In the Writing Studio, we hear students say things like “I’m a bad writer” or “I’m not a good writer.” You may be one of these students. Writing insecurities are common, even for those of us who work at the Writing Studio. Since our focus at the Writing Studio is to make better writers (rather than better writing), I turned to my fellow tutors to see how they respond to hearing “I’m a bad writer” or “I’m not a good writer” in an appointment, what they think makes a good writer, and how they combat their own writing insecurities. Here are some of the highlights:
Nellie: “‘Good writers’ are writers who write regularly and often. Anyone can be a good writer. If we focus on what’s working well in your work and tinker with the things that are not, your writing will definitely improve.”
Nicole: “Good writers take interest in their writing and in their growth as writers. If you’ve come to the Writing Studio (or even just visited the website!) than it doesn’t seem like you are a bad writer at all! Rather than focusing on whether you are good or bad at writing, it is more productive (and less self-critical) to identify areas where you want to improve. Take it topic-by-topic, paper-by-paper, and overtime you’ll begin to see measurable change into how you feel while writing and how you identify as a writer.”
Bailey: “Lots of people struggle with writing – especially when it comes to certain writing assignments like rhetorical analyses, synthesis papers, etc. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. However, if you really do know that writing just isn’t your thing, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you create strong writing anyways. What makes me a good writer is that I review the assignment guidelines often and I make sure to incorporate things in my writing that directly correlate with the guidelines. I make an outline and a game plan for myself so that, even when I’m feeling like my skills aren’t great, I have a sense of direction. ‘Being a bad writer’ does not have to equate to ‘producing bad writing.’ Even those who struggle a lot can learn how to use the conventions and formulas of academic writing to their advantage.”
Jennifer: “Not true! A writer is anyone who writes; elementary school children are writers. Good writers can form coherent thoughts. From social media posts to class notes, you likely write every day. You are a *good* writer. Just like any other skill, becoming a great writer takes practice. A way to becoming a better writer is to work with a tutor to identify your writing strengths and weaknesses.”
Calabria: “I remind myself and others that my work doesn’t need to be perfect the first go ’round. I just need to get my thoughts on the page. I just need to get started, and the flow will gradually increase as I get further in the writing process. A good writer is someone who accepts the idea of revision. A good writer also gives themselves time to revise, so that means you can’t wait until the last minute and expect the results to show your best work. Cut yourself some slack, and just get started. And ask for help when you need it.”
Tyler: “Organization, argument and voice.”
Karen: “‘What do you mean by that? Can you explain?’ Usually when they start to explain they actually pinpoint difficulty with specific parts of the writing process, which I can help them see as skills they can develop and work on. To me, I think a good writer is someone who understands that writing is a craft. A good writer is someone who is willing to practice and to learn.”
How do our tutors handle their own writing insecurities?
Bailey: “If I’m feeling insecure or inadequate, I use questions to guide my writing. This way, even though I might not be producing my best work, at least I know I’m meeting the goal of answering important questions. Sometimes I use the guidelines to come up with questions. For example, if the guidelines require “a strong thesis statement” but I can’t come up with one, I’ll give myself a strong research question to answer (that can I can hopefully turn into a thesis statement later).”
Nicole: “I keep a list of areas I want to improve on and/or feedback that I’ve received about my writing. I’m mindful of those challenges as a writer. But, I also have to tell myself all the time that I’m in school to learn and grow, and that it is OK if it isn’t perfect today or if this assignment isn’t the best writing I will ever do. I give myself time (or at least try to…) and try to tackle my writing insecurities a little bit with each session. When I look back on old papers, or feedback from former professors, I realize that I have chipped away at some of those challenges that made me feel so insecure.”
Jennifer: “Writing insecurity is real, and it’s something we all face. I think two steps to becoming a more secure writer are to practice daily writing, and be vulnerable! Ask peers or a tutor to read your writing.”
Calabria: “I tell myself it [the work] doesn’t have to be great, but it does have to be complete. At least that’s what I say to get started. I also remind myself that Edgar Allen Poe wrote an entire essay on how to write poetry, which really helped me see that poetry, or written work, isn’t all just ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,’ basically no one gets it right the first time.”
Tyler: “Read and revise! I spend a lot (honestly, maybe too much time) of time rereading passages until they sound exactly how I want them to sound; then I work on making sure they flow and that the organization makes sense. It’s really all about practice — I know my weaknesses, and practicing revising my own writing helps me to better understand the ways in which I can work against those in my initial drafts. But also.. grace! You’re going to mess up. Not everything is going to be perfect. That’s fine. That’s just writing. That’s why we write ‘rough’ drafts.”
Karen: “Oomf. This is a tough one. I think one thing that helps me is stepping back from the idea of ‘writer’ as my identity. When I put so much pressure to preform in order to ‘prove myself’ or my worthiness, this actually creates a block of creativity and a stifling of inspiration. Instead of thinking ‘ugh! I can’t do this! I’m not a real writer!’ I step back and think, well, I need to write this. What are the steps I know I need to take? Have I done adequate brainstorming? Do I need to go back and look at my outline?
In tutoring sessions, when the “I’m not a good writer” bit comes up, I usually say this: “There is no such thing as good writing, only good editing. Good writers put forth the effort to revise, learn, and grow.” This is echoed by what many of my fellow tutors are saying here. It’s important to remember that when it comes to writing assignments, you can only do so much with the time and the resources you have at your disposal (like the Writing Studio!), so give yourself a little grace.
-A blog post by Emily Pierce
Emily is a second-year Master’s student in Literary Studies. Her research focuses on multicultural literature of the American South, and she is currently writing her thesis on Lillian Smith and Foucault. Out of the various projects people bring to the Writing Studio, personal statements are her favorite. She loves watching people grow into better writers and is excited to be working in the Writing Studio for her last semester.