Some of the most important writing you will ever do will not be for a class and this assignment reflects that. You might give a speech at your best friend’s wedding. You might have the honor to give the eulogy at your grandfather’s funeral. You might have the opportunity to write a letter of thanks to a significant teacher or mentor on the occasion of his/her retirement. You might write an essay in which you recall a specific time in which someone made a different (for better or for worse) in your life. The possibilities are endless.
You choose the subject, the audience, the length, the form. You are not writing this for me or as an “assignment.” When writing anything for any purpose, you must consider all of these–whether they are assigned to you or, as in this case, not.
Gathering information, much of it you probably won’t use, is crucial. To help with that I’ve included a prewriting exercise that we would be doing in class if we were actually in class. I usually do this over two class periods–so about 2 1/2 hours of generating thoughts through listing, reflecting, fast, timed writings. You should do this on our own. The idea is to put lots of possibilities in writing because. . . . .we learn through writing and, if you pay attention, the writing will tell you where it wants to go. You can’t impose a focus. A focus finds you and then you craft it into something that is meaningful.
All writing has three basic stages: the first is you, the writer as you struggle with and explore the topic you’ve chosen. You might abandon it altogether and start over. You might produce a draft in a single sitting. You might take long walks as the thoughts and topic overwhelm, puzzle, confuse you.
The second stage (and this doesn’t have an exact beginning) is when you start to think about how you can make your draft/idea/topic accessible to a reader or readers. It’s like a dialogue between you, the writer, and any future readers. What does the reader or readers need? How can I, the writer, make my ideas clear and inviting to a reader or readers–whether I know who they are or not.
The third stage is, for me, the most frightening. At this stage, the writer is completely removed from what he/she has written. It is in the hands of the reader or readers. I, the writer, cannot force anyone to read what I have written. Have I done enough in the first two stages to be comfortable with this stage? This doesn’t mean that I will have ensured that my reader will agree or be convinced, but that he/she will want to read what I have written and will have gained something from it.
Good writing has focus. I heard a quotation this morning that I like, though I didn’t catch who said it: “Great writers teach you how to see.”