The Write Course:
A Guide for Delighting
in the Process
This piece delivers a shot of encouragement to my WC201 students who will be freewriting their way to a better writing process this fall.
Free-write (noun): A quick piece of writing intended for an informal audience or occasion or perhaps for no audience at all, with a looser structure than typical academic or essay writing.
Freedom (noun): The opportunity and responsibility to choose.
This semester, you will write three pieces here on Medium on topics of your choice. These “free-writes” may or may not relate to what we’re discussing in class; they might be derived from your other papers or completely new.
In other words, I want to inject a serious amount of student choice into these three assignments. Your mission is to focus on the process of receiving constructive feedback about your writing and giving helpful input to your classmates.
Why are these assignments in the course alongside our other papers?
- Student choice: Unlike most of your “academic” writing, no one is trying to grade your selection of topic. I would prefer that you write something worth other people’s time to read (to do anything less is quite selfish, really) but I do want you to have the freedom to write whatever you want to write about
- A focus on the process: Writing teachers talk a lot about “process,” specifically taking time to think, plan, read, write, and revise. But writing for class usually degenerates into something much more barbarian, throwing words onto the page at the last minute to meet someone else’s deadline. If we’re serious about improving the way we write, we’ve got to take time to work on the process itself apart from the content.
- Introduction to digital tools: Medium is a gorgeous platform for expressing your thoughts. Perhaps you’ll continue writing here. The desktop app is easy to use and there are good iOS and Android apps for your phone or tablet, if you like to read/write on those devices.
Instructions for the Free-Write
PHASE ONE: Spend at least 30–45 minutes thinking, drafting, writing, and revising a piece on a topic of your choice. I recommend writing at least 500 words. And give it a title. Maybe even a photo.
To make this assignment successful, make sure your piece asserts at least one central idea that you’d like us to consider. Instead of merely informing us of information, attempt to convince us to think a certain way, agree with your opinion, try your solution, or despise something awful.
PHASE TWO: When I give the word, share your Medium link with your classmates and receive their links. Read their pieces and comment or respond to their ideas. Try to help each piece become 10x more awesome.
PHASE THREE: Use the feedback you’re getting from your readers to make your piece better. Improve anything you can. Shoot for the moon.
Why do I care so much about student choice?
I didn’t always care as much as I do now. It’s a lot easier for professors to assign work that makes us happy, that caters to the way we see the world. And it’s much simpler to assign and grade straightforward topic assignments than deal with the mess of process writing for a dozen students or more.
But that isn’t a good view of students — not if I think it’s important to view students as Image Bearers, as human beings who deserve control and choice and agency in their education.
If students are to grow into flourishing, whole humans, they need opportunities to own their learning experiences. They need to make choices and take ownership of their education. They need to stop depending on me to tell them what to write and what to think.
The free-writing assignments are valuable learning opportunities I can provide to my learning communities because they put students in the drivers’ seat — and give them the power to wreck it all, if they aren’t paying enough attention. (One can learn much from failure after all.)
Oh, and lastly, it’s important for you to recognize that you do have something to say, and there is a “real” audience out here happy to read and respond. You’re not stuck in a holding pattern while you wait to earn enough course credits to write for the “real world.” This is the real world.
Why does the process matter?
Another good question. If you can churn out a 4-page paper in one overnighter, why change?
Sometimes writing needs to be fast and cheap. Journalists do it all the time — when the story is breaking, fingers are flying across keyboards at CNN and The New York Times and the local news outlets to get the details down and into the stream.
But a writing diet needs as much variety as a person. It’s unhealthy to produce cheap junk writing all the time — that builds one set of skills (rapid composition, basic fact-checking, baseline proofreading and editing) at the expense of others: deep thinking, writing based on extended experience with a set of ideas, careful editing, attention to detail.
Also, writing feels like a solitary task, but it isn’t. Even the best writers know they’re totally dependent on their editors to help them craft their prose into something worth reading. Like raising a child, writing a good piece takes a village.
So that’s what we want to explore in the free-writing pieces: the experience of being part of a writers’ village.
This is 2015. While academic writing is often stuck with very old habits (but not entirely — even the humanities are nudging forward these days), we’ve all moved into New Media for daily life.
I’d be willing to bet that at some point today, you will check your Facebook or Twitter feed, post a photo or comment to Instagram, or watch a YouTube video. You probably get your news from a variety of sources tied closely to your local network, picking up headlines from what you skim online.
(Care to read more about the rise of New Media? Check out the links at the end.)
Here’s one very short article from a Medium writer on why this is the perfect place for students to write, critique, and improve as writers:
I have read a lot of stories on Medium about what Medium really is. Here’s another answer for you…medium.com
Ok, I actually have two short articles for you to read. This one shows off some of the cool features you can easily use in Medium and makes an argument for student writing as real-world writing:
Practical Tips for using Medium for WC201 free-write assignments:
- You can create a Medium login using your Facebook or Twitter account, or just set up a Medium login using your email address. Pick whatever will make sign-ins simple for you.
- You don’t have to use your whole name as part of your public identity, but for the sake of our collective sanity, either your first name or last name on Medium should be “real” so we know who we’re reading.
- Your writing can stay “unpublished” during the draft phases, meaning you will message or email your link to your classmates so they can comment on your piece or leave longer responses at the end — but the rest of the world can’t see your piece.
- Once a free-write piece is “due,” that opens up a week for commenting, responding, critiquing, and revising. Your job is to interact with at least three other pieces in signficant ways (though try to read all of the pieces from your classmates, and offer at least some comment on each of them). Your other job is to read what others write on your piece and address that feedback authentically.
- I will read everyone’s piece immediately after its due date, and again one week later. I’ll be looking to see how you do with the process of reading, commenting, critiquing, and revising (your own). We’ll take time to assess individual progress with improving our own writing processes.
- We have a class Publication here on Medium. This article is already stored there. I’ll explain more fully in class, but as you get more comfortable with writing in Medium, as a class we’ll vote after each round of free-writes to publish our best pieces to the class Publication. (You are always welcome to make your finished pieces public, whether they’re part of our publication or not.)
P.S. I will free-write along with you during each assignment. You’re invited to workshop my pieces without fear of hurting my feelings or your grade. We’re all in this together, and I’d love to get your constructive criticism.
A couple great articles on why New Media matters, even when traditional writers and journalists wish it didn’t…
Everyone from President Obama to Ted Koppel is bemoaning a decline in journalistic substance, seriousness, and sense of…www.theatlantic.com