Happy Writing; Finding Your Purpose

creativewritingPharrell Williams, has been around for quite a while seeking his fame in music, yet it wasn’t until his recent hit song “Happy,”  that Pharrell became a household name. When interviewed and asked what he thought of his long awaited rise to fame, Pharrell stated that he used to write songs that lacked purpose. He decided that the musical heroes of his time had a purpose to their music, and he realized that his songs were lacking just that. He sought to find exactly what his purpose was, and after discovering it, he began writing songs with that in mind, and quickly rose to fame. Students seem to have those same issues when it comes to writing. Many seem to lack the understanding that writing with a purpose could be the key to successful writing. So, first you must address the basic issues of writing, and none is more basic than finding your purpose…not only your purpose for WHAT you’re writing, but your purpose for WHY you are writing.

I can almost hear teachers that are thinking of posing the Pharrell Williams story to their students: “Purpose? They’ll just tell me that their purpose is to get an “A” on their paper!”  “Purpose? Their purpose for writing is to get me off their back!”  Let’s face it, unless you are a rare breed like me and actually love to write essays, those will be their immediate answers. But, you must persist and say, “besides that, WHY are you writing this paper? Why do we as humans feel the need to write? What is our purpose (as humans) in writing? What purpose are you giving that paper or that article?”

Knowing a purpose for a piece of writing is where it should all begin. Once I attended a summer writing workshop and throughout the four week class, we contemplated the various ways that we could creatively entice our students to produce great works of writing. It was fun and interesting and I took away many wonderful ideas, but I felt that no one ever really addressed the question of WHY. WHY should we write? WHY should our students write? WHY should we ask/force our students to write? So, for my final, I wrote a piece on the very subject; the foundation of what I felt the entire workshop should have perhaps started off with…why humans do and should write. What I came to present as my final project was that people write as a basic need for communication; to be understood. Those that hate writing, hate it because they either don’t understand the purpose in writing, or they don’t understand how to communicate their purpose, or that they should even have a purpose, and I used Erma Bombeck as a great example of a woman with a purpose.

Erma Bombeck was known as a great American Humorist writer and Garrison Keillor, well known for his NPR comedy on a show called The Prairie Home Companion, never seems to grow weary of proclaiming the accolades of this down to Earth lady-writer from Dayton Ohio. He fought hard and even lost a friendship trying to ensure that Erma was honored in Oxford Book of American Humor, in which she was never featured (he lost the battle). Speaking at the University of Dayton at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in 2008, Garrison spoke eloquently of WHY we write when he said, “Writing is the most deeply humanistic of all the arts. All of your relatives are in your writing…everything they gave you, all that they loved you. All of the people that cared for you when you were a child. All of the best of your life is there. In your voice, you’ve inherited your voice from other people, and when you find it, as Erma Bombeck found her voice, and carried her voice to a great audience for an amazingly long career…once you find your voice, stay with it, and trust it.” Erma found her purpose. She had an extraordinary way with the ordinary. In a world where moms were portrayed on TV as perfect, women related to Erma because of her honest, humorist attempt to relay the real life of being a mom. She found her WHY; her purpose, and people loved it.

Finding your voice and trusting it, could be perhaps the greatest challenge you will ever face. When my friend Lori Rice helped me to find a voice with The Educator’s Room, I was so excited to be able to express in writing what I so often fail to do verbally with my ideas, thoughts and concepts. But, the first thing I told my friend is, “I don’t think like everyone else. I don’t write like everyone else; I’m me.” She said immediately, “Not a problem.” I have my own voice, my own purpose and it was important for me to know that that was OK. If anyone expected me to be anything other than that, they were in for a real downfall. I take the same view on my teaching styles…this is me and this is how I teach, it may not be like everyone else’s, but I get results; I reach students, I follow the rules…but I’m different. That’s called a purpose. That’s how your student’s writing should be. YES, there are conventions, rules and writing no-no’s. The rules are there so the audience can clearly understand the writer’s intent. The rules are our friends, but these rules do not, nor should they, ever squelch the purpose of the writer.

One time I had a professor that ran the only class in college that I ever dropped because he wanted to squelch the purpose of the writer. When I wrote my first essay in his class, he proudly put a grand “F” across the top and asked me to come see him in his office. When I went to see him, I asked him how I could’ve possibly gotten a “F” on my paper, when all I’ve ever gotten were “A’s” or “B’s” on any essay I’ve ever written. His reply was, “Well, no offence, but I’d like to see those “A’s” and “B’s.” So, still confused, I asked him what my paper should’ve looked like…what it should’ve said. He proceeded to quote word for word what my paper (in his eyes) should have said. You see, my paper wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t his. He wanted one paper, with one idea, and that one idea was his idea. There was no “shoulder,” no “off the fairway,” and even though we both arrived at the same hole on the same green, there was only one way and it was his way, which was to stay on the fairway, three strokes in, no handicap. My purpose, my voice was not allowed to be communicated, so I moved out quickly and into another class in which I was indeed fine and successful.  Had another person been put through that same situation with less of a backbone, he could’ve completely ruined their writing career. He could not see that any idea other than his own, any purpose other than his own was valuable. He took away the basic right of a writer…purpose.

Purpose in writing is basic. It exists so we can communicate thoughts and ideas to the world around us. It’s hard to imagine how many times our lives have been changed by one person’s ability to fashion words in wonderful and unique ways. My heroes (from Pharrell Williams to Erma Bombeck) are my heroes because they found their voice, they found their purpose, and they weren’t afraid to use it. No matter whom you look to for inspiration, just remember, there is only one of them, all the rest are imitations. There is only one you. Only one of each of your students. Why try to make them be anything else? Why try to be a Garrison Keillor when there is already one taken? Find YOUR voice. Help your students find theirs. Share the rules, show them the ropes, and encourage them to find their purpose, their voice, their WHY.


“All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.” ~Erma Bombeck

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By | 2016-11-01T14:14:16+00:00 June 24th, 2014|Featured, High School, High School, Instruction&Curriculum, Literacy|0 Comments

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I teach English in Kansas.

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