Saturday, August 22, 2015

This Can't Be Said Often Enough about the Preverbal

Behind me as I type this sentence is a bookcase the bottom three feet of which are filled with journals of various sizes and colors, artist sketch notebooks, composition notebooks, big folios, fancier journals, covering about twelve years. 

In the past, I'd often thought I was not writing, and I struggled; it felt painful. During those times, I mostly wrote notes toward poems in those journals or sat thinking at my desk. Now I see that what was mostly happening was a prolonged phase of prewriting, a necessary dormancy for the purposes of developing my current writing.

This is what can't be emphasized often enough about prewriting and the preverbal: it's necessary, natural, as important as writing/revising/finishing/publishing. If a writer doesn't recognize this importance, there's a chance he or she will give up or harshly judge themselves.

When I said this in my July 24 post, "As a result, some writers misconstrue the silence of the preverbal as an indicator of their deficiency and either struggle in a state of doubt or give up altogether. In fact, this gap in writers' training could be the main culprit behind people's writing blocks after they graduate from MFA and PhD programs," it applies to any person trying to write, regardless if they identify as a writer.

Over the summer, I've had the opportunity in my professional context to read over a 1,000 essays by new university students. Time and again, I was struck by their bald admissions, tinged with frustration and worry, of how frequently they felt they were unable to write well because of a single incident, single genre, single teacher. (They usually picked the most pernicious of genres--graduation speeches, standardized testing essays, or college entrance essays--as the determinant of their abilities.) I also heard them talk about how long it takes them to start an assignment and how they believed the amount of time they remained in the preverbal was an indicator that there was something wrong with their writing ability. Something about school made them think they needed to go from zero to 65, from first hearing of an assignment to finding the approach for that assignment, in a way that professional writers often don't ask of themselves. It wasn't impatience I noted in the students but instead real concern.

We need to talk more about what occurs in prewriting.  We don't address the preverbal, leaving students to think that silence, pauses, dormancy, is their unique problem. Really, writing education is tilted toward product, outcome, the final draft, no matter how much our theory says otherwise. No matter what most writers think they believe, ultimately it's the end result that's given the most value. The message is that you're supposed to dash in and out of the preverbal and spend very little time in that spot. What's the risk of staying in the preverbal a bit longer?

* image from theconsciousprocess

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