Connection Between Writing and the Self

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the longitudinal study I conducted at the turn of this century, one in which I followed a cohort of Stanford students from their incoming year through one year past their graduation. In particular, I’ve been thinking about what I learned about their connection to what they wrote. At the beginning of the study, students didn’t seem to feel any strong connection at all: they were writing to get a grade, to get a job, or for other practical reasons. In short, they didn’t see the writing they were doing as connected to their identities, to who they were as people. As the years went on, however, student participants began to feel more connected to their writing, began to take ownership of it and see writing as a way to make their marks on the world. In fact, they started to define writing as something that gets up off the page and makes something good happen in the world. And as a reflection of themselves, of their thoughts and character and purposes. 

I’m thinking about this shift in their relationship to writing because I am wondering what we would find now: especially with the rise of misinformation and deep fakes, along with the rise of AI generated text, I wonder how students’ perception of their relationship to writing is shifting and changing now. Do they feel that the writing they do at least has the potential to embody their hopes and dreams, to represent their authentic selves? Do they feel identified with their writing? And if so, to what degree, and why?


A student sits at a desk writing while various effects such as gears and lightbulbs float around him.jpeg


These seem like pressing questions to me, ones that can best be pursued in longitudinal studies like the one I began over two decades ago now. I know that Jessica Enoch and her colleagues at the University of Maryland are considering such a study, and I hope that they will do so—and that others will follow their lead. We are clearly living in a great watershed moment in terms of writing: how to define it, how to understand who and/or what can deploy it, whether it can in the future be “owned” in the traditional sense of copyright, and perhaps most important, how it can reflect and create our best selves rather than our worst. Can writing still be the means of “making something good happen in the world”? 

Food for thought, especially for those of us who are privileged to teach writing today.


Image created with Microsoft Designer


About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.