Quotes on Strategic Composition in the Writing Process

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The writing process is the series of overlapping steps that most writers follow in composing texts. Also called the composing process.

In composition classrooms before the 1980s, the writing was often treated as an orderly sequence of discrete activities. Since then--as a result of studies conducted by Sondra Perl, Nancy Sommers, and others--the stages of the writing process have come to be recognized as fluid and recursive.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, research in the field of composition studies began to shift again, from an emphasis on process to "a 'post-process' focus with the emphasis on pedagogical and theoretical examination of culture, race, class, and gender" (Edith Babin and Kimberly Harrison, Contemporary Composition Studies, Greenwood, 1999). Reflect on these facts, and your own writing process, as you explore the following excerpts.

Process vs. Product: Writing Workshops

  • "A watchword of much recent composition theory is 'process': teachers are warned against concentrating on papers as products and invited to engage with papers as part of the writing process. . . .
    "Teachers interested in the writing process may turn their classes into writing workshops in which commentary on papers is designed to spark an ongoing process of revision. In at least one influential model, this workshop atmosphere follows from the belief that students already know how to express themselves, that writing is based on an innate competence for expression."
    (Harry E. Shaw, "Responding to Student Essays," Teaching Prose: A Guide for Writing Instructors, edited by K.V. Bogel and K. K. Gottschalk, Norton, 1984)

The Recursive Nature of the Writing Process

  •  "[D]uring any stage of the writing process, students may engage mental processes in a previous or successive stage."
    (Adriana L. Medina, "The Parallel Bar: Writing Assessment and Instruction," in Reading Assessment and Instruction for All Learners, ed. by Jeanne Shay Schumm. Guilford Press, 2006)
    - "The term [recursive] refers to the fact that writers can engage in any act of composing--finding ideas, thinking about ways of organizing them, imagining ways of expressing them--at any time during their writing and often perform these acts many times while writing."
    (Richard Larson, "Competing Paradigms for Research and Evaluation in the Teaching of English." Research in the Teaching of English, October 1993)

Creativity and the Writing Process

  • "The open-ended writing process may lead to successive versions of a short piece of writing as it goes through various stages or transformations: you end up keeping what is in effect the 'last version' and throwing away all the previous ones--that is, throwing away 95 percent of what you have written. . . .
    "If you separate the writing process into two stages, you can exploit these opposing muscles [of creativity versus critical thinking] one at a time: first be loose and accepting as you do fast early writing; then be critically toughminded as you revise what you have produced. What you'll discover is that these two skills used alternately don't undermine each other at all, they enhance each other.
    "For it turns out, paradoxically, that you increase your creativity by working on critical thinking. What prevents most people from being inventive and creative is fear of looking foolish."
    (Peter Elbow, Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, 2nd ed. Oxford University. Press, 1998)

Writers on the Writing Process

  • "You must write first and 'avoid' afterward. A writer is in no danger of splitting an infinitive if he has no infinitive to split."
    (Stephen Leacock, How to Write, 1943)
    - "In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better. The brain works for you even when you are at rest. I find dreams particularly useful. I myself think a great deal before I go to sleep, and the details unfold in the dream."
    (Doris Lessing in "Mrs. Lessing Addresses Some of Life's Puzzles," by Herbert Mitgang. The New York Times, April 22, 1984)

Criticism of the Process Paradigm

  • "For many writing teachers and researchers, the thirty-year-old love affair with the process paradigm has finally begun to cool. . .. Frustration has focused on a number of problems: the way writing has been turned into a largely interior phenomenon; the way it has been reduced to a more-or-less uniform sequence of stages (thinking, writing, revision); the way it has been modeled on a single kind of text, the school essay; and the way it has been conceived as the outcome of a general skill that transcends both content and context and is capable of being learned in a short period of time by young people in formal educational settings. At its worst, critics have contended, the process has left our students without a precise language to talk about rhetorical products, without substantive knowledge concerning rhetorical practices and their effects, and without the deep-seated rhetorical habits and dispositions needed for effective and responsible participation in genuinely deliberative democracies."
    (J. David Fleming, "The Very Idea of a Progymnasmata." Rhetoric Review, No. 2, 2003)