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Summary of Harris' "Composing Behaviors of One-and Multi -draft Writers"

According to Harris there are basically two kinds of writers; the one-drafter and the multi-drafter. Harris reviews previous studies about the matter, but in order “to draw a more inclusive picture of composing behaviors for considering the pedagogical implications of dealing with individual differences,� he had to make his own study. The subjects of his study were experienced writers who identified themselves as definitely one or multi-drafters. Harris observed them composing. He found that the one-drafters expressed a strong need to clarify their thinking prior to beginning to transcribe, there were a little resorting of written notes and little use of written outlines. In contrast the multi-drafters’ preference was for open ended exploration as they write. One-drafters generated fewer choices, reach decisions more quickly and before transcribing to paper. Harris also found that the early drafts of one-drafters are reader based, while multi-drafters’ are writer based.
Harris concludes that both ways of writing have disadvantages or “costs�. “One -drafters are in danger of cutting themselves off from further exploration from a richer field of discovery than is possible during the time in which they generate options.�(66) Multi-drafters often miss deadlines, create writer-based first drafts, produce large quantities of text that is discarded and get lose in their own writing. Harris explains how teachers can assist students with some strategies, and help them become more aware of their composing behaviors. Harris also states that teachers should not impose personal preferences.

Comments

Ah, no, this was the one I disliked so much!

I find some of this useful. About most of it, I am extremely skeptical.

Useful... I think most creative-writing types will tell you: "I only write at X time of day, with Y implement, and, Z, I do or don't extensively revise. BUT don't listen to a word I say. Writing is a complex process, and you have to find your own way."

Students--and educational institutions--seem to crave hard and fast rules where there are none (or none that I know). Is revision a panacea? No. But...at this time in the students' lives, shouldn't they be trying it out? All of it? Pre-writing, extensive conceptualization before they start, one-draft writing, extensive "re-visioning," etc.?

I'm skeptical of the fact that she found so many one-draft writers, and that they all said their writing habits hadn't changed. (And while she didn’t support this, she didn’t really rebut it, either.) I find it difficult to believe that I'm the only crazy one. I was an (almost exclusively) one-draft writer as an undergrad, a devoted one-draft writer as a journalist, and became an extensive reviser when I took up fiction.

Now, in the last few months, I find myself organizing stories in my head more and more, as I think stories lose some flexibility when I start committing words to paper. So I'm changing into more of a "conceptualizer," or at least I am at the moment.

It seems like a big mistake to approach undergrads as if they might already know whether they're a "one-draft" or "multi-draft" type, just like they already know if they're an "introvert" or an "extrovert." Or that there’s only one way of being throughout a lifetime. I'd also argue that it's a mistake to approach ourselves like this.

Further, I think one of the reasons why she may see so many "one-draft writers," which seems to equal "non-revisers," is because revision is (as Sommers warns agains) defined narrowly.

I actually really liked this piece - mostly because I saw myself so clearly in some of Harris's descriptions, and because it made me think about myself as a writer in ways I hadn't really bothered to before.

Here's me: "All four one-drafters describe themselves as incurable procrastinators who begin even long papers the night before they are due, allowing themselves about the right number of hours in which to transcribe
their mental constructs onto paper" (67).

Here I am again, this time in the description of Ted: "He shrugged off the possibility of doing even a ssecond re-reading of any of his writing once it is done because he says he can't stand to look at it again" (68).

I also found the "pre-text" idea really interesting. I'm definitely one of those people who thinks about the ways that I'll write something - even about the specific wording of sentences - long before I ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

While I found this piece interesting, I agree with Marcia that there are some holes in it. I, too, have definitely changed as a writer over time. I certainly do less of that last-minute, all-night writing now than I did in college. That might be mostly because I don't seem to be able to stay awake as easily as I did when I was 19, but I'd like to think that it's also because I've recognized the value of starting early so that I'll have time to revise. I'm trying to force myself to do that, and I think Marcia is exactly write in saying that, for now at least, we should help our students recognize the importance of process in much of the writing that they will do.

Haha, I wonder if some of my changes as a writer also have to do with my sheer inability, in my thirties, to stay awake after 9 p.m.

I also think that, just as one-drafters should be knocked over the head with other ways of doing things, students who are "committed multi-drafters" need to consider other ways, esp. "pre-writing" or "pre-figuring" the text in their minds.

As an instructor, I find it extremely difficult to not express a preference for multi-drafters. It's all very fine to say that one-drafts plan in their head, but how will I know that? It comes back to the same question: if students aren't turning anything in, how will I know that they aren't working on the paper until they miss the deadline? Or, in the worst case scenario, drop the class because they've simply gotten too far behind? By then, it's too late to help them.

AAAGGGHH! Did I mention that I tend to write in a hurry and hate to look over what I've written? Actually I think I did preview before posting, but I just realized that I said Marcia was "write" when I meant, of course, "right." Oops!

Mm, I like the idea of being "write."

What Thea said is also true of me--I find it difficult not to express a preference for multi-drafters--but I think there is a definite skill to planning in your head before writing, even if it's not a skill we can really gauge or grade. (Unless there's some new fantastic EEG machine I don't know about.)

I don't know if I really agree with the terminology that Harris uses. I prefer to think of "one-drafters" as linear writers and "multi-drafters" as non-linear. Unless you are truly handing in a brainstorming activity, a linear writer will most likely have written many drafts, the difference is that you prefer to make the drafts in your head instead of on paper.

I don't know where I stand on Harris' continuum. On the one hand, I never write more than one draft, I often think about the paper when not writing-- and I can't stand to return to revise papers once done.

On the other hand, I take a long time sitting down writing papers, making sentence-level and even paragraph-level changes as I write. I need to read what I've written to see where I'm going-- for me a "draft" would simply be a beginning of a paper, and no meat or conclusion.

I can't in good faith require students to hand in a "draft" because I know I would be embarrassed for anyone to see mine.

Sometimes I will bullet point the sources I intend to cite, but I don't feel comfortable requiring this of students either, because my students last semester seemed to avoid integrating the sources when they laid out each source separately like this.

As Harris points out by referencing personality types, these writers differ in their affinities for freedom and constraint, something we need to consider in crafting our assignments and in offering choices of assignments. As for evaluation, if we only give credit for written revisions, we overlook the evolution in so-called one-drafters’ thinking about their subjects. We might give them opportunities to discuss their ideas in conferences with us or in class (and take some notes ourselves on the discussion, if appropriate). I think it was Marcia who mentioned asking her students, at an early stage last term, to turn in a thesis statement and one other piece of writing that was helpful to them in the process. So, one-drafters might turn in an outline, while multi-drafters turn in a sprawling freewrite. Revision narratives accompanying the final draft often discuss changes in thought as well as in writing; they’re a good way to check in with students following any writing process.

I agree with others that our courses are opportunities for students to experiment with different approaches to writing. In conferences and class discussions we give students a chance to “talk to learn�; in various ways we also ask them to write to learn. To stretch those one-drafters and emphasize discovery through writing, we might have them do a write-to-learn exercise based on readings, in preparation for choosing a writing topic, or after having completed some research on a topic. It would be writing they did just for themselves (they might have the option of talking about what they learned or thought about). Taking class time for this and not asking them to turn anything in makes a strong statement about the value we see in writing for discovery. In-class short essays are a way to stretch the multi-drafters and prime them for those times when, as Harris notes, they won’t have time to revise (ah, GRE flashback). My high school English teachers had us write an in-class essay occasionally, and precisely because it was against my nature, I found it useful, and I’ve drawn on that experience.

In light of Harris’s discussion of writer-based and reader-based prose, I return to the question of considering audience in writing and revision. For revision to be successful, I would presume that it would be helpful if writers discussed their ideas with their intended audience (as in individual conferences), or at least someone who could remind them of their intended audience. On the other hand, I’ve found that unsuccessful revision may occur when student writers become more concerned with audience expectations, and end up making their writing more stilted (nod to Elbow).

I find that Harris’s point seems related to a lot of different variables such as personality, background, experience, and even literacy genre (by the way, I think that Hairston taxonomy -p.54- is almost a genre taxonomy) Like Marcia and Heather I would add “age factor�.
In any case, I agree with Harris’s proposal that “we have to put together a description that accounts for differences in levels of ability and experience (from novice to expert), for differences in writing tasks, and also for differences in the as yet largely unexplored area of composing process differences among writers� (p.56) but if I’m right, Harris doesn’t totally achieve this goal in her article. Anyway, I probably need to read more carefully (and with my eternal problem I need time for the “read-digestion�)
On the other hand, I think that Harris needs to expand her categories with one that that I’ve created: “reluctant to start AND incapable to finish satisfied�.
I have to confess I felt some relief with Bartholomae’s self description about his disorganized first-draft process (p.55), because that means that I have some hope and I’m also grateful with Edward’s concept of “mental multi draft� because this concept make me rethink what procrastination could be.

Overall I guess this essay makes the practical me think about how, in a writing classroom, we need to account for the many different learning styles and behaviors we encounter -- "multidrafters, sit on this side, one-drafters, over here?" And how to create some "cross pollination," so one group can perhaps learn something from the other. Also, how to work effectively with students who resist doing multiple drafts no matter how hard you try (related to my point in response to Sommers about my own difficulties incorporating revision in my grading decisions, so I don't anymore). Providing in-class opportunities to work on revision are important, but not all students are willing to take advantage of that -- true one-drafters, at least in my experience, will say "thanks, but I feel just fine about my paper, so can I take off?" While that's frustrating, that invitation to revise, without more direction, can be intimidating and not very helpful for a lot of students, so I'm sort of back to where I started -- how to find concrete, "portable," and "global" instruction regarding revision, or am I better off handling it on an individualized basis, which is perhaps more helpful for the student (and more rewarding for me?) So, with a nod to Maru, perhaps these are my categories:

* one drafters who will always be one drafters, so don't bother;

* one drafters who are in reality "cerebral multidrafters" (Marcia?) -- and I include myself in this category, because once I write something I can't stand to look at it again (Heather? Laura?) so I keep the messiness "off the table";

* one drafters who could be multi-drafters with a little encouragement (but how to distinguish them from the first category -- I don't know that, unless I missed it, Harris provides much in the way of specific help with that);

* die-hard multidrafters who should be encouraged to keep doing what they're doing (while still adhering to our deadlines and other administrative requirements).

Like Edward, I was a little uncomfortable with the categories that were being used in this essay, and I suspect that's part of the reason why the author was finding so many one drafters. The ability of a one draft writer to produce a high quality draft is I think doubtlessly connected to a lot of pre-writing, even if that pre-writing is mental. Also, I thought this essay got a little muddied at times about when the revising process was going on. Some students revise as they produce their "first" drafts (stopping and rewriting sentences and paragraphs) while other students will produce a draft straight through with little or no corrections. It's this second class of students who will produce drafts that we can find evidence of massive revisions in, but because the first set of students are revising as they write there won't be much evidence of their revision process. I routinely turn in papers that I've only done one formal revision on (often done an hour or two after I've written the first draft) which in turn was produced the night before the assignment was due. By this standard I could easily be mistaken for a one draft (or one and half draft) writer although if I were to be honest, the entire writing process is one on and off revision session; my first draft is written one grueling double-spaced page an hour. I also do an enormous amount of pre-writing (both written and mental). Maybe it would be more useful to classify a number of different kinds of revisions: pre-writing revisions, revisions while we draft, short term revisions leading up to new drafts, and revisions that are done after weeks or months (the kind of revisions you can do after you've forgotten your text). This last class of revision seems very different to me than the very quick revisions that are done between a series of drafts, and I find it next to impossible to believe that multi-draft or "one" draft students wouldn't benefit from them. But I can understand why a student who could produce a relatively polished draft after one night's writing might be turned off to the idea of revising when they associate the term with the kind of quick multi-draft writing that they don't do.