Friday, September 14, 2012

W

This is not a post about George W Bush.
This is a post about writing essays.
We have W courses here. W stands for writing. As in writing intensive. You have to take three W courses in at least two different disciplines (Social Science, Humanities, Natural Science) in order to graduate. My English class right now is a W class. I really like my English class. My only problem is that I only have 2.5 hours of English class a week. From December - May, I had 10 hours of English class a week. That doesn't seem quite fair, now does it.
So the W class has lots of writing. A paper a week is what it basically what it comes down to. Which is feasibly do-able. Especially because we've got a super helpful writing center that will go over papers in whatever place they're at - pre-writing, rough draft, polished draft. But still, I struggle a little.
For me writing - but especially writing academic essays - is a leap of faith. I usually end up mapping things out a little beforehand, but I always start feeling like there's no way it will ever get finished. I don't understand the topic, or what my stance is, or anything. I feel like I magically got stupider between class time and writing time.
Eventually, I get an intro done. And I have a thesis of sorts. So I start writing. But it feels like 90% of my brain is turned off. I'm confused as to where I'm going or coming from or even writing. Which is when the dead point comes in. Dead point is not writer's block. Dead point is when I decide there's no way I'm going to finish this paper successfully and I close the computer for an hour. Deadpoint sucks, but is necessary.
Because after dead point, I come back. And after some more struggling, some idea will catch. So I turn my screen to black and just write - just follow the string where it wants to go - paying absolutely no attention to the actual craft of writing or beauty of language. If I want to use the word "represents" eight times in a paragraph, I do. And if I want to write "I think that the sister is crazy because she can never keep her shit together," I do. Eventually the thread runs out, I turn on my screen and see what I have.
What I have is, more often than not, something to go off of. So I do my best to make it pretty and remold my thesis and make some sort of paper out of it. And this is the point when I start to feel like maybe I will have a paper to turn in, maybe I will emerge from the fuzzyness of writing clinging to something I can turn in. Eventually I'm just rereading and rereading and rereading it, making minor but important adjustments as I go.
And then it's time to turn it in. I honestly cannot think of a time that I've turned in an academic paper and felt really truly incredibly good about it. It always feels to me like some kind of failure: the arguments are forced, or the language is sloppy, or the topic is stupid. But eventually there's no more time and I turn it it.
Sometimes I fail, sometimes I do well, but I almost always learn something that I can include in my next paper. Which will once again be a leap of faith to write. But a slightly easier one.

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