Working at the writing center, it is usually assumed that you love to write papers. I am testifying today, however, that this is not always the case. I dread writing papers, they are the bane of my existence, and can be incredibly frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. I journal, write short stories, am working on a novel and, obviously, I blog. There is just something about academic papers that totally turns me off. It flat out does not appeal to me to sit down and write ten pages analyzing how Gabriel Grimes is a manifestation of James Baldwin’s actual father or how Plato uses the image of the ship to portray Democracy in ancient Greece.
The dread of the paper first begins when I see the due date listed on the syllabus. From that moment on, my subconscious does a mental countdown until I have to start writing something that is most definitely going to give me an unending headache. When I get the prompt, a brief moment of excitement passes over me as ideas first start to take form. Thinking of a topic that I care about or really believe in is exciting to me, no matter what I am writing, but this excitement only lasts until I sit down and try to write about it. It’s like it just slips away; poof, gone.
I usually can manage to hold onto my amazing and exciting ideas long enough to write a thesis statement. Forming a thesis typically comes pretty naturally to me, that’s just the way I am, but once I have it written, and start organizing and then writing the rest of the paper, everything disappears and I am left with a combination of frustration and nothingness. Just a complete and total mental block. It is like my mind refuses to move forward; it just stops and stubbornly says “Nope, I’m done.”
I know I’m not the only one who does not particularly like to write papers. A lot of people get frustrated, maybe because of the whole process, or maybe because they do not want to find evidence to cite in order to prove their point, or maybe it is because they cannot think of a good conclusion. My frustration comes from my consistent inability to transfer my thoughts from my brain to the computer. The curious thing, though, is that I do not always have this problem. When writing a story, this process might not come extremely easily to me, but I do not seem to have as much trouble writing my ideas down in a way that is both descriptive and relatively eloquent.
About a week ago this curious fact got me to thinking about whether or not there was a way to apply how I write a story to how I write a paper. The occurrence of this line of thinking was extremely convenient since I had a paper due in two days that I had not started on yet. The conclusion that I came through at the end of all my pondering was that there, in fact, was a way! As I sat down and started to analyze Jeff Wall’s photograph Insomnia, I decided to look at the paper from a different point of view. Rather than looking at the paper as an analyzation, I looked at it as telling the story of what the photograph means and why it means that. When writing that paper I had a much easier time that I normally did. I had never thought about how any academic paper really tells a story, the story of your thoughts and ideas, supported by evidence from outside sources.
Do not get me wrong. I still do not really enjoy writing papers all that much. I still go through the dread, nerves and writers block. But, I also found a way not to lose the excitement my ideas give me; I hold onto that because that is what drives the story I am telling. In the end, they are what gives my papers their life and, in the end, creates a final product I can be proud of.