On Rewriting

For years I’ve nagged my students to adopt a more critical eye toward the work they turn in to me, to refuse to be content with the first draft, to step back, take a breath, and attempt a real re-vision of their writing. Writing is rewriting, was the mantra we chanted back in the faculty development workshops in the Expository Writing Program.

So I’ve been watching with interest and a bit of befuddlement the debate surrounding the blog-entry-revision question: Jill Walker first drew my attention to it with her post on the ethics of entry deletion, which references the brouhaha between Mark Pilgrim and Dave Winer over Winer’s sense of his blog’s malleability (and Pilgrim’s sense that this malleability was the result of a lack of accountability). Jonathon Delacour (link via mamamusings) recounts his own change of heart with regard to the question of ethical blog-permanence, thinking through in great detail the points at which his own principles diverge from those laid out by Rebecca Blood. And Chuck Tryon rightly notes that this debate bears some import for those of us who use blogs in the classroom.

The question that I’m left with, though, is how to balance my dedication to the practice of rewriting with my sense that the blog is and ought to be a relatively permanent record of a moment’s thoughts. This, I think, may be at the root of one of the difficulties I’ve encountered with this site: I’m fairly cautious, by nature, about releasing my words into the public sphere. I’ve been a long-term lurker on a number of listservs, but never a regularly active participant, because the form always seemed to me to move so much more quickly than my own thought- and writing-processes do. I’ve only begun commenting recently on a number of blogs that I’ve been reading for months. And I’m always nervous at that moment when I change my MT post status from “Draft” to “Publish.”

Clearly I’ve got the sense that my words, once out there (once “published”), are on the record, permanentesque in the way that the web has become. (Yes, pages are deleted and links are removed every day. But with the existence of the Google cache, has that removal become illusory?) But I still feel the need to convince my students that the first draft of anything is rarely right, and that no piece of writing should be considered finished. (Ask Joyce Carol Oates about that one.)

So how do we reconcile this? Are certain kinds of writing bound to a greater degree of permanence than others? Should the class blog adhere to blogly standards of accountability or pedagogical standards of revision and rewriting?

5 thoughts on “On Rewriting

  1. I’m really torn about these issues. Like you, I think I’m pretty cautious about seeing my words appear in the public sphere (another issue I may want to introduce to my students…). The blog has actually been helpful in that regard–I’ve become more comfortable with my potential audiences.

    I’m still struggling with the role of blogs in my classroom. Like you, I think revision is important, that no piece of writing is ever finished (maybe I’ll use the Oates piece as well). I think I want students to use blogs as places to conduct thought experiments, not where their “final” writing will necessarily take place, but because blogs are relatively public (especially via search engines), that creates a major complication.

  2. I’m a great believer in revising entries, after I post I will read it back a few times and if something does not seem adequately clear or if I think it could be better phrased, I’ll wade in and change it no doubt. If over the next day or two I think of something that should be added or changed, or a correspondant suggests a change or addition, I will do it; whether I need to note the change, and how to do so, I decide according mostly to whimsy — I can just tell whether the change is “part of the original intent of the post” or not. — Well actually if the change is suggested by somebody else I will just about always note it, in order to provide attribution. I am skeptical of any ethical argument in this regard — the site is a record of my own (or your own, or whose ever the site belongs to) musings and if a modification is going to help me/you/whomever make sense of them then by all means do it! Artificially conscribing the actions you can take with regards to your journal is counterproductive, so say I.

  3. I think this problem people have with rewrites is that they post on whims. When you’re writing a book, a paper for school, etc., you do the rewrites before publishing. I think that’s the issue people have.

    About Google Cache. There is a way to stop that. All my web pages are blocked from google cache. META NAME=”GOOGLEBOT” CONTENT=”NOARCHIVE”

  4. There’s surely some irony in the fact that I’ve been thinking how best to comment on this post for a few days, but haven’t quite come up with something I want to commit to the page…

  5. I actually found myself hesitating often when I wrote on this subject. I’d pause, rephrase, stumble over my words. When I made my own comments about this issue on my blog, I don’t think I intended my statements to sound prescriptive, but simply meant to describe my writing habits. Funny how writing about my writing habits made for such a difficult, poorly phrased post.

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