Thursday, November 6, 2014

It's Rough for a Reason: Using the Writing Process

 “Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing, and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action.”
-Donald Murray

A phrase you might hear at the Writing Center is “rough drafts are rough for a reason.” We tell students this all the time. We may have even told you that your rough draft can be messy. It can include all of the no-nos that your professor hates, such as comma splices, run-on sentences, and citation format errors. We want you to free your mind from the baggage that weighs you down when writing.

We too have difficulty writing when we focus on sentence-level issues. We know that we should worry about forming our ideas before fretting over how they sound on paper. When writing, I take comfort in Murray’s words that encourage me to “glory in its unfinishedness” and “discover through language” (4). One method that I use to form my ideas is to freewrite. When I freewrite, I know that it can be messy; I realize that I will probably write to find my best ideas. I use it as a means of discovery to find out what I actually want to say. I normally find my best ideas at the end of freewriting, then I use these ideas to create my rough draft, and then I revise as necessary.

Nonetheless, we also know reality. We know that writing eventually must include our ideas and be as error-free as possible.

The writing process breaks down the looming task of writing into smaller phases from start to finish. Most scholars agree that the writing process includes three major steps: prewriting, writing, and revising. Murray defines these steps as follows: “Prewriting is everything that takes place before the first draft; writing is the act of producing the first draft; and rewriting is reconsideration of subject, form, and audience. It is researching, rethinking, redesigning, rewriting—and finally, line-by-line editing” (4). The suggestions that we make at the Writing Center reflect the basic steps of the writing process.

Brainstorming, freewriting, messy ideas on paper—these are all part of the prewriting and writing process. Just get your ideas down on paper. Period. Then revise. By following these steps, you will free your mind from the cage that you create when trying to do everything at once.

Next time you visit the Writing Center, you may find this subtle, yet essential teaching happening in our sessions. We work with students in all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to final revision. We’d love for you to visit us.
Murray, Donald. "Teach writing as a process not product." Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. 3rd Ed. Eds.
            Victor Villanueva and Kristin Arola. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English,
            2011. 3-6. Print.

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