Self-Reflection: Getting to Know All About You(r Writing) -->

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Self-Reflection: Getting to Know All About You(r Writing)

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New Year’s has never been my favorite holiday. I’m not big on sequins and loud parties, my preferred bedtime is well before midnight, and I break resolutions as quickly as I make them. However, one part of the day has always resonated with me: the opportunity to step back from everyday activities and have a frank conversation with myself about how I have been living my life. Taking stock of my habits, accomplishments, failures, and frustrations allows me to enter the new year with a more thorough understanding of where I stand in regard to my goals.

This kind of introspection is an important part of the writing process as well. I can talk all I want about becoming a more prolific, precise, efficient, or effective writer, but this is only part of the equation. I also need to understand what I am doing today in order to identify ways to meet my goals in the future.
Make time to reflect on your writing and writing process.

While I am by no means a model of writerly self-awareness—as the hundreds of abandoned Microsoft Word files on my computer’s hard drive will attest—I do have a few suggestions for cultivating a habit of reflection:

Analyze the feedback you receive.

Take a look at comments from your faculty or writing instructors. How do these outside readers react to your writing? Do you see any commonalities or themes in comments from different readers? Does this feedback align with your own perceptions of your writing? If not, why might this be? If you are not sure what to do with negative feedback, our WriteCast episode "What To Do With Negative Feedback on Your Writing" can help. Amber also shares tips for responding to faculty feedback in her blog post.

Ask the hard questions. 

Have you received a less-than-stellar grade on an assignment, and if so, do you understand why? Are you insecure about particular aspects of your writing, and if so, can you clearly articulate your concerns? How well do you meet your writing deadlines, and if you are struggling with time management, why might that be? It is difficult to identify gaps between where we are and where we want to be, or what we do and what we want to do. Similarly, when we receive a poor grade or other negative result, it is tempting to try to put the whole experience behind us as quickly as possible. The problem is that this head-in-the-sand approach rarely fosters growth.

Be as precise as possible. 

When asked about their writing goals, many students will say things like “improve APA” or “strengthen grammar.” These are both important aspects to writing, but they are also all very broad categories. When reflecting on your writing skills, try to dig in more deeply: Am I confused about citation style, or references, or both? Do I struggle with citing a particular kind of source? What kind of punctuation or grammar errors do I make most frequently? Do I understand the concepts behind those errors, or do I need a refresher? Or does the problem have less to do with grammar and more to do with how to express complicated ideas clearly? The better you get to know your writing, the more successfully you will be able to address your particular concerns. If you need help identifying such goals, don’t hesitate to contact the Writing Center.  

Build reflection into your writing practice. 

Don’t save your reflection for New Year’s! Try to incorporate some time on a regular basis (check out our WriteCast episode on tips for establishing a writing practice) to step back and consider your writing development—once per writing assignment, for example, or at least once per course. Doing so regularly will enable you to maintain a sense of continuity, remind yourself of your goals, and draw clearer connections across your experiences.

Go meta by writing about writing. 

This may be the last thing you want to do if you are struggling with a writing task, but keeping a journal or blog about your writing can actually be quite cathartic. My own writing journal is full of observations like I’m having a terrible time concentrating today and I’m not sure that I really understand this idea well enough to write about it yet. I also try to work through my own questions and concerns: I’m not quite sure why I got marked down in that last paper. I thought I understood the concept; were my examples unclear? As I write about my writing, I find that my worries become less mysterious and more concrete, and expressing them often leads to new insights about how to alleviate them. As an additional bonus, a journal can serve as a record of your writing journey throughout your program and beyond.

Making time for self-reflection and analysis of your current writing habits—including how you write as well as what you write—will make you more self-aware of your challenges, barriers, strengths, and opportunities for growth.

Tweetable takeawayTweetable takeawayBuild a habit of reflection: Analyze feedback, ask the hard questions, be precise, reflect regularly, and go meta.

Practice: Do you make room to reflect on your writing? If so, how? If not, how might you start? Share with us in the comments. 

Kayla Skarbakka author picture

Kayla Skarbakka
is a writing instructor and the coordinator of international writing instruction and support. She is earning her M.S.Ed. from Purdue University. 

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