A Call for Prototypes that Illustrate "Writing as Process"

Final published versions of articles don't include transcripts of brainstorming sessions, of initial drafts, of conversations between/among colleagues -- all of which are evidence of the dynamic writing process and all of which are omitted in most print-bound (and even some electronic) publications. All that we're left with are static, reified, lifeless objects. And our students, seeing these objects, have no sense of the processes behind these products, and can therefore easily (and mistakenly) assume that such objects flowed effortlessly from the writer (a linguistic Mozart) -- an assumption that's a throwback to current-traditional (CT) theories of writing.

According to Sharon Crowley, the introspective theory of invention that informs CT "rhetoric" paints "a picture of the rhetorical scene that [is] curiously serene and univocal: communication takes place in an ideal discursive world where rhetors always know exactly what they intend" (30). Consequently, students having been "CTed" believe that they should know exactly what they intend to write before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When students are unclear about their intentions (e.g. a method of development, a thesis statement) before they begin writing, they become what I call "cognitively constipated" -- completely blocked; such students think that they ought to be able to control their cognitive processes, to point their minds in the one right direction. And if they can't do this, they think that something's wrong with them.

There's nothing wrong with them. What's "wrong," if you will, with the habit of publishing only finished versions of documents is that it sends our students an incorrect message: that we are linguistic Mozarts, able to compose entire compositions in our heads, making the act of writing little more than transcription. Most of us, I'd hazard to guess, are more like Beethoven, whose first drafts of compositions were allegedly rather horrid and who therefore was a great reviser. But -- following one of our famous pieces of writing advice -- we need to show our students this latter tendency, not merely tell them. We need to publish -- make public -- our conversations, our mental meanderings, our negotiations with each other and with our evolving texts.

In "The Shape of Text to Come: The Texture of Print on Screens," Steve Bernhardt outlines nine qualities of on-screen text, five of which are particularly relevant to the "writing space" of the WWW: screen-based texts tend to be more "situationally embedded," "interactive," navigable," "spacious," "customizable and publishable" (151-152). Existing forums such as The PreText Conversations: REINVW, for example, use these qualities to their best advantage, thereby showing our writing processes.

Opening | Prototypes Exploring Possibilities | Prototypes Illustrating Writing Process |
Prototypes Illustrating Social Construction | Prototypes Illustrating Praxis | Conclusion (?) | Works Cited


Last updated: February 1997