It finally happened – I have reached a very particular study goal of mine that has been elusive, a little frustrating, and very important. It would be great to say something like, ‘I always knew it would happen eventually,’ but honestly, there were days when I never, ever thought it would. After a few weeks of steady progress and implementation with this particular task, and noting there is a great deal of room for more improvement, I think it will stick. I think we all can have a block that affects everything, and can sometimes feel insurmountable no matter what we do or how hard we try. My particular ‘block’ has been writing an essay plan and developing an argument. The last few weeks I noticed a complete reversal from a process I could not seem to control, to a process where my skills and confidence are building.
The essay planning and argument process affects my grades, the quality and volume of work I am able to complete, organization, developing an argument, and my ability to extract an argument from texts. Many of my colleagues in the English and Comparative Literature program have expressed the same challenges with outlining an argument in preparation for writing an essay, especially under exam conditions. Reaching the point where I actually need to organize an essay plan before writing is a welcome and noteworthy breakthrough.
For the longest while I would start an essay plan, then careen into a very frustrating, almost automatic kind of writing that, with great hope and prayer, might end up as an acceptable answer to the question, or even pass as an argument. As a result my thesis statement often came at the end instead of the beginning. While some good ideas might be present, a decent essay always required a complete re-write.
That can erode confidence, and is not really the best case scenario in exams with 3 hours for 3 essays that represent my only grade for a year of work. Taking control of this process, developing a cogent argument under exam conditions, seemed like a complete mystery. It is quite impossible to do while writing like one possessed of everything but the facts. For me, it meant fighting a few battles with habits formed long ago to meet other goals. Those habits, combined with my beginner’s knowledge of literature, created a real academic challenge. Without an essay plan the best my papers can do is stray in and out of discussions, and wander around my topic.
Suddenly, over the last few weeks, I noticed it is now difficult for me to start writing without a plan and an argument outlined in some detail. My ‘flowing’ kind of writing has its place, especially early in the study process when m goal is to gain an understanding of things like character, theme, or other literary points. Teaching myself how to control this process means that when it is time to write an essay a more precise approach is finally at my command.
I will gladly share the things I did over the past few years to reach this happy point. But first, to all my colleagues who share the same concern about building an argument and writing under exam conditions – it can finally happen, just like that. One day, you can’t seem to produce an essay plan or argument very easily, and the next day, you can’t write without one.
Caowrites is studying our BA English by distance learning in the USA.