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In Writing Without Teachers, well-known advocate of innovative teaching methods Peter Elbow outlines a practical program for learning how to write. His approach is especially helpful to people who get "stuck" or blocked in their writing, and is equally useful for writing fiction, poetry, and essays, as well as reports, lectures, and memos.
The core of Elbow's thinking is a challenge against traditional writing methods. Instead of editing and outlining material in the initial steps of the writing process, Elbow celebrates non-stop or free uncensored writing, without editorial checkpoints first, followed much later by the editorial process. This approach turns the focus towards encouraging ways of developing confidence and inspiration through free writing, multiple drafts, diaries, and notes. Elbow guides the reader through his metaphor of writing as "cooking:" his term for heating up the creative process where the subconscious bubbles up to the surface and the writing gets good.
1998 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Writing Without Teachers. In this edition, Elbow reexamines his program and the subsequent influence his techniques have had on writers, students, and teachers. This invaluable guide will benefit anyone, whether in the classroom, boardroom, or living room, who has ever had trouble writing.
If Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers seems to have come into being at the same time as '70s encounter groups, that's because it did. First published in 1976, Writing Without Teachers advocates improving your writing via freewriting and the "teacherless writing class." Freewriting, according to Elbow, is a terrific way to get things onto the page that you never knew you had in you: "Never stop ... to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing." Only after you have finished writing should you contemplate editing. And though much of what you produce when freewriting will be real garbage, Elbow promises that the best parts will be far better than anything you could have written otherwise. "You will use up more paper," he warns, "but chew up fewer pencils."
The teacherless writing class is Elbow's other key to unlocking the writer within. Elbow prefers these groups to those with teachers, because a teacher, he says, "usually isn't in a position where he can be genuinely affected by your words." In a teacherless group, the other participants "give you better evidence of what is unclear in your writing." Elbow insists that members of a writing group disregard conventional theories of "good" and "bad" writing, urging instead that they react to one another's work in a more subjective manner. The ultimate goal, he says, is for the group process to help each writer improve his or her ability to decide "which parts of [his or her] own writing to keep and which to throw away." --Jane Steinberg