I’ve had this book on my to-read list for years.  The title is so authoritative.  Wow, I think as I read it, I will learn all that there is to know about the composing processes of twelfth graders–finally!  Then I stop and think.  I begin to wonder what Emig’s research methods will be.  How many twelfth graders will she study?  In what detail will she study them.  Will her study have lots of participants, and look at survey data across many of them?  Will her study look closely at a few twelfth graders?  From what backgrounds will these students be?  What kind of data will she collect?  How will she analyze it?  What prior research will she summarize at the outset in order to frame her own questions?  Then I circle ’round to my initial question:  what will she say about how twelfth graders compose?

The book is more approachable than it looks.  At least it was for me.  It’s exactly 100 pages, which I appreciated.  This is truly what they call a “research monograph.”  Ah, that’s what a “research monograph” looks like.  I’ve heard about them, but rarely held such a short, focused one in my hand.

The book opens with a survey of research on composing processes in general.  Janet Emig sorts what she has read into three categories:  1) accounts of the composing processes of established writers, 2) accounts of the composing process written in text books or handbooks intended for classroom use, and 3) research on the creative process of various kinds.  The category (accounts of the composition of established writers) she further divides into three subcategories: a)  first hand accounts from established writers [writers writing about how they write], 2) interviews of writers about how they write, and 3) analysis of established writers’ drafts to discern their composing process.  I noticed two things as I read this section as a writer:  first, she took a large body of diverse texts and came up with a system of categorization to make sense of it, and two, she doesn’t go into much depth about any of it.  Her bottom line “claim” during the section is that the advice given to student writers in textbooks is wildly, drastically different than the way that established writers say they compose.  She also admits that since creative writers “lie” for a living, that maybe they aren’t the best source of information about their craft.  Also, those who write fluidly often don’t know what they are doing at each step along the way, just like a piano player will get confused if he or she starts thinking too hard about a piece that he or she is playing.  She offers the most stark of possible contrasts to make her point about the advice given to young writers.  She compares advice on organizing ideas and moving through a sequence of steps from Warriner’s textbook to Gertrude Stein writing about her composing process (“It will come if it is there and if you will let it come”).  I thought this choice of author to quote was a bit like stacking the deck, but her point is probably borne out by other more maintstream examples as well.

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