By Joan Rhine
I don’t know about you, but I always have so much more energy to do the things I know I’m good at–and I flounder when I have to do something I feel unsure about or feel I’m lacking the necessary expertise. Unfortunately, I often don’t give myself credit for things I’m actually good at because I think of how others can do it more naturally. Once that momentum is lost, I have such a hard time getting it back, and end up having to just push through. While that is hard–like swimming upstream–I tell myself the task won’t magically get done unless I do it, or unless I give up said task. And, for me, giving up is worse because I have all of those negative “you failed” feelings instead of relief that the job is out of my life. All of this is leading up to the fact that I often forget to use tools that are proven ways to make me do my writing job better. Let me explain–
My daughter is finally taking Freshmen Composition I this year. She’s in her third year of college, and should have taken it sooner, but there are several reasons why she didn’t: 1) she’s a very good writer, but she hates to write; 2) as a good writer who hates to write, she’s had no difficulty coming up with appropriate answer for essay questions and research papers in higher level classes, and argues that she shouldn’t have to take the course; and 3) because she just didn’t want to do it. So, she’s kept putting off taking the course, thinking it would magically become a non-issue and just go away. That hasn’t happened, of course, and since her mother is a writer the issue arises with the necessity of signing up for each new semester of classes. But the reason she finally took the class, the thing that beat out procrastination, the “I don’t want to’s,” and everything else she could argue with, is that she can’t take Comp II without taking the prerequisite, and she’s finally realized she really has to complete ALL of the general requirements if she expects to graduate. Tough lesson to learn, but we all have to get there sometime. That’s her story.
My story, on the other hand, is how even when we fulfill the general requirements in life, and absorb the knowledge necessary to graduate, we stupid humans forget to use our collective knowledge as the years go by. Since my daughter is taking an Internet course, and thus has no classmate sitting beside her for immediate feedback, it’s my job to help her get some excitement about the class. Without our conversations she only has the discussion boards, and while the technological idea is sound, there’s no real chance for immediate feedback.
Consequently, we’ve discussed all the pre-writing things that I hadn’t really fully thought about in—well, let’s just say a good number of years. She’s really enjoying the mapping and brainstorming ideas–she draws connected circles constantly now!–and talking to her has awakened options in me I hadn’t thought of using for decades (okay, there, I admit it’s been a long time since my Comp I class). I’ve periodically used freewriting when I’ve been stuck, but now I use it for practically every project. Just pushing myself for 10 minutes–to write on the topic, but not having to follow any rules–has helped me in the last couple of weeks. For example, her book reminds that it’s better to write the Introduction after the essay is completed, and the title last. It’s no wonder I find it so difficult to do each of these things when I write articles, since they’ve always been the *first* things I spent time working. If I’d realized all of this sooner, I would have hit a college bookstore and bought a used copy of a Comp I book long ago. It amazes me sometimes at the things I know and have forgotten. Going back over the prewriting rules, re-examining Exemplification with more mature eyes, and helping her understand why outlining will really help the writing come easier has been—well—fun. Honest.
I’m not saying I want to take the course again, and all of her pleading and puppy dog expressions will not keep me from saying “you have to learn these writing rules–now do your homework.” No, I’ve had my turn; I’ll just hold onto those memories, thank you. However, it does make me wonder what else I know that would make my life easier—but can’t remember to use.