Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Confessions of a Transfer Student: "My writing process"

12/17/13 - My Writing Process
by Derya Demirtas

Before I got to Amherst, I never really thought much about my writing process. I'd always approached my papers in the same way: create a thesis, make an outline, write the actual paper. The only times I ever discussed my papers with others were after I had finished them.

And when I first arrived at Amherst, I tried again to apply this same method. But for the first time in my life, my writing process didn't work for me. 

When I went to talk to my professor about one of my first papers, I realized that I missed a fundamental part: I misinterpreted the poem that my paper was analyzing. 

I panicked the night before the paper was due because I essentially had to start a new paper from scratch.

That night was one of the worst nights in my college career. I hated the panic of writing a paper the night before it was due, and I hated the guilt that consumed me. I was never this type of student at community college.

How was I going to avoid this situation from happening again at Amherst? I didn’t want to become the type of student who had to stay up until 2am writing papers; that method was simply too mentally draining and physically exhausting for me.

I realized that part of the reason why I was so upset that night was because I had already invested so much time and energy into my thesis, which I had thought was this concrete, immutable piece of text. 

I didn’t want my professor to tell me my understanding of the poem was wrong; I simply wanted her to reiterate that she thought my analysis of the poem was right.

I had approached my paper with the wrong mentality: I assumed all my thoughts about the poem were correct, and my only room for feedback consisted of minor, grammatical mistakes. But I missed a critical point: I had misinterpreted the poem.

And so, I realized that I had to change the way I approached my papers. I recognized that my problem lied in a fundamental piece: my thesis. And I realized that I needed help earlier in my writing process to avoid that same critical mistake.

I began to realize that in order to be a better critical thinker (and in order to avoid misinterpreting another poem), I needed to be in more conversation with others. 

I used to have a very simplistic cause-and-effect approach to creating theses; a formula where X happened and Y resulted. I would ignore pieces of text that contradicted my thesis. 

Yet, from engaging in conversations, I began to notice that theses should be more complex and don’t always result in finite answers, but rather raise important questions about the text.

I realized that the problem with how I had been accustomed to approaching my papers in the past was that my method reified the mentality that writing was a solitary activity. 

I used to think that I could write papers in single sittings. I used to think that writing was an event that had to occur in single moments of “writing inspiration.”

But I began to realize that for me good writing and being able to think critically was more about learning that writing had to be an actual process. My thesis was continually evolving as my thoughts evolved.

Changing my approach made me less stressed about my papers. I stopped writing in linear format (e.g. writing my introduction first, then body paragraphs, etc.), and instead started writing in chunks of text first, where I focused on doing in-depth analyses of the textual evidence. 

This helped my papers to become stronger because my analyses became the foundation for my introductory and concluding paragraphs rather than as an afterthought of supplementary material to fit my thesis.

And even though my thoughts and theses were expanded in conversations at the writing center and with my professor, my writing became less of a process of starting an entirely new paper, but more of a method of simply stitching my evolved thesis into my already written analyses of the text.

Writing at Amherst has required more critical thinking. And while it was initially challenging, I recognized that when I changed my approach and understood that writing was actually a process, papers became less stressful and more feasible.

And I realize that my college career is a lot like my writing process: trying to tackle everything by myself is stressful. Yet, when I learned to utilize my resources and ask others for help, my writing became a much healthier and more manageable process.

Derya Demirtas is a New Jersey native, coffee addict, and recent graduate of Sussex County Community College. She served as President of her college's Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Alpha Upsilon Pi, & has recently transferred to Amherst College as an English major.

She's currently serving as a member of the 2013-14 Pearson Student Advisory Board. You can follow her on twitter @deryabdemirtas or email her at ddemirtas16@amherst.edu.

Previous Confessions of a Transfer Student articles:
8/13 - "I'm so Nervous!"
8/20 - "Freshmen Only?"

8/27 - "How Whitney Houston Helped me Pack"

9/3 - "My First Day"

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