Me and the Essay, the Essay and Me

Me and the Essay, the Essay and Me


Here are the questions:

What have you learned about the essay this semester? What have you learned about writing?

After about seven and a half years of taking both college and high school English classes, it wasn’t until my final semester of my college career that I really learned about the essay.  As I am sure many of my classmates will say, the essay for me, so far, had been a tool for reflection.  It was a way to prove to my teachers and professors that I had diligently kept up with their assigned readings, and that I was interested enough in those readings to have my own, unique commentary and takeaway.  Throughout my education the essay was almost never used for any kind of self expression, excepting the rarely assigned “creative” or “individual” essay.  Throughout this course we have been given the freedom really to write about what we want to write about.  Beginning this process was a transition.  I had to move from the incredibly structured and formal writing space in which I had been trained, to a new space, one without prompts or checklists of necessary structural tools.  I don’t want to say that it was stressful, because I was very excited to be able to write how and what I wanted.  However, it was still new, and with such an open ended task, I had no idea where to begin.  Throughout the process of writing for this class, we read works by talented and accomplished essayists.  Reading these, we were thinking about voice and ideas in ways that I never had before.  Actually having to dissect sentences and paragraphs to try and pin point an author’s thought process helped me to look at my own.  In this course I learned a lot about my own writing process.  Having to structure my own essays , rather than following the structure set out for me, forced me to look at the way that I write, and think.  I learned that writing an essay can be a way to think about anything from the most abstract ideas, to the pondering of simple, everyday items and experiences.  I learned that you can even use the mundane to talk about the philosophical.  An essay can be whatever its author makes it.  It does not just have to be a reflection of someone else’s writing, it can be a display of your own.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I have learned that I am not as good of a writer as I thought I was.  This sounds harsh, but it’s true.  I realized that I have never really had to write for myself.  There has always been something that I am responding to.  Although, in the past, I may have thought that sitting down in front of a blank page meant that I was starting from nothing, I have never actually started from nothing before.  There was always an idea, a thesis, etc. which reflected the assignment I was given–whether this was a prompt, a novel, an article–there was something tangible to start from.  When sitting down to write my final collection of essays for this course, I realized I was literally starting from nothing.  I had to come up with a beginning for myself.  I sat in class and listened to everyone’s wonderful ideas and felt more lost than ever.  I knew I should write about something that interested me, something that I thought about a lot, but I was drawing a blank.  Eventually I decided to do what I talked about in my previous paragraph: using the mundane to talk about the bigger, more abstract.  Even as we come to the end of the course, I am still looking for my voice.  I look to some of my favorite authors, in particular, Gary Snyder.  His voice is strong, clear, and yet incredibly hard to find words to describe.  This is how I want to write.  I want to be able to weave stories and commentary in the way he does.  Snyder meditates as he writes, and he invites you to do the same.

How might what you have learned in the course stay with you or be useful beyond this class?

As most English majors do, I really do love to write.  However, in the last couple of years I feel like I have lost sight of what it means to produce my own writing.  After almost four years of college, I realize that I have come to associate writing with work, and not enjoyable work.  This class actually reminded me that writing can be for yourself.  It has been a very long, stressful semester and writing for this class has been the only classwork that has not felt completely overwhelming.  Doing this kind of essaying, helps me remember that writing can be what I want or need it to be.  It’s good to have a reminder of why I even came into this major.