Sunday, May 31, 2009


I think I was a pretty decent writer when I came to English 101. I have always been a daily reader. My mother was a voracious consumer of books. I remember her reading many of the classics as I was growing up. She read all of Charles Dickens, Les Miserables, and anything she could find about the Russian Revolution. My father was constantly reading books about Buddhism and art, and poetry books were always lying around.

My parents would summarize and discuss what they were reading, and I shared many of those books with them. That history is why I have an intuitive “feel” for writing; for how to put words together. At the same time, I have never written extensively. I have dabbled in poetry, written a couple of dozen songs, some letters and emails, and a few blog entries. Though some of this writing was fairly eloquent, I never did much editing or rewriting. I would just dash it out and be done with it.

This class has given me the form I needed to practice the art of examining my writing and relentlessly trying to improve it. All of the papers I have written in this class were first free-written rather quickly, and from the beginning, they were coherent pieces, naturally well-organized and logical, with elevated vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase. But when I spent time reviewing these first drafts, I was amazed by how many small things were cumbersome, unclear or simply incorrect. I now have a much better grasp of comma and semi-colon usage, for example (although absolute certainty remains elusive). I ended up spending about six hours slowly polishing my writing for every hour I had spent drafting it. As a result, I have come to realize that it’s absolutely necessary to do this if I want my writing to be at the highest possible level, and to communicate what I want to say, to whom I want to say it.

The essays I have provided for my portfolio: “Uncle John’s Furniture Truck” and “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States,” were chosen not because they were the best-written - I believe that all five of my essays were of a similar high quality - but because they represent the range of my writing. “Uncle John’s Furniture Truck” is based on stories I have been telling verbally in casual settings for years. The situations are humorous and the tone is light, and the style is a little more relaxed than the more serious argument form of “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States,” in which government policies and media statements are examined and, I think, deflated by truth-seeking analysis.

In both of these essays I was compelled, after reflection, to modify my language in order to make the writing more accurate and persuasive. As I reread the story about Uncle John, I noticed that I used shorthand phrases to refer to events rather than simply describing what happened. For example, in the first draft of this story, I said that I “took out” a fire hydrant, but in the final draft I replaced that phrase with a more vivid moment-by-moment account of the destruction of the hydrant. I am learning that narrating a chain of events can be more impactful than just encapsulating them.

After reading my early drafts of “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States”, I shaped my language in order to make the wording less confrontational, more nuanced, and less absolute. “Always” would become “typically”, in an effort not to paint myself into a corner, rhetorically. I think that the work I put into polishing the pieces was worth it, and that the essays were substantially improved.

I have fulfilled the requirements of all of the assignments, and I put in the maximum amount of work I could, considering that I am a part-time student and have the distraction of trying to make a living at the same time as I seek an education. In short, I think I deserve an A for this class.

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