Day 20 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent catching up and commenting on the blogs of my peers. One blog, in particular, got me thinking. The author was talking about the importance of purpose in writing. His point seemed to be that one must have a clear purpose in writing for without it, the written word becomes meaningless. I completely disagree. I believe that purposeless writing can unlock the truth. Sound crazy? Let me explain.
In middle school, my friends and I had slam books. These were simple spiral notebooks that we would pass around in between periods. The point was to write something (anything) in the slam book before passing it along to the next person. One book was usually shared by four or five friends. Sometimes what was written was silly. Sometimes it was dark and personal. The book included fears, accomplishments, crushes, confessions, apologies, jokes, poems, song lyrics and even a list of curse words. There was no real purpose in the writing. It just felt good to share our words with ourselves and with one another.
Similarly, when I taught AP English Literature and Composition, at least fifteen minutes of every period was spent free writing. The students could write about anything, but they had to write and do so by hand on paper. No cell phones, laptops or tablets were permitted. Many students struggled with this. How could they write when absolutely no parameters were given? What should they say when there was no defined purpose? Why couldn’t they use their devices when that was how they wrote everything? That was the entire point. I wanted them to free themselves from the limits that scholarly writing and technology place upon us. Writing by hand engages areas of the brain that typing on a keyboard does not. No other rules. No word counts. Nothing to hold them back. Borrowing from my work and research in the mental health field, I called it stream-of-conciousness-writing and I sneakily used it to help them connect more deeply with the works of fiction we were studying. It worked because the themes presented in the works we were reading often bled into their free-writing. This showed me that they were connecting in some way with the literature.
I recently started another slam book just for myself. It began in the shape of a planner, but it is morphing into stream-of-conciousness rambling. How fun it will be to look back over these pages in a year, or five, or even ten and see what thoughts brought my pen to the page in line after line of glorious purposeless writing. Come to think of it, this blog might just be my modern take on the slam book.
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