Writing as a reflective tool and ‘well constructing’

I was thrilled to stumble across an article by Joan Vinall-Cox, Ph.D. in College Quarterly in which she explores the fluidity of writing and its’ ability to construct wells into our deep thoughts and learning. Cox’s reference to using freewrites strengthens my own thoughts that they are a great tool. She begins by quoting Elbow’s (1973) description:

[W]rite for 10 minutes … . Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can’t think of a word or spelling, just use a squiggle or else write, “I can’t think of it.” Just put down something. The easiest thing is just to put down whatever is in your mind. If you get stuck it’s fine to write “I can’t think what to say, I can’t think what to say” as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop (Elboq, p. 3 qtd. in ( Teaching Writing in the Age of Online Computers accessed Nov.5,05)

What a succint and straighforward description of the idea of a freewrite! (I have a former Poetry prof to thank for introducing this concept to me, thanks Kate Braid!).
What I found interesting is the frequency with which Vinall-Cox employs the free writing technique and her reasoning behind it:

I ask the students to do a freewrite almost every class, as I have in all my writing classes since the mid 1980s when I first encountered the work of Peter Elbow (1973), and James Britton (1982) and, through Britton’s writings, Lev Vygotsky (1962). I believe that in order to write well, whether you are writing for academic, business, or literary reasons, you must have an easy flow of text, a rich and supple output of words. The freewrite is an exercise designed, like scales for music lessons, to help students link to their “inner speech” (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 148). Their ability to find and write words expressing their thoughts is central to their ability to recognize and learn writing genres and styles, “Learning to write is an exercise in slow underground learning” (Elbow, 1973, p. 84) and “expressive writing” (Allen, 2002; Britton, 1982), is the essential foundation on which people build their writing skills. ( “Teaching Writing” accessed Nov.5,05)

I apologize for the long quote, but felt Vinall-Cox’s wording was so powerful that it needed to be reproduced in whole. Vinall-Cox’s reference to Elbow’s phrase ‘learning to write is an exercise in slow underground learning’ was stunning. It suggests that writing is a type of well drilling into the very deep thoughts and learning that we have stored within. I am not suggesting that these thoughts and learning have always been stored there, but that we have made various deposits throughout our learning, and that writing is a way of outlet; it is the possibility for the runoff of great thoughts.
As Vinall-Cox states, the use of freewrites allows students to tap into their latent talents and discover their voice. How exciting! Is this not our job as educators? Are we not to empower students to be able to speak their minds?
This is a very rich article to read. I will have more to post about it soon…


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