Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge

Article excerpt

regimen has a similar application. It means putting writers on a schedule while easing them away from distractions and interruptions. It means teaching the ability to produce writing in substantial amounts, regardless of mood. And, it includes lessons about the value of working with balance and moderation |107~. After all, most productive writers in academe limit their writing to but a few hours a day, to little more than they invest in collegiality |38, 69~.

Why does regimen need balance? Skinner, though an advocate of regimen, saw its limitation |123~. When we force writing, he warned, we can reinstate the very conditions that blocked In this article I deal with two kinds of writing blocks. One occurs when we cannot write in fluent, timely fashion. This first sort of block is a familiar pressure for many of us (and for our students). The second kind of writing block refers to the paradoxical reluctance evidenced by academicians who could but do not offer help to stymied colleagues or students as writers.

The causes of writing blocks are multiple. In the following pages I will review a variety of hindrances to writing fluently, among them perfectionism and procrastination. Overall, though, I focus on the quandary of why we leave the tacit knowledge of writing fluency generally untaught. To accomplish this, I address three related considerations: first, I consider why writing blocks are costly yet neglected; second, I assemble the scattered literature on writing blocks, much of it more interesting than convincing; and third, I draw lessons from that literature and from related knowledge about agoraphobic and dieting failures that could help with all kinds of blocks. In the end, blocking and unblocking may tell us something about why education and its close kin, therapy, often fail.

The First Consideration: Why We Overlook Blocking

As we proceed, one thing will be most apparent: we have, for the most part, overlooked blocking. But we cannot blame our neglect of blocking on a complete lack of prior interest. Long before Freud |59~ warned about the watchers at the gates of our consciousness, therapists and educators speculated about writing blocks. Blocking has found the most currency among psychoanalysts, usually as a label for the inhibition of affect that stifles the discharge of emotions |76~. Writing about blocking also persists in self-help books where creative blocks are tied to nonplayful and rule-bound styles of working |1, 137~. We know more about a converse of blocking, productivity; information continues to accumulate about the general correlates of faculty outputs, such as the age at which doctorates were obtained |9, 38, 53~.

Nor can we excuse our neglect of blocking on a lack of personal relevance. Nothing in academe and in related arenas comes close to the penalties for silence |38~; without writing, academicians rarely maximize career rewards |25~. Moreover, writing blocks may play another, generally unappreciated role in shaping our profession. Estimates of graduate students who qualify to write dissertations but never finish them run as high as 50 percent |127~. Rates of disappointment for academicians who survive dissertations and assume professorial careers may be even higher; individuals who want and need to do substantial scholarly writing but do not write comprise some 50-85 percent of faculty |122~. The costs of so many potential writers remaining more or less blocked go beyond anonymity and exclusion; people who are not heard may stop listening |141~.

If the neglect of writing blocks lies neither in a lack of prior interest nor in personal relevance, where then? The explanation I favor is that writing fluency is a kind of practical intelligence whose basics remain traditionally untaught. The tacit knowledge of writing fluently is much like that of becoming proficient in other implicit skills essential to thriving in academe; they are often learned incidentally or poorly, if at all |129~. …

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