Wednesday’s Wisdom #6: Why We Write

The 2001 series Band of Brothers made a profound impression on me as a teenager, and continues to, twenty years later, as I periodically revisit the ten beautiful, harrowing, and poignant instalments. As the show reaches its finale, the penultimate episode sees Easy Company uncover a concentration camp in Germany; after a year of gruelling conditions and senseless death, the soldiers rediscover their purpose as they liberate the long-suffering inmates. The episode is aptly named ‘Why We Fight’. I like the simplicity. Monosyllables. Alliteration. The assonance of the ‘i’ sound. The defiant and deliberate consonant at the end. Minimalistic, and yet conveys so much. And now, as I reflect on the purpose we can discover from writing, the title seems a fitting one to borrow: Why We Write.

My first forays into online writing came on a video-game forum that was attached to a chain of retail stores. In addition to the online community, the company awarded a daily prize of a video game of your choice to the best post that day; the title, like this post’s, wasn’t particularly original (Game-a-day), but it was an incentive for 13-year-old me to write a review or opinion piece. I spent hours honing my craft, desperate to win a game. I did win plenty, much to my delight, but the real prize was the gift and joy of writing. Since then I have become an English teacher, written a novel draft, and in 2021, made a resolution to start writing a blog. And every time I write, like many others I’m sure, I feel a combination of excitement, clarity, and apprehension.

My belief was that by writing a reflection of the most interesting books I’d read, my new blog would create a lasting bank of ideas and takeaways that I could apply to future self-development, staff CPD or public speaking. The perfect antidote to my sieve-like memory when it comes to reading books. But as I began to write, much more began to happen. The drafting process meant that I engaged with the books more deeply. Putting thoughts into words meant that my inferences changed, and my reading of the texts became more critical. It felt like my previous engagement had been 50% of what was really possible.

When you browse Twitter, whether that’s Teacher, Tech, or Sports Twitter, you’ll find a proliferation of blogs and articles to read. My favourites are those that pour a bit of themselves into their work, be that a personal reflection, or the prose itself being full of life and joy. Perhaps I’m biased, but I love reading the work of Kat Howard and David Didau; as fellow English teachers, I appreciate their use of language and the craft behind the ideas they present. Mary Myatt and Jill Berry are writers whose books and blog posts are crafted beautifully, too. It can be intimidating to find the confidence to write amidst such accomplished leaders, and yet we must place faith in ourselves to walk with them, and share our own experiences.

C. Robert Cargill, a brilliant scriptwriter who worked on Doctor Strange, says that if you write (anything) you are a writer, and advocates pushing on beyond hesitancy and dithering. If our writing is an extension of our thoughts, then failing to finish leaves those thoughts unfulfilled. Their potential vanishes. His pinned Tweet is usually enough to get me cracking: ‘The most important thing in writing is to finish. A finished thing can be fixed. A finished thing can be published. […] An unfinished thing is just a dream. And dreams fade if you don’t hold on tight enough. So finish the thing.’ My good friend Bryan Hitch, renowned comic artist and writer, is another example of someone who has pushed doubt aside many times over the years and grafted his way to the top of his industry, as well as encouraging me to keep going with my own writing (and now, editing!).

And there are so many reasons why our work and our perspectives are worth writing and sharing:

Clarity of mind

As I mentioned earlier, distilling your thoughts into the written word requires a clarity of mind, as you wrestle with what you want to say. I find that we rarely devote enough time to our own thoughts, let alone drafting and debating them as we convert them to the written form. Two weeks ago, I quoted the phrase ‘words create worlds’ to advocate coaching, and here it is just as fitting.

Sharing and connecting

Putting something out there invites feedback, celebration, discussion and questions. Really, if we are writing about something worthy of discussion, we should welcome all of the above. Regardless of the type of feedback, it’s just wonderful to connect. Sometimes I’ll post a blog, or even a picture of a book I’m reading, and people will get in touch to share their own experiences of that topic; suddenly, we have a common interest that can feed into future discussions. Recently, my blog posts and contribution to the From Page to Practice podcast have lead to emails exchanged, phone calls, zoom meetings and even taking on two new coachees. If I hadn’t contributed anything to the discussion, I would have missed out on these invaluable professional connections. Finally, new initiatives like Tom Sherrington’s Blog Amp, mean that we can access the work of others beyond our usual network, which is a great chance to diversify a potential echo chamber. It was via this site that I discovered Paul Cline and his excellent new blog.

The snowball effect

In recent months, there have been some brilliant blogs about staff development and instructional coaching, with my favourites coming from Jade Pearce, Josh Vallance, Josh Goodrich, and Louis Everett. It feels like a movement that is sweeping across EduTwitter, with staff improvement at the heart. I’m sure each of these practitioners, and others, benefit from each other’s writing, and spur others not only to implement their strategies, but also to write about their own experiences. Twitter conversations, blog views, conference talks (and possibly, but not necessarily, book deals) create a buzz, and what began organically can influence thousands of schools’ work for the better. And it all begins with creating, writing, and sharing.

The creative process

Whether you are writing a personal reflection, opinion piece, or explaining how you have implemented an initiative at your school, writing is creative, fun, and a challenge. How will you begin? What tone will you use? Are you going to plan out paragraph by paragraph? How much of *you* goes into the piece? Are you going to use imagery and descriptive language, or follow a more factual style? Each decision requires rumination and ultimately leads to creativity that you and your reader will enjoy.

Marking a snapshot in time

Every post we write is influenced by our knowledge, experience, and feelings at that particular moment. Our views and ideas may adapt soon after, as we engage with feedback, or continue to read around that topic. And that’s the beauty of our writing: it marks a moment in time, one that we can refer back to, learn from, and occasionally cringe at.

A call to action

The act of writing is often a good motivator to turn our thoughts into action. Our possibilities into certainties. It can be the difference between thinking about something we are interested in, and actually doing it. Likewise, sometimes reading the posts of others can be enough to influence us to read more, or give something a go. Reading blogs and books about coaching 18 months ago convinced me to give it a try; without those authors stepping up to write, I wouldn’t have found something so impactful on my career. We can all be the writer that motivates someone else to take a new step.

Having written a combination of book reviews and more personal posts about what I’ve learnt as a school leader, I have found a zest for life from my writing. I implore all those who are thinking about writing, to just write. The familiar worries will linger. What if it’s not very good? What if no one reads it? What if I’m just repeating what others have said? Whatever you write, you will bring your own personal spin on it – a unique window into your perspective and experiences; your own writing style. A slice of you. That’s a beautiful thing that deserves to be shared.

Every time you write, you’ll enjoy it more, feel a sense of liberation, and the experience will improve your work and your writing.

At the beginning of Why We Fight, a surviving Easy Company soldier comments on his German counterparts: ‘you never know, we might have been good friends. We might have had a lot in common. We might have liked to fish, he might have liked to hunt’. Without meaning to trivialise the war by relating it to writing, his insight struck me because we never know how much we share with others until we find out who they are. Firstly, I find that I don’t understand the extent my own perspective until I write it down; writing helps me know myself. Thereafter, sharing what you have written not only publicises your interests, knowledge or views, but brings with it a portion of vulnerability, an acknowledgement that you have bared your work to others. And then our writing can grow beyond the initial post and evolve as we discuss and collaborate.

And that’s Why We Write.

Thanks

Sam

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