I hear it a lot from my students when it comes to writing assignments. I mostly work with 16-19s who, for any number of reasons, haven’t done brilliantly in school. They often see the blank page much like a rabbit would see the bright dead eyes of a Landrover’s headlights as it bears down on them signalling their inextricable and extremely squidgy doom. It roots them to the spot.
I try to combat this paralysis in a number of ways. We explicitly look at the part of the writing process that deals with answering academic questions by identifying key-words and guessing as to what the question is really asking. We look at how to refer to the question in the first few lines so that the opening paragraph practically writes itself. We look at exactly what it is the students are afraid of. To be honest, that one interests me least because it’s usually the same old tune: fear of failure, the idea of not being good enough or the fact that you’ve actually got to put a modicum of effort into it and actually, you know, try.
Like I said. Hard.
I feel the same writing this blog. Granted, I’m no frozen rabbit when it comes to the English language. I love it, it’s my joy and I’ve been lucky enough to have turned it into my profession, but what does make it slightly more arduous is that I haven’t got a concrete question to answer, in fact, I’m not even sure what form this thing is going to take. I can now appreciate a little better what a student must feel like when they write the first sentence of an essay where they don’t fully understand what’s needed from them.
Basically, I’m asking for the same thing I try to give my students: some time, a few pointers in the right direction and maybe I’ll come up with something that (whilst not exactly Shakespeare) is fairly coherent and might be of interest. If not, then I’ll give up on it within a couple of lines and start messing about on my iphone.
Either way, job’s a goodun.