My academic writing and creative writing philosophies have always been largely one in the same: “go fast, and go hard.” As a long-time veteran of the National Novel Writing Month philosophy, “1667 words a day or bust,” I don’t believe in writer’s block; I believe in push-push-pushing as soon as I have an idea until it shapes itself into something comprehensible. Real writers can’t afford to sit down and let inspiration come to them; there are deadlines to meet, critics to impress. Real writers have to take the good and the bad days, the inspired and the not-so-inspired, suck it up, and just write.
And so, that is exactly what I attempted to do in this class, from the beginning. Before we’d even be given one of the essay assignments for real, I’d have a spark of inspiration two weeks ahead of its time and I’d just want to grab onto it full-force and take off running. That’s my process, in its roots. As soon as that inspiration strikes, I take notes before it can fizzle, trying out different versions of a theme in an attempt to find a claim, noting the textual evidence I would need to examine in order to solidify that possible claim, and picking out sources that seem relevant and useful. Usually, I can come up with a basic outline for an essay that way in about half an hour. I’ll know what paragraphs I want, and where, and what they’re going to attempt to accomplish. I lay it all out there as fast as my fingers can fly–there’s never any last-minute rushing from me. It’s, well, first-minute rushing.
But I don’t just stop there, at a basic outline, the way I know is most common college writers–no, I “go hard” for outlines. I write outlines for paragraphs that are practically as long as the intended paragraphs themselves, just to make sure I know the direction I want each segment of the subclaim or theme to go. That was the process by which I wrote my novels, and it’s the process by which essays take flight under my fingertips. I might be eager and itching to start writing immediately, but I won’t actually start until I’m good and ready and know the ins and outs of my future essay like the back of my hand. That is, and always will be, the way I write. In fact, I outlined this process portfolio introduction thoroughly before beginning, and am working off it this very instant.
I came into this class knowing that such a manner of outlining wouldn’t be shaken out of me. I did learn to make revisions to that process, and to figure out where exactly I was going with my evidence before I settled on a claim, but I maintained my preference of outlining each paragraph chronologically and thoroughly, and doing most of my work there. Most of my revisions happen in the outlining stage, which is perhaps why I always come into the peer review stage of the essay process with a product I consider mostly “finished.” It’s an extraordinarily frustrating thing for me to be writing my essay, getting near the end, and then realize I need to change my claim or structure. It just feels like a waste of time and energy for me to not know exactly what I’m doing before I do it. I’m not a fan of rough drafts; I like to perfect my work as early as possible to save me (and my reviewers) the time of having to tell me how to restructure something I could have already managed myself. So I do my research, outline and reoutline and reoutline again, make a mess of it, clean it up, and then begin the writing process once things are all smoothed out.
This grinding method might seem a bit much, but it is why the actual process of writing the essay is always linear and easy for me. By the time I get to the first daft, I’ve had all the conceptual headaches and done all the page-flipping and evidence-gathering during my outlining stage. All that’s left is putting those rough-edged half-solid sentences into the mental rock tumbler so they can come out on the page polished and ready for initial submission.
Then, once the essay is written, I hold my breath and wait for advice. For this class, that meant first a peer review, then a new draft submitted for the professor’s review, and then, we were on our own to finalize the paper for our portfolio (though we did have two weeks to submit a draft back to our professor for more feedback if we felt we needed to). I’ve always hated the review and revision process, because I’ll always be the perfectionist that likes something done right on the first try, but I knew coming into this class that I’d have to put aside such a mindset and be open to criticism and be willing to actually do something about that criticism instead of just saying, “yeah, okay, thanks,” faking a smile, and never touching the essay again. I know it’s for the best that I ask for help and strive to make my work better, even if it’s not work I’m passionate about–so I’m always willing to give revising my best shot if my reviewer finds moments or themes in my work that need some tweaking.
I work on revising my drafts by keeping my peer or instructor’s comments open so I can see them as I work. That way, I can delete each comment as I address it, and I can complete the new draft knowing I have attended to every concern I was given, no matter what I decided to do about it. This allows me to keep track of my progress as well, and makes sure that I understand where each point of criticism or suggestion is coming from.
When I’m done revising, I look over the essay to make sure it’s still cohesive and organized even with the added, subtracted, or altered material. In a way, it’s like fixing a ripped stuffed animal and then poking at all the seams to make sure they’re still intact even after you’ve changed the shapes and stuffing.
In this specific process portfolio, you will find a heavy load of evidence for the process I’ve just described–you’ll hear me discuss the outlining process for each paper in detail, then provide notes on what advice I was given and how I addressed it. This is accompanied with a handy paper trail of all the drafts and feedback involved in each paper. And at the end of each essay’s process page is the conclusion of whether or not the paper was successful enough for me to place into my presentation portfolio–if it was some of my “best work.” We were only allowed to choose four of our papers to make it to the presentation stage.
Now, I don’t always consider my “best work” to be the work that was necessarily the easiest, or the work that needed the fewest drafts. If I judged my work based on that, I would have put my close reading into the presentation portfolio, which demonstrated only one skill and is largely just a warm-up not worth showing off. Most of the time, it’s the papers I work the hardest at that I end up being the proudest of and the most excited to share. This semester, I worked hardest on my critical conversation essay and my psychoanalysis, since by the middle of the semester, I knew what I was doing, and my process had become the best version of itself–and I also hadn’t hit the end-of-the-year slump that fell alongside writing three consecutive methodology papers. So, those two papers were a no-brainer to move on to the presentation portfolio. I then decided that my historical contextualization had a lot of work put into it that allowed it to become much more than it was initially (plus it was the only representation I had of working with a background source), and so that became the third of my four presentation pieces. For the final “chosen one,” I went with the more successful of my two final methodologies, the one I felt made the most sense, was the most original, and was the most worth revising: my gender critique. Since it was largely demonstrative of the same skills as the Marxist critique, and I put in about the same amount of thinking and effort for both essays, cutting one or the other didn’t feel particularly like a loss. As I’ve said before, I don’t feel it’s worth my time to try working at something when I don’t know where it’s headed. Not to mention, I was much more invested in the subject of gender than that of Marxism.
But enough introducing–head on over to the individual essay tabs, if you feel so inclined to do so. Whether the papers made it all the way into the presentation portfolio or not, they all exemplify the process I have been striving to improve and perfect, and it is my opinion that not a single one of them is particularly worse than any other. I worked hard on them all, put them all through the same rigorous outline process, and feel rewarded in the results I got from them. Though they were all completely different essays, I was able to continue on in the process that works for me and be successful at it. That’s thankfully the nature of how I work–even the “not-so-chosen ones” of the bunch are still essays that are victims of a rigid perfectionist, and I believe that shows in the quality of all my work. Although my process has grown and changed in small ways this semester (the details of which you can find in individual essay processes), I will never stop the manner in which I go all-out–I think that’s my number one strength.