I have to say that there are many parts of all of these essays that I can relate to and I don’t think there was anything I disagreed with in any. One thing I can say is that even though I have known or heard many of the things they say in these essays, it doesn’t make it a whole lot easier or make the worries or anxieties go away. It does, however, make them a little bit easier to shove back down into the dark hole they come out of or tell them to shut up when I am tired or overwhelmed or have just regurgitated my brains and heart onto the electronic paper and feel like I have nothing left to give.
Favorite quotes from Sarah Allen–The Inspired Writer vs. The Real Writer
“I believe that I write because I am driven to do so—driven by a will to write. By “will,” I mean a kind of purposefulness, propensity, diligence, and determination (which, I should mention, does not lead to perfection or ease . . . unfortunately). But, I should qualify this: the will to write is not innate for me, nor is it always readily available” (35).
“My own story of my frustrated struggle with writing is…more like a battle with a ghost—the ghost being the ‘Inspired Writer’” (36).
“. . . the great irony of this figure’s story is that the Inspired Writer is really the transcendent distortion of real-life writers. It’s much more likely that most of those great, real-life writers got their inked hands from gripping too hard their quills or pens in frustration, as they hovered over pages with more slashes, margin-notes, and edits than clean, untouched sentences set in perfect lines” (36).
“The pervasiveness of this myth of the Inspired Writer and the continued celebration of her/him works against us, as writers, for we often assume that if writing does not come easily, then our writing is not good—and in turn, that we cannot be good writers. Consequently, we believe that the writing that comes easily is the only good writing, so we will turn in papers that have been drafted quickly and without revision…” (36-37).
“I didn’t know the vocabulary; I didn’t know the issues; I didn’t think in the right order; I didn’t quote properly; and I was far too interested in the sinking, spinning feeling that writing—and reading—sometimes gave me, instead of being interested in the rigorousness of scholarly work, in modeling that work, and in becoming a member of
this strange discourse community” (38).
“. . .even now, when I hit a blank spot and the sentence stumbles off into white space, I feel . . . inadequate . . . or worse, like a fraud, like I’m playing a game that I’ve got no business playing. The reader is gonna red-card me. And what makes it worse: I have to write” (39).
“. . . you’d be amazed what talking about this frustration (and all of the attendant fears) will do for a writer, once she/he opens up and shares this frustration with other writers, other students, teachers . . . with anyone who has to write” (39).
“. . .once my students see that everyone sitting in this classroom has a gnawing fear about their work failing, about how they don’t have “it,” about how they don’t feel justified calling themselves “writers,” because most of them are “regular folks” required to take a writing class, well . . . then we can have ourselves a getting-down-to-it, honest and productive writing classroom. Then, we can talk about writer’s block—what it is, what causes it, and what overcomes it. We can talk about how to develop “thick skins”—about how to listen to readers’ commentaries and critiques without simultaneously wanting to rip our writings into tiny pieces, stomp them into a trashcan, and then set fire to them. And most importantly, then, we can talk about writing as a practice, not a reflection of some innate quality of the writer” (39).
“One strategy I learned in graduate school . . . is to imitate other, successful pieces of writing. By ‘imitate,’ of course I don’t mean plagiarize. I mean that I imitate the form of those texts, e.g. the organization, and the ways that they engage with, explore, and extend ideas” (39).
“. . . Bizzell starts with this premise: that everybody’s down with the social, that we’re invested in examining contexts, that we know that meaning happens in those contexts. Then, she introduces the problem: that we still want something pre-contextual . . . Then, she gives two in-depth examples of where she sees the problem at work in the field. She then examines how we’ve tried to address that problem, then how we’ve failed at addressing it, and then she poses another/new perspective on the problem and, consequently, another/new way of addressing it.
“This is her formula, and I imitate it, frequently, in my own work. It’s rigorous, thorough, and like I said earlier, accessible. It works. But, sometimes I’m working on something totally different, something new (to me), and that formula starts to box me in too much; the formula becomes a tomb instead of a foundation. That’s when I turn to outside readers”. . .”I only send my stuff to people who seem to be a lot better at writing scholarship than I feel like I am” (40).
“The best piece of advice I can give you, though, is to tell the Inspired Writer to shut up and let you write” . . . “I guarantee that they struggle, too” . . . “if they have written anything in their lives worth writing, then it took some effort to do so. And, once the insecurities are out there, so to speak, and not trapped in Pandora’s little box to drive us mad with their “what if” whispers, you may discover that there’s more to the writing process than just getting lost in branches and stumbling over roots” (41-42).
Favorite quotes from David Bartholomae–Against the Grain
“‘What happens if one tries to write, or to teach, or to think, or even to read without the sense of a tradition?
‘Why nothing at all happens, just nothing. You cannot write or teach or think or even read without imitation, and what you imitate is what another person has done, that person’s writing or teaching or thinking or reading. Your relation to what informs that person is tradition, for tradition is influence that extends past one generation, a carrying-over of influence. Tradition, the Latin traditio, is etymologically a handing-over or a giving-over, a delivery, a giving-up and so even a surrender or a betrayal'” (192). (Quoting HAROLD BLOOM, A MAP OF MISREADING)
“How I write is against the grain. I think this has always been the case…There are things that get in the way of my writing and things that I put in the path of my writing…but the essential resistance…remains.
“Writing gets in my way and makes my life difficult…There is work that comes easier to me…but when I write, I most always put up barriers – barriers to show my sense of duty – to stand (like parentheses) in the way of writing. I feel, as a matter of principle, that writing should not go smoothly and that when it does, unless I’m writing a memo (but even there I try to plant buried jokes or unofficial countervoices), when it does go smoothly, it’s not doing the work of a professional or showing proper respect for what Thoreau referred to as the ‘extra-vagrance’ of things” (192-193).
“Writing still, often, makes me unhappy, makes me sick, makes me do things . . . that disgust me. I have my habits and quirks and behaviors, like other writers . . .”
“What are my habits and quirks? I revise a lot and, as a consequence, I push my students to do the same. I spend a lot of time letting a paper bounce around in my head before I start “writing. I begin my papers always with things, never with ideas or theses. I begin, that is, with a folder full of examples, or two books on my desk that I want to work into an essay, or a paragraph that I cut from an earlier essay of my own, or some long quotations that puzzle me and that I want to talk about and figure out . . . I like green pens, I never outline . . . I’ve learned to do all these things and they are a part of who I am and what I do as I write” . . . (193).
“When I write I find I am appropriating authority from others while trying to assert my own. This is the dialectic that I feel when I write and that shapes what I do when I put words on a page” (194).
“If I think of my own experience as a writer, the most powerful terms I can use to discuss the composing process are not prewriting, writing, and revision, but tradition and imitation and interference and resistance” (194).
“When I went back to the first draft . . . I saw two problems. The manuscript was sometimes incomplete, sometimes overdone, and often disorganized. And so I learned to add, subtract, and rearrange – the kind of revision that comes when you can step back, look again, and rework a piece you have begun. I find this kind of work to be fundamentally different from the kind of work that is involved in putting words on the page for the first time. I am, frankly, grateful to be able to do this kind of revision, since it allows me a certain grace or forgiveness when I pound out a draft” (195).
“I revise to figure out better what I can say and to say it in such a way that it seems eloquent . . . so that it seems to assert the presence of someone who speaks as more than the representative of an institution or a brand of research or a discipline” (196).
“This is how I think a writer learns, by learning to write within and against the powerful writing that precedes him, that haunts him, and that threatens to engulf him” (198).
“There is . . . a point at which a writer has written so many sentences, read so many books, had so many arguments about a subject, that his work, and the progression of his work, become inevitable” (199).
“As I think about how I write, I know that my work will always begin with other people. I work with other people’s words, even as I do my own work; other writers make my work possible, even as I begin to shape projects of my own. I don’t put much stock in what I hear about invention and originality. I think it is a myth teachers foist on students in order to make teaching easier or less risky” (199).
Favorite Quotes from Paul Lynch–The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-Vision of the Essay
“I’ve just listed exactly three reasons why the five paragraph essay gets taught . . . Teachers teach it for three reasons. First, it is easy to remember. Second, it’s easy to perform. Third, it’s easy to grade” . . . “the bad habit of slipping into the five paragraph structure also reminds me of my bad conscience” . . . “Such advice isn’t terrible” . . . “Academic writing should make an argument; arguments should have reasons; reasons should be based on evidence. But as you can see, the form tends to straitjacket writing: it fits everyone, but once you’re in it, you can’t really move” (288).
“Ironically enough, the paragraph I’ve just quoted was written by the author who is traditionally considered the inventor of the essay—Michel de Montaigne.”
“Montaigne was a sixteenth-century Frenchman who, upon his retirement, began writing short prose pieces in which he explored his thoughts and feelings on whatever subject occurred to him. He called them his essais, which comes from the French word for ‘try’ or ‘attempt.’ It is, of course, the root of our word ‘essay.’ Originally, then, essay meant something like an experiment or an exploration . . . Often his main focus was himself. ‘Reader,’ he writes in his introduction to the Essays, ‘I myself am the subject of my book'” (290). . .
“. . . called them essais because he knew that he was simply testing out ideas. Later essayists would think of essays like going for walks, walks where the destination doesn’t really matter. Virginia Woolf, a great novelist and essayist, wrote, ‘We should start without any fixed idea where we are going to spend the night, or when we propose to come back; the journey is everything.’ In school essays, the destination is usually what matters. Personal essays, however, begin without a destination in mind. Basically, essayists like Montaigne and Woolf tried to understand the subjects that caught their interest by understanding their own thoughts and feelings about them. Today, we call this “writing to learn.” It’s the kind of writing in which the writer tries to figure out what she thinks while she’s writing rather than doing so before she writes” (291).
“I hope the irony is becoming clear. I’ve just given examples from the inventor of the essay and one of its greatest twentieth-century practitioners. Yet, I’m not sure that most of their writing would have received passing grades in a standard first year writing class” (291).
“’I would like to suggest,’ he wrote, ‘that our minds are swamped by too much study and by too much matter’ (151). With minds stuffed with knowledge, Montaigne argued, students did not learn to think for themselves. ‘We know how to say, ‘This is what Cicero said’; ‘This is morality for Plato’; ‘These are the ipissima verba of Aristotle.’ But what have we got to say? What judgments do we make? What are we doing? A parrot could talk as well as we do’ (154)” (291).
“. . . essayists often write about small and minor things . . . other essayists take on more serious problems like alcoholism, migraine headaches, hunger, and other forms of suffering. Perhaps the only similarity that these essays share is that they recount the authors’ own attempts to understand their experiences . . . the writers don’t start with their conclusion; they think through what’s happening on the page. And while these essays have an organization, they are not organized in the usual thesis-plus-support system. The difference, according to Rutgers English professor Kurt Spellmeyer, is between writing that is ‘a means of achieving understanding’ and writing that is a ‘demonstration of understanding’ (270). The first is the kind of writing that Montaigne did: writing to achieve understanding, to try to figure out what he thought about what he read and saw and lived. The second is the kind of writing we’ve usually favored in school: writing to demonstrate understanding, to prove that you’ve learned the material or found the right answer to whatever question we asked you. William Covino, a professor of English at Fresno State in California, puts it this way: one kind of writing asks for ‘knowledge-as-information’ and another asks for ‘knowledge-as-exploration’ (54). School has usually sought the former; Montaigne and other essayists write the latter. Covino calls it ‘the art of wondering’.” (292-293).
“I like to think that my teaching ‘frees’ students—from prejudice and ignorance . . . That’s what the best essays do: they make you wonder” (295).
“The essayist here sounds like a peer or a friend rather than an expert or a professional. What’s more, she takes a mundane experience and tries to turn it into something more serious, and thus she finds a subject that might interest her more than the standard research topics that demand us to be ‘for’ something or ‘against’ something . . . Writing about them in this essayistic, wondering/wandering way, you might be more likely to
stumble across questions that really interest you” (296).
“. . . essays are more about exploring what’s possible rather than demonstrating what’s already known” (299).
“The personal essay does not demand that you answer questions; it demands that you ask really interesting questions. Yes, these questions can lead to answers, but the better the question, the better the answer. At the very least, you now know that there is another way to write, one that allows you to wander far and wonder out loud” (300).