Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Part II
Becoming a Writer

All writers live with uncertainty. We start out thinking we're about to write A and then we find ourselves writing B. Is B a better thing to have written than A? On another day, would we have written C? Gerald Graff writes that “inside every text are several other texts waiting to get out. ”1 Despite whatever sense of purpose and clarity we may think we have, there is often something haphazard about writing. We're always, in fact, a little out of control. In the process of putting words on paper, we can lose the thought that brought us there. Maybe we'll find it again at another point in the process or maybe we'll “unify” ourselves, as Graff says, around the new thought. But there is often a gap between our original intention and what we actually say. That lack of control can be disconcerting, but it is also what allows for creativity. Unless we're willing to let go, our writing can become wooden and predictable. If we can learn to follow our words, they can take us to places in our own mind, to connections and associations that we didn't know were there.

Working writers know this process well and make room for it in their writing practice. But it is unfamiliar to many students and is something they may have been taught to distrust. Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers (Oxford, 1973) was one of the earliest and most influential works to make students aware of the fluidity of invention. By observing his own history as a writer, he noticed that the more he tried to be clear and well organized, the more painful and awkward writing became. Finally, he learned to relinquish some control, to exploit his mind's tendency to make surprising connections when left to its own free associative devices. Thus, he is often identified as the “free writing person” who encourages people to be undisciplined, to

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1
Quoted in George Hillocks, Jr., Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice (New York: Teachers College Press, 1995) 7.

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