What Role Do Emotions Play in Writing?
Because this is a business writing class, it might seem weird to talk about feelings. But how you feel about a writing task often determines how effectively you can complete it. For example, have you ever struggled to write an apology to someone you upset? Have you ever found yourself procrastinating to write an assignment you don’t really understand? Have you ever found that it’s easier for you to seem to write better in some classes more than others?
Emotions are the reason that sometimes you can write without thinking and sometimes you find yourself procrastinating, then staring at a blank screen, typing and deleting the same words over and over, feeling your writing becoming more awkward rather than less. That’s why simply acknowledging how you feel can help you avoid procrastination.
The first step is acknowledging how you feel, and the second step is figuring out why you feel that way. For example, some students have negative feelings about a writing assignment because they don’t like the teacher (or a teacher they had years ago), or they’ve had past struggles in a subject, or they don’t understand the point of the assignment, or they’re overwhelmed with other classes. Being able to identify why you’re feeling an emotion takes the power out of it. Sometimes you can even find a solution to make the writing task easier.
Here are some stories about how student writers changed their writing processes.
Whenever Raveena writes, she feels a little editor on her shoulder who’s always chiming in correcting her grammar and telling her that her sentences are awkward and sloppy. She spends so much time editing while she writes that she loses her train of thought and has trouble just letting her thoughts flow. Writing a single page takes her hours.
Raveena’s instructor asked if she had always written this way. Raveena said she used to write easily, but during her first semester of university she had a couple of instructors who were tough graders. Whenever she would write, she would imagine her instructors criticizing her. Raveena’s instructor suggested two solutions:
1) She should pretend to write to someone she likes. It’s easier to write to a friendly reader than a hostile one. Raveena imagined writing to her favourite cousin and writing got a little easier.
2) She asked Raveena to put a piece of paper over her laptop screen or turn the screen’s brightness to the lowest setting, then type out her thoughts. At first, Raveena found this very uncomfortable. When she turned her screen back on, she saw a jumble of text. But Raveena soon discovered that she had quickly written 500 words, which would have taken her hours under her old method. Raveena then used her excellent editing skills to shape what she had written.
Kai prided themself on being able to write their essays the night before. They would drink some energy drinks and buy their favourite snacks and write for hours. They rarely revised their work. This technique worked well in high school, but when they got to university their grades started slipping. Their instructors noted that they had great ideas, but many were not well-organized or were incomplete.
Kai’s instructor asked the class to bring a draft for a peer workshop. Kai told their instructor that they wouldn’t be able to write a draft, since they could only write well the night before the assignment was due. Kai’s instructor asked them what they liked about writing at night. Kai said that they liked how quiet it was in the house at 3 a.m. and how the pressure made them focus. Kai’s instructor asked them to try to replicate the same environment (dark room, snacks, drinks etc.), set a timer for 2 hours and see how much they could write. Kai was able to write a rough draft of their assignment, though they didn’t feel the “writing magic” in the same way.
During the workshop, Kai’s classmates offered several useful suggestions for improvement, but they were worried about overthinking things and ruining them by doing too much revision. Kai’s instructor told them to save the rough draft as a different file. If they didn’t like the revisions, they could go back to the previous draft. Kai tried a number of revision techniques and ended up with a much stronger assignment. Slowly, they used more and more revision techniques in their other assignments. The result: higher grades and more sleep.
If your writing process is working for you, then there’s no need to change it. But if the way you write frustrates you, consider making some changes. You might also consider changing your writing process for certain writing tasks, such as important assignments.