Well, this is embarrassing. I haven’t been updating like I should. I have let things get in the way of writing for me again. That changes today. For those who know me, I’m
somewhat a perfectionist when it comes to sharing my writing. I need to work on being more candid on my blog, because that’s what it’s for, right? So, here we go again. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. :)
I am in a poetry course this semester, studying under the Indiana Poet Laureate. Thus far, this class has helped me change the way I view writing poetry. I’m becoming unafraid to share my works-in-progress, and learning to better embrace critical feedback. Last night, we were discussing readings about revision. A few things grabbed my attention, but especially the notion that we have to stop being nice and sweet throughout our poems. This is me, completely. My poems are generally whimsical and fluffy and nice, leaving me with either a longing or a warm, fuzzy feeling. But sometimes we need that harsh reality to shine through. That darkness is everywhere in our lives, and we shouldn’t sugarcoat it when we share our experiences with others by way of writing. We have to stop letting our good manners get in the way of being raw and rude. Our poems can mean so much more if they have that bite or sting. That means it’s real. If it provokes emotion, then we’re on our way to a good poem.
Revising is something I’ve talked a lot about on here in the past.
TL;DR: I revise as I go and that’s kinda bad for my writing.
I need to learn “first vision, then revision” (wise words by Lynn Emanuel in her piece “In Praise of Malice: Thoughts on Revision”). The idea of getting it out on the page without trying to revise immediately is key. I’m beginning to learn that I need to put a piece of writing away for some time before revising it, because the person I was when I wrote that poem is not who I am now, in this moment… or even five minutes from now. Something new will come along, either through education or experience, and I can apply that to an editing/revising session down the road. In fact, I pulled out a poem I wrote 12-13 years ago for our “X-Treme Revision” process in my class. I read through it and like the thought of it… but my age shows in my writing. I look forward to sharing it later after I complete this process with my class.
There is another poem I am working on for our packet project – this basically is an assignment that will track our revision process. As a class, we all took an oath to revise this one piece of work over the course of a week for a minimum of one hour each day. I will be tracking my progress and will probably scan my revisions so I have them saved electronically – I will be glad to share with you. I always enjoy seeing how others revise or get from one point to the next with their writing, so I hope you will find something useful out of my experience. Also… I urge you to give me feedback – I want to know what you think of my work. Tell if if it sucks, tell me what I need to work on, tell me what you’d change if you were the author… I don’t like hearing “this is great, don’t change a thing!” (See my earlier post on peer response sessions.) Side/end note: one thing I struggle with when it comes to poetry is knowing when it is done. When do you stop revising a poem? When do you call it done? I don’t have an answer for this yet, but I hope to get closer as my poetry improves.
When I began this course, I feared I did not have enough experience as a teacher like my fellow classmates, as I have only tutored in the academic setting. In fact, until this class began, I did not believe that I had a pedagogical background. I discovered that it has been there all along, waiting to be uncovered. I’m beginning to understand this desire to teach has been here all along, and I have to reflect on my life as a writer to even begin considering what my teaching theory could be. To be honest, I never thought I had a set of theories about writing and teaching writing until this course. I have discovered that my teaching principles began to take shape when I took a course to become a tutor in the University Writing Center (UWC). It brought a lot to light for me, and helped me identify and physically write down what two of my theories could be.
- Writing is therapy. Many who write can funnel their passion creatively, or use research as a way to find the answers to their pressing questions. In my experience, journaling has been a savior on its own. I can spend a few moments a day writing out what is bothering me or what makes me happy. I also enjoy challenging myself to put a creative spin on my words when freewriting.
- There is not one end-all-be-all way to write a piece. The beauty about writing is that it’s flexible and can vary from person to person. After I trained to be a tutor for the UWC, I realized I would need to adapt the way I assisted each individual student. Some learn better by seeing, then doing… and others learn better by simple instruction. Even though I would begin each session the same way – breaking the ice, asking them questions about the piece, and have them begin reading aloud – I would often find myself ending the session a different way every single time. This alone helps me learn to adapt to unique situations in an instructor position, which I believe is very important.
My goal for this semester was to better understand theory of teaching composition, and learn how to apply it in my future classes. I believe I met half of that goal, simply because I do not have a classroom yet to test my ability. I have gained a better understanding of the reasons why we teach composition, and I have a better outlook on how I might do so in the future. For instance, for my final individual project I created a syllabus based on the four theories I made a personal connection to – expressivism, genre, culture studies, and social justice. These are the ideas that captured my attention the most.
Now that I have completed this course, I am able to take a deeper look into the traditional definition of theory – Theory is defined as a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be; a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based. Considering this definition and the readings, theory has a large role in teaching composition. Up until I began my graduate degree, I did not understand how theory had a place in writing. when I look back on my education, theory was present the entire time – I just didn’t realize I knew how to identify it. This course has most definitely helped me in that area. Writing was always just a hobby, a way to get the ideas and demons out of my head and onto paper. It was just, and still is (but with more meaning), my form of therapy.
I now understand that the role that theory plays in writing can be quite flexible – there are many ways to go about instructing someone to conduct a task. Understanding theory and how to apply it to each unique situation in the classroom helps everyone – instructors and students alike – become more versed in a craft. Looking back on this course, I now realize how theory really comes into play – and I really understood that subconsciously when I began working as a writing tutor. I can now clearly see my path as a writer would be to help others and educate them about the craft. I will now be able to go forward and help others learn the art of composition.
Since I was young, I have enjoyed reading and writing. What I didn’t realize until recently is that throughout my childhood, I was on the path to become literate. To me, literacy has changed a great deal since I was young. For example, my family did not have a computer in the house until I was in 7th or 8th grade. I often wrote with pen/pencil and paper, in the confines of my room. It was a private thing for me – I had many journals in which I would write about what happened that day at school or at home. It was more of a release versus a mode of communication (like it is for me today). I remember when my small town finally had internet access (dial-up, but still exciting… ugh, it pains me to say that I was excited about a dial-up internet connection when today I won’t settle for anything less than a super-fast connection) – I would walk just under a quarter of a mile to my aunt’s house and use her internet. I would also go over to use her word processor on her computer – I would create a newsletter, pretend I ran a newspaper and report the local news or anything that was of interest to me. In fact, I remember calling it “Up-to-Date News.” Moving forward through school, I found a special connection with my English classes because we were prompted to write about what we studied. Same for history – those two classes required papers and essays. It continued to be a passion through the rest of my teen years, and now that I’m almost out of my twenties, it’s how I want to make a living. Funny, these recollections… means so much more now that I understand my literacy path.
So, what is literacy? It has always been, to me, the ability to read and write coherently, to communicate effectively, and has been a part of the educational process. I think of my literacy history and then think about it from a global perspective: there are still places around the world that do not have internet connections or even computers… whereas today, in America, it seems the average family has multiple computers, a fast internet connection, and many books, magazines, or newspapers to read every day. And if your home doesn’t have some of these things, there’s a local library you can visit to feed your literate soul.
Thinking about how I became literate… my parents were adamant about encouraging me to read and write. Perhaps their parents were the same way with then, and so on, and so on throughout the family tree. I can look at this from many informational perspectives – historical, sociological, case studies, pictures/graphics, and even family artifacts. History tells me people learn to read and write because they were taught… and those before them were taught, and those before them were taught. It’s evolution to me. We, as humans, learned to communicate through signs, symbols, grunting, etc, since the beginning of our race. We use the past to improve present literacy, looking back and seeing how our ancestors performed basic literate tasks. We have adapted in some ways, and evolved from there. This takes me straight into the assumptions we discussed in class. Learning about literacy involves the changes we want to make and how we want to act on it. I have tried to remove myself and act as a spectator in recent years to how my literacy has evolved. Case in point – I have loved to write with a pencil and paper, and that started as doodling with crayons. Now, I can’t go anywhere without my computer because I use my word processor as my form of writing. I do still enjoy how a pen feels in my hand and how it touches the paper – nothing will, to me, ever replace that feeling. I can just type faster than I can physically write, so I tend to favor the computer over the pencil/paper type of writing.
Another point… we were discussing in my other class about revising as we go while typing a paper. I am absolutely horrible at removing the internal editor. I find myself constantly editing as I go when typing… but when I write freehand with pen and paper, I don’t edit as I go as much. Going back a little further and thinking about my speech classes during my early years as an undergraduate, I found myself writing freehand my ideas for my speech, then going and typing them up. That’s when the editing would come into play – while I was rehearsing the speech, I would notice myself changing what I wrote down freehand because I could better organize it on the computer. Or, I would consider how I speak compared to how I write (informal versus formal), and then change the direction of my speech to either formalize or take it down a peg so others could relate to the topic.
My literacy is still changing and evolving. I can personally attest to the statement we made in class – “being literate helps create membership” – I find myself drawn to those who read and write every day, and create conversation based on what we write about. This is one reason I love being back in school – I’m surrounded by individuals who love to read and write as much as I do, and we tend to look at the reasons from historical, sociological, philosophical, and political perspectives. Intellectually speaking, literacy has completely changed me as a person – I have to ask myself: “where would I be without literacy?” I may never answer this, and to be honest, I don’t want to. I’m glad I was brought up in a literate household and was pointed in that direction.
We were given some questions to answer following one of our class discussions – they are listed below.
- Given our discussions in class or what we’ve learned about ourselves as a literate person, what areas would I like to spend more time investigating? I would like to look at my life as a literate person from the historical and sociological perspectives, and weave the readings/discussions in to back up my personal evidence that says I am a literate person. I would also like to look into the literacy rates of sex offenders specifically – the topic of sex offender rights (or lack thereof) has been a great interest for the last few years.
- What do I know about literacy now that I did I not know about literacy before I walked into class tonight? The differences of literacy history between classmates – we all have similar beginnings, but every single person is different and their backgrounds are varied.
- What do I know about literacy now that I did I not know about literacy when I walked into class the first night? I had the undergraduate course for writing and literacy a few years ago, so I assumed I would have a good jumping off point for when I walked into this class. I’m noticing that I was not as critical when it came to studying literacy – I’m beginning to see the elements of thought as real-life application and can apply it to literacy studies now a lot better than what I ever could before.
Rhetoric has been one of those topics I have never felt very comfortable with, for as long as I can remember. It just intimidates me and gives me anxiety! Perhaps it’s because I never fully understood the term, or that it is associated with thoughts bigger than what my brain could comprehend in the past. The readings for this week’s discussion do help eliminate some of that anxiety, but I was still feeling lost. During our class discussion, it was easy for me to see that most of my peers feel comfortable with the term, and few are intimidated like me.
When I took my first college level writing course, I assumed I would get an A because I did in high school. In high school, I was taught the basics. Paragraph structure, syntax, grammar, mechanics, spelling, etc. But I wasn’t taught to synthesize. I wasn’t taught to analyze. Or, maybe I was, but it didn’t get through to me. This is something I want to change for future incoming freshman, should I become an instructor. I want to bridge that gap and not make students feel intimidated when we discuss topics like rhetoric. Incorporating the meaning behind ethos, logos, and pathos into class discussion and exercises have always helped me better understand the topic – had I learned about it earlier in my education maybe I wouldn’t feel so intimidated?
After our class discussion, I realized something… even though I hear the word and feel my mind is about to explode… I use the practice nearly every day without a second thought. It’s the word that, to me, carries the negative connotation.
This gives me hope, as a future teacher. I am learning the tools to use while teaching students (ideally high school or college level) to not think negatively about the Greek words we’re assumed to understand. Teaching rhetoric can tie the shoes, but in order to do that, we need the laces and the shoes themselves. That would be the process of all the elements I mentioned earlier, wrapped into one. Rhetoric can just tie them all together. Maybe if I was taught this way, I wouldn’t feel so intimidated? What kind of exercises could be incorporated in class discussion to take away the assumption that students comprehend what rhetoric really is, and instill the knowledge they need to succeed in a college level English/writing course?
Freewriting, to me, is the ultimate way to begin any piece of composition. It prompts the writer to get their thoughts out and on to the paper. Freewriting helps the writer to organize their thoughts before starting the final draft. The key to freewriting is to not stop writing – no matter what. Why is it when I write… why do I always want to stop, contemplate, and revise what I’m writing.
Peter Elbow tells us in his book Writing Without Teachers that I shouldn’t revise myself as I’m writing. Goodness, I believe that is my biggest problem. (Wow, see, I just did it with that sentence, editing it as go.) I have to stop the madness sometime if I’m going to expect my future students to understand and work with a freewrite method/model. If I can’t make attempts to break my habit, how can I in turn 1) teach the model when I am not perfect and 2) help others learn the model and break their own bad writing habits?
I want to write about my writing habits for a while. I have found that revising as I go is not effective when trying to compose a piece of writing. I often get frustrated, find myself staring off into space while I try to think of a clever way to reword a sentence, and I don’t make progress within a small period of time, versus where I could end up if I would just write off the cuff and not worry so much about the revision process. I think that’s the editor in me, and the drive to write a document once and only have to lightly edit it. It is hard for me to turn that off, but when I do, I can plainly see the success. I notice I get further, I have more written down to potentially draw additional ideas from, and I don’t have to do as much work.
So I must ask myself… why do you work harder instead of smarter in this case? Come on! The answer at first is obvious – I’m an editor. But I need to dig deeper than that. Why do I enjoy editing? Refining a rough draft to get closer to a finished piece gives me a great sense of accomplishment. So, why won’t I just get closer to the finished piece to start, and then go from there, revising as I need to once the first draft is complete?
Once I do have a draft together, I usually print it out, read through it once, and then cut up the paragraphs if I feel there isn’t a solid flow throughout the entire piece. I have a rough time getting to that step, though, unless it’s personal writing. Writing for my undergraduate degree (the first few years, that is), I would often procrastinate and turn documents in as is, and hope for the best. More times than not I would get the grade I desired, which would lead me to believe I was okay doing this process, and could keep going. I’ve learned in my last year of my undergraduate degree, I needed to take more time to develop my writing. Perhaps this is because I began tutoring in my last year of my undergrad degree, but either way, it helped me achieve a better result: a good grade and satisfaction. Before, I would just turn something in and hope for the best, but at the end of my senior year, I knew I was turning in something quality and would deserve the best.
What changed? What did I do different? I spent more time on a project. I was organized from the beginning. I still struggled to stop revising as I wrote a paper, but would have my fellow writing tutors or my boyfriend proofread for me. By the way, he’s an excellent writer, although he won’t admit it often enough. I enjoy reading his work – he’s very intelligent when it comes to tech-centered ideas and video games. He always manages to put a creative spin on things. I sit here and wonder to myself, does he freewrite when composing his blog posts, and at the end of the piece, revise then and only then, or does he revise as he goes along? I know he has me proofread and edit for him on occasion, but I have never asked him this. I do wonder what his process is… and now that I sit here and think about it, I’m kind of mad at myself for not asking him this sooner. I suppose we will have to have a discussion when I get home this evening!
Anyway, back to revising as I go… how do I turn it off? How do I stop the urge to edit while composing a document? I need help with this. Maybe Elbow’s practices will stick with me. I particularly enjoy the concept of allowing four hours to work on a piece and breaking up the first three hours into two sections: the first 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes. This might actually help me concentrate more on getting the writing done versus making it perfect. I need to remind myself that this comes later, not first. I bet I’d be more productive with this approach, and then in turn, I could teach my future students this model and get their feedback. Does it work for everyone? I’d imagine it doesn’t, just as there is no one standard way to write. But I do believe that following Elbow’s suggestion will help writers, both struggling and expert, improve their craft.
I love both revising and editing – sometimes I have to remind myself they are two very different elements of the craft. Revision – re-seeing a document and making changes as necessary to fulfill requirements, whether it be substance or flow. Editing is different. And there are different types. Copy editing, editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation, editing to add a creative spin, and more. This is the part of writing I really enjoy.
Write, write, and write. I hardly spend time writing for pleasure anymore, and I really should, as it is my form of therapy. The fact of the matter is, I always find something else to do, or something else that needs to be done. I’m making time for reading more fiction, so why can’t I stick to my proposed daily writing schedule? How I wish there were more hours in a day, to accomplish everything I want… but by the end of the day, I end up giving up because I’m tired, work has worn me out, my eyes can’t bear to read another word, let alone paragraph or page. This must stop. I remember I used to tell myself “you make time for the things you want to do.” I should start telling myself that again. I have many things I want to do, and writing at least for an hour, or even 30 minutes a day is one of them.
Does the above help me gain clarity about freewriting and my own habits? I do believe so. It has helped me to point out what I believe is a top flaw in my own writing: revising as I go, editing before a document is complete, etc. Sure, I rambled a bit, but I think I was finally getting somewhere regarding revision. Is this a breakthrough? Quite possibly.
Genre is defined as a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Although this might be the dictionary definition, how can we extract an actual, physical definition of genre? It means a lot of things and covers many areas. Personally, I would have to say it’s a way to separate and organize writing, music, movies, books, etc. It’s a way to fit in all the different types of art that could potentially fall under a single category. I feel I must ask myself… how is genre meaningful as a term? A simple conclusion: form + situation = genre. That could work, right?
In our class discussion, we thought of various genres and jotted them down. When I first think of this on my own, I’m naturally drawn to these three stereotypical genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Before, this was my definition, plain and simple. Seemingly, everything can fit into those three categories. After discussing this with my peers, I had a better idea of what genre is. But how do I teach it to my students?
This week, the authors speak about critical thinking when applied to genre writing. How do we teach genre? Like I mentioned before – those three main categories is what I was always taught. I did not think critically when it came to genre. Or maybe I did but I just didn’t realize it. Can we teach a genre as if it were a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ thing? Part of me says yes… but the critical and analytical part of me says no.
In Bawarshi and Reiff’s article, the list they provide on page 197 helped me to consider different questions to ask, such as “Who can, and who cannot, use this genre? Does it empower some while silencing others?” and “What sort of communication does the genre encourage, what does it constrain against?” Teaching that the use of genre can spread further than my initial categories go, and we even have the power to change the world by understanding how to use genre – whether it be fiction, a news piece, the story of someone’s life and how others relate to it, or even a poem that knocks you on your feet when you understand it fully.
Another thought – when considering literacy – can it be used as a metaphor across various disciplines? We can also ask ourselves, what can our knowledge of literature/literacy contribute to other genre areas? As we move forward in life and evolve, new genres are being thought of as we speak. Digital media is one that has taken the world by storm. This did not exist almost 25 years ago. Blogging has become a genre in and of itself. We do it in class, we do it for pleasure, and we do it reach others around the world and relate. On that note, we definitely study genre to understand our culture better, and to relate to others.