Where am I in my writing?: Thoughts on Richards & Miller Ch. 1, 2, and 7
I have always thought that my writing has been acceptable and possibly even good, but I'm not so sure anymore. The authors of this text ask us to take a look back into our writing history to see how it has shaped us. Growing up, I was in all advanced courses - I took every honors and AP class possible, achieving all As and, yes, my one and only C that I worked my tail off for in Honors Trig. Then I reached college. Again, my history so far had been relatively positive with writing, so I was pretty confident. Then I hit English 100 - freshman composition - and my world was turned upside down. A male graduate student taught this course and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't figure out what he wanted. I would spend every week in his office, looking at my paper, trying to figure out what was wrong. As the weeks passed, my confidence went lower and lower and lower and the barriers to writing for that class went higher and higher and higher. Here, I believe, is where a complex about writing had taken root. It was my only B in college, and I was angry, frustrated, sad, and defeated all at the same time. After reading these chapters in this text, I realized that my writing history has shaped who I am at the present and some of the struggles and barriers that I have about reading and writing. Looking back, I think that what was probably missing was my voice. I was trying so hard to please this teacher and write in the academic prose that he wanted that I became lost. There was no I in my writing, only they, or better yet he. Richards & Miller advocate over and over the need for the personal voice in writing, and yet, up until this point (my second year in my doctoral degree), I am still trying to leave me behind. What I need to realize is that I do belong in my writing. In fact, there are two "I"s in writing, so there is plenty of room for finding myself.
I have also noticed that during my doctoral degree I have been a master at avoiding long writing tasks. My advisor asked me what I had written for my degree. He was shocked, and so was I because I think I had really done it subconsciously, that I didn't have two or three or four 25 page articles that could be used for my candidacy. In fact, I only had one and it was co-authored. It was a fabulous piece, I'll have you know, but it was co-authored. What I learned was that even though I was in that paper, I was not by myself, and in the academy, sometimes "I" has to stand alone. Whether I agree with that or not, I have not determined, but what I have done is learned a norm in academic culture.
Reading this text made me think about the writing that I have done so far. I wrote dozens of papers for one of my professors. Now, they were very short, reflective works analyzing the required weekly reading, but nonetheless, they were mine. In fact, I LOVED writing those pieces. Better yet, I loved the intellectual conversation that ensued between that professor and me about my thoughts and his thoughts on my thoughts and my thoughts on his thoughts on my thoughts. (Are you following? That was a test, you know). Now I am in a writing course this spring, and I adore it. I look forward to class each week because I want to become a better writer.
For this course, I want to finish a piece on a research study that I conducted this fall semester. This paper has a dual purpose. I want to have it published and I need a paper for candidacy since I have been so masterful at avoiding such a task. My confidence, however, has been shattered even more than it was my freshman year of college. This fall my advisor, who had not read a single piece of work that I had written probably because I didn't have any, asked me to write a book review for possible publication. I was so excited! Here was my opportunity! I could show my advisor that I could write, and I would also have my first published piece. Yes! Unfortunately, it didn't really turn out that way at all. I failed and I failed miserably. At least I can say that when I make mistakes, which isn't often because I HATE to make them being the perfectionist that I am, I go for the gold of all mistake-making. I was so proud of my piece. I thought it sounded intelligent. I had used big, stuffy vocabulary. It was one of those pieces that made me puff out my chest and say, "Yes, I am an academic." Ha, was I wrong. When I got the feedback from the anonymous reviewer, the air flew out of my chest just like a balloon deflates when pricked with a pin. In fact, the two lines that stick out to me the most were, "Good lord, what is this person talking about?" and "Sappy ending. Sounds like a Miss America pageant or a bad ending to a poorly written college essay." Nice, isn't it? My first review and that was the feedback that I received. I must say this, I can fail with the best of them. I had failed. I didn't care as much about letting myself down, but I was traumatized at the fact that I had let my advisor down. What would he think of me now? Would I be allowed to finish my degree? As you can see, my thoughts were definitely dramatic, but they were real to me nonetheless.
There is a point in writing this long story. Richards & Miller state that it is critical to understand our personal writing history and how it has shaped us. This incident has really shaped me because I am now deathly afraid of writing this article that I would like to have published and used for candidacy. My mother has always told me that the mark of a person's character is not how hard she falls but rather how she rises after that fall. So, here I am, trying to rise after that fall. What these chapters in this book have done for me is that they have made me realize why I fell. I left out "I" in my writing. I had no voice in my writing, and voice is exactly what Richards & Miller advocate in this text.
One other point that sticks out to me in this text is where they talk about a person's psyche as a funnel. The literature and ideas are on one end; they pass through your psyche as the filter in the middle; and they come out on the other end not the same but rather they have been touched by your thoughts, ideas, spins, and twists. This thought stuck with me. It made me realize that when I have written pieces that have included my voice, like all of those reflective papers for that one professor, I can do it. I just need to remember to keep "I" in my writing because without it, my writing is lost.
What lesson will I take from here? From now on, I pledge to keep "I" in my writing. Thanks, Richards & Miller.