As a high school student, I have spent years writing hundreds of papers that were based on a strict prompt, following the guidelines of a restrictive rubric, and completing writing assignments for the sole purpose of good grades. I lost the ability to truly write papers that invoked imagination and true involvement of the reader. I only realized that I had lost this fundamental characteristic in my writing when on Monday, June 20th, for an independent writing session on campus, I wrote only to bring a singular location to life.
In the span of fifteen minutes our class had to find a place in the vicinity of Brookings Hall, where we had just met for the afternoon session, to illustrate and write a paragraph or so that truly encapsulated the sense of one particular location. However, it was summertime and there were few places on campus that were both close by and were truly good material for a writing assignment. With these limiting conditions, I walked into the lonely library next door, and observed with as much focus as I could muster for the sake of this assignment.
As I sat down in front of a cold mahogany desk on a plush,comfortable chair I looked around wondering how in the world this place could be interesting to the average reader. Slowly, however some parts of the library began to come alive. I gathered up all my observational skills and wrote out the following:
“A place of studying and silence, but also panicked cramming and brisk hushed whispers, the library is a fascinating study of the range of behavior exhibited by a student at work. On this summer day, the library has a hollow, desolate, and abandoned quality. There is a stale, stuffy smell of plastic, wood, and old book pages, an aged quality as if the air hasn't been disturbed by swarms of students in a long while. There is the quiet shuffle of a single student’s feet in the distance, the thud of books being arranged on a shelf, the faint drone of the air conditioning, and the occasional clicking of keyboard keys. There are neat rows of books, on a twisting array of bookshelves that are arranged as if in an organized maze. There are a range of scattered rainbows of color on books confined by dark greens, browns, and plain off-whites. There is the roughness of the speckled carpet colliding with the cold, smooth wood contrasting with hard plastic surfaces combined with slippery laminated books.”
I will never forget this library.
There are libraries that I've visited a thousand times that I will not remember with the detail and precision that remember this library with, even though I was inside for only 10 minutes. I know that even if I read this writing 5 years later, I will still be able to recall that image.
This is the power of writing with the senses, and it is by far the most important skill I have learned in this camp. I have understood how to truly observe the most rich, vivid details of an environment and how to select the most perfect diction in order to articulate such a detail with specificity. I have learned to be more interactive with the reader, to include them in a world that I am writing around them.
And so, dear reader, I want you to picture a modern college classroom at Washington University with off white walls, filled with four rows of narrow wooden tables and checker-covered seats, all facing a chestnut-toned teacher’s desk, in front of layered midnight-black chalkboards. This is the place where the writer in me learned to see the world in a new light.