When selecting a first year seminar course, my first choice was Cultural
Studies: Walking, with Professor Robert Marrs. The course description
created an image of a relaxed class in which students would take walks
and discuss their reflections in writing. I thought Cultural Studies sounded
like a good class to balance my otherwise heavy course load. Within a
few weeks at Coe, my view of the class changed dramatically. Professor
Robert Marrs became Dr. Bob; the course title went from Cultural Studies:
Walking, to the walking class, to FYS. The cake class I had anticipated
has come to be the most time consuming of all. On top of daily reading,
weekly 1000 word writing assignments, and seven required cultural events
followed by 750 word exploratory texts, I am expected to complete three
walking essays. Three essays. Not too bad for a writing class, or so I
thought until I found out that Dr. Bob expected me to carry out five to
ten revisions on each one.
Before my first year seminar course, I didn't know the true meaning of
revision. My high school teachers had accepted my first drafts with spelling
corrections as finished works. In fact, my assignments were more than
acceptable, they were outstanding. My tendency to be long-winded was admired,
my attention to detail rewarded.
Entering the Writing Center for my first conference, I expected Dr. Bob
to repeal his revision policy on account of my breathtaking work. When
I saw the amount of editing marks Dr. Bob had scrawled on my draft, I
was shocked; I became angry when he told me that I needed to cut fifteen
to twenty percent of the words I had painstakingly chosen to complete
the essay. By the time I left Peterson Hall, I was utterly ashamed of
what I had written and afraid to find out what else my high school teachers
had lied to me about. What I called attention to detail, Dr. Bob called
unnecessary and insulting to the reader. He explained that my long windedness
showed that I didn't trust the reader to interpret the text correctly.
Since I hadn't received much criticism from my high school teachers, I
thought revision was equivalent to punishment, a sign that my writing
was not good enough for college level classes.
Afraid that I was ruining my masterpiece by cutting its length, I begrudgingly
whittled away at the unnecessary clutter. After reading through the revised
copy, I was surprised to find that Dr. Bob was right; the ideas that were
most important to me shined through more effectively.
Once the text was converted to its condensed form, I began to toy with
its sequencing. My high school composition teacher required the class
to turn in an outline with the final draft of each paper. She always ignored
the fact that I feverishly scrawled it out seconds before the bell rang
and clipped it to my assignment as I handed it in. I always assumed that
the initial flow of my thought would be the clearest sequence for the
reader to follow. At a conference, a writing center consultant asked me
to read through my paper and rearrange it to create a more logical flow.
Again, I was surprised to see that my instinct had failed me. I was taken
aback when I saw that she was right; after changing the order of a few
paragraphs and grouping similar thoughts, my essay made more sense.
The copy of "McLoud Run" included in this portfolio is the
seventh draft of this essay, and I dare not call it a final copy. It may
never be finished, for each time that I read it, I see it in a new light;
I explore it on a new level, and by doing so, find new ideas surfacing.
The second piece in the portfolio, "Coe Campus Walk," was significantly
more difficult to write in its early stages than "McLoud Run"
was. Rather than focusing on the experience, as I did on "McLoud
Run," I found myself concentrating on the assignment, trying to generate
thoughts to address instead of opening my mind and allowing them to come
to me. My first draft was factual. It was empty. At my first writing center
conference, I was too ashamed to even let the consultant read the text.
I told her that it was lacking emotion, that I had been too driven by
the assignment. She mentally retraced my steps with me, asking me what
I felt at different points during the trip. We brainstormed and I found
places to inject my feelings into the piece. This revision taught me the
value of cooperative brainstorming in writing.
I did a lot more independent revision on "Coe Campus Walk"
than I did in the first one. I struggled with inserting words by other
authors and using dialogue to make the piece more conversational and personal.
I also used segmenting, a technique I had been looking forward to using
since I read about it in the Cultural Studies Daybook. Each revision of
this essay brought a more conversational tone to the piece, and I'm pleased
with the relaxed attitude that resonates through the text. I'm not confident
that my integration of these methods is seamless, but they are becoming
more natural to me.
The third work in my portfolio, "Memorial Park Meditations,"
came rather easily to me, but working on the paper was very rather emotionally
draining. After writing the first draft and meeting with Dr. Bob, I revisited
the cemetery the essay centers around to gather quotes from the notebook
at my grandparents' burial site. After copying several pages, I returned
to my car to find that I had been standing outside in the late November
air for an hour and a half. Speaking about my grandparents is very hard
for me, but writing about them has become a helpful way to express my
As with the other two papers I completed for Cultural Studies, this one
underwent major revision; after printing the first complete draft, I took
it back to my room and parked myself on the floor, armed with scissors
and scotch tape. I cut out every paragraph and taped them back together
in a different order, breaking some paragraphs up and placing their components
in other parts of the paper. After it was all stuck together again, I
retyped the whole thing. By writing my words again, I forced myself to
really read them and consider who they fit together, leading to even more
revision. This paper is by far my best work in expressing my most personal
My first year seminar has helped me begin the transformation from cluttered babbling to solid writing. The most important part of that change has been revision. Before coming to Coe, the connection between writing and revision was like that between driving a car and performing mechanical work on it. The latter wasn't necessary unless something about the car or paper didn't sound right, and when it was needed, the job could be done by someone else. Now I realize that revision is the fueling up of the essay automobile; it is crucial if one actually expects the writing to go somewhere, and a task that should be completed by the author.
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