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Moving Forward: Setting Limits and Making Choices in Your Writing Process

Monday, April 27th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

by Wendy Duprey, a Doctoral Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition andDuprey Blog Pic Writing Studio consultant





In preparation for the final weeks of the semester, consider this question from the problem-solving work of Herbert Simon:

“What is going to facilitate action rather than paralyze it?” [1]

As writers, we can become paralyzed with feelings of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and even apathy when we feel overwhelmed by a task.  Sometimes a task feels too large to complete before a deadline; other times we feel stuck at a certain point in our writing process, unable to find a way to move forward.  During these times, we often need to set limits and make choices in our writing process.

Setting limits and making choices in our writing process requires creating realistic and attainable goals.  Rather than aiming for “the perfect paper” or “the best project,” learn to satisfice.  According to Simon, satisficing works when we look for good, better, or satisfactory ways to solve a problem, rather than the best or most optimal way.  Since writing is an activity that consistently calls for discovering “what’s next,” it is helpful to think about multiple possibilities that would satisfice the next move in your process.  Figuring out your next good move depends on a number of factors:

  • The writing task: At the Writing Studio, we usually begin our consulting sessions by reviewing the project description or the writing assignment with the writer. We do this because the assignment sheet typically outlines the requirements, criteria, and boundaries of a particular writing task.  As consultants, we want to understand how to think about the piece of writing as readers.  By turning to the writing task, it shapes our expectations and frames appropriate ways to respond as readers.  A good way to move forward, then, is to think about where you are in the writing process in connection to the writing task: Am I satisfying all of the external requirements?
  • The writer: Particularly in moments when we are pressed for time, such as at the end of a semester, we need to be mindful of our individual limits. Limits are useful to think about and honor as writers because they create a respectful space for us to work and live within.  Although some of us thrive on the externally-placed limits of a deadline, we need to consider our internal, embodied, and environmental needs as well.  Some questions to consider might be: What responsibilities and commitments do I need to maintain while completing this writing project?  Realistically, how much work, in terms of time, energy, and effort, can I devote to the project without it becoming detrimental to my health, well-being, and relationships?
  • The audience: Writing is a highly creative and empathic activity, requiring us to imagine our audience’s needs in relationship to our ongoing process and emerging text.  Understanding that our readers also have limits can be a useful guide for helping us make choices.  At the Writing Studio, we help writers understand our limits as readers when we ask questions such as, “What do you mean here in this sentence?” or “Can you help me understand why this term is important for your project?” These are often clarifying questions, as a way to help the writer and the reader reach a common ground of understanding.  Throughout your writing process, practice asking the question, “What will satisfy my reader’s needs and expectations?”

With looming deadlines and final papers just around the corner, the Writing Studio encourages all writers to schedule an appointment or drop in for a Compression Session to have a conversation about your writing.  As one writer recently shared, “It’s better to have a dialogue about my writing than a monologue in my head.”  We invite you to come in for a productive dialogue and move forward with your writing process!

[1] Simon, Herbert.  The Sciences of the Artificial. 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.  Print.


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