December 13, 2011
Self-Assessment: The Rachel Pearson Experience
I was on my way to my first college writing course when I suddenly stopped and thought, “Wait. This class is in 304, right?” A little bit after that, I began to worry. My doubts were not about the room number, which I got wrong, but concerning my writing capabilities. My senior year my teachers were on repeat about college: “Do you think this is hard? Wait until you get to college” and “College is going to be a lot different then high school,” was two common sentences. Naturally, I was intimidated. My writing was typical with slight tone and decent grammar; however, I wondered how it would survive next to Boston University’s high standards.
The only insightful, meaningful papers I had ever written up to this point were a sixteen-page analysis of the Civil War for my history class, and a scathing report on the meat industry’s treatment of animals for our high school newspaper The North Star. Most of my other productions were cookie-cutter essays with cookie-cutter essay topics. After this semester, reading my old papers was painful. They were dry and choppy, like an undercooked steak overstuffed with gristle. Mistakes that I did not even think I practiced were in abundance, and the ones that I were aware of became more glaring. Besides the errors, the content was mindless. My only conclusion was that a zombie had written my papers. All of my writings were recycled material from a previous lesson, not original thought. After taking Writing at the End of the Fin-de-Siècle, I developed my own tone, improved and expanded my grammar, enhanced my writing technique, and became confident in developing my own theories.
First problem: I never made drafts. Before this class, I thought they were like washing your hands twice, unnecessary but suggested. Now, I realize that drafts are an imperative part of the writing process. Not only was I able to go over my information twice, but also by constructing a draft my final paper became higher quality. Thanks to Professor Goss, I have turned writing drafts into a habit. I also owe my knowledge about block quotes to Professor Goss, too. Not only do block quotes allow extensive excerpts that strengthen my writing, they also look classy, which is always a bonus in any situation. What is not classy is poor sentence structure. Forming sentences is another area of mistakes that I have mostly mended with a few bumpy patches here and there. Before, I thought a sentence such as “torn pages and yellowed writing were qualities of the ragged book of the esteemed Larry the Cable Guy” was acceptable and even sounded professional. Now, I flinch at similar sentences.
Also, I realized the value of peer editing throughout this course. In high school, peer editing was taboo. My perception was that a thousand judgments would rain down from one friend editing my essay, which in retrospect is silly. Obviously, the first in-class peer editing assignment was a little awkward, but the advice aided my paper so much that it outweighed any hesitation to participate in another peer editing activity. Now after I finish a first draft, I ask my friends to revise it with constructive criticism. As a result, my final production is of greater quality than any unrevised piece I could have presented.
The actual content in my writing has improved as well. Although the paper comparing Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had only a small amount of original thought, the following essays contained and increasing amount of creative conjecture. For instance, in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Through the Lens of Freud I compare Freud’s Theory of the Mind with the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although some of the examples that I used were brought up in class discussion, the parallel drawn between Freud and Stevenson’s novel is an original thought. In high school, essay topics were assigned. Although this method of essay assignment distribution, I find myself attempting contemporary topics. My most recent paper, The Petals of Dorian Gray, is completely my own construction. This latest production discusses the use of the language of flowers, a topic never touched upon in class, as symbolism in The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. With this paper, I employed prior and new knowledge to analyze the novel and write an appropriate yet creative essay. I am happy to report that it was fun and even a relief to write a paper that I wanted to write. Also, using a topic untouched in class opened the way to create my own analysis and draw my own conclusions uninfluenced by class. I am confidant that in the future everything I produce will not only be grammatically correct but will contain my own thought and in depth analysis.