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

 — Michael Carter       


A Small Nod to Peter Elbow and Ken Macrorie

September 22nd, 2015 by

I found the expressivist school in Composition Studies to be enlightening. When I first read Peter Elbow and Ken Macrorie (it was 1985 and I was in graduate school), I wondered where they had been when I was an undergraduate. Following advice in Macrorie’s Telling Writing, I became an avid freewriter, journal writer, and advocate of the personal in writing, and this emphasis showed in all of my first syllabi when I began teaching first-year writing in 1986.

I still tend to write from a personal perspective and am even currently working on a project exploring links between personal writing and belief. So I have not changed my mind about the expressivists. I still think they represent one important aspect of teaching writing. But I also know that they are one aspect of the field–a complicated field. In addition to finding my voice through a lot of journal writing, I also needed to find the shapes for my writing. In other words, I needed to learn about genres and what public forms my personal ideas should take.

It did seem at first that my heavy focus on personal writing and on free writing made me a natural for narrative writing. I took to fiction writing. But it was also interesting to discover that my ideas, coming out of reading the morning papers, academic writing, and living a life of faith, fit well with essay forms.

This is part of a writing course I found my expressivist friends to be less helful in. For this, I had to look elsewhere. But I didn’t leave Elbow and the others far behind. Writing, like the human personality, is complicated, and it might take more than one approach to really develop it. Freewriting is one practice I highly recommend for getting started.

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