Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Another way to think about writing and process...

In previous posts about process, I've covered the notion of Kaizen and the writer (you) as an author in the process of becoming a better writer. In these posts, I encouraged you to think about writing and process from the perspective of developing a process through which you can become a better writer. The process I'm encouraging through assignments is that of taking an inventory of your understanding of the skills and knowledge covered in the WPA outcomes and adding to this assessment as your knowledge and use of skills improves. There's another, equally important way to think about writing and process.

Several years ago, those of us who teach composition rediscovered another idea the Greeks had visited first, namely, that of trying to describe the various stages a speaker or writer goes through as they produce a text. The Greek and Roman version of this process was called the Canons of Rhetoric. The modern version developed from these canons is called "The Writing Process" or the "Process Theory of Writing."

Modern process theory encourages writers to see the value of breaking the task of writing down into a specific set of ordered tasks and devoting their full attention to each task. It teaches various strategies for tackling each task and encourages the writer to find the strategies which work best for him or her. The standard division is as follows:

Prewriting--I've mentioned this step in previous posts and in the syllabus. In this step, you do the work needed prior to beginning to draft your text. You decide on what topic you'll write on. You decide which audience you'll write for. You decided on how you will develop your topic. You figure out what you can say. You figure out the order in which to present your ideas and/or to develop them. One reason I have you writing in your individual, metadiscourse blogs is to help you make prewriting a conscious part of your writing process, and I'll be suggesting tactics for answering prewriting questions, doing an audience analysis, discovering what you can say, and organizing your writing.

Drafting--This step involves you in just getting the your ideas down on paper. Often it's the hardest step for beginning writers, and it's where verbal constipation can occur, that is, if you try to cram all the other steps in writing into drafting.

Revision--In this step you move through multiple drafts of your text looking at various aspects of your text. You make sure the text uses the right tone for your audience. You make sure it strikes the right balance between formality and informality. You think about changes to your organization. You look for places to add an example, evidence, an illustration, a story, or further evidence. You cut out places where you repeat. In short, you make changes to content.

Proofreading/editing--One edits another's paper. One proofreads one own. In this step, you look at grammar, usage, and spelling. It's here where you tackle surface level issues which don't have anything to do with content. Overtime, you develop a set of issues for which you know you have to look. Keeping an error log, that is, a list of your frequent errors in usage, spelling, and grammar is one of the tricks of the trade. It helps you keep an index of all the issues for which you have to look. Issues drop out as you figure out how to recognize and fix them, and they are added as your writing process changes, introducing more chances for new errors.

Review--In this step, you take your product or text, and you judge what you've done, what tactics worked and which didn't. In the Rhetorical Canons, there used to be a canon for rhetorical memory. Literally, this was your memory of tricks of writing and speaking which had worked in the past, tricks you could use in producing the text you're working on currently. By making it a conscious step to add to your rhetorical memory, to review your texts and their effectiveness, you develop a repertoire or a library of ways to write (and not to write).

This division makes the notion of the writing process seem very straightforward. "Follow these steps, and you'll produce good writing." It turns out, however, the division of writing into the steps above is useful as a rubric, but most real writers follow a more messy actual process. The upshot? Learn the terms of the writing process. Think about how they apply to the processes you use to produce texts. Become especially aware of places where you can make a simple change to your process by adding, say, a conscious step in which you figure out your organization prior to writing; but, don't try to slavishly follow rubric above. It can be done, but it's a recipe for frustration. Most on how to use the writing process rubric to improve your writing in tomorrow's post.

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