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4: Practice

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    What’s the Situation?

    There is no such thing as writing in general.\(^{79}\) Do you doubt this claim? Test it out. Attempt to write something in general. Do not write for any specific audience, purpose, or context. Do not use any conventions that you’ve learned for school, work, creative writing, and so on. Just write in general.

    You can’t do it, because it can’t be done. There is no such thing as writing in general. Writing is always in particular.

    It’s not just common sense that tells us that learning to write in general is not possible. Many studies of writing have been done— in workplaces, in classes across the college landscape, and in social and civic settings. They tell us that every new situation, audience, and purpose requires writers to learn to do and understand new possibilities and constraints for their writing. Writing fan fiction requires understanding what other fans expect, what fan fiction writers and readers think good fan fiction is, and what the technological medium supports and allows. The same is true for any other kind of writing—we write in our journals and think of our future selves or anyone who might find the journal. We write as biologists for other specialists who understand previous findings and value the ideas of some biologists more than others. As students write across their general education courses, they find themselves repeatedly asked to write essays or research papers, but often learn the hard way that their history teacher, poetry teacher, and philosophy teacher all mean and expect very different things by “essay” or “research paper.” This is because context, audience, purpose, medium, history, and values of the community all impact what writing is and needs to be in each situation.

    A better conception of writing is one in which we all remember (realistically) our own experiences learning to write in different situations, and then apply that memory to our expectations of what we and others are capable of achieving. A better notion of how writing works is one that recognizes that after learning scribal skills (letters, basic grammatical constructions), everything a writer does is impacted by the situation in which they are writing. And thus, they are going to have to learn again in each new situation. Yes, they can apply and repurpose some of what they already know how to do, but they will have to learn new things and not expect that what they already know about writing is easily applicable in new situations.

    These ideas—that there is no writing in general, that writers always have more to learn, that failing or struggling are a normal part of writing—are some of the many threshold concepts of the discipline of writing studies. In other words, they are things researchers have learned, and things that will help writers be more effective, if only they can accept them in place of the common cultural assumptions about writing that are not always accurate.

    1. Do you agree that it’s practically impossible to write “in general”?
    2. What are some things you’ve written/created for SPECIFIC purposes or situations or audiences?

    \(^{79}\)Snippet from = Wardle, Elizabeth. “You Can Learn to Write in General.” Bad Ideas About Writing. Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Libraries, Digital Publishing Institute, 2017. CC-BY.

    This page titled 4: Practice is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sybil Priebe (Independent Published) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.