This class focuses on writing practices. In other words, we are approaching writing as something other than just knowledge or a collection of skills. Effective writing is grounded in practices: activities, behaviors, and ways of thinking that are conducive to engaging with the ideas and writing of others and generating your own. In this sense, writing is action.
Effective writing is also grounded in practice. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting: you have to write to become a better writer. As with anything that requires practice, you will likely experience failures and missteps while working to improve your writing. This is true for writers at every level of experience and expertise. So, as you work on your writing this semester, you have to be willing to fail – take risks, test out new ideas, try to express something you may not have the words for at first. You have to be willing to practice.
As we move through the semester, we will focus on three sets of writing practices. The first focuses on developing a writing process. This emphasis on process suggests that writing is not a one-time activity where you take the fully formed ideas in your head and transmit them to the page once and for all. Instead, writing develops over time, across different stages and drafts. Often we have to discover and better understand our ideas through the writing process itself. This does not mean we have a set process that works for everyone or in all situations. Even something like research or drafting – both of which can be important parts of a writing process – work in different ways in different situations and disciplines.
The first unit of the semester gives us an opportunity to start practicing different aspects of a writing practice, particularly those related to finding and generating ideas (what rhetoricians call “invention”), drafting papers out of these ideas, revising and editing papers, giving feedback to peer writers, and reflecting on our work.
Our second set of practices focuses on literacy more generally. Literacy has historically meant the ability to read and write, but many scholars have pushed this understanding in new directions (as with “digital literacy”) or have questioned whether “good” reading and writing means one set thing. A recent educational movement focusing on “multiliteracies” emphasizes the importance of being able to engage with many different types of texts in many different ways. Toward this end, scholars have identified four literacy practices that help us think beyond just reading and writing and that are relevant in any learning situation: experiencing/observing, conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying.
Our first unit begins with an emphasis on experience and observation. “Mindfulness” will serve as our main concept for the unit, and we will encounter different understandings of mindfulness through our class texts. We will also use these texts to practice rhetorical analysis. Rhetoric helps us think about persuasion, and rhetorical analysis helps us understand how arguments are constructed and how they are persuasive.
Our third set of writing practices will help us better participate in academic conversations. Academic writing often relies on specific moves, specific ways of engaging with other writers and developing your own ideas. Joseph Harris’s Rewriting will be particularly relevant here: in his first chapter, Harris takes up “coming to terms” as one such move or practice, and it will be our main focus in the first unit. By framing academic writing as a conversation, we emphasize the importance of responding to other writers and their ideas as a way of developing our own ideas. Coming to terms with a text helps us better understand the author’s thinking and purpose, and this in turn allows us to be more precise and thorough in our own thinking.
The challenges of developing a writing process, literacy practices, and academic moves all overlap and reinforce one another. For example, observing, conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying help with the invention stage of the writing process, as they offer opportunities to develop and explore ideas. Similarly, coming to terms with someone else’s writing involves making observations about it, analyzing it, and drawing on relevant concepts to better understand how it works. Our work in this unit will give us a foundation in these practices that we will develop throughout the semester.