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The Words You Write First Are Anyone’s Words

My uncle passed away on September 3rd, 2017 after an eight-month battle with cancer. I knew the end was near when he was admitted to hospice in late August. I wasn’t sure what to do when I heard the news the end was near so I sat down at my computer and wrote.

I began writing a eulogy – one of four that would be delivered at his September funeral – a few days before he passed away. I started recording some basic facts I knew about my uncle. But the more I typed, the more I felt as though I was merely listing his professional and personal accomplishments. His eulogy started to read more like an obituary, rather than a celebration of his life. Rereading it made me nauseous. Therefore, I did what 21st century writers do. I hit control-A, followed by control-X, so I could start over with a blank page.

After a few minutes of starting at a cursor flashing on the white screen, I heard my former professor’s voice (i.e., Lucy Calkins). I recall Lucy saying something like, “Don’t write anybody’s words. Write the words that are precisely your own.” I didn’t want to write the words anyone who knew my uncle could write. Instead, I wanted to capture him with words only I could say.


This photo was taken nearly 10 years ago on my wedding day. My uncle, Leonard A. Shubitz z”l, posed for a photo with my husband and me before he led our guests in the Motzi, which is the blessing Jews recite before eating a meal.

I gave myself 30 minutes to flash-draft the eulogy. I emailed it to my dad and wrote, “Please let me know what you think. Thoughts, comments, and suggestions are welcome.” I did this because I knew the words I wrote didn’t make for a traditional eulogy. Therefore, I didn’t want to upset my father – whose brother was passing away far too early – if I had written something too untraditional. A few hours after I sent the flash draft to my Dad, I received a note back from him telling me it looked fine.

It took me a few days to write words that could only come from me – my uncle’s only niece – and nobody else. After a couple days of tinkering, I found what I thought were the right words.  Did it flow as smoothly as I had hoped? No. However, it was a eulogy, not a book. I didn’t have months to revise. Therefore, the day before the funeral, I printed it out and practiced it in an effort to get through it without crying. (All the practice was futile since I cried when I reached the end of it at the funeral.)

On the drive home from the cemetery, I had time to think about my writing process. While my eulogy may have been more lighthearted than the rest (e.g., Click here to read my mom’s eulogy of my uncle.) I think it my words were important. They allowed me to express my love for a person who mattered greatly to me. It was far from the best thing I’ve ever written, but it was something that could have only been written by me. And this made me think, regardless of the genre, one of the most important things we can teach young writers to do is to write words that could come from them – and only them.

One of the hardest things we teach students to do is to write with voice. Writing with voice allows readers the ability to feel the writer coming through. It’s about engaging with the reader, individual expression, tone, commitment, and the way the writing fits with the audience and purpose (Education Northwest, 2014, 5-6). Perhaps one of the ways we can help our students write with voice is to help them realize they must write words that could only be written by them, and them alone.



Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.

16 thoughts on “The Words You Write First Are Anyone’s Words Leave a comment

  1. Wow, Stacey- we both have endured great loss this year. I love the way you have openly shared not only your much-too-soon loss of a wonderful uncle, but how you teach us about voice and the importance of individuality in writing. We, as teachers, coaches and mentors, want to do everything we can to support the nurturing of a young writer’s voice.


  2. Lots of love to you and your family as you mourn your uncle.

    Your title really captures what’s important here, I think. Usually, what we write first are generalities, but we need to write that to get us started.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post.


  3. I am sorry for your loss, but oh, your words about writing…so wonderful. I had tears in my eyes when I got to the part about you crying at the end of reading your eulogy. Profound wisdom comes from profound emotional experiences. Thank you for sharing this so truthfully.


  4. I did the eulogy for my Mom in 2005. I played a recording of “She,” by Halford–a slow ballad tribute to the singer’s mom. I had a Catholic priest give a guest talk since Mom belonged to their cooking circle. I was Unitarian-Universalist at the time. We had the service at the funeral home of a minister I’d met during my 5 years teaching at an HBCU.


  5. Stacey, this is a heart-felt and important post. I read your eulogy and smiled the whole time, thinking of how memories of your uncle were shaped by different foods through the years. His personality and love for his family really came through your writing. I’m sure it meant so much to the whole family to relive these stories. This is why we teach students to write- not so they will all become published authors, but so writing can be meaningful in their lives. They can celebrate the best of times and the hardest of times through writing. The eulogies I wrote for my grandparents remain among the proudest pieces of writing I’ve written- because it gave me a chance to publicly say their lives mattered tremendously and impacted many. Thank you for sharing such an important and beautiful post.


    • I’m not a fan of talking about death with young children. However, I think we can teach kids that important life cycle events — happy or sad — are worthy of capturing with words. Whether it’s a letter to a child, a toast to the bride & groom, or a eulogy… what we say and how we say it matters.


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