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Get Where You Are Going

posted by John Deming

walking in the snow

During the massive snowstorm that swept through the northeast earlier this month, Boston was not an ideal place to be. I was there for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, an annual confluence of the nation’s poets, novelists, essayists, professors, and writing program administrators. I stayed at the Hilton right across the street from the convention center, and every short walk across the street meant snow in the face, knock-down winds, unavoidable pools of slush, growing snow banks, erratic cab drivers, and upon arrival in the lobby, soaked feet and frozen ears. I didn’t make this trip each day with the hope that the experience I gained would someday lead me to a career as a Himalayan mountain climber. I did it to get where I was going.

LIM students walk all over Manhattan every day to get where they are going, and surely none aspire to a career as a professional walker. Walking is quite simply an essential component of their daily routines—routines which, for some, involve balancing an extraordinary combination of classes, jobs, internships, extracurriculars, and a social life. This occurred to me several times throughout the conference, because most of the panels I attended were about creative writing and how integrating it into one’s daily routine can help to seriously mitigate the stresses often generated by a busy lifestyle. While it is crucial in one sense to think of writing as a means to an end—for example, the successful completion of an assignment that is then turned in for credit—I thought it also might be useful to remind our students, as we press toward finals, that writing can also be a great way of getting from here to there, of organizing and settling your thoughts.

Another metaphor to illustrate this point: in the same way that 30 minutes on a treadmill can put you back in touch with your body, 30 minutes of writing on any subject, or no subject at all, can put you back in touch with your mind. It can lead to clarity in the midst of the hustle and bustle; it can keep you poised, focused, alert, and confident.

My point is: there are tremendous benefits to writing all the time, and about everything, even if there will be no obvious, quantifiable result. If you feel it, give it attention; figure it out. If the first emotion a student feels before beginning a writing assignment is frustration, for example, perhaps the student should be encouraged to write for a few minutes about that frustration. What does it feel like? Where might it come from? What about the assignment is most daunting? Better to move that boulder out of the way than to let it impose itself on the work. And with it moved out of the way, there is a very good chance that there will be less distraction in the writing process.

There are all kinds of manifestations of what I’m talking about—writing therapy, for example, is a popular way for people to deal with certain kinds of emotional trauma and has been linked to better health and to higher grades for college students. Writing, like walking, can be very useful when it is treated as central to your daily life—as a way of continuously gaining clarity on your own thoughts about any aspect of your life, whether it is school work, work-work, events in the news, or even a movie that you saw the night before. If it seems at all intimidating, remember that no one has to read it but you, and that the process can be quite a reward. (It seems relevant and worth noting at this point that my walks in the snow have strangely become some of my warmest and most enduring memories of my time in Boston.) To get your body where it needs to be, walk; to get your mind where it needs it to be, write. Those who already engage in this practice know what I mean; those who don’t will be very pleasantly surprised.

And to our students, best of luck with the rest of the semester—finish strong!

John Deming is a lecturer in the Arts & Communications Department and Assistant Director of LIM's Writing Center.

Topics: LIM College, fashion, writing, John Deming, writing therapy