My summer reading has inspired me to think about how I approach essay writing for my English BA. We are evaluated on how we present an analysis of a text; our understanding of the relationship between certain aspects of writing and the impact of the whole text. I have started to think about writing my essays the same way literary authors think about the texts they write. After all, who writes a more convincing argument than an author of fiction?
It is possible to understand the ‘argument’ a literary author constructs in a text. One benefit of being positively smitten with an author and text is thinking over the intricate parts of the writing process along with the impact of the complete work. As a reader I discern the whole as a product of the parts. There is a constant tension between the finished piece and the bits that come together to make up the whole. As a reader it is easy to be impressed by the whole text. As a writer the whole becomes possible only by mastering the pieces. As a student I have a new appreciation of what is required to ‘master the pieces’ in my own small writing efforts. I can use this insight to develop a good essay. I do not mean to simply write about the details of works on the syllabus but to understand what pieces a convincing argument about a text or theory must contain.
Mastering the pieces of a convincing argument is a very pleasant challenge. My favorite authors have inspired me to take a page from their book; please excuse the pun. Approaching argument like a creative writing project has great appeal. Authors think over every aspect of their ideas and how they are presented before settling on the words we finally read. They argue to themselves, ‘if I write this way there is a certain impression; what happens if I write it another way?’ I am impressed with a process which selects materials and constructs ideas so carefully.
Authors create a convincing argument by selecting from many pieces of material. Selecting and organizing the pieces into a meaningful argument is possible only with comprehensive knowledge of a subject. It is helpful to develop my arguments by examining many aspects of a text. My responses to study guide or sample examination questions cover all sides of an issue; especially if I feel inclined toward one particular position. Developing a convincing argument starts with getting to know many different aspects of a text. Knowing details of a text is not enough. To pick and choose among the details I must also know what I want to say. Natalie Portman said ‘a work of art opens a conversation; it doesn’t tell people what to think.’ For me literature explores possibilities and opens conversations; it starts an ‘argument.’ I want my essays, my arguments, to be part of that conversation. The starting point is recognizing the brilliant arguments present in literature.