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In this essay Norman shares their experience of struggling with, and overcoming an unexpected challenge: their belief in the futility of taking an English class. The essay narrates the story of the author’s reluctant plunge into College Writing 112, and their subsequent discovery of some helpful aspects of this writing class.
ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing
Day Month Year
ELA: English Language Arrogance
It was a hot summer day. I knew I needed to take my placement exams but I had been putting it off for so long I didn’t even know where to begin. While lying in my bed scrolling through Facebook I decided “This is it, I need to do it now or I never will.” I opened up OWL and looked over the writing prompt. I was immediately filled with irritation. The prompt was to read multiple articles about dress codes, analyze the articles, and then formulate my own opinion about whether or not dress codes should be implemented in schools across America. This was not what I wanted to be doing today. I pretty much wanted to do anything except this.
I’ve never hated writing. It was always one of those things that I “just had to get over with,” it was an annoyance but never something I disliked. Similar to how I felt with my placement-writing exam I would put writing off until the very last second and rush through it hoping to get the best possible grade for the least amount of effort. Writing was a chore similar to cleaning out the litter box, or folding laundry. There were by far much worse things you could be doing, but at that moment there was never any motivation to do anything except putting off doing those things.
This all changed in the spring semester. When I found out that I needed to take College Writing I was disappointed. I had had my fair share of English classes, from AP Literature and AP Composition to an Honors English class my first semester of college. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like it would be a waste of my time. “What more could I possibly learn? Writing isn’t that hard once you get the motivation to start doing it. I can churn out a decent paper in a couple of hours and call it a day. I don’t need to do a semester’s worth of papers to prove myself.” I thought.
The first day of class arrived. We learned that we were going to be responsible for producing five complete papers by the end of the semester. Then the worst news came… we would be doing multiple drafts of each paper as well. I had never written drafts and revised them, before taking this class. I guess I never really understood the importance of doing so. I always wrote my papers last minute, and felt that having so much pressure on myself to do the work fast made me a better writer. This class forced me to draft because drafts were part of the assignment and they were actually looked at by the professor so I didn’t have a choice to not do it. Through drafting I realized that by writing fast and under pressure, I was missing a lot of minor mistakes within my writing. I also found out that I could do a lot better. Our first paper was on our context and how it shaped us as writers. When I completed my initial draft I was relieved. It was a paper that I would feel comfortable handing in as my final assignment. But when I revised it and submitted that final portfolio I was surprised at how much better it had gotten.
At this point I decided that maybe the way I was doing things before wasn’t the best way, maybe I could do better. Unit Two was a little more intimidating. We were told to read someone else’s work and analyze it. I had done a rhetorical analysis before in high school so it was a bit of a review…or so I thought. I eased myself into it. “All you have to do is quote some stuff, explain it, and then you’re good.” Little did I know, I was completing the infamous “hit and run” quotation. When I first saw the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I thought how could this possibly be relevant? But after a little practice it was easy to look at things in that format. I almost never had a lead in to a quote. I would drop the quote in, explain it briefly (or sometimes not even that) and leave the rest up to the reader. Annotating was sort of the same idea. I had annotated a couple of times for homework in high school but outside of an assignment it’s not something I would ever do. When we were told to practice annotating Kalmar’s text, it made my rhetorical analysis come so much easier. I really felt like I had a deeper understanding of the text, and I learned the value of close reading.
After completing Unit Two I really felt like I had it in the bag. “Writing is easy,” I thought to myself. I am finally a college writer, I know how to use quotes properly, I can annotate, and I’m much better at drafting. Then Unit Three snuck up on me and changed everything. We were told to identify an issue that was important to us. I had always felt passionate about our criminal justice system and the racial discrimination that goes on within it. When I found out it was going to be a research paper I felt relieved. I had done so many research papers in my life that I felt I could write one asleep!
We talked about logos, pathos, and ethos – I had dealt with those before, no big deal. I chose my topic, identified my purpose, and started drafting.
I had what I would consider a pretty good initial draft, I had a bunch of information, I was really moving along, and then something happened. During my presentation numerous people wrote on their notecard that they would like to have seen more information about all minorities, not just Black people. At first I thought, easy enough! I’ll just pop in a quick paragraph about their statistics and call it a day. That is until I found out that the statistics for all minorities almost completely mirrored the statistics for Black people. The only thing I could think to do was change my entire paper during its final stages to incorporate all of the information I had just gathered. That was my biggest mistake. My paper quickly grew from being 837 words to 1768 words in the course of a couple of days. It was the longest paper I had ever written to date, and I still feel like it didn’t do justice to the topic. If I could go back in time and re-do any of my papers, that would be the one I would choose. As Emma Britton once said, “Sometimes you just have to delete paragraphs you’ve been working on forever, and it’s never easy.” Boy was she right. It’s so hard for me to think of all of the work I’ve put into something, just to delete it and never have it be seen. But it’s certainly better to do that than to submit a paper that is convoluted and confusing, for the sake of not wasting the time you’ve put in. It’s best to just swallow your pride and submit a paper that flows, and really conveys your purpose. That was the greatest lesson I learned while writing that paper.
I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit into a perfect little box, no one does. When I found out that we would be writing about our own subcultures for Unit Four, at first I was excited. “That sounds really cool!” Then I thought about what my topic would be. I like playing video games but am I a “gamer chick”? I really like technology, but would I consider myself a “techno-geek”? I really enjoy listening to The Grateful Dead, but am I hardcore enough to be a “Dead Head”? I ended up going with something that I enjoyed, but didn’t truly feel like it was enough. In hindsight, I feel like my topic should have been my feminist identity, but it wasn’t until I had already written my final draft that I realized that. This brings me to my final lesson learned from this class. Sometimes things don’t just come to you; sometimes it takes you an entire paper to realize that you really should have gone in a different direction. Sometimes your “final draft” shouldn’t even be final.
My biggest takeaway was this: I will never be in a place in my life where taking an English class won’t be helpful. I may have been speaking and writing for longer than I can even remember but I can never be perfect, I will always have things to work on and that’s totally okay. Going into this class thinking it was a waste of my time ended up being the furthest thing from the truth. I will always continue to grow throughout college and the most important thing to remember in life is that learning is inevitable; no one knows everything and no one ever will. The moment you decide that you don’t “need” to take a class is the moment you have really been [tricked] out of bettering yourself. So, take an English class, I promise you will learn more than you ever expected.