The paper expands the views proposed by Flower and Hayes that writing is a cognitive process by drawing attention to the fact that one of the most important things in thinking by writing has to do with the easy availability of what has been written already. A "writer’s reading of the text generated so far," as they put it, is crucial. In order to explicate this point, they refer to
the experience of a well-known author of detective stories, Howard Engel, who suffered a small stroke that made him unable to read. Words other than the very smallest could not be directly understood. He had to sound each one out, letter by letter, to know what it was. But the stroke spared his ability to write. His diagnosis was alexia without agraphia. His most recent novel, Memory Book (Engel, 2005), was written following this stroke. It is about Engel’s private detective, Benny Cooperman, who suffers a blow to the head that produces the same brain damage as that of his author. Completing the novel was a formidable task (p. 14).The task was so formidable that he could complete it only with the help of several editors. "He said: 'It gave me a chance to stare it
[the whole book] in the face, which was something I couldn’t do for myself.'"
Let me call what Engel lost the "editing function." It appears to me, notwithstanding the claims of those who advocate spontaneous writing, that the editing function is present already when you are just writing your first draft (using a pencil, a typewriter, or a computer). We are constantly trying to make sense of what we are presently writing in terms of what we have written already. The more we write, the more difficult this becomes. But it is necessary for writing as thinking, and, for that matter, for thinking as writing.
Oatley and Djikic say many interesting things about this process by "explor[ing] the idea that writing as thinking was associated with the rise of the novel and short story" (p. 17). I would have preferred it, if they had also used other genres, like philosophy, science, or, more generally, non-fiction. They are right: "Flaubert’s methods offer a large leap beyond the idea of Hayes and Flower (1986) of writing as planning, sentence generation, and revising." This is precisely what one would have expected (if Hayes and Flower are right). They believe that they have revealed "literary writing as offering models for the reader to construct that can be successively and sometimes even simultaneously experienced partly in language and partly as emotionally imbued intuition" (p. 24). Nice ... perhaps. But what about writing as thinking? What does the 'editing function" show specifically about thinking.
I have to think some more how all of this is related to note-taking in which the "chance to stare the whole ... into the face" must still wait. Yet, the idea of some whole cannot be completely absent—or so it seems to me.
1. I am going to get a copy of this book.