Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Studying how writers become writers

My research studied how one group of Appalachian women became writers. I followed this group during their year-long experience with a National Writing Project Summer Institute in order to better understand this process of becoming a writer and the role of writing self-efficacy and writing apprehension in this development.

I pursued this project because I think we can do a better job of fostering writing development. I define myself as a rhetorician and like Wayne Booth, in The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, I consider myself a student of rhetoric. My favorite definition of rhetoric is borrowed from Andrea Lunsford who defines rhetoric as "the art, practice, and study of [all] human communication." I agree with Booth that the quality of our lives – indeed our survival – depends on the quality of our rhetoric. Rhetoric can, and does, change the world. However, decades of working with writers, both as a professional writer and as a teacher of writers, has taught me that many lack confidence in their ability to communicate effectively. This is what drives me to study the process of becoming a writer and the role that writing self-efficacy and writing apprehension play in this process. Cheryl Geisler defines rhetoric as a productive art and says that rhetorical inquiry should "make a difference in the world". She asks how we can create a better society through the pursuit of rhetoric.

An important step toward this goal of a better society is fostering the growth and development of future rhetoricians. Many people do not consider themselves writers and do not believe they can become writers. Often writing instruction does little or nothing to change these beliefs as it focuses on the development of specific skills and writing in specific contexts – rather than attending to the growth and development of the writer.

We can, and should, do both. The process of learning and developing new skills can actually support the growth and development of a writer if we are mindful. My dissertation study is a good example. A National Writing Project Summer Institute is primarily a learning community. While participants are heavily engaged in the practice of writing they are also demonstrating and researching professional practices. While writing activities take place every day of the Summer Institute, they do not play a dominant role every day. Some days are focused on practical demonstrations and discussions while other days are focused on research and study of professional issues. However, at the end of three weeks of this activity, most of the 17 women involved in my study experienced a decrease in writing apprehension while underdoing the transformation to writer. Even more important was that they maintained that confidence level during the following year. This matters to me, and I hope to others as well, because my study confirms the research of others that as apprehension decreases evidence of self-regulating activity, such as goal setting and metawriting, increases as does agency and self-efficacy. Writing self-efficacy not only plays an important role in the development of a writer but self-efficacious writers continue to grow and develop because they are self-regulating.

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