by Nate Marcisz
No matter what academic disciplines you are engaging in, you will most likely be required to do writing of some kind. In my undergraduate experience as an Industrial Engineering Technology major at Purdue University, I had to write constantly. Between the research proposals, lab reports, and reflective essays, I probably did more writing in my undergrad courses than math, despite being thoroughly entrenched in a STEM major.
My experience is not unusual. Students in the fields of medicine, technology, science, mathematics, engineering and visual design all, at some point, find themselves writing about their disciplines. And, of course, students in liberal arts and the humanities know that writing constitutes a huge portion of their academic workload.
The genres may vary, but the act of writing does not. If you’re a university student, regardless of your major, you will have to write at some point.
Now, the idea that there are “natural-born writers” is a thoroughly-debunked myth, but I will admit that there are some people who seem to enjoy writing more than others. However, even people who make their living as professional writers will have hard days where the words just don’t seem to flow. Whether you like writing or not, there will be times during your academic career where you will have to do it and it will be difficult.
What should you do when you find yourself in that situation? Well, as with many complicated problems, there is not just one solution. But there is one approach that I want to recommend to you, and it involves dispelling another insidious myth about writing: the myth of the lonely writer.
Some people think that for writing to be good, it must be a work of original genius, conceived in total isolation from other people. This never actually happens! As noted by Dr. Andrea Lunsford, renowned rhetorics and composition scholar at Stanford University, “writing is, first of all, always part of a larger network or conversation; all writing is in some sense a response to other writing or symbolic action” (Adler-Kassner and Wardle 54).
In other words, all writing is informed by the writer’s prior experiences and interactions. And this is not a bad thing! Pure originality is an illusory goal. Our writing will always be influenced by the lives we’ve led and the people with whom we’ve interacted.
With this truth in mind, we can reframe our understanding of writing to be something that is always inherently communal. And, since that is the case, one way to overcome writing hurdles is to consciously involve other people in your writing process. That might mean chatting with a friend to brainstorm ideas for your writing assignments, or bringing your writing into the Writing Center to get a consultant’s feedback on your draft, or forming a study group to hold you accountable to your writing goals.
Because accountability is such a useful tactic for getting things done, the Writing Center has partnered with the Graduate Office to host weekly Writing-in-Community events where students from all over IUPUI are invited to come and work on their writing projects together. We gather in a Zoom room, lay out our writing goals for the session, and get to work. The premise of the event is simple, but the accountability that comes from working in a virtual space alongside fellow writers is startlingly effective.
Whether you choose to take advantage of Writing-in-Community or whether you opt for another means of writing accountability, involving other people in your writing process might be the key to overcoming the writer’s block that plagues you.
Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. A. (2015). Naming what we know:
Threshold concepts of writing studies. Utah State University Press.