ENGL101 Bowie State University Inspired Writer vs Real Writer Summary Briefly summarize ” ˇThe Inspired Writer vs. The Real Writer” in a paragraph and place a 3-part thesis statement at the end of the paragraph .NOTE:A thesis sentence is a crucial features of academic writing. it tells the reader what the main points of your paper are. THE INSPIRED WRITER VS. THE REAL WRITER” BY SARAH ALLEN
Several years ago, in a first-year w riting course, a student nervously approached me after class, asking if w e could talk about her latest draft of a
formal paper. She w as w orried about the content of the draft, about the fact that in w riting about her w riting process (the assignment for the paper),
she found her tone to be at best frustrated, at w orst grumbling and w hiney. “I don’t really like w riting. Is that okay?” she asked.
This is the first time that I remember a student confessing aloud (to me) that she did not like w riting, and I remember struggling for an appropriate
response—not because I couldn’t fathom how she had the gall to admit this to me, a w riting teacher, but because I couldn’t understand w hy
admitting to not liking w riting w orried her. In the next class, I asked my students if they liked w riting. I heard a mixed response. I asked them if they
assumed that someone like me, a w riting teacher/schola r, alw ays liked w riting. The answ er w as a resounding “yes.” I rephrased , “So you believe
that every day I skip gleefully to my computer?” Again, though giggling a bit, my students answ ered “yes.” And, at last, one stude nt piped up to
say, “Well, you’re good at it, right? I mean, that’s w hat makes you good at it.”
My student, quoted above, seems to suggest that I am good at w riting because I like doing it. But I’d have to disagree on at least tw o points: First, I
w ouldn’t describe my feelings tow ard w riting as being a “like” kind of thing. It’s more of an agonistic kind of thing. Second, I am not “good” at
w riting, if being good at it means that the w ords, the paragraphs, the pages come easily.
On the contrary, I believe that I w rite because I am driven to do so driven by a w ill to w rite. By “w ill,” I mean a kind of p urposefulness, propensity,
diligence, and determination (w hich, I should mention, does not lead to perfection or ease . . . unfortunately ). But I should qualify this: the w ill to
w rite is not innate for me, nor is it alw ays readily available. In fact, the common assumption that a w ill to w rite must be both innate and stem from
an ever- replenishing source never ceases to surprise (and annoy) me. I’ve w orked w ith a lot of enviably brilliant and w onderful w rite rs—teachers ,
students, scholars, and freelancers . I’ve yet to meet one w ho believ es that she/he is innately and/or alw ays a brilliant w riter, nor have I met one
w ho says she/he alw ays w ants to w rite.
And yet, I confess that I find myself to be genuinely surprised w hen some w ell-respected scholar in my field admits to struggling w ith his w riting.
For example, David Bartholomae (a very successful scholar in the field of Rhetoric and Composition) confesses that he didn’t learn to w rite until
after he completed his undergraduate studies, and that he learned it through w hat must have been a t least one particularly traumatic experience:
his dissertation w as rejected for being “poorly w ritten” (22–23).
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If at first glance the rejection of a dissertation means little to you, let me explain: imagine spending years (literally , years) on a piece of w riting (a
very long piece of w riting), for w hich you’ve sacrificed more than you ever thought you’d sacrifice for anything (your time, your freedom, sleep,
relationships, and even, at times, your sanity), only to have it rejected. And w orse, it’s rejected for being “poorly w ritten,” w hich is like being booted
off of a pro-league baseball team for not being able to tie your shoes properly. We’re talking basics here, or so w e (w riters) like to think. And yet, if
w riting w ere nothing more than “practicing the basics,” w hy’s it so hard—hard even for one of the best of the best in my field?
It’s alarming how many great scholars have admitted to struggling w ith w riting. Bartholomae is not the only one. In a rather famous admission, one
of the “fathers” of the field of Rhetoric and Composition, Peter Elbow —the guy w ho put freew riting on the map, w rote one of the first book-length
studies of the w riting process, and has been
the virtual MLK, Jr. for voice-in-w riting (yeah, that guy)—dropped out of graduate school because he suffered so badly from w riter’s block. ((Note:
See his “Autobiographica l Digression” in the second chapter of Writing w ithout Teachers.))
My ow n story of my frustrated struggle w ith w riting is not nearly so heroic as Elbow ’s or Bartholomae’s. I did not fight the dragon beasts of poor
w riting skills or w riter’s block, return to the (w riting) field as the victorious knight, and then settle in for a long, successful reign as one of the rulers
of the land of Rhetoric and Composition. Rather, mine w as (and, sometimes, still is) more Hamlet-like, more like a battle w ith a ghost—the ghost
being the “Inspired Writer.”
The Inspired Writer, as I understand her/him, is a figure for w hom w riting comes easily —the sort of Romantic hero w ho w rites purely out of an
aw e-full state, generating perfect prose w ithout the frustrated process of revision (or fa ilure). This Inspired Writer is everyw here, in all the great
stories of great w riters w ho w ere so full of “w riterliness” that they w ere tormented by their need to w rite; they w ere relentlessly pursued by their
muses . . . as w as evidenced by their inked ha nds, tangled hair, ringed eyes, and profoundly w atchful stares. They did not have to go craw ling
about in the muck of w hat-everybody’s-already-w ritten, across the desert of w hat-could-I-possibly- say, and over the mountain of an-audiencew ho-probably-know s-a-lot-more-than-I-do.
Of course, the great irony of this figure’s story is that the Inspired Writer is really the transcendent distortion of real-life w riters. It’s much more likely
that most of those great, real-life w riters got their inked hands from gripping too hard their quills or pens in frustration, as they hovered over pages
w ith more slashes, margin-notes , and edits than clean, untouched sentences set in perfect lines. They probably got their tangled hair from
w renching it; their ringed eyes from spending too many hours staring at black squiggles over w hite pages; and their profoundly w atchful stares
from their consequent, bad eyesight.
The fact is that they, too, had to answ er to the great w orks that had been w ritten before them; they, too, had to struggle w ith their ow n fears about
sounding stupid; and they, too, had to answ er to an often discerning and demanding audience. Yet, despite reality, the aw esome figure of the
Inspired Writer still holds sw ay, hovering over us like bad lighting, blinding us to our ow n w ork.
The pervasiveness of this myth of the Inspired Writer and the continued celebration of her/him w orks against us, as w riters, for w e often assume
that if w riting does not come easily, then our w riting is not good—and in turn, that w e cannot be good w riters. Consequently, w e believe that the
w riting that comes easily is the only good w riting, so w e w ill turn in papers that have been drafted quickly and w ithout revision, hoping for the best
Now , in the days w hen I w as claw ing my w ay through classes a s an English major, literature teachers didn’t spend much time on revision. I don’t
ever remember being told anything about strategies for revision. I remember doing peer review s, w here w e read each other’s drafts and marked
punctuation problems, having no idea how to examine—much less comment on—structure and analysis. Other than the five-paragraph formula I’d
learned in high school, I had no idea w hat a paper should or could look like. In other w ords, w hen I w as learning to w rite college papers some
fifteen years ago, I w as totally on my ow n. The most useful strategy in my bag of tricks? Trial and error. And believe me, good grades or no,
having had the opportunity recently (thanks to my mother moving and insisting, “take your STUFF!”) to look at the papers I w rote back then, I see
an aw ful lot of the latter.
You see, the aw ful, honest truth is that I’m no rabbit, no natural digger, no lover of thick, tangled messes, and I had no idea how to find my w ay
through the knotted ideas at w ork in any first drafts, much less how to dig my w ay into more root (e.g. to go further w ith my claims, to push the
analysis, to discover the “so w hat” of my w ork). I didn’t find this place (the page) to be a comfy, hide-out-w orthy home. In fact, I confess that I still
don’t. I have alw ays loved to read, but w riting has been much more w ork than I ever anticipated. And even after so many years of gradu ate school,
and even more years of teaching w riting and of w riting scholarship, w hen one might think I
should have fully embraced and embodied the status of “veteran” digger, I still, very often feel like I’m trudging through some thick of hard
branches and harder roots to find my w ay dow n a page.
After years of reflecting on this trudging and of talking w ith students about how they, too, often feel as though they are trudging dow n a page—
through ideas, among the cacophony of w ords (our ow n and others’)—I’ve come to this (admittedly, unimpressive) realization: this is, for many of
us, an alien discourse. I’m not like my tw o closest friends from graduate school, w hose parents w ere academics. We didn’t talk at breakfast about
“the problematic representations of race in the media.” Instead, my father told racist jokes that my sisters and I didn’t recognize—until later—w ere
racist. We didn’t talk at dinner about “the mass oppression of ‘other(ed)’ cultures by corporate/national tyrants.” My sisters and I talked about how
the cheerleaders w ere w ay cooler than w e w ere because they had better clothes, cars, hair, bodies, and boyfriends, and that w e w ould,
consequently, be losers for the rest of our lives.
Again, this is an alien discourse, even now . Well, not this. This is more like a personal essay, but the papers I w as suppose d to w rite for my
literature classes, those w ere strange. I didn’t normally think in the order that a paper w ould suggest—first broadly, then moving to specifics, w hich
are treated as isolated entities, brought together in transitions and at the end of the paper. I didn’t understand, much less use, w ords like
“Marxism,” “feminis m,” or even “close reading.” I didn’t know that Shakespeare may not have been Shakespeare. I didn’t know that Hemingw ay
w as a drunk. I didn’t know that really smart people spent their entire careers duking it out about w ho Shakespeare really w a s and w hether
Hemingw ay’s alcoholism influenced his w ork.
I didn’t know the vocabulary; I didn’t know the issues; I didn’t think in the right order; I didn’t quite properly; and I w as far too interested in the
sinking, spinning feeling that w riting—and reading— sometimes gave me, instead of being interested in the rigorousness of scholarly w ork, in
modeling that w ork, and in becoming a member of this strange discourse community . Consequently, w hen a teacher finally sat me dow n to explain
that this w as, in fact, a community—one that occurred on pages, at conferences, in coffee shops, and over list-servs—and that if I w anted to stay
on the court, I’d have to learn the rules of the game, I w as both intrigued and terrified. And no surprise, w riting then beca me not just a w ay to
induce the sinking, spinning thing of w hich I spoke earlier, but a w ay to think, a w ay to act—e.g. a w ay to figure out little things, like w ho “Mr. W.H.”
is in Shakespeare’s dedication to his Sonnets, as w ell as big things, like how w e ca n better fight the “isms” of this w orld.
No doubt, the sinking, spinning feeling that I experience w hen I w rite or read comes and goes now , but it alw ays did. I feel it alternately, as it
shares time w ith the “trudging” feeling I described earlier. But, p lease don’t think that this trudging comes from having to learn and practice the
w riting conventions of an alien community. Rather, the feeling of “trudging” is a consequence, again, of that haunting specter, the Inspired Writer.
The feeling comes from the expectation that w riting should come from “the gods” or natural talent, and it is a consequence, too, of the expectation
that this inspiration or talent should be alw ays available to us—alw ays there, though sometimes hidden, in some reservoir of our beings.
Thus, even now , w hen I hit a blank spot and the sentence stumbles off into w hite space, I feel . . . inadequate . . . or w ors e, like a fraud, like I’m
playing a game that I’ve got no business playing. The reader is gonna red card me. And w hat makes it w orse: I have to w rite. Writing teacher and
scholar or not, I have to w rite memos and emails and resumes and reports and thank you notes and on and on.
But the upshot of all of this is that you’d be amazed w hat talking about this frustration (and all of the attendant fears) w ill do for a w riter, once
she/he opens up and shares this frustration w ith other w riters, other students, teachers . . . w ith anyone w ho has to w rite. For example, once my
students see that everyone sitting in this classroom has a gnaw ing fear about their w ork failing, about how they don’t have “it,” about how they
don’t feel justified calling themselves “w riters,” because most of them are “regular folks” required to take a w riting class, w ell . . . then w e can have
ourselves a getting-dow n-to-it, honest and productive w riting classroom. Then, w e can talk about w riter’s block—w hat it is, w hat causes it, and
w hat overcomes it. We can talk about how to develop “thick skins”—about how to listen to readers’ commentaries and critiques w ithout
simultaneously w anting to rip our w ritings into tiny pieces, stomp them into a trashcan, and then set fire to them. And most importantly, then, w e
can talk about w riting as a practice, not a reflection of some innate quality of the w riter.
My w ork, for example, is more a reflection of the scholarship I spend the most time w ith than it is a reflection of me, per s e. One strategy I learned
in graduate school (and I sw ear, I picked it up by w atching my first-year composition students) is to imitate other, successful pieces of w riting. By
“imitate,” of course I don’t mean plagiarize. I mean that I imitate the form of those texts, e.g. the organization, and the w ays that they engage w ith,
explore, and extend ideas.
For example, a Rhetoric and Composition scholar named Patricia Bizzell has w ritten scholarship that I use a lot in my ow n w ork. In fact, even
w hen I don’t use her w ork directly, I can see her influence on my thinking. A couple of years ago, after reading one of her b ooks for about the
hundredth time (seriously), I noticed that her articles and chapters are organized in predictable kinds of w ays (not predicta ble as in boring, but
predictable as in she’s-a- pro). She seems to have a formula dow n, and it w orks. Her w ork is consistently solid—i.e. convincing, important—and
using that formula, she’s able to tackle really dense material and make it accessible to readers.
To be more specific, she tends to start w ith an introduction that demonstrates , right aw ay, w hy the coming w ork is so important. For example, in
“Foundationalis m and Anti-Foundationalis m in Composition Studies,” she starts off the article by reminding us, basically (I’m paraphrasing here),
that everybody’s dow n w ith “the social,” that w e are all invested in examining how la nguage—and w riting—occurs in a context and how that
context dictates meaning. So, for example, the w ord “w e” in the previous sentence is a reference to Rhetoric and Composition teachers and
scholars; how ever, in this sentence, it’s not a reference to a group of people, but to the w ord “w e,” as it occurs in the previous sentence. See?
Meaning changes according to context.
So, Bizzell starts w ith this premise: that everybody’s dow n w ith the social, that w e’re invested in examining contexts, that w e know that meaning
happens in those contexts. Then, she introduces the problem: that w e still w ant something pre-contextual (e.g. I know w hat “w e” means because I
can step outside of any contexts—including this one—and examine it objectively). Then, she gives tw o in-depth examples of w here she sees the
problem at w ork in the field. She then examines how w e’ve tried to address that problem, then how w e’ve failed at addressing it, and then she
poses another/new perspective on the problem and, consequently , another/new w ay of addressing it.
This is her formula, and I imitate it, frequently , in my ow n w ork. It’s rigorous, thorough, and like I said earlier, accessib le. It w orks. But sometimes
I’m w orking on something totally different, something new (to me), and that formula starts to box me in too much; the formula becomes a tomb
instead of a foundation. That’s w hen I turn to outside readers.
Now , this one, actually, is a tougher strategy to use . . . because it requires that you share a piece of w ork that looks like a train w reck to you w ith
another human being—ideally , another smart, patient, open-minded human being. I have four people I send my w ork out to consistently. One is
my boss; one my mentor; one a (very successful) peer; and the other, a senior colleague I come dangerously close to w orshipping. In other w ords,
I don’t send my stuff to my mom. I don’t give it to my best friend, my boyfriend, my dance teacher, or my sisters. I only send my stuff to people w ho
seem to be a lot better at w riting scholarship than I feel like I am.
Again, it’s hard to do, but I can’t tell you how many students I’ll see in my office over the course of a semester w ho w ill s ay, “But my mom read my
paper, and she says it looks great”—w hile gripping a paper marked w ith a D or F. Mom may have been the final authority w hen you w ere
negotiating curfew s and driving and dating, but unless Mom’s a (college-level) w riting teacher, she’ll be no more of an expert in college-level
w riting than your dentist w ill. Send it to her if you w ant an outside reader, but don’t expect her final w ord to be similar to your teacher’s final w ord.
And w hile I’m on my soapbox . . . don’t let anyone edit your papers . . . including your mom. It’s called “collusion” —a kind of plagiarism—and it’s
really easy to spot, especially if you w ere the Comma Splice King in the first paper and use commas flaw lessly in the second.
More importantly, keep in mind that if you only use your mom, or your coach, or some other person w ho’s not in the same class , then you may be
making the revision process (and the reading for that person) more difficult than necessary, since that reader w ill have no idea w hat you’ve read in
class, w hat you’ve talked about in class, or w hat the assignment guidelines and grading criteria are. Writing occurs —and is assessed—in a
The best strategy for finding and using readers is to start w ith the teacher (no, it’s not cheating). Ask him/her to read a draft before you submit the
final. Then, share the paper w ith a classmate, as w ell as someone w ho’s not in the class. That w ay, you’ll get an “insider’s” perspective as w ell as
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