"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       


From the Beginning: Writing as Central or as Remedial*

March 16th, 2014 by

In working with prospective high school teachers, I find my concerns influenced by Michael Carter’s ideas of creative writing. In his provocative work on writing as beginnings and as creative, Carter argues that our field and the larger university hold a view of writing as not really belonging to the college curriculum. This is in part because we have come to conceptualize where writing begins as reporting on what we know already. We do not see writing as involved in discovery or in the process of creating new knowledge, not as we do with other disciplines. The result is that invention–in fact, most aspects of writing–will be highly technologized and seen as teaching skills.

Carter argues that two kinds of writing can be seen to have emerged in our courses: the first he calls scribing, that maintenance writing that is done to preserve and record what is known and is taught to make student writing “good” for teachers in other disciplines. In scribing, invention is seen only as gathering what is known. The second writing he calls creative, when beginnings are seen for the Janus face that they are—as both a looking back, that is, looking at what is known already, and looking forward, that is, looking at what we don’t know. He cites Daniel J. Royer in arguing that the second happens when invention is “described in terms of the creative tension between two contradictory aspects of writing, the generative—the drive to explore meaning in greater and greater complexity—and the discursive—the drive to limit meaning in the precision and definiteness demanded by the text” (142).

When invention becomes a concern with both the known and the unknown, writing has the power to become central to the work of the university. Carter asserts that “…a writing course, one that focuses on the co-creation of knowledge, is central to the real work of the university. No longer devalued by its focus on making writing good—the extrinsic value of rendering student writing grammatically and stylistically palatable to professors in other departments—the value of the course goes right to the source of the good of the university…(which) is creative if it contributes substantially to the work of the university, the co-creation of knowledge” (145, 146).

I admit to sharing what I understand to be Carter’s views on the beginnings of writing as Janus-faced, as the writer participating in remembering what is known and the process of creation, writ both large and small. But the argument I make for my teaching students is this: They can see their discipline as merely teaching great novels and poems and then grading minor writing assignments based on those texts; or they can see their work as writing teachers as helping students to contribute to knowledge-making.

Work Cited

Carter, Michael. Where Writing Begins: A Postmodern Reconstruction. Carbondale: SIUP, 2003.

*This is a segment from my 4Cs paper I will be reading in Indianapolis this March, 2014.

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Comment by Joseph Bentz on March 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I wish I could be at the conference to hear your whole paper.

I hope that at APU you are able to continue to help the whole community see writing from this broader perspective.

Comment by Tom on March 16, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Joe, thank you. I do think that Michael Carter also values the kind of writing he calls scribing. I just think that writing is larger than that. I hope that we can have both levels at APU.

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