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Peter Elbow is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Massachusettes Amherst and author of numerous books and articles about writing. He writes in numerous ways about how everyday spoken language can make writing more feasible, lively, and clear--even formal writing. His larger theme is the democratization of writing his first collection of essays being titled Everyone Can Write , He is perhaps best known as the author of Writing Without Teachers and Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process , books intended primarily for lay readers, but which transformed the way writing was taught from grade schools through the University.

He didn't invent freewriting as a writing technique Ken Macrorie deserves credit for that , but he developed and expanded the uses of freewriting and got the word out widely to teachers and writers alike. Teachers and theorists also appreciated his other techniques such as how to use peer response groups; and how to use the believing game to help readers better understand and empathize with the author of a text instead of leaping immediately to criticizing the text.

His first two books, Writing Without Teachers and Writing With Power have sold more than , copies--not as textbooks but as help for individuals and writing groups. Elbow's theory is, as the title states, "hopeful. It is possible for anyone to produce a lot of writing with pleasure and satisfaction and without too much struggle. It is possible for anyone to figure out what he or she really means and wants to say and finally get it clear on paper. When people manage to say what they really mean and to get themselves into their writing, readers tend to have the experience of making contact with the writer—an experience that most people seek xiv.

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These premises might seem more "utopian" than "hopeful," but Elbow embraces utopian models, arguing that we need such models to help us see through deceptions served up by common sense. For example, he notes that, although observation tells us the sun revolves around the earth, we now accept as "true" a model that tells us the exact opposite.

If we accept such "truths" to help us understand the physical world, it seems only reasonable to consider equally utopian or hopeful "truths" to help us understand how writers write. The first writer Elbow attempts to understand is himself. In "Illiteracy at Oxford and Harvard," he recounts his struggles to write in college—he dropped out of Harvard before his inability to write caused him to flunk out—and attempts to make sense of his experience.

The next chapter, "A Map of Writing in Terms of Audience and Response," turns practical, offering twelve different sites for writing, or twelve different kinds of writing teachers can assign. The third chapter, "The Uses of Binary Thinking," is highly theoretical, arguing that thinking in opposites can help us better understand any object or idea under consideration, and that "contrary claims can both be right or valid" There was some decent advice, but nothing that really worked for me.

It might be good for someone that has to write a lot of business reviews or long emails. You can check it out if you want, but just know in the end some advice works and some doesn't. Mar 13, Thomas Reilly rated it liked it. There is useful information in this book. I found chapters that really meant something to me for where I am with my writing now: freewriting, poetry, revision, description. It is a bit of a tedious read at times.

Peter Elbow at WMWP

It seems to drag at times. Elbow is of the "process" writing mentality. I get a sense that a lot of people just have difficulty opening a vein and bleeding on the page. They may find this a better guide for them. I will probably refer back to this from time to time. Jun 27, Nina Dreyer rated it it was amazing Shelves: my-favourite-writing-manuals. Hands down one of the most useful writing manuals I've come across. It's not specific to fiction writers, and teaches really useful tips and tricks for overcoming common stumbling blocks - I found the section on how to solicit feedback especially useful.

Feb 03, Liam rated it really liked it. A little pretentious and mystical, but self-aware enough to know it. Worthwhile for the experience and voice chapters near the end. Aug 25, Anne rated it really liked it. Used in a graduate course in scientific writing. Good writing advice, worth the read. Jan 12, Shannon Finck rated it liked it. Here's a summary of Elbow's general advice to writers: "Chill out, man.

Solid advice but you have to muck your way through lengthy explanations and examples. I've read scores of books on writing. This may be the best one. Elbow has clearly thought about words for a long time and his book is the distilled gold from that thinking--a treasury of insight into the intricacies of the writing process and a conceptual toolbox full of techniques to get you writing fluently and effectively.

His advice applies equally well to creative and expository writing. The book falters a bit in presentation. To integrate the many good ideas into my daily practice, I'll have I've read scores of books on writing. To integrate the many good ideas into my daily practice, I'll have to review the material several times and I wish the book had been designed with a greater awareness for the reader's need to review. A visual reference chart would have been helpful to keep track of the techniques and their uses.

Also, Elbow is so good at thinking about writing that sometimes he thinks too much.

The Peter Elbow Symposium for the Study and Teaching of Writing

I'm sure that musing on a variety of possible ideas was helpful to the author's own writing process, but some of his notions are too windy, and the book could have been much more powerful without them. Despite my minor frustrations, I say again: this may be the most helpful book on writing I have ever read.


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The author has the uncanny ability to get inside a writer's mind and speak to you directly from where you're struggling. There were many things I'd been doing--some right, some wrong, but most of them unconsciously.

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Elbow helps you become a more conscious writer and presents a wide array of non-gimmicky tools that help generate high-level work. He also completely re-conceptualizes what it means to write and, in the process, he can bring even the most alienated writer back into the fold, making writing approachable, useful, and even fun.

Sep 03, Melissa rated it really liked it. This book won me over in spite of myself.

Peter Elbow, "How to Use Writing to Improve Student Learning"

It took me a couple of months to work through the early chapters on "getting words on paper"; like many other reviewers, I found these ostensibly "practical" chapters frustrating because they were so meandering and repetitive. However, once I got into the middle section on "Revision," Elbow's philosophy of writing started to come across more clearly, and it resonated with me.

Central to this philosophy is the idea the practice of writing hinges on a dial This book won me over in spite of myself. Central to this philosophy is the idea the practice of writing hinges on a dialectic between instrumentality and magic, between discipline and freedom, between forcing yourself to write and letting your writerly self be.

Throughout the book, Elbow stresses that good writing takes time, that ideas need to "cook," that revision is an essential and sometimes herculean task, but that the gravity of all this should never prevent you from writing. He also stresses that everyone is capable of putting power into words, and this is something I really believe.

I am not sure if I'll be implementing any of Elbow's "tips" directly into my writing process, but I do I feel that my process has been informed by his way of thinking about writing. If nothing else, I will forever be comforted by the fact that the final chapter on revision is called "Nausea. The jacket of my old, library copy calls Writing with Power a "handbook," but I wouldn't call it that.

It's a meditation on the art of writing that just might bring you into more peaceful coexistence with that art. Sep 10, Sarah Schantz rated it really liked it.

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I read some of the other reviews just now, and I realized that one of the reasons why I liked this book, is also the very reason others complained about it. People claimed to have not enjoyed Elbow's tendency to ramble, but I did; furthermore, I'm not entirely sure that "ramble" is the right verb for what does in his delivery--maybe "explore" is more appropriate? Books by writers about writing especially when the writer is a critical writer discussing critical writing can be so dry, yet this b I read some of the other reviews just now, and I realized that one of the reasons why I liked this book, is also the very reason others complained about it.

Books by writers about writing especially when the writer is a critical writer discussing critical writing can be so dry, yet this book is anything but, and I attribute this to the fact the author wandered a little and played a lot. That said, I could tell he and his editor kept an eye on the tendrils of his prosaic Ivy and either redirected it when necessary or clipped it when it needed to be cut back.