How to Make Nice With a Writing Assignment

For many (most?) high school students, compulsory writing evokes frightful visions of blue essay pamphlets, red editorial comments, and a taunting landscape of white paper refusing to be occupied. The battle between disinterest in the topic and angst towards a looming deadline is matched only by the uncertainty of having anything worth saying, fear of having the ability to say it well, or both.
Some students choose to bide their time, sure that when they leave their high school (and college) self behind they will likewise leave behind ever having to do a compulsory writing assignment again, but we live in a time, an age, and a culture that is dominated by social media, and social media is dominated by posting, blogging, emailing, texting, tweeting, retweeting… in other words, words. That means that regardless what your plans for the future are, you are going to have to write, and if you are going to have to do it anyway you might as well choose to make friends with the task. Plus, I assure you that you not only have things worth saying, you already have the ability to say them well.
“How can you be so sure?” (That’s your line. Hence, the quotation marks.)
Because if you are in high school, then you can talk, and if you can talk then you can write. (Yes, writing and speaking are also very different, but let’s save that for a later post.) In fact, you communicate verbally with success and ease all the time, don’t you? You can probably convince your mom to let you borrow the car, take great pride in your ability to recap the latest episode of The Walking Dead with great detail, and persuade a sub that there isn’t really an assignment due. So the question isn’t, “Can I communicate effectively?” (You can!) The question really is, “Why is it that I struggle to communicate effectively when assigned to do so?” And the answer, at least partially, is actually quite simple; it has to do with how strongly you believe what you are saying and how interested you are in saying it.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “To have a friend, first you have to be a friend.” Well, the same basic idea applies to writing: To convince a reader that what you are saying is true – and, more importantly, that it matters – you must first believe it yourself. Of course, that can be a challenge, especially when you are thinking, “I don’t care how a bill becomes a law, I don’t want to compare and contrast these novels, and I can’t possibly describe the various functions of the circulatory system!” But indifference towards your subject matter not only produces poor results, it makes the writing itself a bore, a chore, and a snore. So find a way in. Regardless of the topic, approach it from a viewpoint that is truthful, specific, and yours. Determine what thoughts, insights, beliefs, or even gripes you have that can inform your message. Consider how your personal values can help shape a unique take on your topic. Ponder your interests – even seemingly unrelated ones – to see how they can provide an engaging lens through which to discuss the material. If you begin to do that one simple thing, you will find that you have more to say then you first thought and that you can say it more effectively than you first imagined.


Cie P.

Esteemed Teacher/Writer/Director for English, writing, acting

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