- How Writing Faculty Write: Strategies for Process, Product, and Productivity by Christine E. Tulley
Logan: Utah State University Press, 2018. Pp. xi, 178. Paper: isbn-13 978-1-60732-661-8, us$25.95; eBook: isbn-13 978-1-60732-662-5, us$20.95.
If you could ask just one group of faculty for advice on writing for publication, you might (cleverly) choose the 'prolific' ones—or perhaps the 'stylish' ones, those whose writing you admire. But if you had to choose faculty from a single discipline, what then? Would you choose faculty in your own field or sub-field, knowing how widely conventions and expectations vary across subjects? Or might you select faculty whose very research and teaching centre on writing: faculty in rhetoric and composition and, more specifically, writing studies? [End Page 152]
If the latter would be your choice, thank Christine Tulley for her recent offering through Utah State University Press: How Writing Faculty Write: Strategies for Process, Product, and Productivity. Inspired by author interviews published regularly in the Paris Review since 1953, Tulley interviewed fifteen 'productive, prolific scholars': those 'with significant publications or growing influence in the field' of writing studies (8). Framed by a substantial introduction and a briefer concluding chapter, transcripts of these interviews—all conducted by Tulley in person or via Skype between May 2013 and February 2014—form the heart of the work. By featuring 'the secret writing lives' of professors of writing and rhetoric (29), Tulley has generated a writing studies–focused volume similar to the excellent works by Eileen Carnell et al. (offering analysis and transcripts of interviews with 18 scholars in educational and social research at the University of London) and Helen Sword (offering analysis and quotations from interviews with 100 scholars across a range of disciplines and continents).1 Although Tulley is a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Findlay (Ohio), a private institution, all of her interviewees are affiliated with (or recently retired from) public institutions in the United States, primarily research universities: a testament to the intellectual nodes where writing studies flourishes as a field. (One interviewee, Howard Tinberg, is a professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts; the exploration of writing for publication in the context of a community college offers an unexpected, and all too infrequently explored, treat.)
In the introduction, Tulley argues that even though professors of writing and rhetoric conduct research and write about the writing practices of others, surprisingly little is known about their own writing practices. She prepares readers for the subsequent transcripts by identifying 'patterns' that pertain to the interviewees' attitudes toward and techniques for writing. Relief best describes what I felt upon reading this thematic, contextualizing material. (Imagine asking a conclave of priests to confess their true beliefs: What sorts of surprises do you really want to hear? That professors of writing and rhetoric claim to follow the advice they likely give to students is, fundamentally, a sign of faith.) In terms of attitudes, the scholars portrayed in this volume view the writing process as messy and difficult, yet they know to persist. And they enjoy both the process and product of writing. With respect to techniques, Tulley identifies three that address the process, product, and productivity in her subtitle. First, through a process-oriented technique Tulley dubs 'thinking rhetorically' [End Page 153] (20), writing faculty imagine the audience, genre, and intended outcome of a writing project from its conception. Second, they emphasize structure and organization, even if the form of a project evolves organically and iteratively. Third, they focus quickly and write in the interstices of their days—neither necessarily every day nor at the same time or times each day. This final strategy represents a certain maturity and awareness of what Joli Jensen refers to as the '"cleared-deck" fantasy': writers who wait for everything else to be just so or even reasonably under control won't get much, if any, writing done.2 It corroborates, as well, Sword's finding that successful, productive writers discern what works for themselves in...