When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher told me that I had a gift for writing, and said that I was the most talented student she had ever seen in her 26 years of teaching. She said my writing was so phenomenal, so absolutely perfect, that she had submitted one of my essays to The Atlantic. Later that year, they published my essay.
Just kidding, that never happened. The truth is, I hated writing from the day I picked up a dull Ticonderoga pencil until somewhere around freshman year of college. All my life, writing had been nothing more than a way for me to get a grade, nothing more than piles of hastily thrown together messes of papers finished minutes before deadlines. I learned about the five paragraph essay somewhere in middle school and never thought to question it. It got me passing grades and that was all I cared about.
But then I came to college and I had one of those life changing moments, one of those inspirational epiphanies that makes you want to buy a self-help book and go vegan and run marathons for fun and all those other healthy things. Except I didn’t do any of those, partially because I enjoy Taco Bell too much, but also because my moment was much less dramatic. My life changing moment was when I found an empty journal.
It was on a park bench, so now that I think about it, I guess I technically stole the journal, but in my defense, it looked like it had been there for a couple days. I’m not religious but this had to be a sign from God, right?
I don’t remember the exact day, or what I was wearing, or the time of day, or really anything except for the look of this journal. It was small, spiral-bound, and full of blank white pages, with slightly weathered edges around the perimeter serving as a reminder of its lonely existence after being forgotten by its previous owner.
So I took the journal, and I started writing in it. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember the feeling I got when I wrote to myself. It felt amazing. I could say whatever I wanted with no fear of being judged, because I wasn’t writing for anyone else.
I didn’t need a thesis, or topic sentences, or three quotes, or a counterargument, or figures or citations (though I’ll admit I’ve been using online citation makers for my entire academic experience). Writing to myself, I didn’t need to worry about proper syntax or diction (these mean pretty much the same thing right?), or making my conclusion a page long so I could meet the page requirement, or changing the phrases that I copy and pasted from Wikipedia just enough so Turnitin.com wouldn’t find any plagiarism.
So I continued to write for fun, and I loved it. As little kids, everyone wants to be a dancer or a lawyer or an astronaut or an athlete or a scientist or a doctor. We want attention, we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, we want to be the main character in our own stories in this giant world that we all live in. Writing for fun allows me to do just this. When I sit down with a notebook and start writing whatever comes to me, I feel empowered, I feel like I’m able to create my own world and express my emotions and thoughts in whatever way I want to, and no one else is going to disrupt that.
I could point you to this article or this article about more benefits of writing for yourself, but what would be the fun in that? Instead of taking ten minutes to read those, use that time to think about what world you would want to create through writing. What story do you want to tell? What would you write if you weren’t being graded or judged? Screw MLA or Chicago or APA style, go get all of your information from any source you want, whether that’s your own imagination or some stranger on Facebook.
So take some time and write for fun. Find an empty journal at a park or go to your local bookstore to buy one (just please don’t use Amazon). You might find that you enjoy it a lot more than you think. And I promise you it only gets easier, because the hardest part of writing is finding the motivation to do it.
Still not sure where to start? Here’s a list of 60 writing prompts to get your pen to your paper. Now that you have no excuse, I challenge you to pick two or more and find a way to connect them through your own words.
And when you’re writing your next theology or philosophy or English essay, have a little bit of fun with it, make it your own, make the professor want to read it five times over again because it was so beautifully written. Throw your SAT words out of the window and bring your emotions to the paper, make your reader feel the same way that you do.
And if your professor gives you a bad grade, let’s just pretend I never gave you this advice, but you can always come argue with me at the Writing Center.
Carlos Fuentes is the copy editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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