Monday, February 12, 2007

An essay evolves

London Met Writing Mentor Lynn Reynolds has begun her online evolving essay. We can follow her every move as she writes a Psychology Essay. Click here!


Moving house has meant that I have not been blogging. But I have the urge to get going with this again, so watch this space...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I can't resist another quotation from Sartre:

Our critics are Catharians. They don't want to have anything to do with the real world except eat and drink in it, and since it is absolutely necessary to have relations with our fellow-creatures, they have chosen to have them with the defunct. They get excited only about classified matters, closed quarrels, stories whose ends are known. They never bet on uncertain issues, and since history has decided for them, since the objects which terrified or angered the authors they read have disappeared, since bloody disputes seem futile at a distance of two centuries, they can be charmed with balanced periods, and everything happens for them as if all literature were only a vast tautology and as if every new prose-writer had invented a new way of speaking only for the purpose of saying nothing.

As an ex-classicist, this hits home!

What is Writing?

I remember trying to read Sartre's Literature and Existentialism when I was a student - and I tried several times. If I'm honest, I don't think I really understood it, but it was Sartre and he is always cool. I've been skimming through this book once more, and it turns out that he is just interested in the same stuff that this blog is interested in. As he says in the foreword: "What is writing? Why does one write? For whom? The fact is, it seems that nobody has ever asked himself these questions."

Here's Sartre at the end of chapter one ("What is Writing?):

But since, for us, writing is an enterprise; since writers are alive before being dead; since we think that we must try to be as right as we can in our books; and since, even if the centuries show us to be in the wrong, this is no reason to show in advance that we are wrong; since we think that the writer should engage himself completely in his works, and not as an abject passivity by putting forward his vices, his misfortunes, and his weaknesses, but as a resolute will and as a choice, as this total enterprise of living that each one of us is, it is then proper that we take up this problem at its beginning and that we, in our turn, ask ourselves: "Why does one write?"

If he has any interesting answers, I'll let you know!


Hermann Hesse said somewhere that writing a single poem, however bad that poem might be, is infinitely more valuable than reading all of the great poems of the world. I think he is right. An ecstatic Walt Whitman says something similar.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much?
Have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess

the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun,

(there are millions of suns left),
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,

nor look through the eyes of the dead,
nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either,

nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

To get a sense of poetry making in action, we can now check out a new website called Quick Muse, where we can watch poets at work in real time. It's kind of like Big Brother but with more content and less shouting. Here's what they say about themselves.

QuickMuse is a cutting contest, a linguistic jam session, a series of on-the-fly compositions in which some great poets riff away on a randomly picked subject. It's an experiment, QuickMuse, to see if first thoughts are indeed the best ones. We're not entirely sure about this, but we suspect QuickMuse will bring readers closer to the moment of composition than they have ever been before.

Thanks to Lynn Reynolds for pointing this site out to me. Inspired, by QuickMuse, Lynn is planning to write a Psychology essay online, so that we can follow the evolution of the essay in real time. This promises to be an enormously valuable resource for student writers. I'll talk more about this project when we have more details.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Accidentally on Purpose

Here are a few lines by the great American poet Robert Frost

And yet for all this help of head and brain
How happily instinctive we remain,
Our best guide upward further to the light,
Passionate preference such as love at sight.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Virtues of a Writing Centre Tutor

I have a powerpoint slide entitled "The Virtues of a Writing Centre Tutor" which I show over and over again to our writing mentors. It contains the following bullet points.

•Spontaneity / Reacting to the present situation
•“Only connect”
•Think of the student more than yourself

These are the essential qualities that a writing mentor needs to bring to every tutorial. There is the danger that as the mentor becomes more experienced and more knowledgeable about teaching and writing, he or she may forget these basics. If so, the experience of both the student and the mentor is likely to be diminished. Beginner's mind - again!