November 13, 2015

Why is writing so hard? Common myths about the writing process

What is it about a university writing assignment that can fill even the most studious undergraduate with dread? Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Center, identifies common myths about the writing process and advice for getting started.

While the causes of procrastination are varied, they often share an emotional trigger. In many cases the emotional foundation of procrastination is some combination of anxiety and fear — fear of inadequacy, fear of being perceived as stupid, fear of not being perfect. 

Another factor that may contribute to a difficulty with writing university assignments is the way in which writing is taught in junior high and high school. Writing is an uncertain and messy process that tends to proceed in fits and starts, but little of this tentativeness makes it into the school curriculum. How often are noted authors early drafts shared with students — reassuring them that even the most prolific authors struggle, too? 

The messiness of writing is not merely metaphorical. The internet is filled with images of first drafts of great literature filled with scrawls, written on random pieces of paper or covering walls, all interwoven with doodles, charts, and many crossed-out items. Too often, classrooms strip the process of its true organic nature and present it as a neat, linear sequence of steps that proceed inevitably from one to the next. Even worse, students are sometimes made to feel they should have figured out what to write before the actual writing begins. This sets up false expectations for how the writing endeavor really happens.