As a writing instructor I often across students and people talking about writing as the concept of flow. Frankly this notion – especially in the way people use it – bemuses me. It strikes me as a lazy fallback word people use when they don’t really think about what they are trying to say.
“I like the way it’s written. It flows,” or “I want my work to flow.” Anyone who has worked with writers or on writing has come across such comments, and frankly they are meaningless.
I googled ‘flow and writing’ and, given my own search histories (everything we do online now is fed into algorithms guiding succeeding results after all), immediately provided me a list of process-writing results. The types of things the websites listed said struck me as the carefully produced craft-texts that have come out of two decades of process-writing scholarship. And if these results are mixed with a systematic and deliberative research process – and topic – would facilitate good and useful writing.
However, the type of results I get when googling ‘writing and flow’ are not what most people starting out on the writing process will get if they do the same search on the internet. I recently asked one of my students to search ‘flow and writing’ on google and the types of results he got were more like this: http://www.theflowwriter.com/ or http://www.bunnyape.com/writing_in_flow.htm. While I do think the general advice this website provides is correct, the way it has to frame limits their message to the person –as if the work comes as an extension of the person writing rather than the result of labor. This is a problem.
When Peter Elbow wrote Writing with Power he formulated the writing process as situating the writing in the discursive networks which produce any given text. Though the individual identity and personhood of the person writing cannot be ignored, his claims of writing with power ought not to be interpreted as writing as primarily a “care of the self.” This view of writing as always about being self-expression and therefore an extension of personhood firstly obviates much about the potential of writing: the space of constructing labored knowledge about the real conditions of the world. Secondly, it short-sells the labor of personhood, of making a being into a self in the world.
The writing process – that of connecting to the material and drawing on those resources for rhetoricians call the cannon of invention – does not solely entail the act of an individual sitting alone at the desk pecking away at the keyboard (the chore of writing things down is only the last step and least difficult step in the process). In other words, it means if a writer wants to write about himself/herself s/he has to go talk to the people in his/her life (Joan Didion’s works are excellent works of memoirs). They want to develop a commentary on social conditions in the community, they have to engage and record and index the conditions of the community systematically and through a process (Orwell’s nonfictional works come to mind as great models). They want to put together a critical commentary on an event, they have to engage with the critical works in its coherent and field-specific wholeness rather than simply cite the written equivalents of soundbytes (Foucauldian ethics has to be contexualized within his intellectual itinenary to make sense or Althussarian theorizations of ideology has to be situated within his overall deliberations of structuralism – interpellation is no a buzzword to describe exploitation, it is a fundamental to societies and social existence). Works falling short of the real writing process are not really works of bad writing as such but more so are not works at all.
James Berlin writes power under his socio-epistemic rhetorical model is performative in writing as social (that is historical) positioning, an insertion into discourse where the articulations of a voice draws force from what came before and connects to what it expected in the future. Obviously most people sitting down to write a paper, a reflection, a memo, etc. do not sit down with such an aim, but nonetheless they are doing exactly that when they write. Writing, to sink into high rhetoric, is to bring into history the immaterial. It brings being into personhood and turns the metaphysical into capital, and as such the acts of writing have to be subject to a conscious ethical and labor processes, and therefore must always follow such a method.