On Writing

We who exist in the quarter system are only now crawling toward midterm of Spring quarter.  Students in my Comp II class have practically bled over their first essay, an argument analysis essay that both stretches and frustrates them.  My Comp III students are working on their Research Proposals and Annotated Bibliographies, recognizing with some horror that they probably should have been researching a little bit more intently than they have as of now. And my literature students have received their first essay grades: some are relieved that they figured out the whole analysis bit, while others are shocked that a 5 page summary isn’t acceptable (Note: Professor Zero has a thought provoking new post on this very subject: should we expect thesis based literary analysis essays from a gen ed lit class?  As I wade through plot summaries, his question gives me pause.)

While my students struggle with new genres and writing tasks, I struggle alongside them.  The third reference article I am working on this academic year has been neglected for weeks, I’m in edit mode on article #2, and I need to find a weekend to devote to both.  My college blog team is begging for a posting from me, the Gen Ed Outcomes group needs someone to draft a rubric for the next outcome to be addressed, and peer evaluation reports need to be written.

Blogging, naturally has suffered, though that hurts no one, at least.  Facebook has truly taken over some free time since the rewards are so instant and the social interactions so immediate; even Twitter, which I mocked so blithely only a few months ago, entices me more each day, and I’m finding some thrill in distilling ideas into 140 characters.   And now, ProfHacker has showed me a brand new way to spend time writing (750 words) each day with daily points awarded.

What’s a writer to do?

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Writing, or I Want a Margarita and I Want it Now

margaritaSince I teach writing, I make it a point to write regularly. No, not just blogging (where I’m not exactly regular), but writing for publication:  writing that will be evaluated by others, just as my students’ writing is evaluated by their peers and by me. 

I usually try to submit an essay or article a year, sometimes more.  And I tell my students, too, sharing my progress on my essays,  as I show them the various strategies for developing ideas, drafting, revising and editing.

Yesterday, as she left my office after a rather cheerful discussion of a fairly decent  rough draft, a student asked me (not without a bit of a smirk): “So, how’s YOUR essay coming along? You haven’t mentioned it lately.”

Well. She’s right. That’s because it was still stuck in that early process stage, or 13 pages of notes and ideas in not quite any logical order (the “down draft” or “child’s draft” according to Anne Lamott). This for an article with a 1000-word limit.  So today (a holiday in our state) I’ve been focusing on selecting, organizing and editing.  I’m down to 6 pages now–about 3 pages too much–but it’s nicely readable.

Yet, it’s also at that stage where the editing can get a bit painful. I LIKE my ideas, my words. You mean I have to keep cutting?

So I thought I’d spend a few hundred words complaining here instead.

Now that I’m finished, however, I need to go sharpen my knife editor’s pencil.

Is it happy hour somewhere yet?

Running Writers

 “Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think what it might be. In running, the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms. Ideally, the runner who’s-a-writer is running through the land and cityscapes of her fiction, like a ghost in a real setting.”

—-Joyce Carol Oates (2003)

Why the Humanities Matter

Still grading analysis essays this Sunday (and they are, as they were last quarter as I’ve noted here, a joy to read for the most part since for many students, this is their first true understanding of how to do analysis and interpretation), so no new posting. But here are a few highlights from the week’s blogs/readings:

But here is a posting from the guest blogger, Jarrod Hayes,  at Tenured Radical that echoes some of the themes from the  Why Literature Matters talk I gave last December.

And here is a very amusing posting from Feministe linking to a video mocking skin care ads.

And Acadamnit’s query–am I a male blogger or a female blogger?–led to many an amusing comment earlier this week.

I laughed until I cried (sort of) watching these excerpts from SNL that were highlighted at Bitch.com.

I am collecting articles on Facebook and blogging these days for a future project. Here is a recent one on the aging of Facebook friends. For those interested in a cultural analysis of blogging, check out Aaron Barlow’s book Blogging @merica: The New Public Sphere (Praeger 2008).

I finished reading Black Ships by Jo Graham this week, a novelization of the Aeneid, told from the perspective of the Sybil.  I enjoyed it: there’s romance, history (sort of), action, etc. It was a light read, but thoroughly entertaining. I see a Hollywood picture deal in its future…

My Comp Students

writing1It’s midterm week–the week when each class starts to “gel” or form its own personality.  I love this time in the term.  Yes, I did just return graded essays, which can be stressful when the student hates their grade, but luckily, that hasn’t happened this term (crossing fingers, toes, etc.).  Instead, students are coming to class on time, chatting casually with each other and with me, and seem to be engaged with the work of the class.  For both classes today, I basically had to tell students our class was over.  I love when that happens.

Composition I: they are working on analysis and interpretation as skills, in preparation for writing an essay analyzing and interpreting a “text” of their choice (artwork, song lyric, film, for example).  As with last term, the students are so intrigued by an explicit discussion and practice of these skills–as if they never really understood what they were doing in high school literature classes. 

Composition II: These students are starting to do research on an issue in preparation for their Annotated Bibliography and Review of the Literature essay (for many, these are two new, and frightening, genres of academic writing).  While many stick to topics that feel safe to them (alas, I have a few of the old standbys) others have more confidence and select the less typical topics such as gender and globalization, or parasites and schizophrenia, or different perspectives on the value of monogamy–topics they most likely were exposed to in other classes. And really, isn’t that the point of a required composition class: to get students to write about subjects theya re exploring in other classes, to integrate the content knowledge with the writing to learn knowledge?

Composition III (yes, all comp. for me this term, no lit): These students are working on a term-long research project, from topic selection, library research, to the prospectus, annotated bibliography and, finally, the 15-20 page researched essay. (While still a first year class, we must review the skills from the previous classes.)  This term I have topics ranging from the Psychology of the Vampires (Twilight, of course, led to that topic), to the Science Behind Dune–two literary-inspired topics I don’t usually get.  Then there other interesting topics such as Children of War and Aggression, Hypnosis, Dream Therapy, and the Invasion of Iraq. This class is my smallest, and they are all bravely plugging away on their research and note-taking now–this is impressive, considering the high attrition rate of this class normally.  That 15-20 page paper, as well as the sustained attention to the topic and process, truly weeds out those who skated by in the previous comp. courses.

I have many more young male students this term than ever before:  33 out of 80 students (4 classes).  (The collegewide ratio is 45% male, up from 43% last year, though I used to have classes where only 2-3 students were men.) This adds an interesting dynamic to the class, since some of these younger male students are sometimes quite confident challenging me, politely, but firmly,  on abstract ideas.  I’m enjoying that new development, and  it’s catching: the students are, too.

Just one of those postings where I get to express how much I enjoy my job.  (And it doesn’t hurt that it was 60 degrees and sunny today, and tonight is my weekly “Lost” gathering with wine and pizza).