Re: Freewriting

Marie Wilson Nelson (mnel@NLU.NL.EDU)
Mon, 22 Jul 1996 02:36:34 -0500

Dear Craig,

In response to your question about researching individual differences:

> > I use freewriting *as* my writing process.
> > Some of my students free-write, having been exposed to it in high school or
> > earlier; many do not. I suggest it as one possible way to start writing,
> > but I don't require it, because people's composing processes differ, and
> > for some of us it's not appropriate. I've tried it, didn't feel comfortable
> > with it (maybe I didn't inhale enough), and dropped it as a possible
> > writing strategy for my own use.
> Has anyone studied why there are individual differences? It seems like
> the last 20 or so years there have been lots of heated words defending
> students' rights to do things differently, but has anyone studied the
> advantages of one strategy over the other for individuals?

I have been formally and informally interviewing writers aboput their
writing processes since 1978 when I began a dissertation on how writers
teach writing. At the time I was looking for writers whose teaching was
shaped by their tacit and subjective firsthand knowledge of writing rather
than by any English teaching tradition. In talking to over 100 writers,
and doing extensive interviews with 23, I found some rather interesting
things, one of which was that, while their processes differed widely,
there seemed to be similarities in the creative process that cut across
heavy planners and heavy revisers (the Mozartians and Beethovians, as
Lilly Bridwell-Bowles, who was doing her dissertion in my department)
called them in her study of high school writers' revising processes.

What I tentatively found (this was not the focus of study, just one of
those gratuitious analyese that make qualitative research so rewarading,
was that the experienced (published) writers I studied all struggled with
issues of finding a form for emerging/evolving ideas, but that some
struggled before they began to write, while others struggled after. In
other words, the struggle went on either in the head or on paper, though
some persevered in that struggle more diligently.

After years of a bit less formal confirmatory work, including observation/
interviewing/reading process logs of student writers at all levels) I
still believe a primary difference lies in what's below and above this
"water line," so to speak. I think for all of us the part of the iceberg
below the waterline is large, but I do think where that line falls varies
from writer to writer and also within the body of each writer's work,
depending on whether we're freewriting a note to ourselves, emailing a
friend, posting to a list, writing a dissertation, working on a poem we
hope to submit to the Georgia Review, etc. I certainly use different
strategies depending on what I'm writing, the time constraints, the
audience, etc.

Does this ring true to the rest of you?

BTW, given the diversity of which we speak, I have a hard time using the
term "the writing process," which suggests great oversimplification to me.
I tend instead to speak of "writing processes."


Marie Wilson Nelson
National-Louis University
National College of Education