For the purpose of today's post, I read a piece entitled "Writing Apprehension" by John A. Daly that traced different tests administered to writers that measure their level of anxiety towards writing with their performance. While many of the tests offer some tangible evidence of relationships between attitudes of writing and writing itself, I would like to take this post in a slightly different direction. Throughout this piece, I will make a series of statements and explain the importance of each. For your own purposes, I encourage you to give yourself a score of one to five for each statement.
A one will indicate that you strongly agree with the statement given. A five will indicate that you strongly disagree. Unlike many personality tests, I will not be adding up scores and making conjectures about your level of writing skill or attitudes towards writing.
The conclusions that you will draw through the course of this exercise will be entirely your own and there are no correct answers.
Daly states, and I am inclined to agree, that the reason why tests like these are important is because a "multi-dimensional" perspective on writing goes beyond basic skills towards their willingness to write, feelings towards their current writing process, willingness to change that process according to their needs if necessary, their general assessment of their product(s), and a multitude of other factors.
Statement 1: I am nervous about writing, especially when I know that my work will be evaluated.
It feels as though everyone has a framework of how writing "should" look. That framework can be traced over time to the point where, as discussed in my last post, individuals learn to associate identifications with what they encounter in the world and what those identifications mean in larger contexts. When these expectations for writing are created, especially in academia where writing rules might appear to be learned and unlearned from one year to the next, it's understandable that they would cause increased anxiety in a writer. This is not new. When answering this statement, consider some settings that you have written in and your level of apprehension. If some of those are academic setting, consider the extent to which your learning was student-centered or teacher-centered and whether that might have an impact on your mindset towards writing. More specifically, in a teacher-centered approach, an instructor relays their expectations of your work to you in the classroom and assists students personally in evaluating their own work. In a student-centered approach, students have a clear role in evaluating their own work and assisting others in the evaluation of theirs. Workshops are common in these scenarios. If some of these settings are professional, consider the factors of writing that determine the quality of your work.
Also, who are the authority figures who have shaped your expectations of your written work in these different settings? Do you believe that the qualities that are focused on when your writing is evaluated aid or have aided your growth as a writer? Consider these questions when determining the score you would give yourself for this statement.
Statement 2: I believe that, often, my intentions in writing do not match what I produce.
It is common for writers to believe that they do not write as well as others, but I don't believe that a statement on comparing one's own work to another is as good a measure. Daly uses the term "comparison deficiency" to explain how writer's might evaluate their end product by comparing it to their intentions, what they want to express. It's very common for intentions in writing to change over time whether it is within the immediate planning process or within the gathering of information, but intentions in terms of content are very different from intentions with regard to quality of writing, though the two can affect each other. For this statement, your personal score may vary for a variety of reasons, but it's important to consider why you chose a particular score. Consider what it would take for intentions in writing to match what is produced and consider whether making those changes would be positive.
Daly states that some students reported that talking through some of their ideas make them sound better, but writing them out is different. What happens in the space between talking out the idea and writing it down? I often suggest that people use recording devices to talk through their ideas and intentions to assist in closing that gap. Focusing on your own voice when speaking is very different from the type of focus used when listening attentively even if it is to yourself.
Statement 3: I believe that, overall, I am aware of where my strengths lie with regard to writing and where I need to improve.
Some students, when choosing their field of study, are so highly apprehensive when it comes to writing that they will intentionally choose a field and a job where [they believe] less writing is done just so that they can avoid it. This mindset is often formed alongside people's perceptions of writing as an undertaking and expectations of specific types of writing. Daly simplifies this, but I believe there is merit to it. A writer often attributes their success or lack thereof on a writing project to luck, to ability, to the difficulty of the writing task, and the amount of effort put into it. Some of these are internal factors, others are external. Some are stable, others are variable.
It's important, then, to consider whether the act of writing can be measured through luck or even ability. Cases where writing is done without intent are few and far between. Ability is subjective. Some types of writing are considered more appropriate in some situations than others. The priorities of those who evaluate writing often highly differ. Regardless, it is up to the writer to determine whether the feedback given on their writing is valid. It is also ultimately their choice whether to apply it and how to apply it. So, this statement very closely relies on an individual's experience with receiving feedback on writing.
Statement 4: The methods that I use to overcome obstacles in my writing are fitting to the specific obstacle.
It is evident that a clear understanding of any problem encountered in the planning or writing process can determine the best method by which to solve it most of the time. Sometimes, problems can be understood intimately, but aren't always connected to results. Some problems are unfamiliar to writers and require further research or guidance. Daly narrows down some common problems to how often a person writes, one's tenacity, tendencies to procrastinate, or blocks of some kind. In past posts, I have discussed how some of these supposed obstacles can become tools, so it's possible to use that as a starting point. Can the obstacle that you have encountered as a writer be used as a tool? If not, what tools can be applied?
Some people force themselves to write something regardless of whether it's important to a task and this can be helpful, but while it can be either entertaining or helpful to focus on the act of writing in itself, it can also be a major distraction. Trying different types of writing tools can be helpful in determining what works best in each writing situation and task.
Writing Apprehension Exercise
Click here to read the poem, "Conjunctions," by Neil Gaiman.
Spend as much time as you need with this poem. What parts of it do you feel you understand better than others? Why do you think it's called, "Conjunctions"? Compare different stanzas. How do they relate aside from being a part of the same poem and why are they used together? Why do different stanzas appear to tell different stories? Feel free to also consider your own questions.
Pick a question, using one from above or create your own and take about five minutes to just think about how you would answer that question. Do this however you like, using a bulleted list, brainstorming, or just thinking to yourself without writing.
How do you feel about the possibility of writing out an answer to this question in a longer form and what is it that makes you feel this way? Try to go a little farther than the complexity of the poem itself or personal knowledge of the author's literary techniques. What is it about you and the way you write that impacts how you would feel about answering this type of question.
When you are ready, take about fifteen minutes to try and write out the answer to your question. Write in a way that feels natural to you.
After those fifteen minutes are over, read what you have written. How do you feel about what you have written and the process you'd undergone while completing this exercise? Is there something you would want to change? Is there something unique that you did for the purposes of this exercise that you would like to develop?
Think back to the scores that you gave yourself for the previous statements and compare them to the resolution that you came to in number five. What did you take from this?
A big thank you to all of my readers and all of those who have given me feedback on previous posts. This one was drastically different from others in intent and it had a greatly different purpose. After reading through the studies in Daly's essay, I noticed that a lot of the takeaways are very dated, but the queries are still both open and valid. I hope that my readers will take something from this exercise and would love to know if you would be interested in seeing more pieces like this.
Would you like to discuss your results? Let me know! Send me a comment, a message through the chat, or (especially if I cannot respond quickly enough through the chat) fill out the contact form and I will answer you as best I can.
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As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Daly, J. A. (1985). Writing apprehension. When a writer can't write, 43-82.
Gaiman, N. (2012, October 4). Conjunctions. Neil Gaiman. https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/10/conjunctions.html