Being allowed to write spontaneously releases us of the expectation that our writing must be perfect and polished.
. . .
To summarise: blogging encourages spontaneous, timely and concise
expression of thoughts.
--Torill Mortensen & Jill Walker, "Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool"
I was a serious undergraduate and English major, but I still needed a kick in the pants to read or write consistently. In gratitude: Thanks to professor Gremmels for handing out little white sheets of "quiz" paper in the first seconds of American Literature so that I would really read Melville, Faulkner, Hawthorne, and Fenimore Cooper. I read voraciously because of those mini quizzes, just like I wrote voraciously because of course paper requirements. And even though the reading and writing were frequently forced, it was good for me. More than that, forced learning inspired me.
I had a nice conversation with a student yesterday about requirements, parameters, rubrics, word counts. He's a good writer. He wants to write. But he doesn't like constraints (he's creative and prefers looseness). I've heard this complaint (preference) before, but I never know quite how to address it. My go-to response (at least in my head if not said aloud) is that there are always parameters at work in our writing lives, even for creative writers. And for the most part these parameters are good for us.
But I can't help wondering, will this forced blogging assignment inspire (as intended) or discourage my students?
Will blogging lead to genuine writing or meaningless, even false, writing? When explaining this project to my Mother recently she asked, "How do you know they're not just writing BS?" I answered with a confident rebuttal, in defense of my students' earnestness and the quality of my assignment and class. But her question haunted me too. Until I reminded myself that you could ask this of anything written by any student in any class.
Ultimately, I have to trust my students to write honestly. And I believe that students can write honestly even when I'm making them write under seemingly artificial conditions.
Here's a challenge to my students, especially those with "parameters" concerns: Maintain voice and truth whether writing a press release, a grant, a review, an email, a story, a facebook status update, a poem, an academic research paper, or a blog; Learn to adapt your voice for different audiences (and genres) while maintaining your own distinct style; Relish in the pleasure that comes from being able to apply mad writing skills here or there or over yonder (not just in your private writing journals)--there is great reward in writing well for every occasion, forced or unforced.
I've assigned certain parameters for my students' assigned blogs. I set these parameters (requirements) for the same reason that I have reading quizzes on assigned articles: I want students to write... I want students to read. Something has to be at stake to create that initial (often superficial) motivation to LEARN.
So, they have to write 400 words for an entry to count; they have to refer to one outside source per entry; they have to post 1 entry per week; they have to fulfill these bare-bones requirements to get an A.
Do these parameters deaden the spontaneity aspect of blog writing? I hope not. At the end of the day, this blog is forced writing. And forced writing makes most of us cringe. Until... the writing is done.
This "hope in doneness" is how I overcome any worries about whether my students are discouraged, frustrated, anxious--or whether my students are writing BS. Maybe I can be the kick-in-the-pants to get them to write more, period, for those with no desire to write or for those with loads of desire.
And if blogging is grounded in spontaneity, as explained by Mortensen and Walker in "Blogging Thoughts," then even this forced blog writing is grounded in freedom. Blogging allows the student to write with much less constraint. (Side note: I highly recommend Mortensen and Walker's article on the value of blogging for academics.)
I know, from experience and observation, that after it's all said and done and the forced pangs have fled, students will look back at their work with some delight and pride. In fact, we might have to acknowledge that much of our best stuff was written under forced conditions.
My next entry will explore word count as it relates to blogging, and how word counts affect students. I actually planned on writing about this word count issue more specifically in this entry, but I got carried away with this "forced blogging" reflection. And perhaps once again I've written too many words to fill one entry... So, next up: How many words does a Blog Entry Make?