The astounding power of writing
March 16, 2012 2 Comments
It’s been acknowledged historically that those wielding the pen wield an enormous amount of power. It’s been said many times in many different ways over the ages. From as far back as the Islamic prophet Muhammad, quoted as saying “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr,” to Shakespeare in the 1600s in his play Hamlet Act 2, scene II, writing “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequill,“ and a few hundred years later Edward Bulwer-Lytton said ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.
And we know that the power of the word, and therefore the process of writing, is a far more effective way of influencing thought. And while those quoted above were referring to acts of violence being less effective than writing in achieving compliance or influence, they couldn’t possibly have known just how powerful the written word would be in a technological age where words influence —positively or negatively—on a much grander scale.
But recently I’ve witnessed how powerful writing can be on a very different level. Convening writers’ groups for teenagers, I continue to be astounded by the incredible power writing has for kids. I’m not talking about the power it gives them over other people; I mean the amazing transformative power writing gives these kids over themselves.
I saw it last year when my writers’ group was made up of disengaged young men in Year 10, and I’m seeing it again this year with a completely different cohort of kids. One of my groups this year comprises a dozen 13-year-old girls in Year 8. I started with them last year when they were in Year 7. They are the brightest in their year and were nominated for writers’ group by their Year Advisor.
These girls have reading ages way beyond their chronological ages. They are intelligent, engaged in the learning process, keen and enthusiastic students. And when they first came I wondered how beneficial the group would actually be for them. I thought a writers’ group for these exceptional students may be a little redundant and that I could be better utilised working with students that needed a literacy boost. I was wrong. Again.
While all of these girls are academically gifted, some of them struggle with a social phobia and dislocation that makes functioning in a societal context quite difficult for them. Acute anxiety affects one or two, and intense pressure from home to achieve hangs over the heads of many of them.
Last year the writers’ group sessions with these girls were more about encouraging them to suspend their realities enough to tap into an imagination that I’m sure must’ve existed in them at some stage of their childhoods. It was hard work. But now, now they are writing. They’re writing fiction — fantasy, science-fiction, fan-fiction, romance, mystery, adventure. And I am so excited by it!
When they first came, their eyes were dull with trepidation, or fear of the unknown, or the weight of expectation. Now they come to group with inspiration bubbling from them in an effervescence of enthusiasm. Once silent, they now chatter happily, with sparkling eyes and big smiles. It is wonderful.
Writing has given some of these kids a means of social expression and interaction that they didn’t have before. Sharing their writing within the group has broken down some of the social barriers and awkwardness and opened up a world of newfound respect for each other. It’s created a space where they all interact on equal ground not just academically, but creatively and socially.
I am the luckiest writer on the planet because I get to share the joys of writing with these amazing kids.