Yesterday, at Jamul Intermediate School, in Jamul, California, I spoke to fourth and fifth graders about writing.
If you are one of those kids: Hi, kid! Thanks for having me out at your school yesterday! Not that you had a choice! Still, you were very polite, and laughed at all my jokes, and asked intelligent, fun questions, and in general helped me to have an all-around fabulous time.
DON’T FORGET THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WRITING!
Here’s the gist of that again:
Power and respect. That’s what writing well can get you — and nothing can get you more power, and more respect, from more people, than knowing how to write. That’s why you’ve been learning about writing from the moment you started school: It’s that important. If you don’t know how to write well, it will be way too easy for people to think you’re stupid. Not knowing how to write well doesn’t make you stupid, but people can’t help but think that it does. If someone sees something you wrote that’s sloppy, difficult to read, and filled with mistakes, they will think you’re stupid. At the very least, they’ll think you’re uneducated. And in your life, you do not want people thinking you’re stupid or uneducated. Because then they might not respect you as much as you want them to.
It’s hard to get people’s respect; that’s one of the main reasons respect is so valued. You really have to earn respect. When you write well, you show people that you’ve already done the work it takes to earn their respect. And they’ll willingly give you their respect, too, because what your good writing proves to them is that you have a good mind.
If people can’t respect your mind, they can’t respect you at all. The only way people know you at all is through what they know of your mind. Even if you want to be a famous athlete, it’s not what you can do with your body that people will respect: it’s what, through the power of your mind, you made your body do that people will respect. The quality of a person always comes down to the quality of their mind. You want people to know you’ve got a good mind, a mind that’s done things, a mind you’re proud of, a mind they should respect. The best way to communicate that is through writing.
There are only two ways to let people know what you think: talking, and writing. You’ve learned how to talk. Now you must learn how to write.
If you write well, you can have any future you want. You can go to any college you want. You can have any job you want. You can live anywhere you want. If you don’t know how to write — if every time you write something it comes out looking like something that someone who is stupid or uneducated wrote — then, as soon as you’re out of high school, you’re going to end up doing what people who can’t write well always get stuck doing, which is having to take a terrible job working terrible hours for terrible pay with a terrible boss.
You don’t want that. A rotten job is an awful thing. But that’s what you will be stuck with if you don’t give people a very clear reason to know you deserve better.
Being able to write — a good school essay, a good college paper, a good email, a good letter — gives you power in your life. And you want all the power in your own life you can possibly get, so that you have all the choices in your own life that you could possibly want.
A person is as free in life as they have choices in life. That’s why prison is so bad: Prisoners have less choices in their lives than anyone else in the world. That’s what makes prison so punishing: No choices.
You want choices! You want freedom! You want respect! You want power!
Knowing how to write well is the only thing you can do that guarantees that throughout your life you can have as much of those three things as you could possibly want.
(If you know of a kid whom you think could benefit from the above Big Advice, please forward the url of this blog post to them and/or their parents. Thanks.)