Dear Eighth-Grade Student,
Undoubtedly you have been told, especially by teachers, that your future depends on endless grammar and essay-composition lessons - that if you fail to master these skills, you will forever struggle in the “real world.” While these claims do speak to an ever growing problem with American literacy, there is an even greater reason why writing and writing effectively should matter to you.
Writing is not just about completing assignments or replying to emails and texts; writing is an exploration of self. When we think of writing in this way, each interaction we have with the page becomes an encounter with the self. Although writing assignments may feel like the ultimate void of self-expression, they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do about the topics we write about. When we write an essay about a novel, the themes, characters, and analysis we present reveal what we find significant and how we interpret our world. Approaching writing assignments in this manner transforms the essay from a task to be completed to an opportunity for self-revelation.
The pursuit of identity is perhaps the most unifying trait of humankind. Some people spend their entire lives never really being able to answer the age-old question, who am I? Writing opens us up to the interior world where a uniquely intimate relationship is forged with pen and paper. This bond is unlike any other because there are no judgments, no questions, no alliances to form, and it frees us to present our most authentic selves. This authenticity reaches its pinnacle in journaling. Journaling is not simply a chronology of events or a narcissistic endeavor; journaling is a dive into the depths of who we are. When we seek out those areas of darkness that have long been neglected, we begin to understand, heal, and accept. This daring writing helps shape our perspectives of the world and the way we live our lives.
Let me be clear. I am not telling you to improve your writing skills so that you might succeed in school, be accepted into college, or obtain gainful employment. Indeed, writing is the foundation to any one of those achievements, but writing alone will not secure a single one of them. I am urging you to put energy and effort into writing, to develop a relationship with the act of writing, and to be vulnerable on the page because sometimes the page is our only safe haven. So whatever accompanies your life, whether it be sorrow, pain, or joy, write. Write often. The more you write, whether academically or personally, the more developed your sense of self will become. This knowledge of self is most important in terms of success. When we know ourselves, truly know ourselves, we become a force to be reckoned with. As the great Greek Philosopher Plato once said, “the essence of knowledge is self-knowledge.”