Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Writing is Thinking; Thinking is Personal

I posted this to another (non-academic) blog, but I decided to put it here as well. I didn't write it with an academic audience in mind, but maybe it is fitting enough.


I’ve been flipping through a Donald Murray book this morning in preparation for a conference I go to next week. It is a book I’ve read before, but it is one I’m always happy to pick up again. It’s not necessarily meant for entertainment, but it is pleasurable to me because it is about things that are close to my heart: writing and teaching.

Murray reminds us that “writing is thinking” (3). He quotes Peter Taylor: “Writing is how you discover what you think” (7).

These are pretty simple concepts, but they are profound to me. They are how I have lived my life. They are why I am writing this now.

Not everyone loves writing, but we do all need a place to think, a place to discover what we believe, what we care about, what our most important choices will be.

Writing is my sanctuary. It doesn’t matter to me whether I write for others or only for myself. Either way, it’s where I go to lay claim to my own thoughts—whether they be emotional, spiritual, academic, political, or social. They all become a very personal and reverent process for me as they move from the cluttered, chaotic stacks of information inside my head onto the page.

Everyone needs this. My father works in his garden and goes for long walks in the woods. My niece listens to music. My sister rearranges the furniture in her house. Some friends cook. Others shop. A few run or bicycle or do yoga. However we go about it, we all crave a place inside our own heads we can rely on, a place we can go to for decompression, a place where we can discover what we think and feel.

Because I teach writing classes, it is so important to remember this. It isn’t just about an academic skill. It is always personal. It is always sacred. Murray says writing is “a product of the interaction of the global and the particular” (5). It is also a product of the interaction between the persona we are willing to present to the world and the person we see when we look within.

I am about to start writing down what I will say about personal writing and composition students at the conference next week. This is what I will most likely not say. This is my discovery draft, my pre-writing, my warm up. This is where I am practicing what I will later preach.

In order to accomplish something real with writing, or with any decision making process, we have to first spend quality time in that place inside our own selves where we remember what is most important to us, where we understand what it is we honestly think.


Holly said...

Beautifully put! And such an important thing to get across to my students, so many of whom seem to think that writing is something that goes on between their fingers and the keyboard/pen, as if they almost expected the words to flow without their real involvement.I would love for them to see that writing can open up that sort of meditative space (and maybe then come to realize the wonderful ability for writing to preserve those thoughts for later examination and sharing with others). An issue, I guess, is to figure out what sort of subject matter (personal experience or something else) is easiest for them to access in that way.(And I'm delighted someone else is still reading Don Murray!)

Holly said...

And another thing--I've been thinking a lot about personal writing lately myself--when is it that writing teachers assumed responsibility for developing a student's social conscience? I think developing consciousness is challenge enough!

Sharon Gerald said...

Thanks, Holly!

I too am often disturbed by the degree to which writing teachers attempt to direct their students' growth as social beings. I think writing and reading are inherently geared toward raising social, political, and personal awareness. I don't, however, think it is the instructor's job to try to directly influence the students' values. Sometimes there is a fine line between exposing students to new ideas and imposing our own ideals on them. It's a huge ethical question. I'd love to hear what others think.

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