Cognitive Inception

“In writing, the misapplication of habituated practices often occurs among novice writers, such as those who are trained throughout high school to write five-paragraph-style essays for standardized tests. Placed in a new situation where he audience, purpose, genre, and other aspects of writing may be very different from those required in five-paragraph themes, such writers may resort to their habituated practice and fail to meet the expectations of their new rhetorical community.” (Anson 77)

“[M]etafiction: a story that calls attention to its methods and shows the reader what is happening to him as he reads.” (Gardner 87)

No matter what you do, the first step is always the hardest. That’s how I felt standing on the periphery of the campus writing center, staring into the lobby of a place I thought I’d never be. Getting that far had been a concerted effort in itself. My jaw clenched and my body stiffened [It’s hard admitting weakness sometimes]. I tightened my grip on my paper and recalled all four pages of it in my mind [Why not just look at the paper? Because sometimes the memory of a thing is less infuriating than the thing itself], marred by red ink and without a single line of praise [Despite me assuming that everything I do is perfect, if someone marks my paper so heavily that it looks like it’s bleeding, I’m certain that it’s common courtesy to say at least one nice thing]. There was something about the red that felt unfair, as though the ink itself conspired against me. Almost as if my body wanted to taunt me, red flushed into my cheeks [Ideally, this character would be black, but black people don’t flush like that, so I had to bite the bullet on this one, in case anyone might have been making any assumptions about this character’s background]. I grated my teeth. And then I raised the paper to my face and read the underlined note at the top of the first page: A visit to the writing center might prove useful.

Sure, useful. Useful in spiking my anxiety maybe [I hate being told what I’ve done wrong.]. Useful in dredging up the embarrassment of not being good enough to write a decent paper. It wasn’t even my fault. My English professor graded too harshly, and everyone in the class knew it. All through high school, all of my teachers praised my writing [This is true and a projection of my experience onto the character, which maybe says more about me than it does about them]. All that talent couldn’t have washed away over the course of one summer, so I couldn’t be the problem.

Yet there I was. On the cusp of asking for help. Holding a perfect paper. Five perfectly curated paragraphs [I’m certain this story’s epitaphs elucidate the meaning of five paragraphs].

As it happened, my confidence turned out to be arrogance.

When I finally found the courage to step into the writing center, the weight of my failure pressed down on me. One of the tutors greeted me and escorted me into a room full of cubicles. Great. Now my failure felt detached and corporate. My session passed in a daze. I remember pulling out a blank piece of paper and a pen that certainly wasn’t red and jotting down notes as they [I first typed out “he” but immediately caught myself and changed it because I’d rather leave gender up to interpretation, and I absolutely hate when decidedly male pronouns are used in gender-neutral settings.] talked with my tutor. They flooded me with every little thing that needed improvement, from the structure of my essay down to the minutiae. My confidence shattered into a million little pieces, and by the end of the session I felt more broken than I ever had. The truth dawned on me.

Honestly, I didn’t write very well.

Emergent understandings often introduce doubt.

I walked out of the writing center with a page full of scribbled notes, the weight of failure transformed into doubt. How was I supposed to erase everything I knew about writing and start thinking about rhetoric instead of five perfect paragraphs? How was I supposed to reframe four years of conditioning, four years of mastering a format that no longer mattered? Suddenly [Using this word makes me feel insecure because “[s]uddenly seldom means anything at all; it’s a mere transition device, a noise.], my professor wasn’t too harsh, I wasn’t too perfect, and the weight on my shoulders provided equivalent exchange [Fullmetal Alchemist inspired this word choice 100%] for the degree of my failure.

But now I knew. And I had to take that first step into something new. I had to become the very thing I wanted [The song itself is entirely irrelevant, but the phrase the very thing I wanted comes from this song. If the song didn’t exist, I’d have never used the phrase.].

“Performance, however thoughtful, is not the same as awareness of how that performance came to be.” (Tinberg 75)

Conceptually, the idea behind that story was to represent the underpinnings of Anson’s beliefs on habituated practices. I could have easily engaged in discourse about that concept without burying it beneath a fiction, but the fiction isn’t a fiction at all. It’s a representation of a reality that exists on account of habituated practices’ effect on the emerging college writer. The purpose of the narrative is to contextualize the circumstances and investigate character (and on a deeper level of meta-analysis, the real reason for this format is that I just wanted to write creatively rather than academically, which is an ironic impetus considering my philosophy that creative writing is academic (and just to be even more meta, I didn’t consciously make the decision to write creatively without intending on including a more academic analysis because I thought the chiaroscuro (which form of writing is light and which is dark is entirely up to you) might be interesting)). (Even my use of parentheses in this paragraph is designed to be meta-cognitive.).

“[The effective accomplishment of writing tasks over time] calls upon metacognition, or the ability to perceive the very steps by which success occurs and to articulate the various qualities and components that contribute in significant ways to the production of effective writing, such as discerning the structure of a draft; delineating patterns of error; or discriminating between what is necessary in a draft and what in the end serves little purpose.” (Tinberg 76)

As in my last post, the story I wrote here is an early draft. Is it well structured? Not in particular. I see clear weaknesses in the pacing as well as a failure to evoke pathos in the way I intended. Are there patterns of error? Well, I’m not sure if it’s long enough for there to be any self-evident patterns, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. Does every sentence have a purpose? This is probably my biggest failing because there’s a lot in the story that doesn’t serve an explicit purpose. Which is a colossal shame on me because I absolutely know better. To those familiar with The Elements of Style, “[v]igorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell” (White xv-vi).

So tell me: does every word of mine tell?


Anson, Chris M.. “Failure Can Be An Important Part of Writing Development.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 77.

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York, Vintage Books, 1991, pp. 87.

Rutchick, Abraham. Interview. Conducted by Guy Raz. “Red Ink May Lead To Lower Grades.” NPR, NPR, 29 May 2010,

Stars. “The very thing, stars.” YouTube, uploaded by McCreachure, 14 Mar. 2010.

Strunk, William, et al. The Elements of Style. 4th ed., Pearson, 2019.

Tinberg, Howard. “Metacognition Is Not Cognition.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 75-76.

6 thoughts on “Cognitive Inception

  1. Ime,
    You are correct that this post is indeed “avante-gard.” It speaks to both the reality of writing being a cognitive process and the need to metacognitively engage with writing to understand the knowledge you have and how it should be applied. I only wish the post delved into your personal stance on writing as a cognitive act, and, while you did reflect on the post, I wish you made the role metacognition plays in your own writing more explicit.

  2. Ime, I wrote in my own post that it’s important to experiment, and I am glad to see you experimenting with form as you continue posting. I found the brackets a bit confusing, but I appreciated you taking a moment to wrap up the story and saying what you believe people should take from this. I also thought you had a good closing, and I also want students to weigh the importance of each word when they write.

  3. Ime,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post and your bracketed comments really added to the content and meaning of your blog. I felt like you were navigating me on this wild journey through this concept, your writing, your thought process, and the final product of the blog. I really enjoyed this approach to talk about a more sensitive topic for writers (failing and revising work is always a difficult thing for writers to engage in). Really interesting perspective and post this week!

  4. Ime, I enjoy what you have done with this post. Addressing failure in writing is not an easy feat, and the way you frame it is relatable, yet definitely plays into your avant-garde theme. I, too, felt that fear and that rejection after my first visit to the writing center. I also am curious as to how you might have expounded upon metacognition, but I understand that you were also keeping the length of the post in mind.

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