If I were to describe a theme that defined everything I’ve accomplished this quarter, I would describe it with one word: refinement. At the beginning the quarter, I set several goals for myself. Outside of the generic “Don’t fail the class” and “make some new friends”, I set one goal that I really wanted to accomplish. I wanted to improve. As a writer, as a reader, as a thinker. I wanted to end the quarter with the feeling that I was more knowledgeable than I was at the beginning. I know the best way how to achieve that feeling is through refinement, careful revision of every aspect of my work. I set out to write as best I could while knowing that, the instant that I submitted my work in the Drop box, I could do better. Not to say that my initial submissions were lackluster, but I knew that I could improve upon anything I submitted.
I suppose I should first address my preferred writing process. I now believe that the key to a good paper is a good outline, but that was not always the case. Prior to this course, I wouldn’t make outlines; I thought they were pointless wastes of time that could instead be spent writing the paper. Reflecting on my improvement this term, I can’t help but look back and think “oh how wrong I was”. I would be that person staring at a blank screen suffering from writer’s block for hours on end, and slowly, painfully, I would start to write. But after having been required to create an outline, I finally realized the effectiveness of the concept. I now find it dreadfully difficult to sit down in front of an empty word document and simply start typing a paper. I cannot do it. It’s too difficult to create a very complicated something from nothing, and I now realize that outlining is the perfect way to start a paper. I don’t have to worry about how it sounds or how it reads; I am free to dump any and every idea I have about a certain topic onto the page. Possible theses, funny points to make, and potential ways to approach such a daunting amount of writing can all be removed from my head and placed on the page. In a way, I feel that, by outlining, I make more room in my head to think about the little details. Once I’ve relieved the burden of large, overarching ideas, I can more clearly think about how to actually form my paper. Whereas I may sit for hours on end in front of a blank screen, waiting for something to come out, an outline takes considerably less time. Once I’ve got an outline I’ve satisfied with, I can begin writing the actual paper, and wow does it all flow out. With my outline beside me, I can write for hours. It’s as if a floodgate has opened in my head, and the outline removed the blockage of fear that I’d forget some large idea I’ve had. I effortlessly fill the pages, not stopping for anything. I type out whatever comes to mind, not worrying about if it will make it to the final cut. Eventually, the flood of thoughts slows to a trickle, and usually by then I’ve completed the first draft of my paper. I lose the feeling of inspiration; my thoughts no longer flow freely through my fingers. At that point I know that my draft is done, as I’ve learned that nothing yields bad papers like forced writing. The best writing comes when one wants to write, not when one has to write. I take a deep breath and sit back from my computer, reveling in the sensation of creation. I’ve tackled the largest obstacle towards success: starting. After having written several papers in this class, I find starting this reflection letter much easier. The outlining took less time, and I was able to almost instantly sit down and start writing about my experiences this term. Though I know the first draft is far from perfect, and much revision is needed to yield a finished product. Conveniently, I’ve got the revision part in the bag.
To start, I would define revision as the analysis and improvement of every aspect of a work. I believe that in order to take a rough, imperfect object and turn it into something truly extraordinary, you must first break the object down into as many little pieces as you can, and proceed to look deeply at all of them, evaluating them on their contributions to the whole. When, and there is no doubt that it is when, you find something that is weak, or not pulling its weight, you need not strike it down, but instead think about how it can be better. What is it not doing that you want it to? Once you have the answer to that question, you can then begin to refine the object, shaping it into the perfect image you have in your head, and while it will never completely become that image, I’ve found it can get pretty close.
One does not have to go about this task alone, however. Ask your classmates, peers, friends, and family, whoever will be willing to provide honest feedback. That’s what I do. Outside of in-class “peer review time”, I ask whoever will listen for feedback: Parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and even random people in my dorm. I find that there can be no wrong opinion about a paper, and asking unlikely sources of feedback can often yield the best. For my argumentative paper, I received some of the most important feedback from someone in the lounge of my dorm. I had earlier asked one of my good friends to go over my paper. They, unfortunately, had the whole “it’s great, you don’t need to change anything” opinion, though they offered one good piece of feedback. When I was talking about the ESRB, they pointed out that I didn’t explain the concept that Mature rated video games cannot be sold to minors without a parent or guardian present. I realized that I had taken something I accept as common knowledge for granted, and by not explaining it, I severely weakened my argument. And sure enough, after leaving their room and returning to mine, I stopped and asked a girl on my floor to read my paper. She read through it, pointed out several mistakes, but when she got to it, she stopped me and asked what the point of describing the ESRB was. She said that if people don’t have to obey the ratings system, why is it significant? I instantly thought of my friend’s advice, and how those unfamiliar with video games would not understand the significance of the ratings. I realized the importance of getting as many different viewpoints on a paper as possible, as my Writing Fellow completely missed this massive dead zone of my argument. For nearly a page I described a very detailed system, but I forgot to explain why it was effective. Going over the paper by myself, I of course missed this hole, as that fact about the ESRB has been engrained in my head ever since I wanted to buy my first Mature game, which of course my mother denied me. This course has helped me realize the true significance of peer revision: perspectives different from yours can yield drastically different views on a topic, and addressing those different views in your paper can only strengthen it.
If anything has improved because of this class, it’s my creation process, specifically the incorporation of outlining and peer review. As stated before, I never outlined my papers. At all. I would just sit there and hope things would come to my head. This obviously isn’t an effective approach, and thank you, Professor Tomlin, for making that first outline mandatory. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this course without outlining. Additionally, I never asked for outside views. I didn’t like the idea of people picking apart my work, and I realize now that not asking for the feedback of others severely hurt my high school papers. I know now that any opinion, especially those that differ from yours, is crucial to refining a paper. If one person who reads your draft is confused and what you wrote, not doubt a general audience would be as well.
To conclude, I would like to thank you, Professor Tomlin. Thank you for holding conversations with me after class. Thank you for providing such great feedback for everything I’ve submitted. And thank you for being a wonderful teacher. I’ve had a great time in this class, and it was the one I was bummed about missing during that snow day. Hope you have a great rest of the year, and I hope you get to see Django some time. =)