Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Court and Spark

Court and Spark

“No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader...”
- Frost

Today a student stopped by to ask about the paper
due for tomorrow’s class, our last. She wanted to know
what it was supposed to be about, and whether it
had to be in the form of a thesis essay.
“Why,” I asked, “would you even want to go there?
Why don’t you try doing something more interesting to write,
and therefore, in all likelihood, more likely to interest me
or whoever winds up reading it. You might for example,
try to explore on paper who you are, and where
you are, and what you think about all of that.”
“Something philosophical?,” she asked? “Well, yeah. It could be. Or,
maybe try your hand at poem or two, following whatever
arbitrary rules you might choose to set for yourself, like
maybe writing ten words per line for a certain number
of lines, and just see where that might lead you.
The idea would be to more or less trick yourself
into writing something that surprises you and gives you pleasure
during each hour, each minute you spend working on it.
That’s something I, for one, would be happy to read."

Process Reflection:

True story, or as true as I could make it within the limits I set for myself, which are those described in the latter part of the poem. The conversation with the student was of course, much looser and much longer, but this is pretty much what happened, boiled down to its essence. During the course of our meeting she mentioned some exercises she had done in a creative writing class that she might like to dust off and try again, and I was reminded of, and told her about, a sequence of 30 posts I did starting back in January of 2008, a hundred words a day for 30 days.

My original intention in this post was to write 100 words exactly, ten words per line for ten lines. But as I was approaching 100 words I saw I wasn’t going to be able to get the story told without going over the limit, so I just kept on going to the next friendly number, which turned out to be 200 words. I actually only got into the ballpark, number-wise, and then used the word count tool to check myself. It took me almost as long to make the adjustments word counts and adjust the line breaks as it did to do the draft. Tinkering until I got it right. (Next day note: Then when I read out out in class today, I found a couple more wrinkles, which I have just attempted to iron out.)

The teacherly point to be made here is that without challenging myself to write something, I would have written nothing at all. By giving myself a nice low hurdle, I was able to approach it at a slow jog and keep on running. Wrote something that worked, had fun. Game over.

(The title is whimsical: the name of an album from way back by Joni Mitchell, and an oblique reference to the student, to her question, and to my answer.)

Anyone looking for a more elaborated argument on the merits and demerits of the thesis essay is invited to read "Essaying the Essay," to which there is a link in the sidebar to the left, under "Elaborations."

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