I saw one of my former middle school students last summer. She was working as a hostess at a restaurant while pursuing her degree at Middlesex Community College. We talked for a few minutes and she told me she thinks of me every time she sits down to write a paper for school.
“Even if I have no idea where it’s going, I just write. That’s what you always told us. Just write. So that’s what I do and it always works.”
I have told this to hundreds of students over the years, and it is exactly what I need to remember when I sit down to write and don’t have a clear and definite knowing of where I am going. The act of writing, putting pen to paper or fingers on the keys encourages thoughts and details to come out and eventually something meaningful will emerge — a single sentence that leads to another, a paragraph that makes you feel something. I told them about the joy I experience when I am writing and something surprises me, when a character does or says something I didn’t expect. Students were skeptical at first, but they always liked that idea because there is something magical about it. Sometimes in class a student would exclaim, “Mrs. Murphy! It just happened to me, what you said about being surprised!” And I knew it was true because of the light in the student’s eyes and the way the pencil continued to fly across the paper.
Writing is discovering. Writing is sitting with a blank piece of paper and creating something that has never existed before. That is something else I shared with my students that inspired them to put their own words on paper. It is magic that both children and adults can believe in. The act of creation. Good or bad, we do our best at the time with what we have within us and what we are brave enough to share.
It is a gift to have my words come back to me exactly when I need them.