When I was in high school, my mom kept asking me why I wouldn’t compile all my essays together to make a neat collection. She gave me all sorts of reasons: that my teacher asked for it (“Fine, I’ll give her copies of some of them” – I never did), that she wanted to read them (“Okay, I’ll let you read a few” – never quite got around to this), that it would be good for me to keep track of my progress. Every time, I would mumble an unrelated excuse and hope that she’d stop asking me to do it. I just didn’t want to do it. Most of my writing never ventured out of my paper and virtual folders. The ones that did make it out were turned in for evaluation.
I was happy with the mess of papers in my folders and the assortment of oddly-titled documents on my computer. Most importantly, I liked that my haphazardly thrown together collection was for my own eyes only. I did want to let my mom read what I’d written, but often times I ended up thinking, “Maybe not this one. Maybe the next one.” For some reason, I felt so attached to the things I’d written that letting someone else read them, especially someone as close as my own mother, was daunting. I simply didn’t want to be judged on my writing. That territory was a no-no for me.
But college has forced me to change.
Now, I sometimes really need to hear feedback from people who read my work. Now that I find myself working on a writing assignment every day (oh, the joy and the woe), sometimes I simply lose track of my direction in an essay. Sure, it’s all fun to delve into a topic and lose myself in it for however long I permit myself to sit in one spot and listen to classical music over and over. But there always comes a time when I just draw a blank. Even the simplest sentences fail to make sense and the easiest words escape me. That is the point where all I can do is frown at the computer while simmering inside and thinking “Why do I have to do this? Why!”
This is usually when I end up feeling relieved that I’ve been introduced to writing workshops. Before my first-year writing class, I was apprehensive about this “workshop” deal. I had to sit and discuss my own paper with the whole class? Please don’t make me do it. I remember sitting through the first class when my professor announced how discussing our own papers could help make us better writers. I slinked down my seat and promised myself not to be a wuss. It couldn’t be that bad, right? It turned out that it really wasn’t that bad! (But that didn’t stop me from agonizing over the first draft I ever let my classmates read. I still do that now but it no longer feels so daunting. Yay, a small victory.)
Now that I’m in my fourth class that provides extensive time for discussing assignments and receiving peer feedback, I can safely say that this is probably one of the best things I’ve gotten out of my college education thus far. My experiences with active discussions and feedback have taught me that sometimes, it is simply necessary to have a pair of fresh eyes look over a work that has begun to feel stale. Often, when I get stuck in a piece of writing, all I need to do is to talk to someone about what I’m writing. Sometimes I get such a ridiculously easy a-ha moment that I feel kind of dumb for not thinking about something earlier.
But this is what has led me to appreciate how writing does not necessarily rely on just one person’s effort. It also involves cooperative effort, be it in the form of an active discussion in a classroom or a passing comment or question that a curious friend poses about something related. This is what, to me, makes writing such an enjoyable collaborative process. It isn’t just about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It is about going through an elaborate (though sometimes a bit painful) process of seeking information, inspiration, and opinion. I’ve discovered, through time, that I really love being able to discuss a paper with someone close to me. It is as if when I force myself to reiterate my points by voicing them, I assume greater accountability for really knowing what I’m saying and realizing how I’m coming across as a writer with a specific purpose in writing a text. More importantly, just going over my own ideas by saying them out loud and hearing someone respond to them immediately gives a sense of “realness” to what I’m writing.
I really like that.