Observing Ourselves as Writers . . . Inspiration from Joyce Carol Oates

By Joni Boone

I recently viewed this brief and lovely video profile of author Joyce Carol Oates that I encourage you to watch:

Joyce Carol Oates

What intrigues me most about Oates’ responses is how she sees herself as an observer, not a particular personality, using the metaphor “a transparent glass of water” (as cited in Budelis & Dylan-Robbins, 2013, June 25).

Students are often pushed to insist upon a personality as learners, to categorize themselves as driven A-types or easy-going B-types; organized students or disorganized students; good writers or poor writers. But what happens if students disregard those labels and simply observe, learn, and write in their courses?

Students struggle with writing for many reasons.

  • Some have always received poor grades due to lingering grammar flaws.
  • Some, though they have lived many years and encountered many experiences, feel they have nothing to say.
  • Some simply do not understand the purpose of their assignments.

But what if they dropped all of those fears and insecurities and simply wrote each day . . . without expectation or . . .  without seeing themselves as one type of writer or another?

What if they approached each writing assignment observing –

observing the course material,

the research,

their past experiences with the topic,

their questions and confusion,

and the views of others?

In a frank and transparent moment at the beginning of the video, Oates reveals that “It’s not really that I sit down to write as if it were some extraordinary act. It’s basically what I do” (as cited in Budelis & Dylan-Robbins, 2013, June 25).

What I wonder is . . .

How do I encourage students not to fear, dread, or use writing as way to label themselves as good or bad?

How do I get them to see writing as simply what we do?


Budelis, K. &  Dylan-Robbins, S. (Producers). (2013, June 25). Video: A visit with Joyce Carol Oates [Video file]. Available from http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/video-joyce-carol-oates.html

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