Although the Writing Studio attracts a wide range of writers with differing needs, many of them deal with anxiety in one form or another. For certain writers, this means anxiety about the drafting or revising process whereas others, particularly non-native English speakers, may display anxiety regarding their grammatical abilities. As writing consultants, we need to work to create a safe environment that counterbalances the anxiety our writers may exhibit, and this presents challenges.
When I first entered the Writing Studio this past Fall, dealing with anxious writers actually heightened my own sense of anxiety; I felt unable to effectively help writers who felt frantic about the often ambiguous comments or directions their teachers had provided. When a writer is anxious, it is almost hard not to pick up on some of that anxiety, especially as a novice consultant. Throughout my time here, I have begun to amass my own strategies for helping anxiety-ridden writers, and I will share these in this post.
Last semester, as an Embedded Tutor, I had the opportunity to work one-on-one and two-on-one with students who were taking their very first English composition course at a university; for some of the international students, it was their first time writing extended works in English. The nature of the composition program at USF requires that students go through planning phases and approach writing as a process that starts with brainstorming. However, during my consultations, I found that many of these students did not know how to plan effectively; these were the students who experienced what is colloquially known as “writer’s block.”
I found that by using a session to teach these students how to plan for a genre they may not be used to writing, many of their concerns were alleviated. By asking the students to write down their thoughts, I was then able to help them organize them in a logical manner. This process helped so many of the students, who, after planning, left the sessions feeling less stressed and were able to write their papers. It is important for us to remember that as consultants, we should address the bigger picture issues whenever possible; as I found, often the largest issue with writers is planning. The beauty of Embedded Tutoring is that it allows the consultant to work in conjunction with both the writer and the professor throughout the entire process.
Unfortunately, most writers do not come to the Writing Studio as part of the Embedded Tutoring program; most students come with a product rather than an outline or plan. Often, students bring works in after getting negative feedback or on the day of the deadline. These students tend to be anxious, lacking in self-efficacy, and stressed out. Particularly when they receive confusing feedback, students may ask a consultant, whom they value as a “writing expert,” to interpret what the instructor meant.
When working with students like this, I find that, although it is impossible to be clairvoyant, providing candid reassurance and focusing on one major concern of the writer’s as well as an area I believe can use major improvement seems to work. I do overtly recognize my limitations as a consultant and recommend that anxious writers address any areas of concern (feedback, rubric, directions, etc.) with their professors in order to get absolute clarification.
When a student presents anxiety, I try to be as reassuring as possible. I also tell writers that I have experienced severe writer’s anxiety in the past, which often surprises them. At the same time, acknowledging the difficult parts of writing can be encouraging for writers; it humanizes us as consultants. To help anxious writers, the least we can do as consultants is to help them realize their strengths through providing genuine praise while also displaying empathy.
By Lindsey O’Brien, M.A.T. in Foreign Language Education (in progress)