Doubt & Truth by Mackenzie Leavitt

posted Dec 4, 2017, 1:36 PM by Writing Center
Hello everyone. I hope the semester has been treating you all well. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts in relation to the work we do at The Writing Center. I hope that some of you will find it useful to reflect on some things I have learned as a Writing Consultant.

There is an amusing and somewhat trite story that captures the essence of what I hope to say. An Elementary school classroom was given an assignment to draw anything they wished to. At one point, the teacher approached a young girl and asked her what she was drawing. The girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher, slightly amused and surprised, responded with, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” Without skipping a beat, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

Although this story can appear a little trivial, the point that it expresses is fundamentally deep. Unless we are absolutely willing to make mistakes, we can never hope to learn anything more than how to avoid failure. Like all profound truths, this has implications for everything that we do. Children are naturally creative, in part because they have not adopted the ingrained fear of failure that we educate them into.

As students, many of us experience doubt about our abilities. This is not only relevant to writing; unfortunately, the same doubts appear in thousands of forms throughout our lives. In so many ways, we internalize doubts because we are told that our experiences, our thoughts, and our feelings are wrong or invalid in some way. Indeed, the basic model of education is corrective rather than instructive. This is not to say that correction lacks utility; rather, it is to point out an underappreciated dilemma: any process of education will cause some degree of internal doubt or anxiety that can inhibit natural creativity.

In the above example, the student had absolutely no doubts about her enterprise to create an image of God. In other words, she had a basic trust in her abilities, even though she lacked experience. Naturally, education must serve the purpose of providing that experience and honing the necessary skills to apply it. However, many students lack the basic trust in their abilities that the girl in this story demonstrated. Without this trust, few students are willing to put themselves fully into the work they do. This is particularly relevant for writing; I cannot count the number of times I have seen bright and creative students either refuse to start projects out of some fear of commitment to the challenges associated with them or refuse to turn in projects because they feel that there is no way their work is good enough. Both procrastination and perfection are rooted in the same fatal flaw: an inability to trust oneself and one’s capabilities.

As a Writing Consultant, I have to exercise this basic trust every time I meet with a student. I never know beforehand if this student will have an essay that I have no idea how to improve, nor if I will be able to answer the questions a particular student might have. Nonetheless, I must still meet with students and assist them as much as I am capable. When I first started consulting, I frequently observed students who were otherwise capable of writing good papers, but lacked a certain confidence in their abilities. For this reason, many of them either procrastinated, worried far too much about their work, or refused to come up with their own ideas. This is completely understandable because it takes some courage to put trust in oneself and one’s abilities.

One could easily bemoan this state of affairs and conclude that the endeavor is hopeless. Indeed, it would be easy to simply accept the reality that some students will express the full range of their creativity, and others will fail to do so. However, given the proper attention and instruction, it seems that many students are fully capable of expressing their creativity. In my own work, I have found that students respond most fully to consultants who express a deep interest and commitment to that student’s development as a writer. When I have committed myself most fully to the student’s growth, I have seen students do the same in turn. Time and time again this experience has given me hope. Student creativity and success is not a matter of brute effort on the part of the consultant or the student; rather, it is a relationship between consultant and student dedicated towards the development of a student’s capacities and basic trust.

In summary, unless we are willing to unlearn the doubts we have been educated into, we will never be able to actualize the deepest expression of our own creativity. This creativity does not exist in a vacuum, though. It is predicated on the network of relationships that comprise the student’s whole being.  In other words, we do not succeed alone, nor do we express ourselves alone either. This truth can be understood and applied in every domain of life--we do not need to be professional writers to understand that our existence is rooted in a complex interwoven pattern of relationships. Indeed, we would all do well to appreciate just how much of ourselves we owe to other people. In more ways than one, this is one of the most valuable insights I have had the privilege to learn while working for The Writing Center. I wish you all a wonderful end to the semester and a safe holiday break.