Your Writing Attitude




Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and the suggestions and advice I will provide are not meant to replace any advice given by a qualified professional.


Emotions, specifically a person's mindset as they approach a task, are known to have some factor in how that task is completed. The products of a writing task usually come with a kind of emotional expectation. It's not new for a piece of writing to be accompanied with an analysis of how an author felt or might have felt towards their subject matter.


I'm not a stranger to this. I once read a story where, in the first paragraph, the author explained that he hated the subject matter. He was compelled to write it for someone else. The story was masterful from what I remember, and without that disclaimer, it's possible that few would have known how he felt about his topic. I use this example to illustrate that a person can love, hate, or be indifferent to what they are writing about and still produce good works.


Reed Larson, in "Emotional Scenarios in the Writing Process: An Examination of Young Writers' Affective Experiences," explains an experience he conducted in which he attempted to qualitatively measure "two sets of mental processes: one, a set of cognitive processes--the rational processes of ordering words and ideas on the page; the second, a set of emotional processes--the feelings, impulses, and drives that co-occur in a writer's experience" (Larson, 1985).


In any experiment like this, it's difficult to gain definitive solutions, answers that can blanket problems that writers have when reconciling different parts of their minds and using how they understand themselves to be to complete a task. Larson had each of the participants of his study, young high school student, complete questionnaires at different stages of their writing. Then, he singled out three of the most common emotional states expressed and how those emotional states manifested themselves in approaching a common writing task where students were able to choose their subject.


Anxiety


Otherwise expressed in this text as "overarousal," Larson states that while there are certain effects of anxiety that can help a person show greater care and attention to their tasks, it can also be highly damaging. For some, it can affect long term memory. It can also affect a person's ability to handle a specific amount of information effectively. This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of what anxiety is and does. This is to explain that different manifestations of anxiety can impact and disrupt writing.


The following are the first few lines from a paper from a student who reported experiencing a level of anxiety:


"Architectural styles in the past fifty years have changed greatly. They have gone from beauty and ornateness to stark and coldness, one of the reasons is an architect named Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies came to America with a new architectural style and since then architecture has never been the same."


This might appear as an extreme example. A need for proofreading aside, I notice that there are a lot of generalizations in the first two sentences, generalizations that the writer might have felt they needed to rely on for the sake of active voice. It's unclear what the writer's priorities are for the remainder of the paper, the kind of impact on the field of architecture this person made. The statements made are very broad where there needs to be a kind of distinct claim.


According to Larson, this writer developed a gradual enthusiasm for his topic through his research. However, in his writing, he found himself to be consistently dissatisfied with his project, yet unable to step away from it for any length of time. He wanted to cover everything within the broad scope that he set up for himself, but the end result did not accomplish that.


It's difficult to tell whether the anxiety this writer faced came, in majority, from the method or product, but it reads as though the majority of issues came from the way this anxiety was managed and being unaware of the tools at their disposal through the course of the completion of the product, another justification for why it's important to plan writing in a way that correlates with how we think.


Boredom


Termed "underarousal," this form of boredom is portrayed as viewing writing as just a job, a task without significance. Underarousal is seen as something that decreases a person's ability to control their attention. Responses to questions might be slow or detached. While an appropriate distance from some topics can help a writer to maintain a more objective stance, that's not equivalent to detachment.


One student in Larson's group reported, at first, that he was engaged in the topic he'd chosen. Then, after spending a great deal of time with it, a boredom set in. For them, the discourse was very rigid and it was difficult to find a jumping off point, inspiration for an interesting take.


"For millions of young men, the age of 18 is very critical. These young men can choose either to go to college or to start a career, but if the draft were reinstated their plans could be drastically changed. The government could disrupt their lives by putting them in the armed services."


As with the student who reported anxiety, this piece also started with a very weak topic sentence, presenting a blanket statement. The age of eighteen can be a pivotal age for anyone for a multitude of reasons, and those reasons can differ by location, cultural group, or family environment. The draft could change people's lives, yes, but what would lead to the draft being reinstated? How, specifically, would that affect those that this writer is discussing? Again, this is broad. The writer hasn't given themselves the room to make a distinct point.


To say that this passage and the previous passage from the more anxious writer were uninteresting and merely broad would undercut the fact that there should ideally be some level of analysis, a point to make. There was a strong difference in attitude, yet both texts could be critiqued in similar ways. This doesn't mean that both mindsets, overarousal and underarousal, is guaranteed to produce the same negative results, but that it can and that the two aren't necessarily at odds with one another.


"Optimal" Mindset


Ideally, a writer will have clear goals and a method by which those goals can be processed, reflected on constantly, and reached. A writer will feel in control of their mental state to the fullest extent. Ideally, a writer should adjust their method depending on the qualities of the task that they are completing. An easier part of a task that could either be overthought or induce boredom should be completed with a certain level of care. A harder part of a task that could induce anxiety or turn a person away from a project can be done in parts.


In sum, the way that the writer completes a project should reflect the way that they think.


This is why reflection is highly underrated in writing. This is an older study, from 1985, but a deeper dive into it can show how greater self-awareness of not just a writer's method, but a writer's attitude toward the project and what that says about how they would complete it. If they feel the attitude will manifest into something negative, it's important to consider avenues for change.


For example, is there a possibility that the topic can be changed?


If a topic change is not possible, is the writer truly aware of all avenues by which the topic can be explored?


Is the schedule on which the project is planned out effective? Is there a schedule to begin with?


These are very simple general questions often asked as a basis for reflection, but I think they hold greater significance when applied to a writer's overall mentality and not just their work ethic. I've written about the importance of reflection in the past and how that can strengthen the planning process (reflection for utility), but it's also important to acknowledge and reflect on the scope of the project through the lens of attitude and emotion. The way a project is affecting a writer can affect how a writer should proceed for their own health and for the best possible product at the same time.


As always, many thanks for all of the amazing feedback that I have received. If you enjoy what I have to say, you can become a Purposeful Prose member! Members of Purposeful Prose can "like," comment on my posts, participate in the Purposeful Prose forum for members, and interact with one another.

If you have a topic that you would like for me to research or a question, please let me know! Your queries and interests may be the subject of a post.


I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


Larson, R. (1985). Emotional scenarios in the writing process: An examination of young writers’ affective experiences. When a writer can’t write, 19-42.

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