Washing Russian Nesting Doll’s Hair: The Cognitive Process We Don’t Know We Do

The cognitive process is quite the mysterious thing. Without any particular knowledge of the brain and it’s mode of operation, the cognitive process is a complex series of events that occur simultaneously and in such a rapid succession that they become difficult for most people to track. Fortunately Linda Flower and John Hayes are not a part of this group of “most people.” In their famous article “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” the pair explore just how writing transfers from the brain and onto the paper. I was particularly fascinated with the second section of their article about writing being hierarchically organized. As I began reading the article I thought to myself that the process of writing is like the steps on a shampoo bottle. While the directions state to lather and rinse, the process doesn’t stop there. It ends with “repeat as necessary” which lends the shampoo process to an infinite cycle in which the hair will never completely be cleansed. The writing process isn’t simply the ordered process of Prewrite, Write, Rewrite. There is an unwritten and implied fourth step in which writers “repeat.” Those three key steps get cycled and repeated as necessary in the composition and construction of any good piece of writing.

Adding in the element of repeating to the writing process creates that infinite repeating model that was created on the shampoo bottle. The emphasis of this model gets put on the process and not the product. In having an infinite cycle that continually repeats itself, the product is never fully finished. There is always some sort of outside element that interrupts the process in order to create a product. In the shower either the hot water runs out, the water bill gets too high, or there are other things that must get done that day that encourage us to interrupt the infinite Lather, Rinse, Repeat model. The outside element in composition is almost always a deadline or due date. A paper can never truly be complete and finished because there are always more changes that can be made and the Prewrite, Write, Rewrite (Repeat) cycle can be continued infinitely.

Even within this always repeating cycle, there are mini-cycles occurring constantly to help each step move forward. Flower and Hayes found that as we Prewrite, we create a smaller version of the writing process to aid in the current step in which we prewrite, write, and rewrite for our prewriting. The idea can become confusing because even within that process it continues again at an even smaller level and can never be traced to a base because as the cycle infinitely repeats, it also runs infinitely deep hierarchically. Like Russian nesting dolls, the writing process works in a stacked style.

The cognitive process of writing, as I stated before, is a very complex series of events. It works horizontally in the Prewrite/Write/Rewrite/(Repeat) direction but also works vertically in a hierarchical fashion. It is a combination of washing hair and stacking Russian nesting dolls at the same time. Nobody would think to do it, but we all seem to end up doing it without even thinking about it.

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