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Writing through Difficulties Paul Barron Sweetland Center for Writing Fall Retreat September 1, 2010
Problem• Difficulties in writing and the resulting anxiety can produce challenges useful in writing.• Yet as incidental, difficulties and anxiety are often experienced as negative.• Affects some writers’ concepts of themselves as writers and their attitudes towards writing.• Writers are often unprepared to view these challenges as productive.
OpportunityProblematizing difficulties can help:• Classify writing difficulties and anxiety as normal• Encourage perceptions of intellectual challenge rather than personal limitation• Communicate expectations of rigor• Provide specific entry points by which to explore writing in greater depth
Classroom ContextOne of many strategies, rather than a single pedagogical stanceUsed not only as metacognitive post mortem (Why isn’t this working?), but also to generate writingUseful at several points of the writing process, and across courses and student populations
Sample Exercises • Exploring genre: creative nonfiction (LHSP 130, Eng 325) • Deepening analysis (across courses) • Forcing reflexivity (across courses) • Grad student self-analysis (Rackham workshop and DWI)
Exploring genre: creative nonfiction Typical student responses, tabulated on the boardBenefits of the genre Limitations or pitfallsAllows you to be creative Encourages you to be self-Lets you combine different parts of centeredyourself (creative/scientific) It’s hard to know how to structureAny subject could potentially be the writing, or if it’s workingmade interesting Sometimes too much speculation,More interesting for the writer, not enough hard informationlearn about yourself Unclear how much detail canEncourages your own voice safely be invented/reconstructedEncourages you to take risks Potential for upsetting people discussed in the essay
Deepening AnalysisA response paper assigned after the first draft ofa longer paper:• From your essay, select a sentence or two that represents the furthest you have taken your thinking/analysis.• Type this in bold at the top of a blank document.• Write one page single-space elaborating upon these statements.• Don’t worry about paragraph or sentence structure (you’ll be graded only on the depth of your thinking) .
Forcing ReflexivityEverything happens for a reason.
Forcing ReflexivityEverything happens for a reason.Or does it?
Grad student self-analysisSee “Author Self-interview” handout• Based on Nancy Wood’s TRACE* (Text, Reader, Author, Constraints, Exigence)• Grad students’ constraints often complicated• Problems with writing often tangled or misdiagnosed• Offers a way to prioritize and problem solve *Wood, Nancy V. Perspectives On Argument. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2002.
Final Thoughts Not an integrated approach so much as an awareness (interrogating the pink elephants in the room) Valuable to let students wrestle with and identify the problem themselves, thus The timing and context for making difficulties the overt subject is important Maintaining students’ intellectual/creative space Focusing on posing intellectual problems rather erasing difficulty