I recently finished reading (okay, listening to) Angela Duckworth’s Grit. I teach her TedTalk nearly every semester, and I enjoy her perspective given in the video. Based on this, I decided to listen to her book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. I typically get bored of “self help” books pretty quickly, but I found that her balance of research and anecdotal evidence kept my brain engaged. Particularly, I was struck by how much of her advice applies to teaching students how to write academically.
As a writing professor, I find that most students do not like writing because they perceive that they aren’t good at it. I usually quell these worries by saying frequently that writing is hard for everyone, but they can learn tools and techniques through practice that will make writing feel easier. But writing, by nature, is difficult. As Duckworth acknowledges at the end of her book, Ta-Nehisi Coates accurately described writers as people who live in failure. Writers have to internalize sometimes scary and harsh feedback about our writing in order to improve. Writers have to be in the drudges of what we do “wrong” so that we can improve. There is no other way to improve as a writer. This sense of difficulty is compounded in writing because there is no such thing as a “perfect” draft, especially a first draft.
For students who already feel self-conscious about their writing, turning in a first draft is intimidating because they will have their mistakes and knowledge gaps brought to light. There is no hiding what goes “wrong” in a rough draft.
So how do we, as writing instructors, increase students’ grittiness in the writing process? How do we convey that the writing process is difficult but can be worked through?
One method that I have used is that I am open with my students about how writing is difficult for me. I tell them that I dislike writing introductions and my conclusions often feel repetitive and sometimes insulting to the reader. I tell them that I get writer’s block if I try to write my essays linearly and that I can reduce my instances of writer’s block if I write my introduction last. By having transparent conversations about writing, my students can see that even someone who is considered an expert in writing still struggles in the same areas where they struggle. They are encouraged when I tell them that I have learned to work through the difficulty with years of practice, not by gaining some ~magical talent~ or skill. I don’t know much more about writing than they do, but I just practice frequently and have practiced for a much longer span of time. They learn that they, too, can become expert writers, but they have to practice.
Another method that I’ve been trying out recently is that I show them examples of my own writing process. When I was in college, I never got to see my own professors’ writing (unless I looked them up on JSTOR). Particularly, I never saw how they worked through the writing process that they were telling me is so important to writing a successful academic essay. How can my students believe that the process is important if they don’t see it modeled? So I started providing for them on Canvas one of my essays at every stage of the writing process. I give them my brainstorming, research notes, outline, rough draft, and final draft. I show them how much work goes into a polished piece of academic writing so that they can be encouraged to put in the hard work as well.
I strongly believe that increasing students’ grittiness during the writing process is the key to producing successful college writers. I’m going to keep brainstorming and experimenting with ways to increase students’ grit, but I would love to hear your suggestions! Did a writing professor give you some advice or skill that helped you increase your grit as a writer? Do you have any ideas or tried-and-true methods to increase students’ grit?