The author sits in solitude, buried deep within a chamber of his own thoughts, and within that place, he draws from the pinnacle of his creativity. In this act of creation, the author is alone. Or at least that is the myth of writing. To understand how writing truly functions in a social context, one has to do away with the myth of solitude and “imagine the author not as sitting alone in an empty room hunched over a desk or staring at a screen, but as sitting in a crowded coffee shop talking to others who are making claims that he or she is engaging with” (Birkenstein & Graff 178). Even if only on a subconscious level, every writer is responding to texts they’ve previously read, using them as templates, inspiration, etc. Writers are “always drawing upon the ideas and experiences of countless others (Roozen 17). Every piece of literature draws from and expresses a long history of contexts. This may seem too grandiose a statement to be true, but it is only because writing carries those contexts that we are able to further develop the scope of our knowledge.
Additionally, writing transports meaning and knowledge across time. It sets baselines upon which greater things can be built, “always in some way part of an ongoing conversation with others” (Lunsford 20) such that to write is to enter a social space encompassing the entire history of written discourse. As we solidify the past into the present, we move seamlessly toward new knowledge. To the credit of that notion, Estrem asserts that we not only think in order to write but write in order to think (19). Initially, this concept might seem difficult to grasp. It does, however, fall into line with conventional thinking regarding the relationship between thought and language (see Vygotsky). We write as a means of recording thought, and those thoughts become means through which we derive further knowledge.
For a creative writer, the notion that we write in order to think can also apply to the first draft of a manuscript. First drafts are inchoate things, flimsy and uncertain. However, in order for it to be improved, it must first exist in one state or another. Second drafts require conscious reflection—the act of creation invites this new thought. From there, new ideas—new knowledge—find their way into the manuscript until it has been pruned and polished to perfection. It may be necessarily true that “very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it” (Lamott 22) because the thought that follows writing cannot be premeditated; those thoughts only exist because the writing itself already exists. An ongoing conversation persists in creative writing as well. That conversation, and the growth that it facilitates, is primarily responsible for the development of genre as well as tropes.
Too often, writing is thought of singularly, as though each written text is separate from all other texts. This line of thought limits how we engage with those texts. It neglects the basis writing creates for the generation of new thinking, which Estrem asserts all writing does (19). It prevents us from understanding the circumstances surrounding the creation of a text and how we might apply the messages or information conveyed by it. When we read with the understanding that writing is a social process, we enable ourselves to form valuable connections to authors across time and the contexts in which their work was produced.
Estrem, Heidi. “Writing is A Knowledge-Making Activity.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, p. 19.
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. “They Say / I Say”: the Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, p. 176.
Lamott, Anne. bird by bird. Anchor Books, 1995.
Lunsford, Andrea. “Writing Addresses, Invokes, And/Or Creates Audiences.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, p. 20.
Roozen, Kevin. “Writing is A Social and Rhetorical Activity.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, p. 17.