“Writing,” E.B. White once said, “is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.”
I love this quote. It is succinct, perfectly balanced, and sufficiently vague enough to be considered important. I’m sure that is the advice that every high schooler who is scrambling to finish up their AP U.S. History DBQ really needs to hear: I’m trying to analyze Walden in the context of mid-1800s Transcendentalism, and you want me to view writing as a spiritual exercise?
OK, fair. But I’m here to tell you why writing matters beyond your LEQs, DBQs, SAT/ACT (If I have to hear someone ask me one more time why writing matters if the SAT Essay is optional, I may have to scream), and of course the College Personal Statement.
Writing is thinking, formalized. I’d always tell my students that if it’s not working up here (taps forehead aggressively), then it’s not going to work on the page. You need to be able to clearly articulate the purpose of your writing, arrange your thoughts and arguments in a logical and coherent fashion, and string them together fluidly so you don’t sound ignorant. (That last one is for those who tell me grammar and spelling don’t matter anymore.) Consider this masterpiece:
Dear Mom & Dad,
I kindly petition to spend more of my day playing Minecraft. A 2017 study conducted by Glasgow University found direct correlation between playing video games such as Minecraft with long-term success because it reinforces problem solving skills, encourages resourcefulness, and fosters “out-of-the-box” thinking. It is also an introduction to fundamental programming skills, and computer scientists make a lot of money. Thank you for your consideration.
What a fantastic, well-articulated argument! Now, let us raise the stakes a little bit with this editorial:
The American people having derived their origin from many other nations… America is destined for better deeds… We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission … [to spread] freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature’s eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?
And thus, magazine editor John L. O’Sullivan’s pen annexed Texas into the United States. He called upon Americans’ shared history and our righteous belief in support of freedom and in opposition to tyranny to coin “manifest destiny.” And with that we became a country that quite literally stretched from “sea to shining sea.”
This column “On Writing for Good – Well” teaches how you can use your pen. I want you to think long and hard about issues that you care. We will discuss how you can build arguments not only through pathos, but through logos and ethos as well. We will discuss how to find a distinct voice and style while maintaining simplicity. (I called dibs on relatable sarcasm.) And in doing so, I want you to find yourself. We live in a country that protects the right to free speech, a simple freedom that millions of Americans have sacrificed their lives and dreams to protect, so let us honor that sacrifice by liberating yourself. Write for good, and let that be an act of faith.
Jane Chen is Co-Founder of Eyre Writing Center. Since inception, EWC has helped hundreds of students across 30 states improve their writing. Originally from New York City, Jane worked with students on their writing on a pro bono basis for nearly a decade. Prior to EWC, she worked as a Senior Investment Analyst for various asset management firms in New York and Europe. Jane graduated from Harvard University cum laude as a History concentrator and a Blankfein Family Scholar in 2012. She previously attended the Trinity School in Manhattan. This article is part of her monthly column: “Writing for Good — Well.”