Monday, January 28, 2008

The Authority of an Author

It is hard for freshman and/or beginning writers to view themselves as anything other than novice. During the textual analysis essay last semester, I told students that they had the authority over the text and emphasized that they had the skills necessary to evaluate an argument. So many students said, “But, I’m not a writer or a critic? I have no qualifications!” For the memoir assignment, students often lamented, “I have nothing IMPORTANT to say!” believing that their experiences were far less valuable than those of “Authors.” How then, do teachers get these beginning students to realize that they, in fact, have valuable contributions to make within the writing and academic world?

I tried this activity with both my 100 and 110 students to see if I could get them to believe that even as novices, beginners, freshmen, or less experienced writers, they really did have something IMPORTANT to say. I wanted them to understand that what they had to say was just as important as any other human’s story.

I began by writing the word “Author” on the board. I asked students to define the word. In both classes there were answers like: published, good at telling stories, a person who writes. Then I asked students what other words include “author” in them. The first answer in each class was, “authority!” (this is what I wanted them to say). I then related to them the idea that an Author has the Authority over the story they are telling. Each Author creates something (in this case a memoir) and they are the sole authority over that creation.

I then had students describe the physical and mental characteristics of a Writer. In both classes physical descriptions were similar: male, older, khakis, glasses, beard, and British (interesting!). The mental descriptions included: homebody, has several vices, crazy, sloppy, and single. In each class at least one student connected the Author/Authority lesson to the definition of a Writer and voiced this realization to the class. “Hey, if I have authority over my writing, then I am an Author and an Author is a Writer. I am both!”
As soon as students began to realize that they were an Author because they had authority over their writing and an Author writes, they were therefore and Author and a Writer! It was absolutely amazing to watch they student’s faces change from insecurity, fear and frustration to confidence and maybe even a little excitement.