Historians and philosophers are fond of saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This observation is equally valid in regard to your development as a writer. Rather than putting yourself down for making errors, remember that life is an ongoing processing of learning. The takeaway needs not to be the failures of the past but the challenges of the future and how to meet those strategically.
At times composing seems to be fairly simple. Some rhetorical situations require little planning, research, revising or editing, such as
- a grocery list, a to-do list, a reflection on the day’s activity in a journal
- documents you routinely write, such as the professor’s letter of recommendation, a bosses’ performance appraisal, a ground-water engineer’s contamination report.
Typically, however, composing is challenging. This is especially true
- when you are unfamiliar with the topic, genre, medium, discourse community
- when the thesis/research question/topic is complicated yet needs to be explained simply
- when there is insufficient time to engage in all needed composing strategies, from planning, revision, to editing
- when your are endeavoring to synthesize other’s ideas and research
- when you are hoping to say something substantive
- when your audience or discourse community may be threatened by the rhetor’s message.
As an example of the challenging nature of composing, consider everything you do when you try to write something of value.
To create substantive prose, you
- may need to engage in preliminary research and sustained research.
- may collaborate with others to co-author or critique a text.
- may use images, color, shape, document design, and typography to visually illustrate a thesis
- may use heuristics (prewriting exercises) to overcome writer’s block
- may try different Organizational Schema at the global and local level to assess the most logical organization for any given rhetorical situation
- may edit and revise texts.
How writers compose—the processes, the intellectual strategies, they employ for specific writing tasks—is dynamic and contextual. There is no one ideal composing process. Rather, different writing projects call for different approaches to composing. Because composing is so complex, many models of composing have been proposed. It seems at times there are as many models of composing as there are writers.
Protocol analysis of writers at work (a method that asks writers to speak out loud what they are thinking as they compose) and other research on composing has found writers often engage in
The Element of Reflection
Reflecting involves examining how you compose and questioning whether you can overcome obstacles to research and writing by experimenting with new composing strategies. Reflecting involves incorporating feedback from critics. Reflecting involves considering how you can apply what you read about writing to your own composing processes.
The final writing activity for many people involves submitting their work to clients, co-workers, or supervisors. For students, primary audiences tend to be instructors or other students. Whether you’re writing for an instructor or a client, criticism can often be painful, so it is understandable that many of us try to avoid hearing or thinking much about our critics’ comments. Nevertheless, your growth as a writer is largely dependent on your ability to learn from past mistakes and to improve drafts in response to readers’ comments.
- What assumptions about writing and research do you hold that intrude on regular writing? For example, do you assume that you first need to do the research and then the writing? Are you uncomfortable writing without having thoroughly completed the research?
- What social supports can you establish to promote regular writing? Can you arrange, for example, to discuss ideas for writing projects with informed friends? Do the people you live with respect your need for quiet time when developing projects? Do you know people who can provide you with encouragement when you are feeling discourage about the worthiness or potential of an idea?
- What strategies can you employ to help you accomplish your writing goals? For example, can you demystify the composing process, overcome negative thoughts, structure your time differently, engage in more (or less prewriting), separate editing from revising, and spend more time revising documents?
- How would you describe your typical writing voice, persona, or style? When you sit down to write a research report, what sort of style do you hope to present?
- The biggest editorial problem that readers have identified with my work…
- The problems that I want to work on are…
- Readers always tell me I should…
- What changes can you make in your environment that will help you achieve your writing goals? For example, can you find a way to minimize distractions, or is your writing environment too quiet for you? Do you need a better light or a software upgrade?
- What self-talk can you identify that intrudes on your productivity? For example, does a small voice within you whisper that your ideas lack originality or that the instructor or editor will dislike your manuscript? Do you tell yourself that you lack the time or ability necessary to get the work done?
- What myths about writing or scholarly research do you hold that intrude on regular writing? What changes in how you write will help you achieve your writing goals?
How has rejection in the past influenced your perception of yourself as a writer? How has the fear of rejection influenced what you write about?
- In what ways do you attempt to work with your intuition when writing? If a seemingly unrelated thought occurs to you when you are writing, do you tend to ignore the thought or do you pursue it and question how and if it relates, after all, to your subject?