The writing zone as “writing-intensive zone” (Wendy Bishop)

Wendy Bishop, “Contracts, Radical Revision, Portfolios, and the Risks of Writing,” ed. Anna Leahy, Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom: The Authority Project (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2005) 109-20.

Further to my summary of Peter Elbow’s “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking,” a summary of Bishop’s recipe for “a ‘writing-intensive’ zone,” which focusses on

how evaluation discourages and encourages student writers’ entry into the revision process and concurrently supports them in learning to understand themselves as writers

i.e. “authority-conscious pedagogy” (109).

First off, using portfolios to create an “evaluation-free zone” (Elbow 1993) allows us to focus on revision and risk. Revision is compelled by the course contract, and risk—a.k.a. “experimentation” (115)—is practised in our writing (and in the zone more generally—and, needless to say, in our teaching).

Second, setting up an atmosphere of risk in the writing zone encourages “going public,” not only with “therapeutic” disclosure but also “writerly disclosure” (112). Of course, it requires that readers of this disclosure be trained to help improve it.

Third, as a consequence of the first and second ingredients, creating “classroom carnival, turning the text upside down”—and the hierarchy and codes of the university (115). (This sense of carnival I call decryption and deformance.)

Fourth, recognising that the teacher is an authority, who “tell[s] students not what to write, but to write” (113). That is to say, the writing zone is not just a risky and upside-down place, a place where “trust” must prevail, it is also a place where people are compelled to write, and thus, inevitably, a place of “resistance” (118).

The resistance is at least fourfold, then: against public disclosure and compulsion, against our preconceptions of writing and the university, and against the university and its codes—not to mention, against that common enemy of writers: resistant material.)

(Bishop takes as a given reading [of our own, and others’ unpublished and published writing], drafting, and a language for talking about reading and writing.)


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