Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Walls with a Word Count: The Textrooms of the Extracurriculum

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Walls with a Word Count: The Textrooms of the Extracurriculum

Article excerpt

The location of writing is more than an address identified on Google Maps or a particular room and building number. Texts-not just rooms-have long served as venues for writing instruction, offering learning opportunities to individuals who lacked access to or were disenfranchised by classroom edu- cation. Discursively constructed alternatives, such as the self-help books on writing or Peter Elbow's early composition books, have played as important a role as brick-and-mortar sites in writing education (Gere, Writing; Gere, "Kitchen"; Peary). Text and physical space can be permeable, mutually shaping forces, as evident in Nedra Reynolds's exploration of composing spaces and Jessica Enoch's analysis of nineteenth-century school rooms as "rhetorics of space" in which "material and discursive practices . . . work to compose and enhance a space" (276). Moreover, physical space does not unilaterally define textual production: influence can flow the other direction such that discursive spaces impact traditional education. As Tom Reynolds argues, popular early twentieth-century magazines sponsored the classroom by increasing public interest and attendance in college. Consequently, we need to redefine the lo- cation of writing instruction to include the convergence of learners and instructors in textual spaces alongside three-dimensional ones to gain a fuller understanding of how individuals learn about writing.

This article examines text-based loca- tions for writing instruction as a third strand of the extracurriculum of composition, to join self-help books on writing and face-to- face writing groups. Like self-help books, including Natalie Goldberg 's Writing Down the Bones and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, textrooms are constructed from words; like a face-to-face writers' gathering at a neighborhood coffee shop, textrooms are participatory. Unlike these groups or books, textrooms are learning spaces constructed by individuals as they write and publish-es- sentially establishing a coauthored classroom. The walls of the textroom are constructed from the very words of the learners and teacher. In contrast to typical self-help books on writing, text-based sites involve more than a single writer's testimony and are instead locations built on the recorded written interactions of multiple participants of varying expertise (novice to estab- lished author) around the topics of writing and publishing. Mentorship occurs through participants' display of their texts, which range in formality (published comments to essayistic or researched articles that have undergone editorial review). Opportunity for freelance submissions is characteristic of text-based sites as a way for editor-teachers to showcase final products of constituents' writing processes and provide alternatives to hegemonic texts as models. This publishing component disqualifies a Facebook group, for instance, of creative writers who might be exchanging information about professional opportuni- ties. Unlike a face-to-face writing group in which conversations about writing evaporate, textrooms are epigenetic, providing a stable record of instruction, a trail of interactions to which learners can return at any time with a standing invitation to future learners. Textrooms are also generative and democratic: the more learners discuss, publish, and post, the more extracurricular oppor- tunity they afford other writers: the higher the word count, the more learning opportunities exist for participants.

Through a diachronic analysis of two extracurricular sites for women writ- ers separated by over 150 years, one a nineteenth-century magazine, Godey's Lady's Book, and the other a trio of blogs-Mother Writer Mentor, Her Kind, and She Writes-I examine women's discourse about composing and publish- ing across sites of writing. Like Margaret Beetham, who pairs the mid- to late nineteenth-century magazine industry in Britain with the twenty-first century Web, finding similarities in the way both foster "imagined communit[ies] of women," I see continuities in "word-based technologies" from different eras (235, 232). …

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