Sometimes, as a writer, a clear audience and purpose fall into my lap.  This happened today when I received these lines in an email from a local newspaper:

“Currently I am working on a feature about how to make summer walks more creative and enjoyable.  One idea was to go on a personal or a group writing marathon.  I understand your organization has done writing marathons in the past, so that’s what I would like to talk to you about.

“The questions I would like to ask include the following:

1) How often does the Lake Michigan Writing Project host writing marathons?
2) Are they open to the public?
3) What is the purpose behind a writing marathon?
4) What are some personal benefits of participating in a writing marathon?
5) How migh someone who’s not a professional or regular writer enjoy a writing marathon?
6) If someone wanted to do one on his or her own, what are some tips you might have to offer for how to get the most out of the experience?”

This is an authentic writing “prompt” with a clear purpose and audience.  In scholarly terms, I would say that this is a well defined “rhetorical situation.”  So, what would I say to answer her question?

1) How often does the Lake Michigan Writing Project host writing marathons?  We host them once a summer, and perhaps a second time during the school year.  We spend
2) Are they open to the public?  Yes, we encourage visitors, particularly those teachers interested in learning more about the LMWP community.
3) What is the purpose behind a writing marathon?  There are several purposes.  First, we use place as a writing invitation in order to learn to be attentive to our social, economic, and ecological environment.  We want to notice.  We want to take the time to see that which we often overlook.  We want to take the time to be critical thinkers about what we notice, to question why our surroundings are the way that they are.   Second, we use place as a writing invitation in order to develop writing fluency and lessen our inhibitions.  We write constantly for 15 to 20 minutes in each location, trying to keep our pen moving (or our fingers across the keyboard).  We then read these first drafts aloud to our small group of traveling companions.  We don’t critique or respond, other than saying, “Thank you.”  Then we move on to another interesting location to spark writing and we sit and write again.  Third, writing using location as an invitation sparks some creative, fun, diverse writing.  Surroundings can evoke memories from childhood, vivid descriptive writing, trenchant social commentary, or hilarious narratives.  We are always entertained by the drafts that we generate during the marathon.
4) What are some personal benefits of participating in a writing marathon?  As mentioned above, completing a writing marathon makes one notice and think critically about one’s surroundings.  For teachers, this can lead to developing a more relevant, place-based pedagogy for students.  Writers grow in confidence by seeing what they can produce when they write 4, 20-minute drafts.  Writers have fun and get to know each other better, strengthening friendships by taking the risk to read one’s first drafts aloud.
5) How might someone who’s not a professional or regular writer enjoy a writing marathon?  Grab a pen and paper and a friend and head out.  For more information on freewriting, see Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  For more about the poetry and essays of place, see the work of Wendell Barry.
6) If someone wanted to do one on his or her own, what are some tips you might have to offer for how to get the most out of the experience?  I would recommend going to an area with a wide variety of surroundings within walking distance.  In downtown Grand Rapids, where we write, the plush interior of the old Pantlind Hotel is a stark contrast to the lobby of the police department or the  rush of water over the fish ladder.  It is all fodder for composition.

Oh, and wear comfortable walking shoes, and if you don’t like sitting on the ground, bring a cushion along with your notebook or laptop.

Advertisements