About Me

I may be the worst person in the world to teach writing, for the simple reason that I’ve always known how to write. I was writing novels and long narrative and descriptive poems before I was twelve. I published a letter to the editor in the Atlanta papers before I was fourteen, and had newspaper articles in print before I graduated from high school. All those arcane “grammar” rules teachers preach about were not only an open book for me, I actually liked tackling them! Diagramming sentences was like working puzzles—figuring out what kind of phrase I had and what it modified and how to fit it on its little stilts was a source of pleasure.

I know. Weird.

This is not to say that I meet anyone’s definition of a “great” writer. Although I sold three suspense novels to top publishers in the eighties and early nineties, my career as a fiction writer hit a snag from which it still has not recovered. I now have three finished novels that may or may not ever see print. (If only I can get past agent comments like “This is good but I’m just not passionate about it” and “I like this but I don’t know where to place it for you.”) However, the vicissitudes of publishing fiction these days are the topic of some other blog. For now, I do a few kinds of writing on a regular basis: I write academic journal articles; I write administrative materials for my department and my university; I write emails to colleagues and friends (don’t we all!); and most of all, I write to students–volumes and volumes! I write to them about their writing: it’s the primary focus of my professional life.

I got to this point in a roundabout way. I started out at eighteen as an English major because English was easy for me and thus gave me time to do what I really wanted, ride horses. I taught hunt seat in Florida for fifteen years, until my limitations in that field became pretty apparent (and that’s ANOTHER blog). At mid-life, I went back to school as a biology major because I was interested in environmental issues, but various circumstances redirected me to English, where my graduate programs, master’s and doctorate, schooled me in “rhetoric and composition” (“rhet/comp”). I began teaching more than twenty years ago the way most English professors do: as a teaching assistant in my master’s program, I was handed a book, directed to a classroom, and told to go forth and teach. In rhet/comp, though, unlike in literature and in many other academic fields, the focus is on pedagogy—teaching writing—so I was exposed through graduate courses, mentors, and the scholarship of my field to many theories and much practical discussion of teaching writing. These theories and discussions have changed over the years, and later in this blog I hope to share more about how people in rhet/comp have picked up, used, modified, and often abandoned various approaches to teaching writing.

One thing I’ve come to believe is that there are gaps in the body of theory and practice that makes up my education as a teacher (as of course there would be in any such body of knowledge); one purpose of the larger project of which this blog is a part is an effort to see whether there really are such gaps and to see what might fill them. I’ve slowly begun edging out of the sanctioned theories of current rhet/comp pedagogy into areas like linguistics, cognitive science, and neuroscience. With this blog, I hope to fill one gap I am fully aware of: the lack of time in my classes to talk with other writers, some less confident and experienced than myself and my colleagues, about writing itself, in ways that don’t have to be “graded.” I don’t know exactly where this venture will lead. Never having kept a blog before, I have no idea how well it will serve my purposes. If I make mistakes as a blog host, I hope readers will bear with me. After all, I suspect that learning to do this is a lot like learning to write.

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