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Organic Writing and Digital Media: Introduction

Process-oriented composition instruction works better than instruction focused on products. Most composition teachers agree on this. Given that writing is a complex cognitive activity that involves a number of linked academic skills — reading, interpretation, argument, research, organization, and vocabulary to name a few — the best writing instruction isolates these skills and teaches writing as a method of engaging academic material rather than simply an activity that results in an essay. Writing is a kind of thinking, and process-oriented composition courses are places where students should be able to a) see this kind of thinking modeled and b) practice the method.

Organic writing is my phrase for writing that develops in non-linear clusters. Usually we learn essay-writing in the opposite fashion: we write the first word of the essay first, then the second word, and we are off. It’s a logical approach to a linear problem; it just does not respect how our thinking develops as we compose. It would be like trying on clothes while growing out of them at the same time. Organic writing begins with a seed — an idea — and grows in expected ways related to it’s resources. We become like word gardeners. None of this is new, but I was first introduced to the concept as a grad student when I read Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.

Digital environments maximize the potential for organic writing in three distinct ways: they rebuild “audience,” expose the organic layers, and invite outside participation in key stages along the way. As with anything organic, there is not one “right way” to grow. Here, however, is a pattern I’ve found useful. In subsequent posts, I will describe the concept, structural, and mechanic phases or organic writing and organize them within a digital landscape.

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