Philosophical Thoughts

Writing: Know Yourself

Who am I? What do I think? How do I feel? What are my biases?

Writing, like life, is a series of events and experiences that lead the writer to traverse different paths. Often times, this exploratory process remains in the shadows, out of sight, and unbeknownst to each writer. As participants in our communities and disciplines, many times, we don’t recognize how our perspectives change over time as a result of our life experiences. In other words, we write what we know. However, sometimes, when we write, we don’t realize what we know. An excellent way to learn more about oneself, quite frankly, is to journal. By writing daily about your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and fears, you will begin to notice trends and realize how much you didn’t know about yourself. For more information on how to get started journaling, The Writing Cooperative has a great article that will help you begin an adventure to self awareness.

There are inherent biases in our voices, and those biases contribute to each writer’s message. Tony Scott so adeptly put this concept into perspective, “Writers are not separate from their writing, and they don’t just quickly and seamlessly adapt to new situations. Rather, writers are socialized, changed, through their writing in new environments, and these changes can have deep implications” (49). This concept reminds me of how varied each person’s childhood may be. From the conditions of each individual household, to what types of opportunities and events in which the child is exposed, to the dynamics of the community in which they were raised, no two people will share the exact same experience growing up. This, in itself, creates diversity amongst the masses. We all bring to the table different observations and understandings. Therefore, our writing not only shapes our identities and ideologies, but our identities and ideologies shape our writing.

By the process of being immersed into specific learning disciplines, otherwise known as discourse communities, or being exposed to conventions associated with these disciplines, writers naturally begin to think and associate their own beliefs within a similar theoretical framework as the discipline. For example, an undergraduate Psychology student is learning industry-specific vocabulary, methods of research, and styles of writing related to their specific field of study. After reading journal article after journal article and beginning to understand the process of research, unknowingly, the student will begin to write in a similar style to what they have been reading. The caveat is the student may be completely unaware of their change in writing style. This phenomenon is being studied to further our understanding of how discourse communities contribute to the student or individual developing institutional norms.

Ethnographic (scientific descriptions in regards to customs, norms, and differences among populations or groups of people) perspective is one type of consideration that research is pointing to as a means of identifying specific assumptions each discipline expects students to know before being exposed to the program. Freed and Broadhead’s article, College Composition and Communication, discusses and defines this concept further (163). The information gleaned from ethnographic research would be very helpful for trying to establish a platform for teaching creative writing within a specific community. Below is a short video which explains the value and processes of ethnographic research.

As with all technological advances, the composition of writing has changed over time. As Kathleen Blake Yancey points out, “Writers’ identities are, in part, a function of the time when they live: their histories, identities, and processes are situated in a given historical context” (52). The construct of teaching writing has also changed over time. As Yancey indicates, “Teachers have shifted from teaching writing through analysis of others’ texts to teaching writing through engaging students in composing itself.” Writing used to only encompass the written word, but through advances in the field of technology, writers can utilize images, videos, and sounds to convey a multimodal experience to the reader (53). The diversity of individual life experiences culminating into each writer’s individualistic style creates a paradoxical effect for teachers trying to educate others within the discipline. No two students share the same life experiences, which then begs the question, “Should the instruction of writing be uniform or tailored to the individual?”

Furthermore, as suggested by Andrea Lunsford, “Even when writing is private or meant for the writer alone, it is shaped by the writer’s earlier interactions with writing and with other people and with all the writer has read and learned” (54). A recent University of Florida study determined that what college students read directly affected their syntactic sophistication; those that primarily read journal articles and literary fiction, or general nonfiction displayed higher levels of sophistication (Douglas and Miller, 77). This adds to the level of complexity in how to teach a streamlined process (of writing) across a diversity of students. When it comes to writing, students will always draw upon previous knowledge of how to draft the text, organize the argument, or details of the subject in general (Lunsford, 55).

Works Cited

Douglas, Yellowlees, and Samantha Miller. “Syntactic Complexity of Reading Content Directly Impacts Complexity of Mature Students’ Writing.” www.sciedupress.com/journal/index.php/ijba/article/view/9481/5736

Freed, Richard C., and Glenn J Broadhead. “Discourse Communities, Sacred Texts, and Institutional Norms.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 38, no. 2, 1987, pp. 163. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/357716.

Lunsford, Andrea A. “Writing is Informed by Prior Experience.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 54-55.

Scott, Tony. “Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 49.

The Sweet Spot. “What is Ethnography and How Does it Work?” YouTube, uploaded 6 Dec. 2017, youtu.be/_c1SUHTG6B8.

Turner, Eric. “The Best Way to Learn From Yourself.” The Writing Cooperative, 22 July 2018, writingcooperative.com/the-best-way-to-learn-from-yourself-cc9713badd26. Accessed 13 Sept. 2019.

Vesalainen, Tero. Pixabay. 2019, pixabay.com/photos/thought-idea-innovation-imagination-2123970/

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writers’ Histories, Processes, and Identities Vary.” Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 52-53.

4 Comments

  • Danny Madore

    Hey Melinda! I really enjoyed your post. I especially enjoyed your suggestion about journaling being a way to learn more about yourself as a writer. I am taking a creative nonfiction class this semester and the professor gives us a prompt each week to simply write about in a personal journal. The goal is to write freely and openly, not worrying about if it is “good” or not, and this has helped tremendously with my writing. In your classroom, will you encourage students to write in a journal? I think it can be a useful tool to give students a new perspective on writing.

  • Nikki

    Melinda,

    It’s so coincidental that journaling came up in your post. I just started doing it a couple of nights ago (for the first time since I was a kid) out of a desperate need to write something. I feel like it is making me get to know myself better, but I also feel so strange as I do it. I’m almost sure that I’ll cringe if I go back and read it better.

    I also like that you brought up the issue of whether writing instruction should be uniform or tailored to the individual. I wish that we, as educators, could tailor it to the individual, but I don’t think that we’ll really get this opportunity with how large our class sizes will be.

  • Miro Jefferis-Nendick

    Melinda,

    As time goes on, and as it keeps coming up in every single class it feels like, I often wonder how people or even how we will teach people how to write. And obviously the big question too is should it be uniform or tailored to the individual, just as you asked. Honestly I’m not sure. I’m more inclined to say tailored to the individual, but how do you do that? How do you do that with a huge class full of people? How do we teach for different styles of writing, like academic vs creative? It makes me tired thinking about all of this haha. I also agree, journalling is an amazing tool. I journalled through most of high school, and re -reading them today is a TRIP! But I’m glad that I did though 🙂

  • Willie Lawson

    Melinda,

    I think it’s really interesting that you suggest using journaling as a way to determine your multiple identities. My experience with journaling has always been as a reflective practice. I had not considered using it as a means of identifying who I am or what my ideologies are. I may have to put this into practice.

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