Assignment : Writer’s Process Search.
Your are using the essay instructions in the textbook on pages 677- 682. Before you can come up with a research question, you’ll need to synthesize what you’ve learned from the readings. To synthesize the resources you must take a unique viewpoint about a central idea, theme, or topic, and back it up with a combination of multiple sources you’ve discovered. Be sure to review the purpose of the assignment as outlined on pag 681 in the “PLANNING, DRAFTING, AND REVISING” section.
Strategies for Success
Have an effective thesis statement that makes a debatable claim
Avoid first/second person in your response UNLESS you make a personal connection as an introductory technique.
Use an evenhanded tone and dealing with all points of view fairly.
Be sure to review the rubric for specific assignment expectations.
You will need to have 3 – 4 sources for your research (the majority need to come from the Interview Archives outlined in the textbook, the Triton Database or articles in the textbook) and be cited correctly.
Essay word count is 1250* – 1500* words (6 – 7 pages). (* does not include cited material, i.e. works cited page and in-text citations)
Modified Social Science Report – format used for essay https://bit.ly/32CE71F
Use traditional MLA essay structure (use the MLA essay template in Microsoft Word). Use the default settings on your word processing program (“normal” margins,12-point font, Calibri or Times New Roman). Double-space your essay and include page numbers and headers.
Assignment Option 3. Writer’s Process Search
We hope the readings in this chapter have raised some questions for you about how profes- sional writers might go about writing every day, and what language they might choose to talk about and describe writing. It is tempting to offer an assignment where you go find a handful of writers and interview them on their processes and ideas about writing, and then write the results. (And you should feel free to discuss such a project with your teacher if that’s interesting to you.) But as it turns out, there are a number of venues where other researchers and reporters already have done these sorts of interviews, and posted them in online archives.
The presence of these archives provides the basis for this assignment option: Establish a research question on some aspect of writing process (for example, “Where do professional writers get their ideas?” or “How do professional writers talk about revision?”), and mine
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the interview archives we list below (and any others you might be aware of or come across in your own reading) seeking writers’ accounts that relate to and can help answer your research question. Synthesize whatever commentary you find into a report on your ques- tion: What do professional writers of various kinds have to say about the aspect of writing you’re wondering about? That is your focus in researching and writing this piece. We call it a “writer’s process search” because you’ll be searching these interview archives for data (interviews) that address your question(s) on writing processes.
Getting to Know the Archives: Your first task in this project will be to familiarize your- self with the data resources available to you. We collect here four repositories of interviews with writers. Certainly, more such repositories exist, which you might find with some good Internet searching, but we know these will give you a good start. Together they include interviews from literary writers, other professional writers, playwrights and screenwriters, songwriters, journalists, and research writers. Most take a question-and-answer (Q&A) format with their interview subjects. When used together with a resource like Wikipedia (since many of the people interviewed are likely to have a Wikipedia page) to gain richer background on the interviewees, these archives create a rich repository of professionally recognized writers talking about writing in their own words.
The New York Times—Books
“Writers on Writing”
Unlike the other archives we’re pointing you to, in the Times’ column “Writers on Writing,” the writers were not interviewed; rather, they wrote short essays on some topic related to writing which were then published in the Times. What you’ll find at this site, then, are writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow, Barbara Kingslover, Chitra Divakaruni, David Mamet, and Susan Sontag, writing on subjects like what makes a good novel, taking a break from writing in order to have more to say (Ford), selecting music for writing (White), handwriting (Gordon), the relationship between writing and living (Gish), how running assists writing (Oates), or the role of rewriting in writing (Sontag). Because each essay is thematic, this isn’t the place where a single writer will have a wide-ranging discussion on many different aspects of writing process. As is the case with most of these archives, it’s easier to search by author than by subject, so you’ll need to schedule enough time just to read what’s there and make good notes about where you found particular information so that you can locate it again later. On the upside, most of the articles were written between 1999 and 2001 and thus don’t require a New York Times subscription to access. When you find one that touches on your area of inquiry, it will be a rich source of information about a writer’s words on the subject of writing.
Songwriters on Process
This Web site contains an archive of interviews with songwriting musicians. The interviews are conducted by site author Benjamin Opipari, who asks questions of the writers about “their creative process, from beginning to end.” Opipari demonstrates an eclectic taste in
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interview subjects, having spoken with sogwriters as diverse as Chris Difford from Squeeze to Neil Finn of Crowded House to Bechtolt and Evans of YACHT and Cohen and Emm of Tanlines. A wide range of other genres are represented as well. The interviews tend to focus on the process by which songwriters get ideas for lyrics and music, and how they move those ideas along to become finished songs. Typical questions include “When it comes to the songwriting process, how do you feel about inspiration?,” “How disciplined are you as a songwriter?,” and “How much revision do you do to your lyrics?” Readers can learn a lot about songwriting simply by reading the interviews, but they’re also good for zoom- ing in on particular aspects of the writing process. The site is arranged by the name of the interviewee and their band, and the format for interviews (with questions bolded and short) makes any given interview easy to glance through to get a sense of subjects covered.
The Paris Review
The Paris Review is a journal of literary writing (fiction, poetry, and essays) that also pub- lishes some literary criticism. It was founded in 1953. A year later, it began running inter- views with contemporary writers—and it has done so every year for the ensuing sixty years, running more than half a dozen per year. The site is searchable by author or by decade. You’ll find interviews with Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Philip Larkin, Dorris Lessing, Edna O’Brien, Walker Percy . . . the list is immense, and the range of genres represented is complete (fiction, poetry, plays, essays, journalism), though many of the interviewees are novelists. These interviews are often conducted as public events with au- diences, which may influence the responses the writers offer to questions. As with other interview archive sites, this one will be difficult to search by subject—but because of its arrangement by time, it might be especially useful for questions related to change in writ- ing process through time (for example, how processes change as writing technologies do).
The New York Times
“Why I Write: Q&A with Seven Times Journalists.”
Different from the other three archive sites, this “Learning Network” blog post in the Times focused narrowly on a short list of journalists writing for the Times, covering a range of story types, and asked each the same questions. The occasion of these interviews was the 2011 “National Day on Writing” (created by the National Council of Teachers of English). Among other questions, each of the writers (such as Web producer Jeffrery Delviscio, Styles writer Simone Oliver, and sportswriter Pete Thamel) responded to how they became a reporter, what outside forces influence their writing, what their writing process looks like, and why they write. The whole set of interviews can be read in about half an hour, and is extremely valuable for seeing less famous but very professional writers talk in down-to- earth ways about how they experience writing.
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Brainstorming and Selecting a Research Question: Explore each of these sites, famil- iarizing yourself with which writers have been interviewed by each source and considering the best ways to search the sites for material specifically related to the research question you’ll choose.
Once you’ve read some interviews at each site in order to get your inquiry juices flowing, you should be considering what question you might like to focus your project on.
• Did you see something a given writer was talking about that you’d like to investi- gate further?
• Is there some “writer’s problem” such as writer’s block or coming up with what to write about that you’d like to find how professional writers deal with?
• Is there a larger aspect of writing process, such as revision, that you’d like to see how various writers talk about?
• Is there some subject related to writing, such as what role music can play during the writing process, that you’re curious about?
• Are you seeing trends related to the kind of writing that a person does? For example, do songwriters think about process differently than journalists?
• Do writing technologies come up at all? If so, are there trends across time, genre, or type of writer?
While the focus of your particular question may be somewhat challenging to settle on, giving the variety of information in the archives, it’s very likely that some of these writers will have discussed your question, whatever it turns out to be. Notice that the broader your question, the more quickly you’re likely to find interviews related to it; however, a very broad question might be difficult to write about because of its breadth.
Collecting and Analyzing Data: Once you have settled on a research question, you’ll need to begin searching the interview archives to find a set of interviews that touch on your subject of inquiry. You will collect a number of these interviews and begin considering and synthesizing what various writers say about your question.
First you will need a plan for searching the interview archives. There are a number of approaches you could take:
• You could choose which interviews to look at based on your interest in the authors themselves. For example, you could make a list of all the authors names you already recognize in a given archive and choose all those to read; you could also briefly familiarize yourself with authors by searching their names in Wikipedia.
• You could do a “brute-force” search by opening a large number of interviews and using your browser’s “Find in page” function (Ctrl-F) to search for keywords related to your subject of inquiry. This method lets you determine in just a second or two whether your subject term appears in the interview, and takes you directly to it in the page if it does. You could easily search fifty to sixty interviews per hour using this method.
• You could select interviews based on a Google search. For example, if your question is on the role of music in the composing process and you want to see which Paris Review interviews have landed on the subject of music, you can type music “paris review” interview into the search bar and Google will return a list of all the Paris Review interviews it finds that term in. (Of course, you will also find a million other
Writing about Processes: Major Writing Assignments 681
unrelated hits. If you use this method, be sure to include the title words of your archive in quotation marks to force Google to return hits only on that specific title rather than on any combination of words from the title.)
• You could always simply read randomly, and if you have five or six hours over a few days to devote to your research, this approach (which relies on what researchers call serendipity) might be a very good one, especially combined with one of the other approaches. The interviews are relatively short, quick reads, interesting in and of themselves, and you could cover quite a lot of ground simply by giving yourself some time to be curious and read actively.
You’ll also need to decide which archives are the best fit for your research question. You’ll find some overlap between New York Times Book interviews and Paris Review interviews but very little overlap in the others.
Once you have a stack of interviews that seem to touch on your subject of inquiry in some way, you’ll analyze that data the same way that you do in many of the other projects in this book:
• Watch for patterns that emerge: What gets said repeatedly? But also, be prepared for there not to be a pattern; if writers disagree or do things in wildly different ways, that is just as much a finding as discovering that there are similarities across writers. Writing is a very individual process, so finding only one pattern might be difficult. You might also see several patterns—people might do A, B, or C rather than mostly doing A.
• Watch for outliers: Is there something that very few of the writers say? When someone does say this thing, is it striking or unusual in comparison to the emerging patterns?
• Look closely at details in language. When a writer refers to revision as “polish-
ing” versus referring to it as “honing,” for example, the terms engage different metaphors for writing that show different assumptions about its nature and how it works. (For more on this subject, read Barbara Tomlinson’s article in the e-Pages. She used Paris Review interviews for her research, too, so she provides a nice example of how to use this interview data for your study.)
• Compare what you’re reading with your own experience: Compared to your own writing experiences, what are these writers saying that sounds “normal” and what are they saying that sounds unusual to you?
Again as in other projects requiring analysis of observations or a corpus of textual data, take careful notes to keep track of the patterns and interesting ideas you’re seeing, and after you’ve reviewed your interviews at least twice, step back and see what you have to say on your question. Now might also be a good time to do more general Web searching to see if other people have written and commented on the question you’re working on.
Planning, Drafting, and Revising: Ultimately, you should emerge from your data analy- sis with some key points to make in your Writer’s Process Search report. The purpose of the project has been to discover what professional writers of various kinds have to say about the aspect of writing you’re studying; the purpose of your report is to present your findings in a readable and interesting way to your classmates and instructor (or to another audience that you and your teacher might agree upon).
t might be most natural to arrange this piece in typical social-science research-report fashion, where you introduce your subject of inquiry and research question using Swales’s CARS model (in the Introduction to Writing about Writing), detail the archive reviews you used and explain the methods by which you searched them, walk readers through the data you found and how you analyzed it, discuss what you found, and conclude with implica- tions from your study: How do the findings of your study help us?
However, instead of using the typical social-science research report format, you might also leave your imagination open to other ways of making this report. Here are some of many possibilities that you should discuss with your classmates and teacher:
• Combine the interview subjects with similar ideas into one “composite” interview. Margaret Kantz does something like this in her “Using Textual Sources Persuasively” article in Chapter 3. In this way, you might create several “characters” who articu- late the main ideas espoused by a number of the writers whose interviews you read. You could also consider drafting some friends to play these characters and produce a short documentary.
• A song, poem, or play that in some way dramatized your findings rather than merely reporting them. This might be especially relevant if you drew on the song- writers’ database.
• A hypertext that included additional background information on the writers whose interviews you used and linked back to the interviews themselves.
• A (somewhat long) tweet-stream that reduced your findings to 140-character sayings.
Whatever genre and modality you write in, expect to use a fair amount of quotation from the interviews themselves in your piece. Remember, what the interviewees said is your data, and your readers need to be able to see examples of your data in order to judge for themselves how much sense the conclusions that you’re drawing from the data make. Quotations from the interviews will become your reasons for making the claims you do about your subject of inquiry.
Revise, as always, by getting reader feedback on how much sense the piece makes, how readable it is (in terms of flow and organization, clarity of statements of ideas, and editing quality), and what would improve their experience of the piece.
What Makes it Good?: The best versions of this project will do the following:
• Make a clear point or series of points about your subject of inquiry (in answer to your research question).
• Explain your research question and the sources of it precisely and clearly.
• Use a creative and reliable method of searching the archives.
• Balance use of quotation as examples with analysis of quotations. (They don’t speak
for themselves; you need to explain what’s important about them or what they
• Report findings in a manner consistent with the genre/modality you’ve chosen to
write in, hopefully being no less interesting and entertaining than the interviews themselves.
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