On Tutu Moments and Rocking Your ZPD

Jul 12, 2021

By Christine Carron

In writing, as with anything we do, there’s the desired output and the process we go through to achieve the desired output. Let’s say the desired output is a commercially successful novel, i.e., we want to earn some scratch (gasp!) for our artistic labor. Now, for most of us when we first start out, despite being both literate and inundated with stories our entire lives, we soon come to the stark, humbling realization that there’s a gargantuan gap between appreciating a great story and writing one. 

To get ourselves across that gap, we can wing it—that’s called discovery learning. But if we are looking for any level of learning efficiency, it helps to have some wise guidance. 

Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the particular knowledge gap that requires (or is at least more easily navigated) by helping hands the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. And those helping hands are the More Knowledgeable Others, or MKOs. Vygotsky was focused on cognitive development, and for child learners, MKOs can be adults or more capable peers. 

Vygotsky’s concepts absolutely apply to us as adult learners on a mission to deepen our craft skills. Even experienced writers. Let’s say we’ve written four novels, which means we’ve conquered the foundational craft conundrums that were in our original ZPD. Yay! 

But now we want to write a novel-in-verse. New ZPD alert! And new MKOs to find. Maybe we will find a novel-in-verse workshop. Or we have a writer friend who is a novel-in-verse pro and is willing to coach us. Or we join a critique group where all the writers are drafting novels-in-verse. You get the idea.

I propose, however, that there’s a major caveat that influences us as adult learners as we go about the business of figuring out a process that works for us to get to our desired output. That caveat hinges on a pivotal phrase in the preceding sentence that you might have glossed over: a process that works for us

What will help me cross my ZPD will never be exactly the same mix of helping hands that will get you across yours, even if we have the same desired output and the same challenges in our ZPDs. Variations in our life experiences, current life circumstances, geographic location, learning styles and preferences, temperaments, etc. will all cause our processes to diverge in ways either great or small. 

And here’s the deal. There is only one true expert on what works for you. 

You.

Last year, I  took a personal growth class that blew my mind with its awesomeness. It changed the trajectory of my life—no exaggeration. So, I took another class from the same teacher. It was one of the worst classes I’ve ever taken in my life. For me. 

Other people were loving it and thriving and growing, but it wasn’t serving me. I was aggravated. Annoyed. Disappointed. Basically, suffering. Yet, it took me weeks to listen to me, to my inner MKO, who was frantically leaping and twirling to get my attention. 

It finally got so bad that my inner MKO had enough, sat me down and said, “Time to strap on your big girl tutu, Christine, and take charge of yourself, your learning and your joy.” A few days later, I got out of the class and was ever so much happier. 

I tell you this tale because there will be a time (or times) that you will be in a writing class, workshop, conference, etc. and it’s not going to be the experience you wanted or were hoping for. It could be a terrible, suffering level situation. But it also could just be meh. Which means most likely it’s eating up your time without sufficient upside. Regardless of the level of angst it’s causing, if something inside is telling you that it’s not right for you . . listen. That’s your inner MKO. 

It doesn’t matter if that same experience is transforming writers all around you. Your inner MKO is telling you that experience is not right for you at this time. Trust it. Tune in. And when you are clear on its guidance, strap on your tutu and take action on your behalf. Ideally with grace, kindness, and professionalism. Because that’s how tutu-sporting writers roll.

And then celebrate. Why? Because you just advocated for yourself. And yes, there may be loss and sadness to process as you did have high hopes for the experience. That’s real. Be gentle with yourself. 

But do not forget for one moment that you also just cleared the runway of your ZPD for a new possibility  to arrive. A new possibility that could  take your writing to the next level. And be rocking fun. So twirl on, my friend. Twirl on! 


The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week

  • Identify a craft skill that is still in your ZPD. Identify three potential MKOs who could  help you conquer that craft skill. Which one will you test run first?
  • List your current array of writing classes, groups, mentors, teachers, organizations, partners, commitments, etc. Check in with your inner MKO on each one. Journal about any guidance, ahas, or insights you receive. 
  • If you have been writing for a while, mindmap the craft skills that at one time were in your ZPD but are now totally in your skill wheelhouse. You just made a map of your growth as a writer. Take that in. 
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