Here it is, the last essay for my EN 100 – College Writing class. I went in tonight, turned this in with my portfolio, and busted through the final exam in 20-minutes. I feel pretty good about the exam, but I’m not sure if this will be an A or B grade for the class. Neither my research essay or my interview essay were as strong as I would have liked and my quiz grades were a bit lame. Ah well, second class is done and I think I did alright for not having been in an English class in 30-years.
Side note: The paragraphs in this are very long and not the way I would have typically written them, but this is how she wanted it so this is how she gets it.
Communication through writing is as important as, and possibly more important than, that of communication through speech. In order to be able to communicate through the written word you must be able to communicate meaning, inference, and opinion without the physical cues of speech or body language. Without access to these cues the writing process becomes that much more important, because it is through this process that we ensure that our meaning is clear and ensure that our audience is being given the information that we are seeking to import to them. Beginning with the first draft copy, where the goal is to gather your ideas, get your thoughts down on paper, and find the voice with which you will communicate with your audience, the process is one of equal parts composition and discovery. Once the draft, or drafts, are done you can read and evaluate where you have taken the reader and plot out any course changes that need to be corrected for, this is the process of evaluation and revising. This important step is necessary to catch any missteps you may have made during the rush of words that flow out onto the page during the draft. Noting and fixing any problems in the revision is followed by the finished draft, where you finalize the text and ensure that it is clear, concise, and the writing has a voice that is appropriate for the intended audience and written in a voice that the author is confident in before presenting the writing to the reader. Once this journey has been taken and the writing has been completed it is important as a writer to step back from the writing and take a moment of self-reflection about the piece: what did you learn, how did you approach the project, and what might be done differently in the future on similar projects. With that analysis in mind and having exposed the writing to its audience, received feedback, and perhaps even been judged on its quality, it is important for the writer to look critically at the piece an assess the success or failure of the writing. Did the piece communicate what was desired, where was it week and where was the writing strong, which parts of the text confused or clarified points for the reader, and does the author see places where solutions to problems could be implemented? I find the process of writing to be a wonderful journey of self-discovery. I often find myself putting thoughts to paper that I am not consciously aware of thinking. In this class I was challenged to stretch outside myself and reach into genres of writing that I would not typically engage in. Interviewing, researching, introspection, and analysis are types of writing that I do not typically use in my fiction writing. With each project, I started thinking that I would be unable to stretch into the assignment, but each time I found a way to do so. Each time I found that my words were there in unexpected ways, and while not everything I wrote was a complete success, each time I came away with lessons that I feel have helped my writing and expanded the genres that I feel comfortable writing within.
One lesson that I learned long ago, and which was emphasized in this class, was the importance of reading other genres. There are lessons to be learned by expanding your reading to multiple genres. Other genres will reveal new lessons about things that can be done with description, ideas that might not occur to you if you remain in a single genre, and even little things like word choice and voice that vary between the genres; these are things that can be imported into your writing in ways that may be new and surprising to the writer. Tidbits from research papers can find their way into fantasy stories, the first-person voice from a crime novel might play well in a more formal presentation, and reading interviews and interview questions can cause the spark of imagination to launch an entire paper. Additionally, reading multiple genres lends strength to your writing and gives insight into styles of writing that might not have occurred to the writer who is less well read. One example from class that I found particularly enlightening, “Learning About Work from Joe Cool” by Gib Akin, was the story of a grocery clerk who was working multiple jobs to keep himself busy and preoccupied while things in his home life were in turmoil. This was a fascinating paper in that where it seemed to be going and where it actually went were not expected. And even after the end of the essay the hidden meaning of the essay was not blatant and required some thought to truly extract the meaning of the message. “Smoke of Empire” by Seth Marlin, was another essay that said a lot in an unexpected and different way. Remembering back to when he was a soldier in Iraq and the huge burning waste pits outside the base, he used description of a sort I was not familiar with, taking the words of a soldier and making you see through the jargon and experience what he was experiencing, what he was going through, and where he was at as if you were there. Neither of these were pieces that I would have sought out, or most likely even stumbled across, in my usual reading, but both taught me lessons about structure and voice that I would not have learned had I not ventured from the path of my usual reading. I think that both of these essays are examples of why it is so important to the writing that a writer, both read a lot and write a lot in order to develop their skills.
It is all this reading that helps the writer to discover what is the correct voice for any particular piece of writing. While there may be a place for humor, it is not appropriate voice for a piece on animal cruelty. Writing in first person, casual for your Facebook page is completely appropriate, but that same style may not work well for an interview with a local politician or in a profile piece on a serial killer or his victims. As well, a formal, restrained voice might lose the interest of a piece intended to capture and excite the interests of the student body for a school rally. The choice of voice and the matching of that voice to the subject matter is important to the success of any writing. There are times when an unexpected voice my work to spark creativity in a piece, but there are plenty of other times where the wrong voice can lead to the complete failure to communicate with the reader. In my own writing, I lean heavily on a casual voice that strays away from being too loose and informal, while never dipping to heavily into a more formal and structured style. For example, in the profile essay of my brother, our interview was full of all the usual brotherly harassment that has been the hallmark of our growing up together. All of which I left out, and yet I kept the tone light even though the subjects we were discussing, the decision to be a stay at home father, the financial and personal impacts of that decision, and the trauma of losing a child in those early years, were of a nature which could have been addressed in a far more reserved and formal manner. I made the choice to approach it from a less intense point of view and keep the voice more relaxed. Knowing how things have turned out and not wanting to portray it as a bad or unwanted situation, I made the decision to present it to the reader as the story of a likeable fellow who had some setbacks and made the most of the situation. In my personal essay, I made equally conscious decisions about the voice I would use. Typically, I have a deprecating sense of humor about myself, but in that essay I chose to portray the benefits of seeking to help others and build bridges as I experienced them. I could just as easily have portrayed my story as that of one of dumb luck and chance, but the lesson and message I was seeking to convey would have been lessened by the use of that tone. So, I have seen that, even though my writing tends to have a common voice, through slight variations and inferences in that voice it can be subtly changed to meet various needs of the writing.
Research is another important aspect of writing. Good sources and solid information can go a long way in elevating a poor piece of writing to a good paper. When you add credible data from legitimate sources to a paper you bring to that paper a gravitas and expertise that you yourself may not have in your subject matter. But it is important to give credit to those sources by properly citing them. This citing has two beneficial effects: the first, being that it shows you are crediting your sources and not claiming the information as your own, because to do otherwise is to risk plagiarism, and the second is to identify where the information is from and ensure that your reader can check your sources if they want to verify your information or do further research themselves. I do not claim to be an expert on citing or on MLA formatting, the research paper that was written for this class was the first I had ever done and MLA formatting was not discussed in my high school writing classes. For my subject, the viability of living on a boat in Michigan, there was not much hard data. I had to explore outside of my original idea to find good data on housing and weather, because I found most of my source material was personal accounts and opinion. I found that the databases were full of information that did not apply to my subject matter, and realized quickly that to have an effective research paper it is important to choose a subject that has had at least a modicum of research done on it in the past, and preferably the recent past. Knowing this I will be less impulsive in my choices for future research papers, or at least format my projects in a way that is more easily researched.
My first college English class has come to an end. It has been a lot of years since I have been in school. It has been thirty, maybe thirty-one years since I was in an English class and there were points during the semester that I felt every one of those years. I like to think that I have a certain aptitude for writing and have sought to capture my aspirations on the page off and on for years, but the structured and formal writing done for class has been a challenge for me. The variety and structure of the assignments has been beneficial for my writing, and they pushed me in directions I would not otherwise have gone. Perhaps my single greatest struggle is a formal understanding of the parts of written speech and the rules by which they go together. My writing is not atrocious, but I have been getting by on my absorption of the written word through reading and what lessons I can remember from my primary education. The second problem that I have struggled to overcome is my disinclination to edit and review my writing. It is not that I don’t believe it is necessary, but that it is not the part of the writing process that I find enjoyable, it is the work in the process. This class has given me the tools to continue to improve my grasp of English structure, but it is still a work in progress as I still feel that I have not mastered it to my satisfaction. The peer review process in class and the three draft process we used in class served to focused my attention on the importance of reading, correcting, and revising a piece of writing. The joy of the work is in the writing, but the revision and rewriting are what make the writing work. That is the lesson driven home by all the assignments completed in this class. As I write these final lines, I am reminded that writing is as much a skill as it is an art, and that skill needs to be practiced in order to be refined. If I am to grow and expand as a writer I need to dedicate myself to both the process and the craft, because it’s not what you say you’re going to do that matters, but rather what you do.