Metacognition and Learning the Craft

In my dayjob, I teach students how to improve their study skills and academic habits. I wrap up a lot of those techniques under the guise of time management, which is a big bandage for the problem of prioritization and choosing an appropriate path. Most of the class involves the concept of metacognition, which dictionary.com defines as “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.” Metacognition is vital to changing or improving behaviors; if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in higher education, it’s that working with adults requires them to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and then make the choice to alter their behavior based upon what they realize.

Metacognition isn’t just for classroom-bound education. Metacognition has its place in the refinement of any craft, especially when you lack formal training. I’ve mentioned several times that I’ve never had any formal training in either writing or narration. Speech team was the closest I got when it came to narration, since I competed in categories like radio broadcasting and storytelling. I tested out of the writing courses for my first year at university, and the two remaining writing courses were technical writing and editing courses. Creative writing instruction never took place, partially because I didn’t have room in my college courses (really, why would an ocean engineering major ever take creative writing?) and partially because I didn’t like the options for courses that existed at my university. Most of what I’ve learned for my second careers of narration and writing has happened as the result of experience, books about the craft, and podcasts involving those with more experience and training than I have.

Applying metacognition to my own crafts means that I sit back and honestly assess what I know, what I know that I don’t know, and knowing that there is more that I don’t know that I don’t know… well, it’s a Jungian spiral of self-awareness that can send even the most driven creative into paralysis. It happens to me at conventions, when I get the chance to attend panels and speak with the leading voices of podcasting. It happens when I listen to podcasts that talk about the craft of writing in the academic detail of processes. It happens when I read posts about outlining versus pantsing (or discovery writing). It happens when I sit down at night to work through another writing projects and wonder if I’m going about this the right way, and if the words that I’m using will count for the Magic Spreadsheet.

It happened today, and I had a few hours where I wondered if writing at this point in my professional life was a good idea… if I shouldn’t just stop writing on these personal projects until I finish up with school. As with most of these fits of self-doubt and worry, it subsided when I got home and focused on domestic things like dinner and such. With the completion of another narration project and plans to finish up a second tomorrow morning, the reality of the situation kicked in. It’s one thing to know what I don’t know, but it’s another thing to think that I have to stop and go all the way back to the beginning. It’s the destructive result of metacognition, one that I really can’t afford.

Part of me would like to take the time to study writing, perhaps take a few more classes at the university or participate in a writing ¬†workshop. Unfortunately, time is limited with the various projects at hand. With the onset of the Fall semester, studying writing doesn’t take priority over my teaching, my coursework and studies, or the narration jobs that I’ve already promised. I can still study some writing technique, but any in-depth studies have to wait until later next year. Writing for myself, for my pet projects and ideas running around in my brain, can’t take priority over the rest of the things that are promised.

Times like this, it’s hard to focus on the projects close to completion when there’s the promise of newer and shinier things to tackle. Finding a reason to procrastinate with a new project means that the older projects don’t get finished in a timely fashion or with the care and attention they deserve. So, part of metacognition and examining the new projects involves figuring out if those projects contribute to the greater goal, or if they are merely something new and shiny that provide a fleeting sense of accomplishment while allowing one to avoid the greater goal

I would like to find more books about the craft of writing that I can read and enjoy. I have to get back on the comps and dissertation train, and that will happen first before I spend academic time on improving my writing. At the same time, having a few books about craft would be helpful in keeping the spark burning. So…

Any recommendations?

This entry was posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014 at 10:24 pm and is filed under writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Metacognition and Learning the Craft”

  1. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    {thoughtful look}

    I have a few suggestions. I’m brainstorming, so don’t feel you have to take them if they don’t sound right to you. Still…

    The one book I’ve heard more writers mention as being a great help when they were learning to write is _Save the Cat_. Amazon says that’s _Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need_ by Blake Snyder. I know that Linnea Sinclair (Lisa Shearin’s “writing mommy”) and her friends tends to swear by the thing. I think my own mentor, Vi Thompson, quoted it at least a few times, too. It claims to be for screenwriting, but the techniques that hold a movie audience’s interest for two hours, or a TV show’s audience thru a commercial break tend to help keep a short story’s, novel’s, or series’s audience reading as well. {Smile}

    That said, something’s kept me from checking it out myself. I have a lot of trouble reading most books of writing. They tend to talk a lot about planning, and Dad (my main related writing mentor) was very insistent indeed on not boxing myself in by committing to an idea before the story needed it. He insisted that if it wasn’t in the story yet, it wasn’t really established, and if it wasn’t established, it could still be changed if the story worked better some other way.

    One book I’ve found on writing that does work for me and the way I write is _Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly_ by Gail Carson Levine. She prefers less planning, some thinking, and a LOT of writing exercises for practice, than I’ve found in most other books on writing. It works great for me. I admit it’s written for children, but that’s not a bad thing. I was twelve when I started learning to write from Vi, and in my case, that wasn’t too young. Especially not when she included advice into her summer fun courses that others teach in workshops for adults. {Smile}

    By the way, if you want to look into short courses, Linnea Sinclair teaches short-courses writing both online and in-person. Since she winters in Florida, those short-courses could be fairly accessible to you. Sometimes they’re posted thru Romance Writers of America, and sometimes thru her Facebook page as well as elsewhere. She does charge tuition, but both Lisa and Tia Nevitt, another friend who’s taken a few of her courses swear they’re well worth the money. Tia lives in Florida, too (Walt Disney World is a weekend getaway by car for her) and some of Linnea’s workshops have been close enough, she’s attended half of a full-day session because she couldn’t get a full day free. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Veronica Says:

    I love Save the Cat, it’s been a great guide for many of the stories I’ve worked through so far. I’ve not read Gail’s stuff, so I’ll check her book out. It sounds like Linnea teaches close to where I am, so I’ll see if I can treat myself to a course this winter. Thanks!

  3. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    I wish I could have come up with more suggestions, but I wanted to concentrate on the good stuff. {Smile} An awful lot of books on writing are of limited usefulness. I find a lot of those books are full of things you must do or cannot ever do. That kind of prescriptive and proscriptive approach worked great for the hero in my favorite fairytale when he went to rescue his sister from the elf king, but I find it doesn’t work as well in writing. {Smile}

    Paraphrasing what Vi told her classes, if someone tells you that you absolutely must do something or can’t do something when you’re writing, there’s one thing you can count on: Shakespeare broke that rule, and did so masterfully by all accounts. Now sometimes that’s because it takes a writer of Shakespeare’s quality to make that trick work, but sometimes it’s because the person you’re listening to made up rules you can or even should ignore. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin