person sitting at desk writing in notebook

Write to Learn

Recently, I’ve become curious about the river that runs behind my house. I want to know where it comes from, and where it goes. I want to learn what calls it home. I want to know what its future might be – and what that might mean for me.

So I need to start writing again.

Of course, I write constantly for work: memos about meetings I have facilitated, reports my boss has commissioned, summaries of articles or books for colleagues. But such writing feels rote. The words do the work of communication I ask of them, little automatons, and nothing more.

I’ve given into the norms of our workplace culture – just the facts, please – and the anxiety of deadlines. I’ve allowed myself to forget that writing has always been my best teacher and guide.

When I was a student, I embraced Don Murray’s invitation to acknowledge that when I start an assignment, I may know the topic, but not what I will learn from it. This mindset invited a “delightful state of intense awareness and casual reflection,” and the act of putting words on paper both unlocked my curiosity and allowed me to make connections I wouldn’t see otherwise.

If I am to learn from the river behind my house, I need to be that writer again. I need to write “to say I do not know,” so that I am open to discovering what I need to learn.

Writing this way scares me. It demands vulnerability, that I examine my comfortable beliefs about the world and myself. However, if I am open to it, this way of writing will also uncover the questions I need to ask and lead me down a path toward answering them.

Steve Brown head shot

Steve Brown
Virtual Writing Center Staff
Antioch University