Use the “Leave a Reply” window below to ask questions about your writing process, to report on successful strategies for moving your writing from good to better, or to share discoveries about the writing process.

The ongoing dialogue will be useful for all of us to compare notes about the process, and to learn from our experiences reading, thinking, and writing.

2 thoughts on “Process

  1. mlongfarfield

    From Good to Better: A Midterm Missive

    We have come far in our work together this semester. And your blogs reflect the progress we have made. At the same time, now that I have enough writing to give constructive feedback, I am feeling that you can do much more. Below I offer a general overview and assessment of your work that will help as you curate your style journal and prepare for our conference next week.

    Where do we find ourselves?

    I have cancelled classes next week. You have scheduled a conference with me. And I have asked each of you to do an inventory of your blog posts and to curate your journal on style. In most every case, as I will explain below, there is remaking, rethinking, and rebuilding to be done. So before you leave for spring break please plan on doing substantive work on your style journal. In every case your style journal should look different than it does today. From good to better.

    How do you move from good to better?

    Our conversations about the form and the content of your style journals have been fascinating. Instructive, too. What has stayed with me is Jessica’s elegant summation of where we have come in her blog post “Who’s to Say.” As you will remember, she is making the case that the work of writing is to move from “good” to “better.” Here is an especially insightful moment in the post:

    I propose the word better because there are certain aspects of this course that I will agree, need to be followed in blog posts in order to receive the desired letter grade. But that’s the goal of taking writing courses: to be a better writer. As well, another word we might want to throw around when talking about the posts is the objective to make the posts interesting.

    Jessica’s proposition is exciting. As she points out, the goal of the course is to provide a space for you to become a better writer. My job is as the professor is to prepare the space: to provide interesting and provocative reading, to offer my expertise and experience, to add some enthusiasm and inspiration (I love this stuff!), and to support you as you go about your work.

    Getting the entries posted by the due date and completing the required posts are necessary for sure. As you know, from reading the grading specifications on the course blog, to receive a passing grade in the course you are required to follow an elementary set of instructions: 1) post your entries by the due date, 2) complete the number of blogs posts that corresponds to the grade you are working to earn, and 3) compose your posts thoughtfully and with care (as opposed to hastily or mechanically). Doing the first two things is in no way sufficient if your are actually working to become a better writer. So the question becomes: What is a thoughtful post? And what, to press the point, does it take to become a more thoughtful writer?

    Almost all of the reading we have done this semester on style has been urging you to take up writing as way of learning, of practice as a way of becoming better at what you are trying to learn how to do better. But if better means making interesting writing, then what exactly do we mean by interesting? For as Jessica adds, “If your posts aren’t interesting, no one’s going to read it, and that’s the honest truth.” As Jessica then reminds us, “this class is about developing a style, but what’s the point if we all end with the same style? I want to be able to hone my writing skill, not fall into a cookie cut-out of what it takes to get an A in this class.”

    As the person who has the responsibility of assigning grades in this class, I want to echo Jessica’s astute question: What is the point? What is the point when what we have been talking about since the first week of the class is that style is difference. It would surely be easier for me if I had some idea of how to cut the dough and assign grades based on some set of easily quantifiable set of qualities that define “interesting” or “engaging.” Now let me be honest: I don’t.

    Nor would I want to. This is a class, as I say on the course web site, “dedicated to becoming more aware of the resources of language and the subject of style through reading, independent research and experimentation with forms of grammar, punctuation, phrasing, and syntax.” Think about how your awareness of the resources of language was tested, for instance, when we tried to describe the sentence from Henry James’s short story “The Real Thing” or when we worked on describing what the sentence from Ford Maddox Ford’s novel The Good Soldier was doing. Together, we made remarkable (and for me memorable) headway. Or think back further to the work we did with forms of punctuation—you learning by doing, trying out new ways to add material, to create rhythm and emphasis in a compound sentence, or to subtract words to make a sentence more concise.

    So, interesting comes from interest. If you are interested in what you are writing about then you will be in a position to be interesting. In fact, greater awareness of what you are writing about will help you to write something interesting. What we call interesting can mean bringing a unique vantage point on a familiar subject, as we discussed in class. What we call interesting writing is writing that shows us something familiar on the way to making it less familiar (de-familiarizing), that guides us from what we thought was simple to something more complex, that gives us access to something new, that opens up our little worlds to that big place where we are but that we have yet to discover. As a writer, your job is to expand the scope of our charts.

    After reading over one hundred of your blog posts I can say, with confidence, that

    *not all the posts are about language and/or style
    *not all the posts are interesting
    *not all the posts are demonstrating your true abilities as writers

    So before our conference I want to encourage each of you to

    *Complete, at a minimum, seven posts. If you have not kept up with your work, I have noted that on my grading sheet. But you can still get caught up by completing the minimum number of posts to pass the course

    *Reread, Revise, Remake your posts and make sure that they are focused on language and/or style. I am reading posts that are not on the subject of style. If you are looking for ideas, I have been giving you links to other blogs along the way where other people are writing about language and style. Use these as models and as inspiration. In some case, I suspect, you will delete the post and start again. (If you are having trouble, please, browse the language blogs, or ask me for ideas. Interesting topics are virtually unlimited.)

    *Think. Then think again. A number of the blog posts about language and style are not especially thoughtful. I trust that you know the difference. These posts read as hasty, and/or mechanical; they are not substantive, and hence are not interesting

    *Write beyond yourself. Many of the blog posts are little more than personal reflections that read as too occasional, and informal. They do not suggest learning, or insight. Remember that the best writing is informed writing. If you are writing about yourself (as the memoir writer will tell you) you are going to need to do research to learn more about the time and the place of the events or the relationships or the subjects or the feelings you are exploring. Without context we are working with less and we are, more often than not, less interesting

    *Write with. If you take some time to read over the blog posts so far you will find something striking: very few of them are making connections, thinking socially or historically, or engaging in the ongoing conversations about language and style. You have read hundreds of pages and have access, by way of my invitation, to wonderfully interesting writing on the web. Connecting means “thinking with” the ideas and writing of others. Weave the words of other writers into your work. Learn the art of describing how language is doing what it does by studying the art of those who are doing what you are learning to do

    *Challenge yourself. Everything I have written above is written to challenge you to do more with your exceptional talents. All of us can do more. You can do better.

    What is the relationship between The Style Journal and my course grade?

    Your journal is the primary project for you in the course. And at this point in the semester, I am sorry to report, a few of you are are not doing the minimal work required to pass the course. To receive a passing grade in the course, as I say in the grading section of the course syllabus, you need to receive credit for each blog post. To receive credit you you must complete and post your work on the home page of your blog before 9PM on the due dates. What I have been seeing, and still see, is no date stamps beyond February.

    To be clear: you should have completed 7 posts in your style journal by the time we meet in our conference next week.

    The grading specifications I reviewed during weeks 1 and 2 are important for you to map out your work in the course. If you are working for an A in the course you must complete 14 posts. If you are working for a B in the course you must complete 12 posts. If you are working for a C in the course you must complete 10 posts.

    I will be reading your blogs once more on Monday to prepare for our conferences. Let’s use our valuable time together to talk about how you want to improve as a writer. From good to better.

    If you have any questions, please let me know. See you next week!

  2. mlongfarfield

    Consider Tags

    I have been encouraging you from day one to tag your blog posts. It is a way to catalog the key terms in your post and the authors and texts to which you are referring. It is a good tool for making sure you are talking about something others are talking about too.

    The other thing that will happen is that tags spin your post out into the Word Press world and readers will find their way to your writing. Kelsi and were talking today and her tags PHONES STYLE TALK TEXTING TEXTS and so on on her blog post attracted four readers so far. Posts can get “liked” and reposted for other readers to read.

    Write well. Use categories and tags. Connect with readers.


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