Cognitive Processes

I am a little unsatisfied with the term “writing” as it is used in the theorizing of a process within these readings. First, I want to work through what seems to me to be a conflation of terms. There’s “writing” as a process that encompasses prewriting (or planning, etc.), writing (or translating), and revision/editing/reviewing. Then there’s that middle part of the process: writing. Prewriting and review seem easy enough to think about, but what’s the writing look like? (It seems a silly question, I know, but still.) According to Perl (who calls it the composing process), students write by going back and forth between what’s on the page and what’s in their head (34). In other words, they review (yes?) what’s they just wrote to see if it’s right for them—but that’s part of editing. That this recursion is actually the case I have no doubt; the process is certainly recursive, so reviewing butts into the “writing” (sometimes too much, a good point). However, Perl’s definition muddles with recursion what we understand as writing; what is being recursively butt into? For Flower and Hayes, writing is the visible translation of a plan in syntactic English (262). I think this is better but not wonderful.

First, I don’t think writing/translation needs to be in syntactic. Second, I am not sure if I’m onboard with the use of “translation.” The use of “translation” privileges some sort of ultimate originality, as if the description of the deer slipping on ice will always be imperfect and somehow the written text isn’t a thing in itself. Third, I would perhaps add a focus on the materiality of writing. My tentative definition of the “writing” as it is a part of a broader process is this: writing is your material instantiation of the dialectic between invention and review. The material component is its defining feature, and I don’t think it was touched on enough. It’s really simple: when you’re writing, you’re physically manipulating whatever your writing tool is. This instantiation can take place throughout the process: review marks, brainstorming lists, or formal assembly–but it’s always material, whether you’re typing, scratching a pen, or pressing soft clay. The materiality of writing is, I think, a barely acknowledged given within the processes described in these readings.  Perhaps it is too basic of a given; it is also the whole reason we write in the first place, after all.

The material instantiations (writing) of the process resonate well with the Bizzell article. What we inscribe with and onto is intimately connected with the expectations of our discourse community. The last two professors’ offices I was in had whiteboards jam-packed with stuff. Students in the program can have laptops to write and work on. And good luck submitting your typewriter’d (best verb I could do) paper to Kairos.

Q: According to my tentative working of the definition of “writing,” writing happens at every stage of a composing/writing process: prewriting and revision both involve externalizing a thought onto paper or screen. Is this too broad of a definition to be usable within a theory of writing process?

Q: Perl writes that there seems to be a much greater “internalization of process than has ever before been suspected” (31). Would a focus on material process work against a generalized, internal process? Could a material process help shift the focus outward instead?


2 thoughts on “Cognitive Processes

  1. Interesting post, Tyler. The problem you have identified is one of operationalizing a definition of writing. I think the apparent equivocation is attributable to the focus upon the cognitive aspects of writing. That is, the theorists have narrowed focus — but do not signal this narrowing effectively by adequately operationalizing their definition.

    My concern is more toward the inner- and outward-directed distinctions. If I follow your suggestion, the focus on materials might resolve the issues because materials are a conduit for expression (much better than the intangible “language”) and a reification of thought.


  2. Thanks for this post, Tyler. It has me wondering about multimodal writing, and/or digital writing, and whether this is “writing” according to Perl and others. The danger, I suppose, is that by conflating the entire composition process–thinking, externalizing, using tools, etc.–as “writing,” the definition of writing just becomes something like “thinking and describing something.” At what point is it too broad to be helpful any more.


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