Composition of Meaning in Reading and Writing

When I write, all I have to rely on are my own past experiences that have shaped my background. On the other hand, people who read what I write may see the same words yet finish reading with a completely different understanding of my writing than the understanding I have when I read through my own work. Although it seems easy to write this off as something reasonable and obvious, I’ve only come to fully understand and appreciate the importance of this not too long ago.

Through workshop sessions with my classmates, I came to realize and appreciate the differences that arise in interpretations of the same text. My classmates asked me questions I’d never even think of while I was writing my paper. Sometimes they asked if I’d intended for the reader to think X and I’d say that I was expecting the reader to think Y. Sometimes their questions baffled me. Why were they reading so much into a section that I’d thought was so straightforward? Why were they wondering if I’d meant something deeper when, really, I’d meant that sentence quite literally? Why were my readers so different from what I’d expected them to be? Suddenly, my own classmates, whom I’d presumed thought pretty much the same way I did (aside from some issues in which we all had steadfast opinions about), seemed so different. And then I felt the tension that I had to ease between being a writer and being a reader.

This quite accurately depicts my feelings during writing workshops sometimes. Photo credit to: agsblingblog.wordpress.com

This is what the reading “Toward a Composing Model of Reading” focuses on. Its argument is that reading and writing both involve the construction of meaning since meaning is essential to both a reader and a writer. An interesting point that this reading develops is that the ways in which meaning is constructed in reading and writing may be much more similar than we think even if the processes produce different meanings as an end result.

“Toward a Composing Model of Reading” discusses how reading and writing share in common these aspects: planning, drafting, aligning, revising, and monitoring. In the planning stage, both writers and readers set out with specific goals in mind – before writing, the writer plans to use the right words to convey his or her message; before reading, the reader plans to go through the text to pick up specific information. The authors define the drafting process as “the refinement of meaning as readers and writers deal directly with the print on the page”. In aligning, writers and readers approach a text differently depending on what roles they take on as they write or read. A writer is conscious of the audience that is going to read and interpret his or her work. The reader, in return, responds to the writer’s intentions either with agreement or disagreement. Next, in the revising stage, a reader has to rethink his or her interpretation of a text while a writer has to go through a draft and decide how to improve it. The authors state that in the monitoring stage, “readers and writers must be able to distance themselves from the texts they have created to evaluate what they have developed”.

While I generally agree with the points raised in the reading, I am still unsure about the revising process that a reader goes through as the authors put forth. The authors highlight that “[readers] must examine their developing interpretations and view the models they build as draft-like in quality – subject to revision”. I don’t doubt that this is a very effective reading strategy (after all, we’ve all done these: rereading, making notes in the margins, arguing with ourselves if we agree with something in the text); however, I think it will be quite difficult for me to employ this method as a normal, everyday reading practice.

I just can't read when I'm frustrated. Photo credit to: sthmmorden.blogspot.com

Maybe I am being swayed by my own preconceived notions of the difference between reading and writing, but I think that if I were to keep consciously reevaluating my interpretations of every text I read, I may just end up feeling lost. I feel that interpretations form and shift naturally as I read and if I were to track all the little changes that happen in the way I view a text, I may feel as though I cannot find a clear stand in the topic addressed. While rereading and debating over the meaning of a text are necessary and highly useful, sometimes I want to just read without nitpicking on every detail of not only the text but also my thought process. That is not to mean, though, that I fully oppose revising every time I read. There are times when I actually enjoy critically analyzing what I’m reading and tracking my responses to the text, but there are times when I simply want to be a passive reader. (At the risk of sounding shallow, I will say that I think there’s some joy to be found in being a passive, “superficial” reader. But, of course, there’s more than one way to interpret that.)

I was surprised by the conclusion I found myself reaching after I’d typed the whole chunk of text above. In many ways, my own post mirrored exactly what the authors had proposed in their writing. I started reading the text with my own biases, found myself looking out for specific details (the what’s and why’s), assumed a position that was at times in favor of the authors and at times stubbornly opposing the authors, reconsidered my assumptions in line with the ideas contained in the reading, and monitored myself by way of evaluating my opinions to form this post.

So, yes, now I think that reading and writing are much more similar than I’ve previously assumed. But, I guess, somewhere inside, I’m still not completely opposed to changing my mind. (Now I feel like an extra critical reader – can’t decide if that’s good or bad.)

2 thoughts to “Composition of Meaning in Reading and Writing”

  1. Crystal,

    Great post! I found myself agreeing with mostly everything you’ve put forth here. I, too, find myself completely baffled by the things my classmates point out/ask me about during writing workshops; sometimes things are so clear and straightforward in our minds but are actually really confusing or the catalyst for intense curiosity for our readers. And honestly, I think that is one of the greatest things about writing: it inspires thought and proves that we are different. I think it’s amazing how our own writing experiences (and life experiences!) shape our interpretations of many of the things we read and write about. I love the picture you’ve included with the street signs: I think it perfectly captures that tension and confusion between the connection and disconnect between the processes of reading and writing. However, my favorite part about your post here is how you sort of came to a self-realization about the text through writing the post itself! Awesome.

    – Allie

  2. I really liked reading your post this week because essentially, you led me as a reader through your thoughts when changing your mind and position. And for me, reading your post was essentially a self-analysis of my reading as well. I must admit that from what I read in class (that you submitted and contributed to the group discussion), I was expecting something well-written and well-thought out. And in that sense, I had this bias that I was just going to cruise through your piece because it was going to make sense, be logical, and well-written and that it would be too nick-picky for me to try to argue or look for flaws in it. In others words, I look to your writing as a sort of enlightenment guide and unlike the reading we did this week, I was just going to be more simply just reading. However, I guess the reading became more and more true as I kept reading your post. I subconsciously started realizing that I made small pauses while reading to think and reflect on what you said and tie it back to somethings that I’m going through now.

    Anyways, my comment itself is starting to look like a poorly-written imitation of your post and so I’ll just leave it at a generic statement: sometimes things are not what they seem. (I think I should win an award for the cheesiest last sentence)

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