I am sitting here with a batch of sophomore essays on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I'm trying to remember if I ever wrote this poorly. I know I did, but English has just come so naturally to me, it is hard to remember back to when I didn't know how to write an essay or analyze a work of literature in-depth. Even after two weeks of reviewing what makes thesis statements strong, how to include specific details, and how to write an interesting introduction and conclusion paragraph, I am still getting papers that start: "Do you know what love is? I do..." or end: "Now, to end my paper, I'm going to tell you the things I talked about." If I got a dollar for every time I have read the word "stuff," I think I would have more money than my salary pays for a year right about now.
So, in order to keep me sane, I was hoping you might share some excerpts (if you still have or remember them!) or memories of poor essays you've written along the way. My hope with this is that if I can remind myself that everyone starts out poorly at writing and they do eventually improve, it will renew the faith I have in the job I am trying to do for these students: help them get better at writing and communicating their ideas. As all of you are accomplished writers, it will give me renewed hope that teaching these skills is not in vain and will eventually yield dividens for my students as it has for you.
One of my first philosophy papers for my undergraduate degree was supposed to be on whether or not there is a right and wrong. My first time in a philosophy class, I had trouble narrowing down what I wanted to write about, and I ended up going on and on for 24 pages about how perception is everything and reality is nothing and doesn't really exist as all people perceive things differently and from various moral compasses. Except I never even made that point, I don't think, as all I saw when I got that paper back was the F and big writing that said: "Too verbose; pair down ideas and be succinct." Words to live by.