets– complete with clickable hyperlinks and restaurant menus), I often write as an act of processing information or feelings.  Some of my best writing comes from my gut or from within the folds of my brain, and it’s through the act of writing that my ideas take shape and solidify.

How often do your students have the luxury of figuring something out through the act of writing without first forming a thesis and an outline?   I’m reminded of Paul Graham’s The Age of the Essay:

“Essayer is the French verb meaning “to try” and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

Figure out what? You don’t know yet. And so you can’t begin with a thesis, because you don’t have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn’t begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don’t take a position and defend it. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.”

In our classrooms, we focus–and standards and testing dictate this focus–on the end product, when perhaps students would benefit more if they learned to enjoy the act of writing and creating a process that works for them.


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