Peter Elbow on Writing
LEARNING FROM FAILURE:
Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachiusetts, Amherst, is the author of many
books about the process of writing, including Writing Without Teachers.
Keeping a journal that records one's
personal writing experiences - successes and failures- may be very insightful.
MAKING A MESS:
Often the best writing comes from chaos. Students should give themselves
permission to ramble on in their early drafts in order to discover what
they wish to say.
CREATING AND CRITICIZING:
Students should free write to generate ideas first.
Then they should become critical, logical, or negative as they review
what they have written, not hesitating to shape or discard material.
SOWING EARLY SEEDS:
Rather than waiting for a big bolt of creative lightening, students
should try writing down ideas in short intervals, fifteen minutes or
so, and do this frequently before attempting a draft.
Not a perfect stream of consciousness. It is private writing and may
or may not be lucid and organized. Anything goes. Freewriting is writing
It invites surprise. Students often discover things they didn't know
they thought or felt. The deepest insights often come after ten or fifteen
minutes when writers initially feel they have run out of things to say.
Writers should generate a lot of ideas to allow them to keep only the
best ones for the finished draft.
Writers should have a range of audiences, including listeners who understand
and are sympathetic with their struggle. Writers should not be confined
to "authority readers" or critics (teachers). Peer readers bring pleasure
into writing. Writing can be shared as a gift and does not always require
a response. Most "real world" writing solicits no feedback and often
gets none. Ally readers help separate the writing from the writer. There
may be response to questions such as "What do you hear me saying?" or
"What do you think?" but no evaluations are necessary. Writers may feel
comfortable to take risks that may ultimately improve their writing
Writers should use their own voices as much as possible, for their
own voices have power, control, and courage. When students are confined
to writing in the third person - in writing that must not be "polluted
by a subjective voice" or "as if it were God talking"- they may find
this requirement too constraining. Students should first write in their
natural voices and then revise for formality. PROOFREADING: This should
be the last concern of writers. Because mistakes distract and give negative
points of view of writers regardless of their level of thinking, writers
should be diligent in cleaning up the mistakes in formal writing. They
should use whatever resources are available, including Spell Check or
Grammar Check that may be available in their word-processing programs.
April 23, 2009