The readings this week presented both interesting philosophies of writing and practical approaches to teaching a writing practice, or revision practice, to inexperienced writers. The through line that I am most interested in from many of these pieces is the theme of incompletion and redoing, the idea that a written work is always a form of practice and a text in process, like a moment pinpointed in history while time keeps rushing past. Despite the fact that our sentences find completion in the ears/eyes of our audience/readers, I agree with most of the authors in the sense that writing in the spirit of process and practice could produce a hugely important pedagogical shift in the way we teach writing that benefits students. I am interested in this strain of thinking not only because it relates to my scholarly interests in textual studies, but moreover because I think that by shifting the focus to practice and seeing the writing itself as always in process we create a space for a somewhat utopic unsellable product-making, or rather, we teach students the powers of discursion, critique, and a life practice of sighting opportunity in failure.
Since this week I am the discussant, so to speak, I am going to post here some key quotes from the readings I found most interesting, and some discussion questions.
- “What is the process we should teach? It is the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world…Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing and glory in its unfinishedness” (Murray 4).
- “We wanted to imagine power, that is, not in terms of an abstract relation that one might take toward a dominant ideology, but as a set of specific and local moves that a writer might make, as a discursive agency” (Harris 583)
- “…the actual labor of revision” (Harris 588)
- “What is impossible in speech is revision” (Sommers 44.) She then quotes Barthes, “writing begins at the point where speech becomes impossible”
- “In the course of my work the revision process was redefined as a sequence of changes in a composition—changes which are initiated by cues and occur continually throughout the writing of the work” (Sommers 45) “…deletion, substitution, addition, and reordering” (Sommers 45)
- “I ask students to critically think through possible strategies, effects, and reasons for revising the work, which is how I characterize critical revision” (Berzsenyi 78).
• What are the practical concerns of utilizing Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comments” strategy? I love it in theory, but I kept waiting for her to say, I typically write between 4-6 comment/questions on a 4-6 page essay. What is reasonable give our time/pay/labor constraints, were we to wish to implement this excellent strategy for critical revision? Are there other ways to encourage “critical revision” that are more student driven and less dependent on heavy commenting?
• What are the implications on work flow/evaluation procedures were we to embrace a philosophy of teaching writing that emphasized “unfinishedness”? How to culture this approach and reap the benefits for students when the semester always “ends,” the grade gets recorded?
• How can we increase student agency in the revision process? How much depends on the class content structure (like Harris’ construction of arguable scenarios) or on building the vocabulary of revision and habits of writing process (a la Sommers) or engaging disagreement/justification/critical thinking through “Comments to Comments” or a like system? How do we balance “telling” and “shutting up” or make sure that we are teaching students revision practices they can replicate alone, next semester, etc.?
If the double-entrendre of my title didn’t already reach you, I am genuinely concerned, not with complaining about workload or hours in day, but with sharing and modifying best practices so that we can practically “finish the job” even if the philosophy (and reality) is that it keeps going and going and…