Monday, February 18, 2013

An Acquired Taste

Authored by Lindsey Burke, Writing Consultant

Writing is an acquired taste.   

But don't be discouraged if you haven't found an appreciation for it, yet.  College is the perfect time to try and gain enjoyment in each new exposure.  Everyone can discover an interest in writing, though for some, it may simply require more or less time to develop.   

I know students who had lost their distaste for writing in high school, finding a certain sweetness in a task that so many of us deemed bitter and downright dreadful.  Assigned essay topics could be so wild and outlandish, typically inspiring such reactions as "What's the point?  Is my teacher crazy?  If I want to be, oh say, a dentist, then why on earth must I read and write about Julius Caesar, The Scarlet Letter, and Death of a Salesman?  It won't make me a better dentist!"  I didn't see the meaning of the practice, and it wasn't until my freshman year of college that I finally experienced a shift in mentality and felt a fondness for academic writing.  

As always, the topic seemed absurd.  We had to argue whether technology helps or hurts our intelligence... by using a magical monkey from a Chinese folk tale and Google as our only sources of evidence!  As per tradition, I did not see a purpose in the assignment.  How on earth was I supposed to convince an ordinary person of my claim, using such silly (and seemingly unrelated) pieces of evidence? 

The class was responsible for submitting a rough draft to be reviewed by the professor, and though the draft grades were not recorded, they were supposed to give us an idea of the success of our arguments at that stage.  My rough draft earned a C, and naturally I was devastated by the red letter that represented my work.   

Seeing that grade beside my name forced me to consider and confess; I didn't take the assignment seriously, and (regrettably) the verb "BS" was the most accurate way to describe how I wrote the paper.  I felt embarrassed, but thankful for a second chance.  I knew I needed to change my strategy (if you call "BS-ing" a strategy) and my outlook on writing essays in general.   

The assignment challenged me to collect every possible piece of evidence from the texts that was related to the topic and my claim.  But in order to organize them to create a compelling and interesting argument, I forced myself to think as far outside the box as I was capable of extending.  And then something had finally occurred to me; for the first time I wondered if these bizarre essay topics functioned as tests of our creativity.     

Aside from practicing basic writing skills, these essays can help train us to think critically, be creative as heck, and challenge us to compose something original and unlike anything our teachers have seen from another student.  As soon as I adopted this outlook, I no longer felt silly for writing about Google and a magical Chinese monkey.  I was happy and confident that the message I communicated was innovative and convincing.  It was the first essay I felt truly proud of, and it was also my first A on a college paper. 

I “acquired a taste” for writing by finding something about the process that I enjoyed.  By trying it again and giving it a true chance, I decided it’s not so bad, after all!

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