From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Month: July 2018

Revision, Close Reading, and the Big Picture

For my English major, I enrolled in a  required course called Interpreting Literature. Rather than focusing on a single theme, the purpose of the class was to help students learn how to interpret a huge variation of writing, from Phillis Wheatley’s colonial poetry to Willa Cather’s post-WWI novels.

For the first half of the semester we turned in essays and short assignments, but instead of grades we received comments from our professor. We then turned in all of these assignments again, including at least one that we revised.  After spring break, we discussed these portfolios with our professor.

I’m really used to churning out essays as fast as possible, revising anything I can, and then sending it in right before it’s due. Ideally, I would start my essays much earlier, and then have enough time to look over them a day or two after I’ve written them. Most of the time, however, that isn’t the case for me, especially in the midst of an academically challenging semester. So, when I had the chance to turn in essays and then revise them weeks later, I was amazed at the improvements I could make. One sentence I had written originally had variations of the word “detail” in it three times, which is the kind of mistake that is much easier to catch when you read it with fresh eyes. You’re probably thinking, that’s obvious, everybody knows it’s better to look at a paper after a little time! I suppose I already knew that too, but how often do we actually have the opportunity to learn by revising papers after they’re turned in?

After revising my work, I met with my professor about my revisions. We spoke about my writing and what had been difficult for me so far throughout the semester. Through our discussion, I realized that in previous English classes, I had never encountered some of the difficulties that I had been experiencing this semester because my classes have usually been organized around an overarching theme or purpose. For context, here are some examples of the titles of classes I’ve taken in college so far: Narcissism in Literature, Feminism and the Environment, and The Literature of Age and Aging. Each of these classes had a clear theme and subject material, and I found it so much easier to create theses and write about the literature because I’m much better at connecting literature to specific, big picture issues.

Wow. With that understanding, I started to see why I struggled to find my writing groove in this class, a class simply titled “Interpreting Literature.” It’s not a misnomer: the entire purpose of this class is to discover how to use different methods of interpreting literature, and the first method we focused on happened to be close reading of the language. I had to work backwards from my comfort zone, finding bigger picture ideas through picking out small parts of passages rather than going into the passage with an idea to prove. It felt like I was rewiring my brain a little bit.

I hope I have more classes in which professors can take a little time to let the students do revisions. I also  hope I get my act together a little earlier in order to be able to revise work that I am less comfortable with. Being forced to challenge my normal methodology has helped me learn much more than I do when I churn out papers in my usual, last-minute style.

Finding Your Voice

VoiceLet’s be real with ourselves for a second–we tend to get in our own way. We overthink and doubt our own abilities. This is especially true when it comes to writing. For years, I would sit in front of my computer and either stare mindlessly at the screen in front of me or write a paragraph and realize I didn’t like it and start over. Writing was a stressful process, simply because I was getting in my own way.

The question is, why was it so hard for me to just write?

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized the key to getting out of my own way is finding my voice. Often, a common link of frustration among consultees in the Writing Resources Center is lack of confidence in their writing abilities. I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to become a great writer if they take the time to find their own voice. You may be thinking, “Why should I find my own voice if people have already said something better than I ever could have?” I assure you that finding your own voice will lead to better writing. Of course, this is a process that won’t happen overnight, but it’s never too late to start! Here are my top 5 tips to begin finding your own unique voice:

  1. Describe yourself using 3 adjectives. Using different adjectives will help you get a sense of your personality. Your voice as a writer is a part of who you are and your personality is also a part of who you are! Combing the two may help you find a style of writing you like the most.
  2. Make a list of what you like to read, such as books, magazines, blogs, comic books, etc. Can you find any similarities between them? How about any differences? What genres are you drawn to? Is there a particular writing style? We often admire who we want to be, so what is it about these readings that intrigues you?
  3. List your cultural/artistic influences. I am a singer, and people often ask me who my musical influences are because they affect the nuances in my singing. This can be true for writing as well. Are there any figures in pop culture that inspire you, such as journalists, actors, slam poets, etc? How can these influences inspire your writing?
  4. Write in another environment. I can’t always work in the library and need to find inspiration in other places. My favorite place to write is Lake Matoaka because the surroundings are calming, and I can breathe in fresh air for a clear mind. Try walking around campus to find new spots to write! Even take advantage of the beauty in Colonial Williamsburg and find a nice quiet place to think outside of campus.
  5. JUST WRITE! The best way to find your voice is to simply sit down and write. Write what’s most comfortable to you without any editing and see what you can come up with! This is a great way to see your voice come to life on paper. Also, look at what you’ve written before. You may discover that your unique voice is already emerging in your work.

These are a few ways to begin finding your voice. It may not be as easy as I made it sound, but the journey is certainly worth it.

Image: https://seanwes.com/podcast/116-how-to-find-your-own-unique-voice-and-style/

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