Published on October 7th, 2012 | by Thompson4
The Blog: A Social Path to Cumulative Creative Discovery
Now that we’re investigating the process of “creative discovery,” I want to use this blog to try to reacquire my process of creative discovery. Ever since I was accepted as a Master’s student in the English department, I haven’t felt that I fit in, which is funny considering I was a creative writing major as a freshman at the University of Washington. Somewhere along the way, I developed a problem I’ve never really had before, what Perl and Egendorf would call “knowing but not knowing.”
Never in my life have I had more trouble writing than I do now. For some reason, I second-guess myself more than I ever have, though I know I have learned enough in the past five years to avoid my own self-conscious. I feel that for the first time “public scrutiny” has affected my writing, which I never would have cared about as an undergraduate. When I was young and dumb I really didn’t give a shit what people thought of my writing. I knew it was good, so fuck those people. I took Peter Elbow’s words to heart before I ever read “The Shifting Relationships between Speech and Writing,” that “the best writing has voice: the life and rhythms of speech” (291) and “conveys some kind of involvement with the audience,” (292) but now I feel that the eyes of my audience have had an effect on my writing, and it pisses me off a bit. “It is almost as though we fear, as we write, that someone might at any moment swoop down and read what we have just written and see that it is rubbish” (287).
The freedoms I once had, writing almost strictly for an audience of Tone clones, is over, and I’m afraid I won’t recover. I’m afraid the voice I have worked to develop over the majority of my literate lifetime will disappear as I work to accommodate yet a wider audience. Patricia Bizzell would say I’m having trouble adapting to a new discourse community; Stanly Fish would call it an interpretive community; I call it an audience. I’ve never been one to use discourse conventions. And maybe that’s because I’ve been starting sentences with conjunctions since third grade because I felt rules were meant to be broken, and if Herman Melville can do it so can I. Maybe it’s because I’ve been attempting to write for all of humanity (or at the very least, like-minded humanity) all my life. I guess my biggest problem with this change is that I regret my consistent, contrived, convoluted use of rhetoric in my composition, and I’m beginning to realize my mistakes.
I am no different from the politicians I despise or the marketers I loathe, and it makes me sick to think of myself as just another “political rhetorician.” You’ll have to forgive me for being so emotional, but I feel if these blogs don’t allow us to work through some of our troubles writing for academia, then what good are they? This is an ideal place for us to discuss the troubles every student goes through attempting to meet the goals set by our professors and serve as a source of research for those same professors who ask us to meet those goals. Though we are graduates, I think we all have to admit that we, like Socrates, are perplexed, and may never escape that perplexity. I don’t know if that’s what we’re supposed to pull from our graduate education, but I feel that finding some comfort in “not knowing” may be the most powerful thing our graduate education could instill in us, and I guess my problem is, despite all my compositions, I’m still not comfortable “not knowing.”
Perl and Egendorf say students “frequently turn back to themselves to call upon what they ‘know,’ (259) which reminds me of a great film – Throw Momma from the Train. Billy Crystal plays a community college writing professor whose book was stolen by his ex-wife, but in teaching his course, he says “write what you know,” and I think that’s something we all try to do, but what do we know? I’d say I know a bit about film-making advertising, most sports, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, but academia seldom allows students to write what they know. I think Shipka’s experiments in new media are a way to allow students to shed the burden of their self-conscious and worry less about what their audience will think of their writing and focus more on the goal of conveying meaning. In her conclusion, she discusses the concern that “writing comes first, consciousness-raising second” (136). I have a sincere problem with this, and I think the rise of my self-conscious makes this apparent. I was taught writing first, self-consciousness second, and I feel my writing suffers because of it.
If you can’t tell, I’m using this blog to work my way through a question, just as Perl and Egendorf would have us do.
“(1) Meaning does not exist in some place, ready to be encoded, decoded, or printed out, as a machine or ‘thing’ model might lead one to predict. Rather, it is to be found through creatively engaging one’s own as yet unformulated sense of what one wants to say. (2) Any formulation of an aspect of experiencing is only one of many possible versions, and may need to be reshaped in the light of a clearer sense, yet to come, of what that version is intended to mean” (261).
Discovering this voice has taken years, and I feel this voice is now aware of “the potentials and limitations” of its work (Shipka, 112). I guess that’s why in this blog post I want to explain the potential value our “writing about writing” truly has. Shipka says our “writing about writing may be the most important writing” we produce. “Process writing is what gives you the most control over your future writing and over yourself” (116). These blogs are our opportunity to discuss the potential and limitations of our writing and how to increase its potential and limit the limitations, yet I find us using our “writing about writing” to write academically, and for various reasons. Perhaps it will make our final projects or papers easier to write because we can copy and paste text from our blogs to make the last few weeks of the semester easier. Or maybe it’s because these blogs are “academically sanctioned,” or as Bizzell would put it, “conditioned by the ongoing work in the community and sanctioned by consensus,” (488) so they therefore hold a certain unidentified standard that we’re all trying to meet in order to receive positive remarks from the professor. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that our blogs should be more “question” than “answer,” specifically because I think many of the questions we have to pose are unanswerable. We’re investigating issues that are still unresolved and are expected to adopt a voice that “knows,” though our backgrounds or personal experiences may limit our ability to know a damn thing. Shipka quotes Amy Devitt: “’the genres students acquire – or do not acquire – in writing courses will also shape how they view new situations and contexts,’ underscoring again the importance of ‘choosing our genres carefully in order to serve our students best’ and reminding readers that what ‘ we assign today may appear in new guise tomorrow’” (128).
The genres I’ve adopted are not those of English academia. They are of the business and film-making discourses, which incorporate a ton of “writing about writing,” but here I am pretending to know what I’m talking about in a genre I’ve just attempted to readopt. Peter Elbow writes, “how can we help but pause and reflect on whether what we are engaged in putting down is really right – or even if it is, whether it is what we really wanted to say? If we are going to take the trouble to write something down, then, we might as well get it right. Getting it right, then, feels like an inherent demand in the medium itself of writing,” especially since “writing tends to carry a much higher proportion of ‘content’ messages to absent readers – more permanent messages which are judged for validity and adequacy, not just accepted as social interchange” (284). Though our blogs are written, I’d still describe our writing as “social interchange.” We exchange comments and it works as a discussion, which may be why I don’t have a problem when someone feels the need to investigate a meandering stream of consciousness on occasion. Peter Elbow doesn’t either: “writing turns out to be the ideal medium for getting it wrong” (286). This “genre” was adopted specifically with that in mind, so “getting it right” seems like a delusion of grandeur. No one gets it right. Aristotle didn’t get it right, so I guess our goal should be to get it “more right” than those who “got it wrong” before us.
With technological advancement at a pace that everyday threatens to force writing to evolve into more of a social interchange, I think we should accept the idea that writing has always been social interchange and always will be. Writing your argument down doesn’t make you more right than the person speaking a similar argument, but “’making it up’ often leads to a sense of discovery,” (Perl and Egendorf, 258) and I think writing serves as a way to break the bonds of the self-conscious and adopt an argument that is not only “more right” but more right for you.