I could go a million different directions with this quote, so I hope I can pull it all together. Hold on, just in case my thoughts give you whiplash.
My recent experience with persuasive writing is proof that writing is about the writer's life. I believe this applies to all genres, but it's about as plain as day when a student writes persuasively to a local radio station and hears back in a big way. (Read about that here.) Pushing a topic and audience onto this writer would never have brought these results. Neither would they have impressed upon him the all-important lesson that his life matters.
Sometimes I wonder why teacher-given topics are so prevalent. Is fear a factor? My students don't know what they're doing. They might flounder, so I'd better provide a scaffold. Is it state testing? My students must know how to write to a topic, because that's how they'll be tested. I'm not sure that either reason is reason enough to remove choice from their lives.
"Don't steal your neighbor's thinking power." My kids often hear me say this, because those pals of theirs need an opportunity to think before someone blurts out their own thoughts. In essence, providing topics steals our writers' thinking power. It handcuffs their right to think, to struggle for that idea that might turn into something extraordinary, to value their own experiences and thoughts, to find that their lives really do matter.
When given the opportunity, they'll come up with their own ideas and creative ways to express them. With the right guidance and practice, they'll be able to write successfully, even on that random day when a stranger expects them to write to a topic. Their lives do matter and choice within writing teaches them just that.
My apologies if you're currently recovering from the affects of whiplash, but you'll so want to make your way over to visit Dawn and Kerri as soon as you can. They are my inspiring guests for the day, and I'm absolutely thrilled about it. Please, please, please do pay them a visit!