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Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process 2nd Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195120189
ISBN-10: 0195120183
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Whatever your reason for writing, Peter Elbow has a "recipe" to guide you. A longtime proponent of "freewriting" (writing without stopping, for a preset amount of time), Elbow incorporates its use in a variety of ways. Have a limited amount of time? Spend half of it freewriting and half of it cleaning up your prose. Got all the time in the world (and only a vague sense of what you want to say)? Freewrite, then focus, then freewrite, then focus, repeatedly, until you get "a trustworthy vision of your final piece of writing." Elbow offers a plethora of prompts for priming the creative pump, as well as several ways to revise the piece of writing that results: thorough revising, revising with feedback, cutting and pasting, proofreading, and the like. He pays close attention to the ways in which focusing on an audience can assist or interfere in the writing process, including a terrific chapter on the strangeness of writing for teachers, in which "your task is usually to explain what you are still engaged in trying to understand to someone who understands it better." And he provides an excellent section on how to solicit the kind of feedback you want. Though it is a new edition of a 1981 book, there is nothing tired about Writing with Power: it provides many tools to help a writer feel empowered throughout the writing process. --Jane Steinberg


"Students for the first time are excited about being able to transform their thoughts into clear language with a new found confidence."--Alan Dernalowicz, Mount Wachusett Community College

Praise for the previous edition: "Page after page, chapter after chapter, Peter Elbow gives direct and down-to-earth advice for beginning writers."--Teachers and Writers

"A practical handbook for anyone who needs to write."--The Boston Globe

"A valuable aid for those who need to write who are hindered by lack of tools needed to successfully complete such a task on a day-to-day basis."--Gary Douglas, WITC
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (July 9, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195120183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195120189
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.9 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. A. Smedes on January 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
It seems as if writing books can roughly be divided in two categories. First, there are the books that tell you to plan your writing project in advance in meticulous detail. Second, there are books that tell you NOT to plan anything in advance, but urge you to start writing until you drop.

Elbow's book is in the second category. Though it seems as if his method of "freewriting" leads you nowhere, the book helped me tremendously. Elbow describes several techniques, all of which can be of help (including the planned writing strategy) to those who have to write stuff. However, his own tack is what he calls the "loop writing" process. During this process, one blends freewriting techniques with more directed writing techniques. The emphasis, however, is on the creativity stimulated by freewriting. The reason why Elbow emphasizes freewriting is extremely simple, and by experience I know it to be true.

Elbow writes that when we write we tend to be our own critic. We evaluate immediately what we write, we edit on the fly, and therefore get stuck rather quickly. Elbow urges us to leave the editing until a later time, and simply start writing whatever comes to mind. You can always throw out stuff later. That way, you'll create a work flow, that is beneficial to your creativity. Just read the book and Elbow's wonderful advice, and see if this works for you as it did for me.

I took Elbow's advice seriously in my scholarly writing (I am a philosopher of religion and theologian at Leiden University, the Netherlands). Elbow's book was a real source of inspiration and made writing a lot of fun. At this stage, I have finished a 250-page book (which will be published in two months with one of the major Dutch publishing companies), and several articles. I don't claim it will work for everybody, but it certainly worked for me. Just read the book and try it - if it doesn't work for you, at least you've read a wonderful book!
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Format: Paperback
I have been an ardent reader all my life, as far back as I can remember. I can remember tearing through my bookcase on some days as if I was physically hungry. Books were always a source of enjoyment for me, - better than dreaming, man - but they were also always a mystery to me. How could someone do something like this? Where do people find all this incredible material inside? Reading was my joy. Writing was never that. Instead, it was always difficult, and frustrating and humiliating. Oh, my writing was all right when it was done. But it took hours piled on hours of struggle to get there. I didn't understand how writers did it, how they could create entire novels - and not just one to each author! - when it took me a week to write one silly page for a book report. And not only did it take forever; it was never fun. It was hard and brutal, exacting and costly. I thought that when you wrote something it had to come out perfect, or nearly so, the first time it was copied down.
Everything changed. This book did it for me. I read Elbow's advice on freewriting to create, how trying to edit and originate at the same time choked the spark off before it could get started. Writing freely without excruciating over what word to put where, then going back after you had some material to work with - it was revelatory. More; for the first time in my life, writing was fun. Really, really fun. It's stayed that way, in all the time since I read "Writing With Power." If I'm very lucky, it will become what I do with my life - but it is only for reading this book that I have any shot at all.
If you have any ambition at all to write, if you have ever experienced the frustration of knowing you have something to say without knowing how to say it, read this book. And start writing, right now. Just make sure you don't stop. You can always go back later.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Before reading Elbow's book, I was quite skeptical concerning "freewriting" -- raw writing, writing without concern for the rules of grammar, writing for the sheer sake of getting words on paper. Elbow overcame my skepticism with powerful examples, reports from his own experience & that of his pupils, and clever exposition. Rather than ducking the complexities and contradictions of good writing, Elbow tackles them head-on. His strategy involves aggressively seeking counter-arguments to his suggestions, and he often admits that two opposing principles both contain elements of truth. He then gives thoughtful advice on how to cope with such complexity. Many of his guidelines involve dialectical or cyclical practices, e.g. paying attention to breathing life into your prose, but then revising for structure, and then returning once again to make sure you haven't choked the life out of what you've written.
In combination with Robert Boice's book, First-Order Principles for College Teachers, Elbow's book would make a wonderful present for a beginning academic or other professional whose livelihood depends on good writing. Graduate students in all fields would also benefit. And, of course, people who TEACH writing could find much of value in this book. Elbow, however, seems to have a dim view of many of his colleagues' tactics!
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Format: Hardcover
In Writing with Power, Peter Elbow shares several of his thoughts on techniques for everyone and anyone who writes. Divided into several sections with titles of "Audience" and "Feedback," Elbow walks writers through every step of the writing process, including thoughts on relieving writer's block, sharing individual writing with others, and several different types of actual writing processes and revision. His unorthodox approach to teaching how to write is something that inevitably spills over into this book. Personally, I found this book to be very useful in my own personal writing. I never would have considered giving myself a set amount of time to get something done (and stopping when that time is over) or adding a dialogue to a serious paper. I would also have never given myself permission to "waste" my time on something as frivolous as freewriting to get my mind going. Writing with Power is easy to read and highly enjoyable. His suggestions are valuable and very applicable to every kind of writing. Elbow is not afraid to go out on a limb in his own writing, which only serves as proof that Elbow "practices what he preaches" - and that it can work in daily writing.
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