After reading “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes
College Composition and Communication v. 32(4), 1981
This article sounds like the fleshed-out version of what was shared with us novice tutors at the Writing Center. This reviewed my understanding of the practice of being recursive during the writing process (which was also shared with me at the Writing Center). I had forgotten, though, that people don’t know that writing doesn’t have to be a stage process, or that they blatantly don’t believe in writing more than one draft or plan. What would I say to someone who refused to think of this as a process model? How can I convince someone that it’s worth the extra effort? When I become a teacher, I’m definitely going to be excited to teach writing. I’ll be teaching it just like this, too: as a process. Don’t be afraid to plan like this, to get down to the nitty-gritty. That’s the best part!
I would also want to emphasize to students the different ways that planning can happen so that they know what’s in their “writing toolbox.” A professor used that metaphor last year, but he extended it to talk about how our papers are little machines that we’re creating so we need to use all of our writing tools to build and tweak it so that it runs well. I have never forgotten that, and I think that such a metaphor reminds us that writing is also a trade just like any other job. It’s work and creation and loving-tenderness for the products we create. Perhaps that is how to reach out to one-draft-only writers.
I particularly enjoyed looking at the flow chart created by Flower/Hayes. I thought that it fit well with what they were saying, and I referred back to it several times throughout the paper. It definitely helped my understanding (a testament to how powerful thinking maps are).
My connection to this piece involves the advice of writing just to get it out first instead of getting bogged down by paying most of your attention to spelling/mechanics. It’s difficult to worry about higher-order concerns for the paper when so may lower-order concerns are blocking your view. It reminds me of a quote from the movie Finding Forrester which has stuck with me: “Write first with your heart, rewrite with your head.” It’s expert writer advice from a movie about a budding high school writer from a tough neighborhood and his reclusive elderly mentor. If you haven’t seen it, do consider watching it!
I was surprised, however, that the Flower/Hayes article did not mention collaborative work. They mostly mentioned just individual work, and how a writer develops his/her process as they consider their goals for the writing. As we collaborate with other people and they critique our work, our goals and ideas definitely change. And with the digital media and writing available to us now (which wasn’t available in 1981 when this was written), we can have a wider and more accessible audience and avenue for feedback. And if a writer has autonomy to publish and get feedback so easily, then I think the writing process can practiced and put to use more efficiently.
In the book The Digital Writing Workshop, Hicks (2009) quotes Katie Wood Ray and Lester Laminack: “Now,, without a doubt, students in writing workshops utilize all the steps of the writing process—their teachers give them lots of instructions around the process so they can get pieces ready for publications—but it’s not as though they really do the writing process. It’s more like they use the writing process to get other things done” (7). I thought that this sounded just like the claim made by Flower/Hayes about how goal creation an revision highly affect the writing process. They write, “In the act of writing, people regenerate or recreate their own goals in the light of what they learn” (381). In other words, the writer’s focus is not on the writing, but the learning that is happening. The writing is simply the tool for carrying it out. Furthermore, they say that the writer is “learning through planning and his goals are the creative bridge between his exploration and the prose he will write” (383). So not only is the writer learning while he is writing, the writing process helps him learn and organize the representation of his understanding of his topic.