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On Rewriting

For years I’ve nagged my students to adopt a more critical eye toward the work they turn in to me, to refuse to be content with the first draft, to step back, take a breath, and attempt a real re-vision of their writing. Writing is rewriting, was the mantra we chanted back in the faculty development workshops in the Expository Writing Program.

So I’ve been watching with interest and a bit of befuddlement the debate surrounding the blog-entry-revision question: Jill Walker first drew my attention to it with her post on the ethics of entry deletion, which references the brouhaha between Mark Pilgrim and Dave Winer over Winer’s sense of his blog’s malleability (and Pilgrim’s sense that this malleability was the result of a lack of accountability). Jonathon Delacour (link via mamamusings) recounts his own change of heart with regard to the question of ethical blog-permanence, thinking through in great detail the points at which his own principles diverge from those laid out by Rebecca Blood. And Chuck Tryon rightly notes that this debate bears some import for those of us who use blogs in the classroom.

The question that I’m left with, though, is how to balance my dedication to the practice of rewriting with my sense that the blog is and ought to be a relatively permanent record of a moment’s thoughts. This, I think, may be at the root of one of the difficulties I’ve encountered with this site: I’m fairly cautious, by nature, about releasing my words into the public sphere. I’ve been a long-term lurker on a number of listservs, but never a regularly active participant, because the form always seemed to me to move so much more quickly than my own thought- and writing-processes do. I’ve only begun commenting recently on a number of blogs that I’ve been reading for months. And I’m always nervous at that moment when I change my MT post status from “Draft” to “Publish.”

Clearly I’ve got the sense that my words, once out there (once “published”), are on the record, permanentesque in the way that the web has become. (Yes, pages are deleted and links are removed every day. But with the existence of the Google cache, has that removal become illusory?) But I still feel the need to convince my students that the first draft of anything is rarely right, and that no piece of writing should be considered finished. (Ask Joyce Carol Oates about that one.)

So how do we reconcile this? Are certain kinds of writing bound to a greater degree of permanence than others? Should the class blog adhere to blogly standards of accountability or pedagogical standards of revision and rewriting?


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