Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Ostensibly, you take a Composition and Rhetoric course of this kind to improve and polish basic skills you already possess yet wish to elevate to the demands of college-level writing in your other courses.

Most fundamentally, you need to master the basics of grammar, syntax, word usage and punctuation (which should have been nailed down in grammar school and high school, but often aren’t). Here, with the aid of two textbooks, English Simplified and Sin and Syntax, as well as with your editing revisions of the essays you write, you have the opportunity to gain that compositional mastery.

On the rhetorical side of Comp & Rhet, you’ll practice making your writing impressive to your readers. You’ll write your essays with readers in mind, readers you mean to engage and persuade, which is the art of rhetoric. The main way you’ll develop your rhetorical skills will be by keeping your classmates in mind as your audience when you write. Several times this term you’ll actually read aloud your essays to us as your auditors, as well as making your written texts available to us all electronically.

But there are motives for your writing this term beyond building Comp & Rhet skills: personally enriching motives of the kind that make me write voluntarily and regularly. I’d like you to come to share those personal motives. If so, you’ll learn that writing is discovering. Writing is finding out what’s on your mind and making that insight and knowledge clearer and fuller to yourself first, and to others later.

An old and apt saying goes, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” Thoughts need verbal expression to manifest themselves clearly and publicly. Speaking can accomplish that manifestation more or less well, but writing does it better because the process is slower, more deliberate, and revisable.

My strong hope is that, by the end of this semester, you will have developed the habit of writing as a way to commune with recesses and resources in your own mind that you haven’t yet visited enough. The act of writing can become an “Open, Sesame” to interior riches you’re hardly aware you possess—and may never discover without the magic wand of your pen to guide you there.

Write and see.