“It turns out that…unplanned narrative and descriptive exploratory writing will almost invariably lead the person spontaneously to formulate conceptual insights that are remarkable shrewd” (Elbow, 56).
Thank you, Elbow. Thank you for indulging my propensity toward “chaos” in writing and explaining why it is of the utmost importance. But also, thank you for knocking me half off my “pro-chaos” high horse, I’ve learned I still need to learn how to willingly engage in freewriting. Although for a good minute I thought you were going to only argue for chaos and against criticism and standards (which would have definitely rubbed me the wrong way, especially after having profound conversations on the legitimacy and, perhaps, the necessity of standards in college-level writing), I am glad you linked the two and explained how we can’t have one without the other (you know, like Oreos and milk).
I must say. Elbow’s analysis of the two “contrary”, as he defines them, forms of thinking that lead to successful and engaging writing was eye-opening (especially in the sense of putting definitions to actions that I perform but have never thought too deeply about). The distinctions made between careful vs. careless thinking, control vs. freedom and of course first vs. second order ways of thinking helped me define my current, evolving, writing process. SURPRISINGLY, although I thought I leaned more toward a first order process (through uncontrolled free writing and intuition) I have realized that rather than thinking in one extreme, I actually tend to marry both first order thinking and second order thinking (which is why I think Elbow should change his premise of “contrary” to “complimentary”.
Elbow explains first order thinking as, “exploratory zigzagging” that leads “to a click”. Or in other terms, brainstorming! He then describes second order thinking as the critique and revision of your first order thinking. Juxtaposing these definitions of the higher-levels of thinking, it is clear to see why they would compliment one another, especially in regards to one’s writing process. Specifically, Elbow’s statement “In particular we must not trust the fruits of intuitive and experiential first order thinking unless we have carefully assessed them with second order thinking”(57), was not only confirmed by my own writing process experiences, but it also highlighted something; that if anything, my process may comprises of a majority of second-order thinking, rather than the first-order thinking I thought I was more prone to.
The latter got me thinking. Why is it that I had thought I leaned more towards the “chaos”, the first order, intuitive, creative, uncontrolled writing when, after reading Elbow’s piece, I seem to fall into his category of a second-order thinker more readily. First off, I think the reality is that most people gravitate towards second order thinking because of the difficulty first-order thinking holds in its essence. Everyone would like to think that they have the confidence and self-trust to relinquish control and allow their natural thoughts to take hold, however after reading this piece, one thing I have noticed about my writing process is that even when I am technically “free-writing”, the unyielding urge to control my thoughts does work itself into my free-writing process. The “stream of conscious” approach is hard mostly because when doing so, we tend to be aware of the fact that we are attempting to reach an end, and we view the process as a means to an end. Perhaps if, I for one, stop regarding free writing as a means to an end, I would relinquish that underlying control more readily. Additionally, I think I thought I leaned more towards the first-order thinking because I yearn for what I have been unable to unyieldingly give myself in regards to my writing; the right to be wrong and the confidence in being right. Elbow touches on this a bit, but I would like to expand upon the idea of having to always be right. I believe there are three reasons why I (and others) share this fear of being wrong: fear of judgment, fear of the invalidation of our genius (brains/perspectives/original ideas), and the fear of loosing an earned legitimacy within our communities (whatever our communities they may be).
I think, as a writer and simply as a human being, I want to give myself an authentic sense of freedom, and I have found bits of that when I free-write and use my first order thinking patterns. However, especially in an higher-level learning institution such as Pomona College or the 5cs, I am very quick to check my writing (and my speaking) at all moments of the process. Let me get this straight, in all honesty, checking and critiquing my writing, even from the very first free-write, has seemed to work out for me. First of all, lets not get ineffectively liberal, checking yourself is good. Making sure your argument is cohesive and your sources are relevant, and that you are critically thinking throughout the process is not a sin. But, if writing is a conversation/a discourse, why is it unacceptable to be wrong? Is it even possible to be wrong when writing (I mean if you have wrong sources, if you don’t analyze your texts effectively, and you do not frame your argument effectively I guess so- but you guys know what I’m getting at). My question is, if you use second order thinking effectively throughout your writing process, what then makes you wrong in your argument?
What I appreciate most about Elbow’s argument is that he implicitly acknowledges that he there does not need to be an either or, or a “right way” to write. Everyone’s process should be individualized (this is how we achieve individual voice and original thought and analysis), and everyone’s process, once semi-developed, probably has some semblance of both chaos/intuition/creativity as well as some essence of critique/consciousness/controlled thinking. He makes clear that the process, is indeed a process, and is not necessarily reached through immediate absorption of techniques and templates, but rather through trial and error.