Does study sometimes become boring? It is a long process from the beginning of the term until exams. It sometimes feels like running a marathon. In both preparation and running the actual race we come face to face with the intellectual boredom of repetitive activity. Sometimes the intensity of the activity and sense of accomplishment will balance the need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how tired or distracted you feel. When I am feeling tired finding a refreshing way to effectively engage with so much material is very necessary.
To me an ‘effective’ studying means mastering targeted learning outcomes, using the material in flexible and articulate ways, and engaging in a way that helps me internalize content and remember it. After all, I must be at my command eight months from now. Those points can be stumpers individually or taken all together. A few weeks ago mustering my resources for a study session after a long day filled with other demands presented a challenge. I decided to apply creative writing techniques to study. My hope was to overcome the sense of exhaustion from a busy schedule and the tedium of habit in my day in and day out reading and research. Using creative writing exercises and techniques helped me remember details about authors and literary periods, work out arguments, and perform text analysis.
When I write creatively, whether it is prose fiction, scripts, or drama, it is very natural to begin with dialogue. I like to visualize interaction and dialogue then write it. After dialogue is sketched it is easy to add narrative or stage directions to set the scene. Editing story and structure also becomes a lot easier when I develop dialogue first. It is a simple matter to review the dialogue and identify what will or won’t make sense to the audience about my story. How does that help with my daily studies?
To get past the yawns and drooping eyelids I tried focusing on only the dialogue in a few pages of prose fiction. That made researching narration much, much easier. I tried framing my ‘arguments’ as a movie scene, a stage play, or even a short story, with ‘characters’ taking different positions. It really helped me identify strengths and weaknesses and if the arguments were persuasive and well-developed or not.
It is also a great way to compare and contrast texts. Imagine a conversation between James Fennimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne about ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and ‘Young Goodman Brown’. During a study session that started out very low energy I decided to script a dialogue between them, in a rather Platonesque way, about topics of interest to me in these texts like the Puritan legacy, women, and use of landscape.
When you are writing a story there are some things to consider, like researching facts so the reader will believe the ‘big lie’, fulfilling the promise, as Tom Clancy said, that fiction has to make sense while reality doesn’t. Using Fennimore Cooper and Hawthorne as characters talking about their own creative work required a lot of back story research on their lives, their times, and each text. This kind of ‘pre-writing’ means a high degree of engagement with the material. Engagement on this level also pushes me to think and evaluate material critically to successfully reach my end goal. Applying a creative process to studying helped me identify a lot of compelling questions to explore in my more ‘academic’ approach and writing.
One unexpected bonus is how applying my creative writing process to every day study helped me focus on arguments. That is especially important this year because three of my four courses do not have text analysis questions in the exam. For me text analysis is my strongest essay and skill set, and an important way to ‘review’ before starting the exam. To compensate my essays will need significantly stronger arguments and structure. I must begin refining how I approach them now to get the desired results in exams.
While my sets of dialogue creative writing will not be part of my revision process, the volumes of notes I made to create it will be. I worked harder, longer, with more focus, and without fatigue while studying using ‘creative’ writing techniques. I remember every detail, feel confident enough with the material to sit the exam tomorrow, and had a great time doing the work. To continue my creative writing-creative study approach I think I will write some dialogue between Fennimore Cooper’s and Hawthorne’s peers, and between modern readers and literary critiques. It is very satisfying and inspiring to work hard, get great results, and have fun doing it!
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.