I remember the first time I really felt like I was learning how to write was my first year of college. Obviously I'd written before then, and I was always a talented writer, but I don't recall ever having felt like somebody was teaching me how to write - teaching me a process for writing - until my first year of college.
Before that, sure, I do remember being told how to write - how an essay was supposed to be structured, how a particular assignment should look - but I don't remember anybody giving me the tools to do those things. This isn't to say I wasn't given them - it may well be that I just wasn't ready to accept what I was being taught about process at that point. (Incidentally, I think one of the most important things I've learned as a teacher of writing is that some students are just not yet ready to internalize the stuff about process in their first semester of college, and this doesn't necessarily have a thing in the world to do with innate intelligence or preparedness or anything else - it's about maturity - and so again, I'm not dissing my high school teachers or anything for not teaching me a process for writing - I really think I just wasn't ready. I also think that sometimes it is naturally talented writers who most resist being given instruction about process because they've never needed to articulate their process to themselves before because they're just "good" at writing.)
So why am I thinking about learning to write and process on this sunshiney Saturday afternoon? Well, obviously, with teaching writing one often thinks about such things. But I'm also thinking about it because I'm trying to turn a 25-page article into a 16-18 page talk, and so I'm thinking a lot about my own writing process and my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
1) I can tend to be wordy. I know: this shocks you.
2) Sometimes, while a structure makes perfect sense to me, it can seem... "baroque"... to a reader. (That adjective is courtesy of my dissertation advisor.)
3) I can be too absolute about my interpretations.
1) I'm a confident writer, and I generally don't get blocked.
2) I'm completely willing to scrap pages and pages, and I do not fall in love with words or sentences that I write. Even whole paragraphs I'm totally happy to chop out of an essay if necessary, and I don't give it a second thought.
3) I have a strong voice (I think) that comes through even in formal academic prose.
1) How to maintain the shape of my argument and the nuances of my analysis while still chopping out pages of material? (Incidentally, I'm down to 19 now, so really I'd be fine if I just cut out 1-2 pages more.)
2) How to anticipate questions about this project when I'm not even sure I believe what I'm arguing in it. (This is a pitfall related to Strength #2 - I fear I don't really have much conviction about my literary critical claims.)
3) How artfully to direct an audience to a handout for longer quotations; how artfully to integrate read quotations in a way that isn't terribly clunky. (My personal belief is that there is no artful way to do either of these things, but a girl can dream.)
What I wish is that all writing were like blog writing, where I don't edit, where I don't anticipate responses, and where I don't feel pressure. I hate pressure. Pressure sucks. And it makes me procrastinate. So far this morning I have not even glanced at the talk I'm preparing, but rather I scheduled an appointment with a prospective pet-sitter, I talked to my mom on the phone, I played on my computer, and I invented and baked a casserole. And now I'm blogging about what I need to do with my talk I'm revising instead of working on the actual revisions.
But now I'm going to go try my casserole, and if it's any good I will post the recipe, since again, I invented it. I am very creative when I'm not getting things done, you know.
2 years ago