Comp Me

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.


5 thoughts on “Comp Me

  1. Yes, isn’t it amazing how such a simple change in routine can remove that boulder and get those ideas to flowing? Maybe that’s the secret, to change up the routine. I know if I change the location of my workspace, that sometimes helps. Or writing a scene that I know must come up sometime gets those creative juices flowing.

    That’s great how your daughter is loving the class! And fun that you get to relive the process with her.

  2. There’s one little thing I have to disagree with, sorry. :)


    I can’t outline to save my life. If I do, the story/article/whatever is done and I don’t have to do it anymore. Yes, I know that’s wrong, but that’s the way my mind is wired for some reason. It’s the same with writing a synopsis or telling someone too much about a project I’m working on.

    I use freewriting pretty regularly but I don’t usually think of mapping/clustering.

  3. Amazing how different all of us are. That’s what makes the creativity process so intriguing. Me? I outline just so that I know sort of where I’m going (because my first book I wrote kept birthing subplots and it was 996 pages with no end in site!!!).

    I outline enough to know the big black moment, and then I put it away. When I write, the character takes over and usually doesn’t go the same direction that I intended her/him to go.

    But there is something about the process that tells me that yes, you do have to end this story, and you must have the BBM brewing from the first few pages of the manuscript.

  4. Jen, I totally understand your POV. Outlining is a tool that often works better for people writing shorter pieces. Since that’s what I make a lot of my living doing, how it can help bring focus to an essay or article was really what spoke to me when I was covering this with my daughter–especially since Comp I is so essay focused.

    For big projects, like novels, I don’t really outline in the regimented way people think either–once I get the novel set in my mind I write a synopsis, trying to keep to one paragraph per chapter. Some of these chapters can run really long, but then when I start a new chapter I cut that chapter’s paragraph from my synopsis and put it at the top of page one. That keeps me in focus for the whole chapter and makes the writing much easier.

  5. Though I was an English major and later got an MFA in writing, I never took a comp. class. I have no idea about these techniques. I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, so I’m going to look into a comp. textbook.


Comments are closed.