Ways to Use Writing
Teachers and researchers in the field of Composition have studied ways to use writing and have discovered many benefits of private writing/freewriting. What is true for private writing/freewriting is true of journal writing as well:
Use Writing to Clear Away Distractions
Peter Elbow writes:
“Freewriting is a useful outlet. We have lots in our heads that makes it hard to think straight and write clearly: we are mad at someone, sad about something, depressed about everything. Perhaps even inconveniently happy. “How can I think about this report when I’m so in love?” Freewriting is a quick outlet for these feelings so they don’t get so much in your way when you are trying to write about something else. Sometime your mind is marvelously clear after ten minutes of telling someone on paper everything you need to tell him. (In fact, if your feelings often keep you from functioning well in other areas of your life frequent freewriting can help: not only by providing a good arena for those feelings, but also by helping you understand them better and see them in perspective by seeing them on paper.)” ( Peter Elbow, Writing with Power—Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 15)
Use Writing to Clarify Meaning
Don’t focus on your writing – focus on your meaning. And as you seek to discover meaning, be honest with yourself. Don’t settle for trite, clichéd evangelical lingo, or mindless phrases without meaning.
A few years ago, Chuck Swindoll told an audience of 600 pastors that if he heard one more prayer asking God to “lead, guide, and direct” us, he thought he’d vomit. Can’t God just lead us? Why do we always pray, “lead, guide and direct?” We all get caught at times using religious sounding nonsense. Avoid it in your journal. Figure out the right word for what you really mean, get specific, get real.
Use Writing to Discover
Sondra Perl writes:
Composing always involves some measure of both construction and discovery. Writers construct their discourse inasmuch as they begin with a sense of what they want to write This sense, as it remains implicit, is not equivalent to the explicit form it gives rise to. Thus, a process of constructing meaning is required. . . . Constructing simultaneously affords discovery. Writers know more fully what they mean only after having written it. (Perl 1979, p. 331)
In Genesis 1:1, the Creator spoke the earth into existence. At first it was a shapeless, chaotic mass (Living Bible). Then God separated, ordered, and created until finally He declared it “good.” Once we take the shapeless, chaotic mass of feelings, perceptions, images, prejudices and define them with words--then we can go back and separate and order it and see what it adds up to. While the chaos swirls without words or logic inside our heads, the confusion remains.
Use Writing to Think Deeply
Tom Romano writes:
“Put down words with the sole purpose of getting at thinking, at personal truth… We write and suddenly “realize” or “notice” things. (Romano, Clearing the Way, 18)
Writing is “the most disciplined form of thinking.” (Donald Murray, quoted in Tom Romano, Clearing the Way, p. 21)
When we write we are “making what we are learning our own, making meaning for ourselves. Make links between what we already know and are trying to learn.” (Romano, Clearing the Way, 23)
As we seek to write down the answers to our questions, we learn. As Tom Romano writes, “There is nothing like the intense thinking that goes on when we use language deliberately in writing.” (Clearing the Way, 19)
Use Writing to Make Sense of what We Read
Carol Avery writes:
Meaning-making happens within us almost by magic. Carol Avery writes that the “magic comes from considering possibilities, figuring out meaning from these possibilities, revising, refining, clarifying that meaning.” (And With a Light Touch, p. 255)
In our journals we have the opportunities to make meaning not only of our lives, but also of the Scriptures. Avery continues “ask questions for which you don’t know the answer, questions that come from your response to what you read and your struggle to bring the truth into your life. These kinds of questions will bring you to seek the facts, the information that is given in the text, and it will lead you to consider the details, the specifics as you seek to understand the text more fully. You’ll find yourself peeking around the corner of the text.” (And With a Light Touch, p. 255)
The Bible comes alive as we make observations about what the text says which leads us to interpretations about what it means. But in the process of making judgments about what it means, we have more questions that send us back to the text for additional information. The new information helps us to draw conclusions about what the text means and we wrestle to determine what it means for our lives in modern American culture. Louise Rosenblatt, an early reading response theorist, and Mortimer Alder, a Harvard professor, along with many other researchers and teachers, help us to understand the importance of these movements to our learning.
Use Writing as you deem best
How I use writing in my spiritual life may be very different from what will work best for you. Questions that I find to be helpful, may not be meaningful for you. In fact, even what I find meaningful to me one day, may not interest me at all another day.
This variance is the precise reason why I believe there are no formulas, no blueprints, no recipes for what to do in a blank book. Certainly, we learn from the experiences of others and develop a variety of strategies that we can pull from, but we cannot give up our responsibility to choose if we will write, and what we will write about during our devotional time. The goal of our devotional time is not to get 3 pages written in our journal. The goal is to fall in love with Jesus—how you get there is your choice.
Carol Avery is a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English and is widely respected for her expertise in language arts teaching and for her advocacy of teachers and children. She is the author of ...And With a Light Touch, a book on teaching language arts, which is lauded by classroom teachers and educators for its insightfulness and relevance to classroom practice. She has facilitated hundreds of workshops and presentations for teachers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as several abroad. She has special expertise in children's literature and, in her capacity as a reviewer, recommends the best new books to teachers attending her workshops. Carol has worked as a consultant for schools nationally and internationally, demonstrating reading and writing lessons in K-12 classrooms and sharing stories of her classroom experiences in both suburban and urban schools. She has taught at the elementary, secondary and college levels and also served as a school librarian. She holds a bachelor's degree in library science and masters degrees in elementary education and writing.
Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Author of Writing Without Teachers, Embracing Contraries, and Writing with Power.
Professor, Department of English, The University of Vermont
The Journal Book
for Teachers in Professional and Technical Programs.
Teachers Teach Literature: Bringing Writing to Reading.
Work: Models and Methods for Writing Across the Curriculum.
The Journal Book. Editor, Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1987.
Teaching with Writing. Boynton/Cook, 1987.
Writing Across the
Disciplines: Research into Practice.
Co-editor Art Young,
Connections: Writing and Reading
Across the Curriculum.
Donald Graves: 1995 NCTE Outstanding Educator in the English Language Arts Before Don was celebrated for his landmark work, Writing: Teachers and Children at Work (1983), and before he worked as a professor and member of the writing community at the University of New Hampshire, he spent many years working as an educator and seeker of truth and justice.
Donald M. Murray, Professor Emeritus of English, is a teacher, novelist, columnist, composition scholar, and newspaper writing coach. He has served as English Department Chairperson and Director of the Freshmen English Program at the University of New Hampshire.
Murray inaugurated a journalism program, designed advanced composition courses, and assisted in establishing a graduate program in Composition Studies at the University of New Hampshire. He twice won awards for his teaching and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of New Hampshire in 1990 and Fitchburg State College in 1992. His papers have been collected by The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.
As a journalist, Murray won a number of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in The Boston Herald in 1954. He was an editor of Time before free-lancing as a magazine writer in New York City for seven years. He has served as writing coach for The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, and other newspapers. His weekly column includes Over Sixty for The Boston Globe. In 1991, Boston magazine and, in 1996, Improper Bostonians magazine selected him best columnist in Boston.
Murray has published two novels, and his poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry. Some of his books on the craft of writing and teaching writing include A Writer Teaches Writing, Learning by Teaching, Writing for Your Readers, Read to Write, Expecting the Unexpected and The Craft of Revision.
Author of Bird by Bird-Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Associate professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Author of Clearing the Way: Working with Teenage Writers (Heinemann, 1987) and Writing with Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres (Heinemann, 1995). Romano’s insightful articles appear in Voices from the Middle and English Journal.
Louise Rosenblatt first advanced the Reader-Response Theory in 1938. Currently, this theory remains a dominant teaching approach with Rosenblatt’s influence readily apparent in contemporary research. English professors today can work the magic of the literary experience through the use of the Reader-Response Theory in the teaching of literature.
This site was last updated 01/09/08