Preface

Kaitlyn Wintermeyer

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 feelings.

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 feelings.

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.

Back to Kaitlyn Wintermeyer's Portfolio

 

 

 

 

 


This web site created and maintained by the Coe Writing Center. Copyright 2001.
E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.