Writers and Their Contexts: Another "Personality Test"



Anxiety in writers is natural and common. Most writers, regardless of their standing, have experienced writing anxiety at some point in their lives. This is not new information. Researchers in both social sciences and writing pedagogy usually trace these anxieties to the context or environment in which the writer exists.


For the purpose of this post, I read "Anxious Writers in Context: Graduate School and Beyond" by Lynn Z. Bloom who begins by citing Kurt Lewin's Field Theory in Social Sciences which states that behavior performed by an individual is the result of their interactions with the environment as opposed to an independent action.


If this exercise causes any form of personal anxiety, especially to the extent that it ceases to be helpful, do not feel obligated to continue.


In every role and piece of context that a writer may attain, there is a matter of socialization into that role. A college student may include their campus as a piece of their context in addition to their role as a student in association with that college. However, equally as important are the conversations about college or the student's attitudes towards college that led to that role in addition to what has informed that role since. Each of these factors will usually inform a student's attitudes towards their studies and, by extension, the academic writing that will be produced.


By no means is this an absolute metric. As I stated in this post, I do not feel like the standard format of a personality test that quantifies experiences and produces a result based on a narrow view on those experiences are as helpful as an evaluation that helps a writer to assess how different parts of their identity informs themselves as a writer. In communication, some of those parts can knowingly or unknowingly contribute to writing apprehension or writing anxiety.


Additionally, as Bloom states, writers and the context they produce are not simply a product of their contexts. "They bring individual differences in perception, ability, and disposition to their writing contexts--perceptions and abilities that were themselves developed through interactions with previous contexts" (Bloom 1985). More simply, a context and how a person reacts to that context can be influenced by factors within other contexts, but they are stated by Bloom to be exclusive to each other. I understand this point, but haven't yet formed a concrete opinion on that. However, I do agree that writers are not simply a sum of their contexts.


Bloom separates a writer's interactions with contexts into internal and external factors. For the purposes of this exercise, I will be going through each of the categories of interactions with context that Bloom uses and explaining what they mean. To complete this personality test, consider what exists in your own context and, most importantly, your role in those contexts.


Intellectual Factors


If you are currently in the midst of a writing project, consider your level of understanding of the topic at hand and the expectations associated with this task. Consider, also, your level of knowledge on strategies that a writer can implement in their research and writing.


Intellectual factors, basically, aren't simply how "smart" a writer is. When assessing intellectual factors in your own life, consider these questions:


  • What kinds of tasks, writing or otherwise, is it easiest for you to immerse yourself into? How do you identify your role as you perform this task?

  • How easy is it for you to access information on how to complete a task when you are unsure of how to complete it?

  • Furthermore, when you do not know how to complete a task, is your first course of action to look for that information, to attempt to complete that task without looking for extra information, or is it something else entirely?

  • How well do you feel you utilize the tools that you find necessary in completing your writing tasks?

  • Do you readily seek out or attempt to apply different tools even when your existing tools work for you? Try and use this question, if you wish to answer it, to parse out the relationship between yourself as a writer and the tools and resources you use.

In answering the questions above or any other question you decide to pursue when reflecting on intellectual factors, try and identify a role for yourself. If you are feeling adventurous, attempt Gloria Steinem's strategy of reversal as described in my last post linked here. If, at any point, the identity of that role were to change to something else, how would the intellectual factors you associate with that role change with them?


Artistic Factors


These factors encompass how creative someone might feel that they are. Creativity is a concept that I would like to eventually explore to a greater extent and is more vague and abstract than many give it credit for. Consider these questions when assessing artistic factors in your life:


  • What are you most often influenced by when approaching a more open-ended task that requires production of unique ideas?

  • Are there any frameworks that you've worked in that you have felt restricted by? Conversely, have you worked in any frameworks that are exactly as restrictive as you need them to be?

  • How, if at all, do you plan your writing projects? What is your starting point?

  • What characterizes your ideal headspace to write or generally complete different types of projects? It is entirely possible to need different headspaces for different projects, so don't limit yourself with this [or any] question.

  • Do you feel that you apply creativity in most areas in your life? This question very much depends on how you define creativity. Some define it as a hierarchy, for example.

As you go through these questions, create some of your own, or generally assess the artistic factors in your life, think about your relationship to creativity as you currently understand and value it. Stating that the relationship is weak or strong might not be of help so much as what specifically characterizes your understanding of that relationship.


Temperamental Factors


Reflection on these factors, like all others, are not meant to shame writers. They are meant to assist writers in evaluating their connections with their current projects, future projects, and their attitudes towards the task of writing. Temperamental factors are more difficult to evaluate and can be more difficult to fix depending on writers' accessibility and knowledge of different tools (intellectual factors). These questions can be considered a starting point:


  • How motivated do you have to be to start a project and what does that motivation look like as you are continuing it?

  • How do you feel with regards to setting goals and priorities and how well do you keep to them?

  • What does your level of confidence in your abilities look like?

  • How likely are you to have the same responses to projects in the future and do you feel that those responses need to change?

  • What is your attitude towards setting goals and what factors do you think shaped that attitude?

Sometimes, these reactions can lead you to something tangible and, at other times, I've noticed that there are writers who might feel unfulfilled because they do not go through as rigorous a planning process or their motivations and feelings towards their own writing products or successes are different than others.


This does not mean that a writer is producing a poor product or one writer is necessarily better than another because of temperamental factors. While a writer may seek to change their habits in order to develop and improve in ways they need to, endeavors to change are most helpful when they are self-directed or chosen. There are writing tools that might help one writer to a greater extent than another and that is not only okay, but it is to be expected. An overview of someone's temperamental factors can help someone get a better idea of what types of tools might be the best match for a writer or reveal a measure of how a writer can best learn or even counter negative self-confidence towards their own work.


Biological Factors


These factors are also very easy to misconstrue, but can also be seen as very closely related to temperamental factors. It has been thought, and in some parts of discourse it is still thought, that a person's sex has relevance, but I think that's too far-fetched. Sex and gender in discourse is an interesting topic, but it doesn't seem to have the kind of bearing on one's relationship to writing as one's socialization which is a better framing device. Here are some questions to better describe how biological factors can operate:


  • How much energy do you generally give to a piece of writing relative to other tasks? What would happen if you gave the same level of energy as you give to another task to writing? What would that look like and would that be appropriate?

  • How aware are you of your biorhythmic patterns and to what degree does that influence when you write?

  • Do you take breaks in your writing specifically to move other parts of your body? How would your writing improve if you integrated movement in your writing routines?

  • Do you keep beverages or food items near you while you are writing?

  • How aware are you of what your body is doing as it is performing different tasks? Are there specific tasks that you perform in which you are more aware of what your body is doing? Those who meditate regularly might be more familiar with these types of questions.

Biological factors, as hopefully indicated from these questions, involve both overall wellness and levels of energy. Frequent readers might have noticed that I've only missed one week of posting on Purposeful Prose so far. At the time, I'd received the second dose of my COVID vaccine and was out of commission. Had I posted that day, I would have risked sending lazy content and not focusing on my own well-being and I'm lucky to be able to do that. Analyzing a writer's relationship to wellness can show that some factors including not eating a balanced diet, not drinking enough water, not getting enough sleep, or not enough physical activity, can impact one's habits and one's approach to any task including writing tasks.


I am not an expert in these subjects. Please seek further professional help or materials from professionals in these fields if needed.


Emotional Factors


These factors can be seen as almost one and the same with biological factors and temperamental factors as each influences the other. There could even be some crossover with the way these questions are answered compared to those.


  • Do you currently have any complicated personal relationships with any emotion you may experience?

  • How easy is it for you to express how you feel at any given time?

  • To what extent do your writing tasks require emotional involvement from you at any given time? Otherwise, to what extent do you feel any kind of emotional distance between yourself and your writing projects?

  • How much emotional energy do you usually give to a piece of writing at any given time?

  • Have you assessed your level of writing apprehension before this point and, if so, what if anything did it reveal about the origin of your writing apprehension?

Each of the above categories have thus far presented internal factors that Bloom states contribute to the relationship of a writer to the external context that they bring to their work. For the purposes of the external contexts, I will be including an extra category that Bloom, surprisingly, did not mention. While social context and academic context can and do matter, I will be including environmental context. This can seem like a catch-all for both social and academic context, I'm interested in the piece of environment that encapsulates physical space.


Environmental Contexts


In effective fiction writing, setting and a sense of space matters. How open or closed a space is, the objects or people who are normally in or are associated with those spaces, define that space and the interactions that take place within it. As an example, a writer can show that something is out of place without having to say so outright by somehow "disrupting" the physical environment. The reason why this works so well is that it reflects reality. The space that a person chooses to inhabit or must inhabit can reflect the type of work that is produced.


For this section, try to construct a fictional space in which you could form the ideal working environment. Then, think about different working environments that you've been in and the type of space that you have worked best in. Do you have a space in which you work well in now or does something need to change in order to produce the best possible working environment?


If you are able, try working in different spaces that you've not worked in before. This could be in another room, in a place of business, outside in a park, and compare your experiences. Think carefully about what changed when you moved into a different space. Is it more open? Are there different objects? Are there more people? Is it easier or more difficult to focus?


Social Contexts


Previously, I explained how factors that concern writing and sex have more to do with socialization than they do with biology, but this isn't the only factor that contributes to socialization. Socialization with regards to writing largely has to do with the way that people have been taught to interact with the world, thus how they interact with themselves and others, thus how they interact through their writing.


Writing, even the most objective pieces of writing, can imply prejudice. I once worked with a student who informed their stance on their writing through a professional. However, I was quick to notice two faults. There were holes in their reasoning and their paper presented a very specific bias that their professor specifically stated to avoid in the assignment sheet. The professor wanted something more objective and analytical. I informed this student that while their views were not a problem, but the bias that they were presenting affected the quality of their writing and the logic they'd produced. This student was not receptive to this information and, because of that, I was not able to assist this student to the best of my ability. While I'm not certain as to whether the biases this student held were taught through socialization and held up as truth, this is my reasoning in hindsight.


So, think about the way in which you were taught to respond to feedback and scrutiny and how that informs the tasks you perform? Are there specific types of feedback that you respond to better than others? How were you taught to reason through different subjects, points of contention or otherwise, and how does that reflect your current views?


Furthermore, what have you historically been told about yourself and your abilities and how does that reflect your views of yourself and your abilities?


In a broader context, what is your relationship to literacy, for example, and how [in your view] did you learn to associate words with their meanings? Did those associations contain biases of any kind? If so, how?


Academic Contexts


A writer's experience with academia can encourage a writer to consistently improve. This experience can also be a deterrent depending on the frameworks imposed and the method of instruction provided. Consider the expectations and frameworks held up by the school systems you were a part of. It's important to keep in mind that some teachers are required to meet requirements or make assignments according to expectations of the school system they are a part of. Some teachers have more liberty, but not all students are aware of the extent of this.


For this section, consider the impact of your school environment, what was encouraged and what was deterred over time, and how this has impacted your experience in writing and other tasks later in life. A person's access to accommodations according to their needs in learning are applicable here.


***

I hope that, while lengthy, this was a helpful exercise. Thank you to everyone who responded to my last personality test and gave me feedback on how best to develop this one. If you enjoyed this post and would like to engage further in my work, I hope that you will consider becoming a Purposeful Prose member. Members can "like" and comment on posts and can participate in my forum.


If you have any suggestions as to what I should cover in future posts or would like to discuss results of this test, feel free to contact me through the chat feature on this website or through other contact options that can be found on this website.


As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


Bloom, L. Z. (1985). Anxious writers in context: Graduate school and beyond. When a writer can’t write, 119-133


Kaufman, J. C., Cole, J. C., & Baer, J. (2009). The construct of creativity: Structural model for self‐reported creativity ratings. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 43(2), 119-134.


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