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).
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.
The concept that writing is speaking to situations through recognizable forms is most definitely a multi-faceted concept. As a society, we can only learn and understand information within the limits of language through human communication. Think about that for just a second. Our minds have the ability to dream so much, to analyze, and to understand multi-dimensional structures. We also have the capability of feeling emotions such as love and sadness, as well as other sensory notions that are innately human. But, to express what we are thinking or feeling with someone else requires language; a means of sharing and expressing knowledge with others.
Charles Bazerman, an American university educator, has explained this connection between writing and communication, “Through long practical experience we learn to recognize spontaneously what appears to be going on around us and how it affects us … conscious thought is warranted only if we have reason to believe things are not as they appear to be, if confusions arise within the situation, or if we want to suppress our first impulse and pursue a less obvious strategic path — laughing to appear congenial though we find the joke offensive” (35). In other words, communication is so ingrained in human nature that often times we don’t need to think or analyze our actions in response to verbal cues. However, as our instincts detect a disconnection between what our brain is thinking as our ears are hearing, we then begin to consciously decide our verbal response.
Going further, Bazerman states, “With writing, the need for understanding the rhetorical situation is even greater than in speaking because there are fewer material clues with which to locate ourselves spontaneously” (36). One way the reader can garner these clues that Bazerman references are through the use of genres. Explaining his stance on genres, Bazerman stipulates, “It is through genre that we recognize the kinds of messages a document may contain, the kind of situation it is part of and it might migrate to, the kinds of roles and relations of writers and readers, and the kinds of actions realized in the document.” In layman’s terms, genres could be considered stereotypes to some degree. Through years of communication and experience, readers begin to expect certain formats and criteria found within different types of genre literature. For example, one would expect to find historical facts within the pages of an academic college history textbook and therefore, would be able to process the information within this context. For more information regarding genres, read here.
Another American university educator, Bill Hart-Davidson, further clarifies the concept of genres stating, “ … Genres are habitual responses to recurring socially bounded situations … genre is not something an individual writer does, but rather is the result of a series of socially mediated actions that accumulate over time, genres are only relatively stable” (40). As writers compose literary works, they often adhere to these recognized social constructs as a means of communicating with readers. Over time, slight changes are inevitable, but throughout literary history, many of the classic frameworks still have a prominent place in academic discourse communities.
Mometrix Academy has produced an informative video describing the various literary genres of today; pay special attention to how many of these written works were originally meant to be sung or performed, not just read.
Personally, I find this video to be extremely instructional in regards to the specific types of literary genres found in our culture, and upon viewing, I was able to understand Andrea A. Lunsford’s perspective that, “ … writing is performative … ” (43).
Building upon the concept that writing is a performative act, Lunsford suggests that the performance of writing can go so far as to elicit “spontaneous donations” (44). As I think about the heart-felt stories that have been shared and read on social media sites in forms of Go Fund Me accounts or Caringbridge updates, I begin to truly comprehend the performance dynamics that writing may invoke. I, myself, have made instantaneous monetary donations based upon emotional reactions to various types of written prose. Therefore, I must conclude and as Bazerman mentions, writing most definitely represents the world, events, ideas, and feelings (37), lending to my conclusion that writing is a complex and layered tool of communication.
Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay. 2019, pixabay.com/illustrations/face-faces-dialogue-talk-psyche-3189811/
Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Speaks to Situations Through Recognizable Forms.” 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. 35-37.
Caring Bridge. CaringBridge, 2019, www.caringbridge.org/. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
Charles Bazerman: The Gevirtz School of Education. The Regents of the University of California, 2014, bazerman.education.ucsb.edu/. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
GoFundMe. GoFundMe, 2010-2019, www.gofundme.com/. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
Hart-Davidson, Bill. “Genres are Enacted by Writers and Readers.” 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. 40.
Literary Devices: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms. Literary Devices, 2019, literarydevices.net/genre/. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
Lunsford, Andrea A. “Writing is Performative.” 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. 43-44.
Mometrix Academy. “Types of Literary Genre.” YouTube, uploaded 21 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxbDGyLZttA.
William Hart-Davidson: Associate Professor, Associate Dean of Graduate Education (College of Arts and Letters). Michigan State University, wrac.msu.edu/people/faculty/william-hart-davidson/. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
My writing philosophy closely aligns with Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Although I completely understand there are underlying mechanics of formal writing that many authors follow, and book publisher editorial staffs expect, I also believe that writing is a form of creative expression that shouldn’t be tamed. What I do know about writing, is it means something very different to each author.
Writing styles vary drastically among peers, and for this reason, true art may flourish without boundaries. If everyone used the same syntax, visual structure, or perspective, how bland the world would truly be. Some writers are very organized and methodical; they create outlines, reverse outlines, and design their story, whether formally written or organized only in their thoughts. Other writers use a more free form and write as they go.
Defining “good” writing is quite difficult as it is a subjective analysis based on the preferences of each individual reader. Therefore, I feel as though “good” writing captures the author’s intention. Compositions changed to fulfill a specific genre’s expectations or novels edited to an extreme extent where the storyline is completely changed may increase book sales; but are these changes examples of “better writing?”
J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, Harry Potter, is an excellent example of this paradox. The book series has sold over four hundred million copies. Upon completion of the first book, Ms. Rowling queried agents and was declined “loads” of times before the London publishing house, Bloomsbury, accepted the manuscript (Gillett). I often wonder what agents who declined the manuscript for not being marketable must think now. Rowling has been identified as the first author to become a billionaire from writing (Carmichael).
A commonly held belief is that writing is easy for successfully published authors. I don’t believe this to be true. At the beginning of each and every manuscript created is a blank page, a pen or pencil, and/or a keyboard. Ms. Rowling speaks to the tenacity and perseverance that all writers must possess and how failure itself will help a writer discover themselves. I believe there is something for all aspiring writers to learn from the most successful female author in history, and it has nothing to do with a financial payoff.
As shown in the following video, Rules for Success, The Top Ten Rules for Success, according to J.K. Rowling, are: failure helps you discover yourself; take action on your ideas; you will be criticized; the process is subjective; remember where you started; believe; there is always trepidation; life is not a checklist of achievements; persevere; dreams can happen; we have the power to imagine better (Carmichael).
In my future classroom, I hope to utilize a teaching philosophy known as holistic education. Put simply, the foundational approach to this style of instruction is concerned with the student’s ‘whole self.’ It attempts to recognize and understand that each student has various potentials in areas of intellect, emotion, artistic, and creative modes, among others (Wikipedia). Below is a short video that attempts to explain how the holistic educational approach can somewhat fill in the gaps for student learning: What Does ‘Holistic Learning’ Mean for Students?
As a writer myself, I understand the fear of failure and being critiqued on something as personal as bearing your soul on paper. However, following the example of J.K. Rowling, I further hope to help my students embrace the concept of believing in themselves.
BibliU. “What Does ‘Holistic Learning’ Mean for Students?” Online video clip. Youtube. YouTube, 1 August 2019. Web. 25 August 2019, youtu.be/2aFIfCwSEnc.
Carmichael, Evan. “J K. Rowling’s Top 10 Rules for Success (@jk_rowling).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 September 2015. Web. 25 August 2019, youtu.be/bvMtUuedLwU.
Gillett, Rachel. “From welfare to one of the world’s wealthiest women — the incredible rags-to-riches story of J.K. Rowling.” Business Insider, www.businessinsider.com/the-rags-to-riches-story-of-jk-rowling-2015-5. Accessed 25 August 2019.
Hain, John. “Medicine Wheel.” Pixabay, 16 September 2014. pixabay.com/illustrations/medicine-wheel-wisdom-power-vision-444550/. Accessed 25 August 2019. Copyright-free.
“Holistic Education.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org, 14 August 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_education. Accessed 25 August 2019.