Sunday, September 15, 2013

Can we write unplugged?

As I'm sitting in my favorite coffeehouse, I am looking around and pretty much everyone has a laptop or mobile device.  Clearly, we are in an age where this is common.  For instance, I am checking student blogs, and writing a post myself, so I need my laptop.  But....what if I was working on that great american (YA) novel?  It's coming...someday.  If I were writing, would I HAVE to have my laptop?  I tend to think no, because I still like to draft and invent when I write.

Beginning Wednesday, my College Writing students will draft their first official paper-- a narrative essay.  I told my students on Friday that we would do a writing activity on Wednesday that would possibly lead into their first paper.  One of the students asked "Should we bring our laptops?"  Not an unreasonable inquiry....but then it occurred to me....can people write without electronic devices?  I explained that there would be no research and that we would be conducting activities that would allow us to write in spurts, that we are not writing in a linear manner.  The student simply said "Ok." and went on her way.  But that got me will others react?

Maybe it's because I went to high school in the 80's, but I still like to keep a notebook or tablet and jot things down before I write.  I did this when I wrote my dissertation in 2011.   In Stephen Reid's The Writer's Purposes  he mentions 6 stages to the writing process:  Understanding the Task, Gathering Data, Invention, Drafting, Revision and Editing.  I tend to discuss "invention" in great detail with my students.  Typically, I have found that students like to stare at laptops until and idea comes to them.  I use Reid's example of invention of a means to start with.  He suggests that this is a very messy process and that it's just getting the ideas out.  Some of the invention tasks include:

  • freewriting
  • directed freewriting
  • listing
  • clustering
  • webbing
  • outlining
I think there is great value in this stage, and that one doesn't need a computer to do this.  Sure, it's more common to "write" on a laptop, desktop or tablet....but what if you just sat down....pen and paper....and invented using one of these strategies?   I know for me, it just gets the ideas out.  And I'm a visual it helps to get ideas on paper and actually SEE them before I write about them.  The biggest challenge I get from students is that they don't need to do this stage.   They do it in their head...then they write the most amazing papers.

I challenge you to invent the next time you have to write.  Whether you are a student, a teacher, a parent, a boss.  I mean, many of us make lists....right?  Grocery, chore, tasks, ect.  So when you have to do some more formal writing...try to invent.  The next time you have to send that angry e-mail to a colleague or friend....practice may find that once you get the thoughts out, you don't necessarily have to send they are out.

I love writing, and teaching writing, across all subjects.  But I know sometimes I panic and put it off, just like everyone else.  But if I take the time to invent....well the writing process just becomes easier and I am more proud of my work.