What makes writing good?
I’m not talking about the object — the product of writing-as-activity — but about the doing itself. The gerund. The activity. The habit.
I have some ideas, largely rooted in process-based pedagogy, which I know may be problematic for the composition scholars who identify themselves as post-process. In “Professional Writing Expertise,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, 389-402), Ronald Kellogg points out that “[s]erious writing is at once a thinking task, a language task, and a memory task” that involves “hold[ing] multiple representations in mind while adeptly juggling the basic processes of planning ideas, generating sentences, and reviewing how well the process is going” (389). I’d say that’s a pretty good picture of what we teach our students to do, whether we characterize ourselves as process or post-process. Teaching that array of skills is a complex endeavor, and I can understand why plenty of composition specialists and theorists and pedagogues — you, my friends and colleagues — would want to resist reducing it to the lock-step single-sequence method that a sequence of lessons or a syllabus can sometimes make it look like. But that’s unfair: we all know, always and already, how rich and complex and challenging teaching writing can be, and we know it’s not a lock-step method. If we argue in good faith, I think, it’s hard to not see the post-process objections as ways of setting up a straw man that we’d like to beat with a stick.
We understand that post-process theories of writing assert that they take the understanding of writing-as-process as given; as an understanding so obvious that we no longer need to think or argue about it. In other words, the process understanding of writing is so basic as to no longer be able to generate interesting questions. I disagree: while process pedagogy in many places is largely taken for granted, it’s also still clearly generating argument and disagreement. When post-process pedagogues declare process pedagogy to be foundational and monolithic, I want to say: yes, of course, but not so fast.
In 1987, I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University. In the general psychology 100 course that all freshmen were required to take — Cognitive Processes Theory and Practice, led and lectured by John Hayes — we were required to participate in empirically-based psychology experiments for course credit.