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Published on October 7th, 2012 | by Thompson


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.

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About the Author

When Thompson isn't busy writing for Go Gonzo Journal, you may find him drunk at the movie theater with Professor Heinous or stirring up trouble in a bar with his attorney. Thompson also enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and watching and betting on baseball and football.

4 Responses to The Blog: A Social Path to Cumulative Creative Discovery

  1. ARRIVES says:

    You caught my attention when you said that we are using our blogs “to write academically” and “that our blogs should be more ‘question’ than ‘answer,’” because I feel like most of us are using the blogs as places to explore questions, even if we don’t explicitly say what those questions are. I know personally, especially as we have moved into reading about teaching, I have a variation of two/three questions I’m addressing each week: (1) What am/was I doing as a teacher that relates to this topic; (2) What am I doing as a teacher now that is different than what I did as a high school teacher; (3) What is working/not working and/or has worked/not worked in terms of my teaching? I decided to get my Master’s for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that I want to become better at teaching writing. Thus, I think it is important that I ask those questions and then work with them as I read this material. In other words, I think you are right. We should be using these blogs to explore ideas, and I think we are.

    In her essay “Cognition, Convention, and Certainty: What We Need to Know About Writing,” Patricia Bizzell writes, “Writing does not so much contribute to thinking as provide an occasion for thinking—or, more precisely, a substrate upon which thinking can grow” (486). In this case, she’s talking about the Flower-Hayes model of “translating.” I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. I understand the argument is writing is the occasion or even the exigence for thinking, but I do think writing contributes to it. I like Peter Elbow’s idea better. In “Shifting Relationships Between Speech and Writing,” he’s talking about how most people figure out what they are going to say before writing. In other words, they have already done the thinking and now writing is the means of sharing that thinking. This sounds similar to what Bizzell was talking about. However, Elbow continues, “This feels like a reasonable and normal way to behave, but notice the assumption it reveals: that the function of writing is to record what we have already decided—not to figure out whether we believe it” (287). I’m guilty of both these charges. I’m definitely guilty of using writing as “an occasion for thinking” and for a way “to record what [I] have already decided” when I’m writing papers. These blogs, though, which is where this conversation started, are much more about using writing to contribute to my thinking and to help me figure out what I do and do not believe about what should be taught in a writing classroom.

  2. jenny thornburg says:

    I am so glad I read your blog tonight. I have already written three comments, but must respond. To your statement: “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,” I can utter a resounding “ditto!” I have been feeling like a very round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Not comfortable. I have chalked some of it up to adjusting to grad school itself, but am also realizing that being in an English MA program may not be the best fit. That remains to be seen. The creative impulse is so important to me that it feels constricting to be ‘writing about writing’ instead of just straight up writing. Whew. It’s good to be able to say that.

    But I do see value in the critical analysis of writing as well. Understanding the ‘behind the scenes’ sorts of thoughts and theories of writing and pedagogy will also inform my writing. It’s just a different gig. And, I need to connect the theories/concepts to lived experience. I have to. But if that lived experience is not currently teaching, then it has to be connected to other stuff in my life. Whatever is relevant, and I can always find relevance, it’s part of being creative. So my blog posts will not necessarily sound or look like other people’s blogs. Is that okay? I don’t know. But it’s who I am. And I have to bring ‘me’ with me. Glad you spoke honestly about your thoughts, working it out in your blog. It’s precisely the forum for that.

  3. Erica says:

    Anthony, or Tone…can I call you Tone? For starters, I’d say you shouldn’t stress too much about your self-consciousness–every time I read your blog, I’m impressed with your writing. And besides, I think you’re right, grad school is supposed to make us feel a little uneasy–it’s called being challenged, maybe something you haven’t dealt with much in the past:)

    Breaking into this new discourse community of English academics is new for me too, and I think about how my writing voice has changed every time I write a blog, as well. I don’t like where I’m at in this awkward in-between stage either, but it’s a process. It’s learning something new, and impacting our overall writing ability for the better.

    I was intrigued by the part where you say, “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.” My thought ties back to your last line, where you mention writing in the way that is “more right for you.” These blogs offer the chance to discuss our writing, but they also offer a chance to work out complex ideas in the text beyond just writing. What is awesome about these blogs is that there is not a “right” way to do it; the right way is whatever way helps you process the load of information we digest each week. Elbow says, “Writing is a way to get what is inside one’s head outside, on paper, so there’s room for more” (288). This writing may come in styles that look academic–after all, that is a familiar and comfortable discourse for some of us–or it might be something else. They are a place for some creative discovery of our own, and absolutely are social interchange. I think it is great that the pressure to “get it right” is not the intention here; if anything, this is the place to explore and question, like you say, because we are our own little discourse community in communication with one another–expanding, contradicting, discussing our thoughts and questions with each other. It’s not just about the writing, although this is a fun place to experiment with it, but it’s also about exploring thoughts and ideas, and making new connections.

  4. Deb B. says:

    I respect your assertion that “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,” but would argue against you saying you are “pretending to know what [you’re] talking about.” I think you know exactly what you are talking about, and it is precisely because you have different discourse communities to draw upon. I think we all make sense of these readings and theoretical frameworks based on our personal experiences and knowledge communities.

    I also like that your discussion about using your blog to work out a question (I feel like the body of my blogs this semester is working out the same few questions from different angles over and over again, and I worry that people will think I’m being redundant when I really am just working a few things out.) I really enjoyed Elbow’s article too, and I think your discussion about blogging being a “process of creative discovery” makes sense. Elbow said “that when people produce language as they are engaged in the mental event it expresses, they produce language with particular features – features which make an audience feel the meanings very much in those words” (299). I’m feeling your words, Anthony!

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