"Modeling a Writer's Identity" by Robert Brooke

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After working on my dissertation about young adult literature writers, I became interested in how they wrote. I thought that if I learned how they wrote, I could share what I learned with students who would then share it with their students. As disciplinary literacy proponents maintain, I wanted to know more about the “habits of mind” of writers:

What does a good writing day look like?

How did they get started?

What did they do when they couldn’t start?

What did they do after they got an idea?

How did they end a piece?

How did they know when a piece was ready for the public?

Where did they “steal” ideas and techniques from?


Recently, the use of “mentor texts” has gotten a lot of traction. I find the idea of mentor texts fascinating. As a novice, I often use a mentor text when I write.
But the author’s practices/habits are equally important to me.

Robert Brooke seems to agree. He wonders if writers really learn to write by imitating a text. Brooke writes, “…when a student (or any writer) successfully learns something about writing by imitation, it is by imitating another person, and not a text or a process. Writers learn to write by imitating other writers, by trying to act like writers they respect. The forms, the processes, the texts are in themselves less important as models to be imitated than the personalities, or identities, of the writers who produce them” (p. 23).

Brooke urges me to think about how I can help students

“act like a writer”

develop a sense of themselves as writers

understand how writers “use writing to explore, present, and hopefully understand the complexity of life around [them]”

This all sounds in line with ideas about disciplinary literacy to me.

Want to read it?
Robert Brooke, Modeling a Writer's Identity: Reading and Imitation in the Writing Classroom, College Composition and Communication, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 23-41