Writing as Liberation: Is It Possible?

A few years ago, I was a writing tutor. Students (college age and older) brought me their freshman English assignments, usually because their instructor told them to. Most of them wanted me to “fix” their papers. Most of them, I imagine, felt inadequate to the task, and thus inadequate as human beings in some sense.

I felt for them. I wanted them to feel good about their writing and themselves. I wanted to “fix” them… which was impossible. I am, after all, not God. But on a good day, if the stars aligned, I could show them the good stuff in their writing, the moments when they leaped out of the bounds of their writing assignments and actually said something. (On very good days I encountered writers who needed just a few suggestions about fine points of editing.)

I don’t know where I heard this, but I think it’s true: something written down is a deed. Writing is an action that, if published in any way, has consequences. We write, others read, things change. How things change is not quite within our control.

I think of a great writer, Martin Luther King, Jr. His Letter from the Birmingham Jail is a staple of freshman English. Did he know all the consequences that arose out of his rhetoric? No… but I think he knew he had to try.

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