The South Central Writing Center Association conference is coming up, and I might breeze by it; my current institution is hosting it, and I have fond memories of the conference. It was, in fact, my first; in 2006, I presented two papers in collaboration with colleagues. One of the presentations allowed me to play with Duplo blocks (something I will doubtlessly be doing again in the next few years). Somewhere, I may still have the t-shirt from the other presentation--somewhere. And the outside activities that happened on that long-ago trip to Little Rock...I am glad to have done them, but I am equally glad not to have had photos. (Lord, I hope there are no pictures!)
Knowing that the conference is coming reminds me to think about my work as a writer and as a teacher of writing. (It does not take much prompting, admittedly.) It reminds me that the process of putting ideas into words and putting those words where others can see them and get some of the idea is not a solitary process--not if done well. It is inherently collaborative. The ideas themselves come from the interaction of the writer (insofar as the writer can be said to have an authentic "self" from which to write and act--a different discussion altogether) and world, and reading is necessarily an interaction between writer and reader through the medium of the written word. And it is usually more explicitly collaborative. Writers are well served to have editors and reviewers pore over what they put onto the page, engaging with their comments and returning to the text to improve upon it (with "improve upon" meaning "make correspond more closely with the initial idea"). Sometimes, the initial writing is itself collaborative, with writers working together to make the writing happen.
Too often, I operate as what I think is an independent agent when I write. I encourage my students to do the same--"Do your own work" or "This is not a collaborative exercise." And it is the case that the individual writer must contribute much to the writing. To belong with a group necessitates conformity to the prevailing group standards, and a group of writers must necessarily demand writing from each of its members therefore. Given the level of writing I usually teach, I am only mildly conflicted about demanding "solitary" work from my students (with "solitary" in scare quotes because I demand peer review of them and encourage them to attend the local writing center--those who do the latter tend to perform much better). They are still in development, still learning how to contribute their appropriate part to greater writing tasks.
Yet I must at the same time wonder if I am doing them a disservice in confining them, if the curriculum I am obliged to follow is stripping something from them in the mandate that their work be the kind of work that it is (at the one level; other writing classes I have taught oblige group work). My own experience as a writing student discouraged working with others; now, when I must, I do so only with difficulty. I do not know if I am doing the same thing to those under my tutelage.