Another prompt for me was a notation I read when exploring some web pages devoted to The Book of Kells. A piece describing the illuminations on the 1,200-year-old book's pages asserted that James Joyce had been inspired to write Finnegans Wake by the dream-like artistic renderings of St. Columba and the monks of the Monastery at Kells. The Penguin edition of Finnegans Wake is adorned with artwork from the Kells version of the Bible.
John Bishop introduces this edition of the Wake as "perhaps the single most intentionally crafted literary artifact that our culture has produced." It evolved under the title Work in Progress and apparently began with Joyce "jotting down and compiling discrete phrases and sketches without fully knowing where they would lead him." Indeed, this attempt to find a way lead Joyce to coalesce his writing into a masterpiece.
It may be a stretch to say that James Joyce engaged in a superhuman exercise in what educators call writing to learn, but I will make that stretch. Writing begets learning. This process begins with what the Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) described as an attempt to put thoughts into writing. De Montaigne coined the term "essay" from the French word "essayer" to describe these trials to find meaning in the commonplace. Writing promotes critical thinking, as the author purposefully addresses an audience with the appropriate tone and point of view. The author attempts to convey a topic and engage the reader.
Creativity is essential if not unavoidable in this effort. Consider the monks at the Kells Monastery, perhaps as Joyce did. The physical act of writing, even if it meant simply copying text from a Viking-ravaged Bible to a new page, must have triggered the same desire to try to create and explain as is enjoined when freely writing one's ideas. Overwhelming creativity produced illustrations so enriching and fascinating that they are called "illuminations." How writing stirs cognition is not known. Perhaps the same divine influence enabling the monks is at work in the commonplace writing our students endeavor. If not, the learning derived from writing to learn is no less marvelous and worth a try.