Writing works wonders. We use it to convey our feelings, provide instructions, influence perspectives, make and break commitments, and shape thinking. In short, writing effects change—in both the person doing the writing and whoever (or whatever) does the reading. No two people write the same way, but groups of people who work together develop certain patterns and norms in how they write, creating a style all their own. And because writing is only ever the result of thinking, it can reveal a great deal about the writer—as long as you know where and how to look.
This book will help you learn to look at writing in new ways.
You will also learn to use writing in new ways, as a set of skills that can be applied to a variety of circumstances and situations beyond just writing essays for teachers. You already know how to do this because you send text messages to friends and family, and those never sound like classroom essays. This existing understanding of writing as flexible and situational comes in handy and helps the material you’ll work with in this class make more sense and feel more practical.
The Challenge Ahead
Keep thinking about your existing understanding of writing as you read this book. Much of what’s inside will challenge your assumptions and make the process of writing seem much more complex than you thought, but that also means you’ll better understand the details of writing that make you a more effective writer, no matter what you want to write. This book, like the class that’s using it, has been designed to help you apply new and complex ideas to a familiar process. Along the way, the process of writing might not always feel as familiar as you expect. But that’s normal. An unfamiliar view of writing means you’re re-thinking your assumptions and piecing together your ideas.
Along the way, this book will help you. It was written by students studying this material for the first time, just like you. Because the authors are students who themselves struggled to re-think their ideas about writing, they understand the complexities and trouble spots, and they know what they needed to figure out in order for the material to make sense to them. Their perspective should feel familiar to you, and the ways they explain the material should make more immediate sense than the way someone sounds after they’ve studied this material for years. The goal is to make this book practical, approachable, and helpful—written by students for students.
The Strategies Involved
As you work through this material, you’ll start to make connections among the concepts, terms, and chapters discussed, and you’ll develop a more complex, nuanced, and skillful understanding of writing and its uses. The assignments you’ll be asked to do in this class have been designed to help you explore the concepts from the text and apply them to the world around you, drawing on the familiar and shining light on the foreign. The main goal of your writing courses is to develop what’s known as your rhetorical flexibility—a concept that will take some time to fully unpack. For now, think of it as the ability to write appropriately in a variety of situations.
In other words, there is no one right way to write, and this book will help you understand why that’s true and how to cope with it.
There is also no one right way to use this book. It contains six parts, designed to be used across a two-course writing sequence. While the parts and chapters of this book do not need to be read in a specific order, the ideas do build on one another such that when you read a new chapter, you will likely better understand the chapters you read before. Fair warning: It will likely take time to fully understand the complex concepts in this book, so keep re-evaluating what you learn as you go and see whether new material helps you think differently about what came before.
We hope this book becomes a helpful companion as you explore writing in new ways, and that you gain a new appreciation for its power and versatility.