Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Emergent writing, emergent teaching

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I was having a conversation with Michael Weller on twitter the other day, about our different approaches to writing, and it occurred to me that differences between our approaches to writing are a bit similar to difference in some people’s approaches to teaching.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting writing is like teaching, though they have a lot in common, especially if you intend for your writing to be pedagogical in some way. But of course when you write you imagine your audience; when you teach, you interact with them, so it’s very different that way.

I am also not suggesting people who have emergent teaching styles also have emergent writing styles, though I am someone on that end of the spectrum.

What do I mean? I mean that some teachers thrive on planning the details of their classes, whereas others, like me, are more spontaneous and allow the interaction in class to modify the pace and for new things to emerge. For me, this happens in two ways:
1. I spend a lot of time thinking about my class, like constantly (it helps that I only teach one class a semester anyway, usually), which means that even what is not in the syllabus written early on, is a whole bunch of other ideas in my head or in my notes and I can draw upon the, spur of the moment; and
2. Comfort in totally changing plans spontaneously in response to something happening in class or in the world

I think writers are similar, though there are different contexts for writing, too. But let’s take blogging? Some people are very deliberate bloggers, and their blogs are almost academic and very very thoughtful. I enjoy reading those blogs because they feel like I’ve done some scholarly reading 🙂 But I am not that kind of blogger. For me, blogging is mostly spontaneous and of two three kinds:
1. The really spontaneous as in I just have 30 mins to write while cooking or commuting and I had a brainstorm of an idea that I just gotta write down; or
2. I have something on my mind while I am doing other stuff throughout the day, and I write the blogpost in my head (like this one is an example of that) until I get a chance to sit down and write it out properly.
3. Writing that is a response to other stuff I have read e.g. In blogs or other readings – and it often starts out as type 1 but i usually save the draft and think about it so that it evolves into a type 2

Anyways 🙂 out of all this, I wonder how writing teachers consider their own students’ preferences to these things. I know some writing teachers assign “free writing” which I love but now realize must make some students quite uncomfortable. It also happened recently that I realized that asking people to write to particular prompts can be uncomfortable for them. I’d been asking Simon Ensor (prolific blogger, aesthetic writer and deep thinker, in my view) to write something for edcontexts – and he wrote a beautiful post called “Writing to Order” which we both laughed about later because I apparently had similar (but not identical) thoughts when I was asked to write a guest post for #digiwrimo and I wrote “Writing on command” (difference is, I didn’t make it my ‘guest post’ hehe – so I am holding Simon down for another article soon!)

So this… This “prolific writer who is uncomfortable writing on command or to order” is an interesting phenomenon.

I was reflecting recently on something… I think I have written more in the year since I submitted my thesis than the entire length of my thesis which took 7 years to finish. I decided to pull a Jesse Stommel and do some calculations but I didn’t go so far as include my emails and tweets. Let’s just put it really simply. I’ve got more than 200 blogposts (my blog is not even a year old yet) of around 1,000 words each. That’s roughly 200,000 words. My entire thesis is a bit over 100,000 words. Calculations done, and that’s not even counting the number of other articles I have written outside of my blog altogether. Of course, the 100,000 words in the thesis were many more before they became the final draft (don’t remind me of all the stuff I removed from the text into appendices and then later deleted altogether, it’s painful, but I will one day go back and write articles with them… Some day).

So apparently finishing my thesis unleashed the writing beast in me. Or something. Or the process of writing every day got my writing muscle going and I could not stop. Only the informal writing that used to drive my supervisor nuts is now my style that people actually enjoy. How cool is that? While working on my thesis, I used to do some creative writing for myself. I am the kind of person who needs to read “extracurricular” i.e. outside my specific work. For the thesis, this meant I read about a lot of topics slightly outside my field and got to know a heck of a lot about things like language learning and cross-cultural learning such that my thesis had a lot of depth on those topics, not just critical thinking. But I also read a lot of fiction and that sort of drives some of my creative writing (which I don’t usually publish on my blog, except for occasional poetry, inspired by #tvsz in the summer and #clmooc both happening around the same time).

And speaking of poetry… Does anyone write poetry thoughtfully? To me it has always been a stream of emotion that becomes a poem, ever since I was a very young child writing poetry. I used to write poetry whenever I was hurt or upset. Still do, apparently. Glad I found it again 🙂

Oh, hey, I thought this was going to be a much shorter post than it ended up being 🙂

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