I joined the minor in writing because I knew that I love to write, and I recognize how important and powerful good writing can be. But going into Gateway, I hadn’t yet figured out how to write without being a student. I hadn’t even realized that the way I’ve been taught to write was to fulfill such a narrow, boring purpose. As soon as this was made apparent to me, I noticed changes in my personal as well as academic writing. I took more risks. I used more rhetoric. In particular, I liked to spice up my conclusions.
The same semester as Gateway, I took a Medical Anthropology class (which I loved) that required me to write four papers analyzing medical cases using medical anthropology theory. For the third paper, I explained how all of the reactions to a sudden widespread development of ticks in teenage girls in a small New York community all stemmed from the mind-body dualism theory of Descartes, and therefore potential treatments coming from non-Western medicine were ignored. Here are the final two sentences:
“Whether the parents of the girls accepted certain diagnoses or not, each proposal was rooted entirely in a concept of mind-body dualism that emerged in the 17th century. Therefore, the answer to one of the parent’s vehement opposition to the diagnosis of “conversion disorder” and mass hysteria – “what are we, living in the 1600s?” – could be ‘in a way, yes’.”
I know, it is not ground-breaking prose, but it’s different from the dry summary of a conclusion I was used to, and even taught to do.
Also, here’s an example of where I wrote another paper for this class as a story, rather explicitly. In the paper, I offered an alternative narrative for an article about a kid named Richard who became addicted to ADHD medication.
“My story does not begin with a character named Richard. My story begins with a setting – the society in which Richard lives, where biopower constructs an image of an ideal individual who lives to serve as a productive citizen.”
Since then, I’ve written papers beyond the goal of making my papers good. I want them to be enjoyable. And I thought that I had at least made some progress in cracking the academic code. I could write creative, fun papers with the same amount of intellectual rigor as something straightforward and dry. But then I started my capstone project, and I’ve had a really hard time jumping out of the mindset of a student.
I realized that even if I had come a ways in writing ‘not boring’ school papers, they have still always been for school. No matter how far I strayed, I had guidelines that kept me in line. Now, I’m in capstone and writing a thing with no greater purpose than to be written by me and read by someone else. It’s also really long. In a project as daunting and never-ending as this one, I find myself reverting back to the instincts of a student I’ve tried so hard to rid from my writing.
It’s especially hard because my project is rooted in scholarly thought, so I’ve struggled to find the correct line between necessary, interesting analysis for my audience and going way too in depth. The last thing I want is for it to come across as text-booky or preachy, so I’ve done my best to go back and edit any sections that could be written with a better tone, or explained in a more exciting way. I’ve definitely developed a stronger admiration for mainstream science writers. Pushing myself to write my capstone project not as a student has been one of the hardest parts of the entire semester. It’s also been the most rewarding.