I’ve been arguing for something I call the “the writing moment”, which is supposed to emphasize the absolute superiority of the writer over the reader. After all, in that moment the writer spends 27 minutes designing a 1-minute experience for the reader–“the reading moment,” if you will. The writer composes a paragraph (of at least six sentences and most 200 words) that says one thing and supports, elaborates, or defends it. Lately, I’ve become aware of a barrier to this message that I have perhaps been too glib about.
Students and teachers alike do not like the idea of sitting down to write something they know in a well-defined writing moment. This, I suspect, is because it puts them face to face with their competence as writers. By asking them to decide what to write the day before and to specify when they will write as well I am not leaving them any excuses for writing badly. Their performance will reflect their competence to evoke pictures of the facts. Their ability to tell the truth.
Even though this performance is an entirely private one, observed by no one until they themselves choose to show the result to someone, the prospect of experiencing themselves writing in complete freedom to succeed or fail according their abilities is abhorrent to them. All through their education, I guess, they had been cultivating the illusion that writing is a completely magical and mysterious process–an experience akin to demonic possession–that “channels” the truth into prose whether they understand it or not. What I am proposing, by contrast, makes them inexorably responsible for their words. It is daunting.
I do not wish to trivialize this resistance to my advice. In fact, I empathize. But I hope that putting it this way makes clear why facing our fears here, overcoming our performance anxiety, is important. We simply have to tell each other what we think. Or we will be trapped in our own personal, subjective point of view. We will have lost our basis in fact. We will have abdicated our objectivity.