What have you learned this semester?
I have learned that an essay can be more than just a ten page letter to your professor that essentially says “I paid attention this semester”. And looking back I feel like that was an extremely lazy way to view it and probably led me to handing in pieces that were incredibly boring for my professors to read. Rather, an essay is a way of saying “Here are my thoughts on X” which sounds very freeing and very limiting at the same time.
I don’t think anything would qualify as an essay that isn’t based in reality. I think essays must be based on thoughts from experience rather than imagination. So even though Harry Potter has many lessons that would apply in the real world, it is still more an imagined story than an essay on overcoming fear and challenges.
But the freedom in essay writing, even though it has to be based in reality, is that your thoughts are still your thoughts and there are no restraints on how you are allowed to observe reality. Essays could deliver the same message in different and creative ways. Most commencement speeches could be titled “Author’s Name: On Life Lessons” but there are thousands of different ways in which those life lessons could be delivered.
What have you learned about writing?
I have learned that writing is very easy but easy writing is boring to read and editing is really difficult. In the same way that I tend to overlook typos when proofreading my own writing because the autocorrect in my head says “I know what I’m trying to say” and ignores the mistake; When I read my own writing and I haven’t described a thought in the most clear way I will tend to default to “Well, I know what I mean” and ignore that my essay readers aren’t also mind readers. The practice this semester of picking out one great sentence has really helped me because when I write 1,500 words there’s hopefully going to be at least one sentence in there where I say what I want to say exactly how I want to say it and then I can rework the rest of my essay to try to speak more like I do in that one sentence that I am proud of.
What have you learned about yourself as a writer?
I’ve never had a writing class where, once I learned how to actually do the type of writing that the professor wanted, I haven’t said “Wow, I knew absolutely nothing before this class” and then left thinking that I knew everything about writing. Before this class it was creative nonfiction that, upon learning that there was a way to write nonfiction creatively, gave me access to a new way of expressing myself through writing that wasn’t goofy poetry. But, aside from learning in this class that I still have a lot to learn, I also learned that I can have fun with writing essays which my 16 year old self would laugh at me for saying.
How might what you have learned in the course stay with you or be useful beyond this class?
I have learned that writing has to actually say something and not just be self promotion. The reader doesn’t care about you, they care about whether what you have to say will entertain or educate them in some way. A piece about a place you travelled to might be fun to write but the reader will get bored if all the essay ends up saying is “I travelled here and I want you to know that I traveled here”, and the same goes for any type of writing. If you have a really cool thought then you have to be able to say enough about it to make the reader find interest in it rather than just have them go “Wow, this writer sounds very cool”. So, essentially, a big takeaway for me is that a first step towards good writing is to think “What do I have to say about this topic” rather than “How can I use this topic to talk about myself”.