Recently, I found out that I have an intense fear of sharing my writing with a large audience. I realized this when I started to write this blog post for PeerCentered. As I began writing, I felt a sense of fear, which I managed to trace back to the fact that I was writing something that I knew would be presented to a large audience over the internet.
This blog post, which I feel has yielded some good results, actually started as a breakdown of the reasons why I was so uncomfortable writing a blog entry that would be read by people I didn't know. Only after writing for awhile did I realize that what I had been writing had a larger application than letting me know what I was scared of. The reasons that I dislike sharing my writing at times are the same as some of the reasons that others may feel some trepidation over presenting their work. I decided to adapt my own personal breakdown into something that I feel can help consultants in the writing center crack people who don't want to talk. Note that these suggestions are based on what I believe would help me, rather than an actual test.
I feel like my issue with presenting my writing is one that many people have. I know for a fact that several of my friends are very defensive and are not at all open to the idea of sharing their thoughts through writing. What my own apprehension about writing for a mass audience has shown me is that even a good writer, who is naturally talented and has gone through a decent amount of education can feel very scared of letting their writing be seen. Since I suffer from this problem myself, I thought that maybe I could share some insight on how to make these people open up.
First things first. If I am going to share my writing with someone, especially someone that I do not know, I need a long time to work on it. I want my writing to be perfected before anyone else looks at it. If someone seems hesitant about sharing their writing, ask them if they would prefer to take some time to revise and if they would like to come back at a different time. Many times in my own writing, I find that if I put enough time into it, I can come out with something that I am not ashamed of sharing, but oftentimes I underestimate how long that might take me.
For example, I took a literature class over the summer in which we had to present a poem. We had a few days to write our poems, and then we were going to present them for the class as well as a panel of judges. While I have never been a fan of poetry, I didn't think that I would have any trouble coming up with something presentable in the three or four days that we were given. I was entirely wrong. I ended up taking a zero on the presentation portion of the assignment for the simple reason that I was not prepared to share what I had written. Had I been given a month, I would have had no issues coming up with a poem that I was one hundred percent satisfied with, but as it was, I did not feel that I had created anything worth sharing.
The second thing that I feel can be difficult for people who are not very open about their writing is the oral delivery of their piece. I don't know if all writing centers use the same model we do, but at my school, we have the students read their papers aloud at the beginning of the consultation. This allows the consultants to analyze the information and the writers tone of voice at the same time. Unfortunately, if you encounter a student who doesn't like to read aloud, this can pose a bit of an issue. I for one cannot stand reading out loud for several reasons. First, I hate the sound of my own voice. I cannot stand hearing myself talk, especially when I have the undivided attention of another person. Second, I don't like other people to hear what I have written. While I may be able to present my piece to a single person, or a group of close friends, I would not want anyone outside of that circle to hear it. I personally am a terrible eavesdropper, and I often listen in on other people's conversations as they go on around me. This creates in me a sense that everyone around me is listening to every word that I say, whether they look like they are or not.
If this seems to be the issue, the writer will most likely let you look at the paper, but will be very hesitant to read it aloud to you. If they are having the same issues that I had, there are a few ways that I could see this being handled, depending on what kind of time and resource budgets you have available, as well as the location you are in. Perhaps the best idea, and the one that I personally would be most comfortable with, is to record the aural presentation of the paper. Let them read aloud on their own time, and record themselves doing so. This way, you can listen to the piece with them using headphones, and they will not have the fear of someone overhearing their paper. The second idea will sound familiar. Give them some time. Again, many times, they are just not ready to present the piece. If this is the case, ask them if they would like to come back later, and recommend that they read the piece aloud to themselves while they are in a more private situation so that they can accustom themselves to doing it. One advantage of this method is that it will make them read the piece more than once, which will therefore make them look at it at least a few times before it comes to you, the consultant.
The last issue, which I cannot for the life of me come up with a surefire way to get around, is the fact that some people write in a way that is incredibly personal. They write using their own life as a fuel for their words, pouring all of their experience into a piece of writing, creating something that they are deeply attached to. While these people are attached to the writing, they are usually open to suggestions, and their pride in the piece is not what I feel keeps them from sharing it. For many of these people, myself included, the piece reflects a part of them. While to many people, this may seem like a good thing since it shows the expressive personality of the individual, to someone like me who is very closely guarded emotionally, it can be terrifying to let someone see that inner person who is coming out in the text. As I write this, I am making an active effort to keep my own inner self out of it as much as possible so that it will be easier to share. Overcoming this obstacle for others is beyond me, as it would really involve a deep understanding of the writer. The one thing that I have found that helps me to share my own writing when it becomes personal is to share it with someone who knows me incredibly well. While this may not be true for everyone, in my case, it reinforces the importance of getting to know your writers on a personal level, rather than on a purely professional one.