I have a personal blog that I write about my teenagers and I haven’t updated it lately. It’s not because I’m tired of writing- I’m not. And it certainly isn’t because of a lack of material. I have more material than ever lately with one kid on his way to college and the other on his way to a special arts program for his junior year.
It’s because writing is hard.
Some of you brilliant prospective MIT students know exactly what I mean. Writing well often means “being in the flow” and if you are not there, it’s kind of like plodding uphill knee-deep in mud on a hot humid day. Who wants to do that?
When I do an info session for prospective students, I like to mention that there is a writing requirement here at MIT. To some of you, I know, that is not good news. But hopefully most of you already know how valuable it can be to learn to write and express yourself this way. My son has a pile of graduation thank you notes to write and I already know why he isn’t getting to them. He isn’t sure how to start. I have the same feeling when I look at my personal blog and realize it’s been months now without a new post. Where to begin again?
But here is some advice for those of you worried about writing, or worried about writing your application essays this fall, or worried about writing a paper in college. (Yes, you will have to write at MIT even if you are a math and physics lover and were hoping to never experience that particular agony of the blank page ever again.) I have some good news.
Writing is magic. Take a look at what one member of the MIT faculty, Nick Montfort, has done by merging his interests in puzzles and computer games with poetry.
Think you don’t have a single idea, nothing to say? Just start writing. The process of writing is what creates the ideas. Sure, it’s ok to start with a few in your head and see what happens to them as you begin. But if you start with a blank mind, just the act of writing anything will get them to come.
In my writing group we do an exercise when we all first assemble together. Before the socializing and advice sharing gets underway, we write. We put pen to paper the old fashioned way for 15 minutes. We might get a subject prompt, a first line of inspiration, or the suggestion of setting or theme, but the one rule is to create something with a beginning, a middle, and an end before the 15 minutes is up.
True, sometimes you don’t create a masterpiece you wish to read aloud, but most of the time you are amazed to see that you have a written a story, an essay, or a finished poem. Most of the time, it’s actually something you can be proud of too, and in 15 minutes, really. It happens all the time.