© Walden University Writing Center 2018
MAX: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Max Philbrook,
CLAIRE: and I’m Claire Helakoski. Welcome to 2018! In this episode, we’re talking about writing resolutions and reflection.
MAX: Welcome listeners to the first ever episode of WriteCast for 2018. Hi Claire, how are you? Are you excited to start another year?
CLAIRE: I am. I love the start of the year—it’s a great time to have a fresh outlook.
MAX: Yeah. Are you a resolutions kind of person? Did you make any new year’s resolutions for this year?
CLAIRE: I’m sometimes a resolutions kind of person. I like to have small resolutions kind of throughout the year because that tends to work better for me, but one of my big goals for this upcoming year is to just have some, like, dedicated creative writing time. I talked about this on our previous episode, but my degree is in creative writing and, because I write and do academic writing so much for Walden, I don’t often make the space for creative writing. So, that’s one of my goals for this year. Do you have any resolutions?
MAX: I usually make about three to four hundred resolutions per year…
MAX: And I’m lucky if I keep a few of those. This year I think I’m just going to try and be more active—get out and see the world, talk to more people, maybe be more active politically—call my senators and representatives and just get out there and make the world a better place. Yea, hopefully I can stick to that one. It seems like it will be possible. And what about you listeners? If you’re a Walden student, or writer in general, perhaps this is the perfect time for you to set some resolutions that have to do with your writing.
CLAIRE: And, thinking about that, what kind of resolutions might be useful for a practicing writer? We have a list for you to think about. Some resolutions might be to give more time to my writing in the drafting or researching stages of the process, adding more time to my revision process, use the feedback I receive on my writing from Writing Instructors, faculty members, fellow students—using that more effectively, using more of the Writing Center’s resources to help improve my writing, being more open to trying different strategies for revision and writing and thinking about things in new ways, cultivating awareness of my strengths and what learning styles work for me in enhancing my skills, and setting some goals for areas of advancement.
MAX: Those are really excellent resolutions that any writer could take up and really improve his or her writing, no doubt. But, the question always becomes—how does the writer know what to change about their process to make their writing more enjoyable, more productive, more effective, more scholarly? And that’s what we’re going to pick up and discuss today for this WriteCast episode--How the skill of reflection can come in handy to help you, the writer, become a better writer. But what is reflection? Well, reflection is a skill, it’s an act, it’s a process—it’s the idea of being self-aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer so you can either improve areas of weakness or build from areas of strength. And that’s what we’d like to help you with today is incorporating reflection into your writing process so you can do some of these things on your own, and so you know exactly which writing resolutions will be the best for you. Reflection is this thing that can happen throughout the writing process. When I explain reflection to student writers, I always kind of pitch it as this thing that happens towards the end of the writing process. Let’s say you have a completed draft, and you’ve got feedback from a Writing Instructor or a faculty member. Reflection happens when you look back at the piece of writing you’ve produced and you look and think critically about the strengths, what you did well, but also the weaknesses, or the areas of improvement that you can bring to your process. And, this is not an easy task, listener, let me tell you, because it takes a larger amount of critical thinking and self-awareness to be able to make those determinations about your own writing. Claire, what are some of your strategies for incorporating reflection into your writing process?
CLAIRE: Well, I really like to look at pieces that I’ve written a while ago and, for me, space is a really important part of the reflection process. I just have a really hard time seeing my writing for what it is and breaking it apart as a text when it’s something I’ve just been working on that week or even that semester and, sometimes, that year. The level of space that you’re gonna need might change depending on your personality and what works best for you. But, for me, I like to take a look at something that I wrote maybe a year ago, and then something that I’ve written lately, and really think about what am I doing differently, what’s improved, and what area do I want to keep advancing if it’s been going really well for me, or what area do I see kind of consistently that I would like to work to continue to enhance my writing. What about you, Max? How do you use reflection?
MAX: Reflection is a tool that I really incorporate into my writing whenever possible—it helps me learn what I’ve done well in a piece and then also how to improve that piece. Sometimes, when I’m doing scholarly, academic-type writing, I don’t always use evidence as well or as clearly as I could. Sometimes I take for granted what I think the audience knows or should know, and so when I’m looking at my writing and I’m reflecting, reading it closely, usually what jumps out at me is the need for more evidence or more citations to support the claims that I’m making. It’s really easy when I’m kind of getting into that flow, or when I know a lot about a topic that I’m writing about, to really just write as if I’m the authority on the subject and no one else out there has anything to say about it. And, if you’ve ever written that way, you know that your reader is going to be extremely skeptical if you’re not providing those citations. So, when I’m reflecting, especially with scholarly work, I’m looking for ways that I can bring in additional voices to the conversation. I can see—I can’t do this in the moment because I’m writing and I’m composing and I’m putting the ideas together, but then when I look back at it later, then I can see—oh, so and so expert or such and such source would really support this point here. When I’m writing in a scholarly way, with sources and research, that’s usually what happens. I find myself realizing that I need more citation, more evidence, additional voices, to help support what I’m trying to say.
CLAIRE: Right, and it’s so hard to get that kind of awareness when you’re in the writing—it’s really important to take that space and step back. And, nobody expects you to have that complete awareness as you’re writing—it would be impossible to get anything done. So, it’s really good to make sure you’re just taking that step back—steps back—and cultivating that awareness.
MAX: Well said, Claire, that’s a really great point. So, we’ve kind of talked about reflection as this thing that maybe happens at the end, or the thing that you do after the draft, but really, if you can incorporate reflection, and if you can really start to practice knowing your own writing, and being comfortable with thinking about your own writing critically— as if you were reading it in a journal, or helping a peer or colleague on a piece of writing—if you start to kind of have that be a normal part of your writing process, then reflection becomes kind of ingrained or just becomes part of parcel with your writing process. And, being able to identify those areas for revision helps students focus their effort on improving the work and making them better writers overall. And, so, if you ever worked with an instructor here at the Walden Writing Center, you know that a lot of what we emphasize, and a lot of our suggestions in a paper review, you know we’re encouraging you to engage in revision. And, if you can cultivate the skills of reflection, then you can better focus your revision. But, that’s not the only way that reflection can kind of aid your writing. Claire, are there other ways that reflection can help a student?
CLAIRE: Yeah, in addition to thinking about it as kind of a more focused process, you can think about it as reflection on the writing process as a whole—think about, what is my writing process? What am I doing and how can I potentially change or shift some aspects of my writing process in order to advance my skills and get the best of my writing out there using a process that’s going to be the most beneficial to me and the way my brain works, right? So, you can work to change your habits to become the writer that you want to be. Some writers might want a resolution like, spend more time on my writing, which I think was my resolution, so…
CLAIRE: I’m a great example there. But, with reflection, you might have something a lot more specific to your writing—maybe you’re noticing that the writing time that you’re leaving for yourself is at, like, 9 p.m. and that’s not when your brains working very well, so you wanna shift that to be earlier in the day, early in the morning or, maybe, more often during the week, or less often. And, it might take a little bit of trial and error to kind of figure out what’s gonna work for you, and reflection can help you to figure that out.
MAX: That would take a lot of self-awareness, though, and so it’s not an easy task, and you’re absolutely right, Claire, understanding what works best for you—so reflecting on your own personal habits—and then finding and developing strategies to change those to work better for you, I think is a very admirable goal. So, let’s take a look at some of those writing resolutions that we discussed earlier in the episode and see how reflection can help you achieve those. And now, remember, reflection and resolutions are kind of different. One is looking backward—reflection; one is looking forward, resolution. And so, what we’re going to try and emphasize is how they can work together so you can critically analyze your own process and make strong decisions about how you will improve those areas based on your reflection. This process takes time and, to be honest, it’s a bit uncomfortable because really what you’re doing with reflection, if you’re trying to improve a process or change something about your writing, that means that you’re gonna have to take an uncomfortable look and really admit to yourself that—hey, something from last year wasn’t working, or something that I was doing last year could work better. In Claire’s example, she took time to write last year, but she determined that it wasn’t enough, and now she needs to strategize about how she can make more time. Now, she can’t create a twenty-fifth hour in the day…
MAX: But, maybe rearranging some things would work. So, don’t be afraid to really think critically about your process. If you’re a bit uncomfortable reflecting, that’s okay. I had a really smart professor once tell me that you do your best learning when you’re uncomfortable and when you’re experiencing that feeling of discomfort. So, let’s take up Claire’s resolution to spend more time working on her writing. Now, you really need to take a moment and reflect on how you can do that. Thinking back over the last year to times, maybe, when you were rushed in your writing, or maybe you didn’t leave enough time to really find that last source, or really revise that paragraph how you wanted to—what went on? What were you doing? Why were you rushed for time? Is it that you need to expand the composition phase of your writing process? Or maybe, if you’re like me, you spend a lot of time writing, but then you get feedback and you realize that you need to spend a lot of time to revise also. Is there a way that you can refigure the amount of time that you spend in each phase? Maybe it would be better to spend less time on your initial draft so that way you can spend more time composing. Did you leave enough time to have a paper review? If not, maybe a calendar, or working two days ahead or something like that, would be helpful. But, the question that you really have to ask yourself after reflecting is—what worked or didn’t work about the existing process, and what resolutions—what differences—do I want to see next year, and how can I make those happen?
CLAIRE: Yeah, and, so we’ll go through some examples here with you to kind of help you see how this process might work and, maybe, if you didn’t have any writing goals, maybe we’ll give you an example that sounds really great and is something you wanna do. So, another possible resolution that we talked about earlier was implementing more revision into your writing process. So, this would be a great opportunity to try out a writing tool that some writing instructors recommend to their students, which is called the revision journal. So, that’s where you’ll kind of keep track, throughout the year, of different types of revisions that you’re making, and different thing—no maybe it’s getting similar comments from your instructor, or maybe you’re getting similar comments from the Writing Center on kind of the same themes, like, organization, or flow, or citation frequency. And, if you’re getting those kinds of comments a lot, you can keep track of them in this revision journal so that you know to make sure to go back and double-check and revise your work through those particular things as you’re working throughout the year. What are some other resolutions we can talk through?
MAX: You know, the one that jumped out at me, Claire, from before, was the idea of using more Writing Center resources in my writing practice. I think this one is really interesting because it speaks to the idea that we all learn differently—everyone kind of has their own learning style. So, one thing that we do when we create Writing Center resources and instruction is try and create a variety of resources to appeal to different learning styles. And, so, maybe if the webpage that you’re looking at on the Writing Center website—maybe if that information isn’t really clicking, or it’s not helping you develop strategies—maybe it’s time to try out one of our different resources. For example, we have an entire library of live webinar recordings where one of our expert instructors or editors teaches you a lesson on citation style, introductions, synthesis—all sorts of different writing topics. And so, if you’re more of an auditory learner, where it’s better if people talk to you, then that is definitely a way you could go with using additional Writing Center resources. And, the only way to really know what kind of learner you are is by reflecting and by thinking back in your past—hey, what resources, or what type of learning, made the biggest impact or helped me the most in my learning process. With that resolution, though, you have to be able to reflect to know what kind of a learner you are and what types of resources are gonna help you the most. Any other ones, Claire?
CLAIRE: Right, I just wanna chime in on your discussion…
MAX: For sure…
CLAIRE: For a second there too, um, but I…I’m, you know, I’ve figured out that I’m a really interactive learner, and so, for me, the modules and webinars would be a really good place to start. But, maybe you just wanna listen—you know, we have tons of podcasts you can download them…
CLAIRE: I’m also on a lot of the webinar recordings…
CLAIRE: So, if you enjoy the sound of my voice, you can come listen to me more, um. But, really figuring out what works for you, you know, is a really important thing. And, you might need to try a few different resources and a few different thinks to figure that out. Maybe just reflecting on it alone won’t be enough for you and you need to try some things out and that will just aid in that reflection and enable you to make a more concrete resolution.
MAX: That’s a really, really good point. I personally am a “Claire’s voice learner”…
MAX: I learn the best when Claire’s instructing me…
MAX: So, listeners out there, you should try it too..hahah…
CLAIRE: Yeah, hahaha! So, let’s talk a little bit about, if maybe we’ve done some reflecting already, and we have a really specific resolution, like, “I wanna enhance my APA citation skills.” So, maybe you’ve figured this out because you looked back at your work and there’s been quite a few comments on APA, or maybe you just feel like, while you’re kind of going through the motions of APA, you don’t have the in-depth understanding that you would like to have. With that in mind, you’re gonna wanna explore some different resources, right? You can keep track of what types of things are showing up as a pattern in your work by looking through your past essays, or by using that revision journal, and kind of keep track of those—and you’ll just enhance your learning and add onto your knowledge as you go throughout the year. So, that’s another way that you could use a really specific resolution and some resources to help advance that particular skill.
MAX: Deciding what writing resolutions you should make is a very personal process—one that only becomes easier if you can effectively reflect on your own skills and your own goals as a writer. Sometimes, that process can be make easier if you have someone helping you to identify some of your areas of need. Even though it is a personal process, we writing instructors here in the Walden Writing Center are more than happy to help you determine what areas you can improve in and the best way to achieve your writing resolutions for the new year. And, with that, thank you very, very much for listening! Have a happy, happy year 2018! Keep us in mind at the Writing Center when you’re developing those new writing skills and when you’re deciding how to best achieve your writing resolutions. See you next time!
MAX: WriteCast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center. You can find past episodes on iTunes and on our website academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter. We’d love to hear from you. Connect with us on Facebook, on Twitter @WUWritingCenter, and on our blog: WaldenWritingCenter.blogspot.com. Thanks for listening!