What’s a “Healthy Writing Process?”
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Rationales for Writing Across the Curriculum are always talking about how important it is to “develop a healthy writing process” in students, and it’s generally agreed that WAC courses should encourage students to think of writing as a repeated process of drafting and revision. But what is a healthy writing process exactly? Don’t all writers have different processes?
Certainly, writers’ minds work very differently, even idiosyncratically, and it would be a great over-simplification and imposition to feel like we should be squeezing every process of composition into the same mold, as many handbooks do: brainstorm, outline, draft, workshop, redraft, edit. In fact, not only is there great variability between the processes different writers use, but any experienced writer knows very well that he or she seldom follows exactly the same process with different projects. Some require a long gestation period and some none at all. With some pieces, the real work may be in sifting through and adjusting for the comments of multiple readers representing different takes on an issue after drafting formally – often the case with public documents, for example – while the burden of other pieces is in connecting their different sections, which requires more than anything else long hours of hard interior work – as with the chapters of most dissertations.
So while we wouldn’t prescribe any single process for student-writers, what we would recommend is encouraging student-writers to think about their writing projects as the result of some process or other – emphasizing that a paper shouldn’t be done in a single sitting, some number of days (or, certainly, hours!) before it’s due – and building spaces for reflection on students’ developing ideas into your course. Try to get students to ask themselves: what will I write, what have I written, why does it matter, how can it be improved? Pausing for this sort of reflection may be especially effective at certain moments: when they’re interpreting the assignment, when they’re gathering evidence, when they draft, when they begin to organize ideas, when they solicit readings from informed peers, when they edit. Consider, too, that this may well vary with the assignment, which may make certain stages in the composing process more important than others.