Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Practice & Resilience

As you can see below and to the right, Presentation Zen is one of our recommended blogs on this site.

While the author Garr Reynolds squarely focuses on giving presentations, which involve rhetorical concerns and writing obviously, in his posts, his March 24 entry, "Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Power of Japanese Resilience," is a reflective piece on the tragedy in Japan and how the Japanese people are resilient in the face of such a horrible natural disaster.

In one section of his post, Reynolds, who lives in Japan, offers his own perspective on the well-known proverb that is part of the title of his entry: "You see this ethic reinforced in all facets of Japanese culture including education, business, sports, the martial arts, the Zen arts, etc. It is especially important to remember the sentiment expressed in this proverb when times are dark. There are no quick fixes in life and anything of real worth will necessarily take much struggle and perseverance. Success does not have to be fast--what's more important is that one simply does their absolute best and remains persistent."

Personally, I've been drawn to this proverb for a long time. I think I was first introduced to it in junior high school from something I read if I remember correctly. Regardless and in what is a leap here because I'm moving from the situation in Japan to matters about writing, I've applied the principle to my life in general but specifically to my writing life.

Of course, comparing what's happened and what's currently happening in Japan to the trials and tribulations of people writing papers in college or faculty members writing papers for presentation and publication could venture toward the ridiculous, toward the absurd.

I have linked Reynolds' post out of admiration for the resilience of the Japanese people. I do not mean to equate the two in a one-to-one manner; that is not my intent. So I hope you stay with me here.

Just like a student in first-year writing course or junior in a management class who has to write a well-structured and reasoned business plan, as writers we've all faced feedback that hasn't been all positive, and that feedback should make us go back and truly revise our ideas based on what readers need in that document.

I think some people have this misguided perception that strong writers are born, not molded. Sometimes inexperienced writers might think that the ability to write effectively is an inborn capacity that strong writers received at birth.

But that’s just silly.

Professional writers, people who write for a living, and everyday professionals in their fields who are quite strong writers didn’t acquire the ability to write well from genetics. They became effective writers from study, practice, and discipline. Just as athletes, carpenters, welders, hair stylists, and cooks learn new techniques, skills, strategies, and moves, so do writers. Becoming a successful writer is a process that takes time, patience, and work. It's not in your genes. 

And the ability to become a strong writer connects to resilience. 

To be an effective writer, it takes time and a strong work ethic. And a fairly recent article by cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg points out the challenges learners have in regard to writing well in light of the demands put upon executive attention, short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory. 

Kellogg's article, "Training Writing Skills: A Cognitive Developmental Perspective" published in Journal of Writing Research, is well worth a read if you want to get a cognitive and broad-based perspective on the stages writers tend to go through throughout their lives.

For faculty members who integrate writing into their courses, Kellogg has some helpful recommendations to think about. They are the principles of "deliberate practice" in writing (11) and "cognitive apprenticeship" (19). 

In the article, he makes this statement about "executive attention" and "extensive opportunities" to write in our classes: "Writing about topic that students know well provides a scaffold to support the writers and to allow them to devote a higher degree of executive attention to the juggling of planning, generating, and reviewing. For example, seniors in college should know the most about their major field and so should be provided with extensive opportunities to write within the discipline. The writing across the curriculum has stressed the value of situating writing assignments within the discourse community of a discipline on the grounds that writing is inherently a social act. While this is certainly true, writing within the discipline of one's major field has the added benefit of allowing the writer to free short-term working memory for the task by relying to some extent on long-term working memory" (15). 

In addition, he argues that "[p]ractice can markedly improve college student writing when it is done in the context of a professionally relevant task domain that motivates efforts to learn" (18) and "[a]dvanced writing skills require systematic training as well as instruction so that executive attention can successfully coordinate multiple writing processes and representations" (22). 

In other words, Kellogg believes one of the keys to creating a strong educational experience for writing growth is "deliberate practice," but students need to keep in mind that they have to be resilient and ready to work on their writing: a dialectic of practice and resilience.  


  1. I would like to commend your application of discourse that responds to current events in Japan as an analogy for the writing process.

    Might I suggest this piece from the blog of Ashley Dawson, professor of English at SUNY: "Nuclear Power/Knowledge."

    Dawson sketches some of the historical contingencies that led to Japan's adoption of nuclear power technology as a means of generating energy without access to petroleum, and discusses current relevant debates here in the U.S. about the pros and cons of this strategy.

    My way of tying this together relates to my own writing process and the looming prospect of having to apply "practice and resilience" to the completion of my MA Thesis, which will examine the ways contemporary novelists address the phenomena of economic decline and geopolitical struggles for access to resources in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

  2. Thanks for the link to Professor Dawson.

  3. This post was helpful to me in a number of ways, and I appreciated the link to Garr's blog post on Japan. The writing-related piece that will stick to me is this one: "Writing about topic that students know well provides a scaffold to support the writers and to allow them to devote a higher degree of executive attention to the juggling of planning, generating, and reviewing. For example, seniors in college should know the most about their major field and so should be provided with extensive opportunities to write within the discipline." The situation of student writers is unique because they are always being asked to write about something new, usually in a new way. That requires them to devote so much attention to the big picture that it's hardly surprising when a document looks like it would benefit from more attention to detail. Mastery is a good feeling, and students are seldom in an position that allows them to feel that they have exhibited it.