You know what I realized? The phrase “theory of writing” is utterly confusing and then to add on your own personal “theory of writing”… now that’s just cruel. And I think that’s the point. We’re so uncomfortable with the idea that writing and literacies is fluid and forever changing and expanding that we’ve created that inaccessible aspect of it. I’ve mentioned this plenty of times before, but we’ve socialized this world of writing and literacies to be something only scholars and students of literature can interact in. We’ve created this idea that there’s a finish line, a level you get to where you don’t need to learn anymore or that your engagement in literacies has met its endpoint. Moreover, we’ve created this “theory of writing” to be something one studies and perfects, instead of realizing that, in a sense, there is no universal theory of writing. Right? I mean, the common understanding of a theory is that it is a set system of ideas that dictate a certain understanding and or procedures of a certain subject. When I think of theories in science, international relations, or classical sociological theories, I don’t think of something that is fluid or susceptible to changes; instead, I think of something that’s kind of set in stone and unchanging. So, when I thought about it more, it irked me because, in my mind, our own personal theories of writing can’t exist. You can’t have varying personal theories in something as basic as writing, especially when we teach it and learn it as if it is a set in stone concept able to be mastered. And then, I thought about how writing isn’t basic and how that goes hand in hand with us limiting what we consider literacies and who can engage in such literacies. Furthermore, I thought about how that simple phrase–“theory of writing”–continues that idea that there is a final level, an endpoint, to writing and in turn, doesn’t allow for growth or expansion out of our medieval definitions of writing and literacies. Long story short: I came out of this thought process more confused and lost than ever before (seriously, I felt like I was a part of The Matrix and had thought too deeply about something as simple as a phrase–which also ties into the different connotations and uses associated with words–and was now left running around in circles). So, maybe I’ll refer to this “theory of writing” as my “personality of writing” or philosophy? I don’t know.
Anyways, I hope that rant didn’t confuse any of you and if it did… I’m not mad about it because it’d be nice to have someone else in my corner analyzing every little thing and who is willing to be lost in thought over something “so simple.” So, as for my own personality of writing, I noticed that when we were all writing down key terms and triggers for “good writing” a lot of the words I wrote down were more abstract and less concrete than the rest of my group. I have things written down like: transparency, purpose, fulfillment, relative, and fluid. The only other I guess concrete terms I used would be revision, audience, and comprehension. But even then, I added those to my list after I heard my group members talk about it. It was crazy to me that in coming up with that list of terms, I had forgotten all of the key aspects of writing that I had been taught to recognize as good writing. Things like grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting, and citation. We rarely talked about transparency and purpose in my AP English classes in high school. In all of my college courses, I usually have professors who put a section in the syllabus about “good writing” and what does it usually include? How to do APA or MLA correctly. The basics of grammar. How to format your paper. The more abstract concepts of writing are never talked about. How do we expect to transform the way we assess literacies if we define “good writing” as perfect spelling and grammar usage? How do we expect to expand our interactions with literacies if we don’t talk about the qualities of literacies that go beyond dictionaries, thesauruses, and citation sites? I mean, those basics are important, but they can’t be the end of the discussion when it comes to “good writing” and finding our individual “personality of writing.” And I think we continue to do this for a few reasons. One, I think there’s an inherent fear in writing. I think we as a society are scared to talk about things that aren’t concrete or aren’t easily assessed via strict rules. And as I type this I’m realizing, all of this influences our narrow definition of literacies and who believes they can and do engage in literacies. Two, if we expand “good writing” to include these more abstract aspects, we will destroy the idea that writing can be perfected and mastered. We won’t have that endpoint or finish line to look forward too, and once again, that can be scary. There’s a really fascinating quote on page 1 of Metaconcept and it says, “…people tend to experience writing as a finished product that represents ideas in seemingly rigid forms but also because writing is often seen as a ‘basic skill’ that a person can learn once and for all and not think about again.” And what they’re saying here is completely true and yet (maybe it’s because I haven’t read a ton of literature on this subject) writers rarely talk about writing and literacies in that way. We’re continuing the system and way of thinking about writing to a point that it’s completely limiting. As for the idea that writing is something someone can master without practice, it got me thinking about whether practice makes perfect or practice makes better. We so badly want writing to be something that can be practiced over and over until we perfect it, but that’s just not realistic. That doesn’t allow the world of writing to be fluid. It doesn’t allow writers to integrate their experiences and emotions into their pieces. It doesn’t allow for non-English majors or scholars to engage in writing outside of their academic requirements. So, to me, when my key terms were more abstract, it made complete and total sense. I’m coming into this class dominated by English majors and the expectations of writing in my field are in some ways completely different (other than the basics). We can have a few universal expectations for writing for specific contexts, but ignoring the abstract parts of writing closes its doors. And, in terms of varying literacies, specific expectations and requirements such as APA/MLA won’t be relevant depending on the type of literacy one is engaging in. And, I say all of this to argue that there shouldn’t be one, universal theory of writing. Our personalities of writing should be influenced by our own experiences, emotions, and purpose to what we’re writing. It should also be influenced by the type of writing we’re engaging in. I wouldn’t write the same in a text versus an e-mail. An academic paper versus my spoken word pieces. So, I guess, in order to expand our definitions of literacies and to determine “good writing”, we need to bring in these abstract ideals and to include non-traditional genres of writing into this world.
There were so many good quotes in this reading, I feel like I need to share all of them. I’ll try to keep it concise.
- “Understanding and identifying how writing is in itself an act of thinking can help people more intentionally recognize and engage with writing as a creative activity, inextricably linked to thought.”
- “No matter how isolated a writer may seem as she sits at her computer, types on the touchpad of her smartphone, or makes notes on a legal pad, she is always drawing upon the ideas and experiences of countless others.”
- This one specifically stood out to me because even though we may view such activities as isolation from an outsider perspective, that isolation may mean a connection with someone or some thing not in plain sight such as via social media or even the writer herself, which draws upon the idea of being intentional with writing and using it as a creative outlet.
- “Instructors should remember that common assignment verbs like analyze, interpret, explain, and respond have discipline-specific contexts.”
- I think this is especially pertinent for me to think about as I transition into the TESOL world.
- “…while readers are absent, removed… the need for writers to fictionalize their audiences and for audiences to fictionalize themselves, to adopt the role set out for them by the writer.”
I can go on and on about how incredibly thought-provoking this reading was. But I guess, overall, I learned that writing is freaking complicated. Before our discussions, I used to imagine writing and the literary world as a race to the finish line or wall. That, once you completed your studies, you would hit the wall and be done learning. But that’s clearly not the case. There is no such thing as perfect writing or an expert in this field. It’s always changing. It will always be a fluid area of study. And what gives anyone the right to dictate what is or isn’t literacy? What is or isn’t good writing? What is or isn’t included in the universal theory of writing? When I facilitate Diversity Summit (which, I think should be a requirement for everyone to go through) with the CCLC, we talk about the power of your story. The power of community and the power in empowering others and yourself through sharing your story. And, like anyone would assume, this is a very difficult thing to do, especially with people you just met. And, I usually frame it in a way that sharing your story is like trying to break down a wall. The first few times are painfully rough and difficult. But the more you keep hitting that wall and sharing your story, your ups and your downs, that wall will fall down. It won’t go away. But it’ll become more like a speed bump. Always there, still difficult to do, but a little easier. I think the same idea can be applied to our “personalities of writing.” There is no finish line. There is no wall to break through and be done. But, as long as we commit to writing with purpose, being transparent in our writing, keeping our writing fluid, and working to relate to our audience (whomever that may be), identifying our personality of writing and publishing “good writing” will get easier and be a smoother process than it was at the beginning.
P.S. – As I reread this for the final time, I could sense my AP English Composition teacher rolling her eyes as I glossed over the importance of grammar, spelling, etc. And I don’t mean to say those things aren’t important, but I think there’s plenty of research and publications on those aspects of writing and not enough on the connection writing allows its writers and audience members.