Writing Theory

I am so far behind, both here and in real life, so here are some highlights of the past, uh, week or so:


I guess it’s taken the creation of syllabi – which is almost finished, thankfully – to make me understand something about writing that I’ve seen before but also very recently: sometimes writing is not merely about clarifying ideas but about discovering them.

I have to admit to myself that until very lately I have not entirely known what I am going to do with some of my classes. Some have been better than others, and with the sophomore and senior classe especially, I have had to discover the material in order to determine what I want to teach from the materials I have. (What my co-op once said is true: Don’t worry about having all the background knowledge before hand – you can learn whatever curriculum you teach, and I think it’s even true when you are the one putting it together.)

And so it is with my writing elective, which has been vague and somewhat ill-defined almost from the beginning. I asked for clarification once and was told that it was more of a creative writing course than a research-intensive one, so I have strayed away from a major research paper (although I will likely incorporate some aspect of research into a creative piece). Other than that, I have little to no idea: no background on what has been done in the past, no course listing or blurb to indicate the direction of the course, and (as I noted earlier) no text to organize my thoughts around.

So I sat down tonight with my syllabus template in front of me, which has worked excellently for three other courses, and I thought about the course objectives as I was writing a description. Quickly, what emerged was a vision of a course that gives attention to multiple modes of writing, using a code-switching model to focus students’ attention on the importance of understanding how language needs to be shaped by considerations of purpose and audience. I listed things I want students to have had experience with: personal and reflective writing, communicative writing (which could be informal or formal), creative and expressive writing (fiction, poetry, etc.), and even a little of professional/technical writing, like formal letters.

And now I feel like I’ve already taught the class. Lesson ideas abound to me; I feel like this course will virtually write itself.

It truly is a unique discovery to make, especially since it is one that I can hopefully pass on to my students. And more importantly, now I am one step closer to securing my broad plans for this year, which itself is a discovery worth celebrating.

I promised a review of a little grammar text I recently finished, Things Your Grammar Never Told You, and since I’m a man of my words, here goes.


A very interesting primer on the use of language is British author and critic George Orwell’s (of Animal Farm and 1984 fame) essay “Politics and the English Language.” In it, Orwell does what he does best – he criticizes those who use language in ways that cause it to sound dull, stale, and unclear, creating bad language habits. (I often wonder if that won’t be a problem as a teacher of English: bad language habits that die hard, as the proverb goes.) He also, in the good spirit of his most famous works, links politics and language (as one might guess from the title).

I recommend reading the essay in its entirety, but here are some dislocated thoughts of mine:

Sometimes it’s fun to think about things seriously that might not be taken seriously by most people. If you’re one of those people who might think it absurd to think about the rhetoric of writings that are (probably justifiably) considered vandalism by most people, then you might not want to continue (although I hope you will). Caveat lector.