I have seen plenty of step-by-step guides to writing an essay. Start with a thesis, do some research, come up with an outline, etc. etc. Coming in to this class, my writing process was essentially a messier version of this. I would come up with a thesis and then scribble notes in the margins of a yellow legal pad until I could form something that looked like an outline. From here I would squeeze the text into my ideas. I would spend hours trying to make this process work, but even my better essays felt artificial, like I wasn’t doing justice to the text.
I already knew that writing was a process, but I failed to realize that understanding literature is a process as well. A strong understanding of the text does not come in a moment of revelation and fit nicely into a five paragraph essay. It takes time and effort to work out a complete interpretation of the text. This will not follow a step-by-step, factory line kind of structure. It is a process that is fluid and adaptive based on an individual’s skills and needs and it definitely does not exist outside of the writing process. Writing requires digging into the text, exploring the contexts which it exists and developing, scrapping, and redeveloping all sorts of ideas. Most importantly through, a thorough writing process allows a reader’s growing understanding of the text to exist in the public eye. Writing is a way to process ideas and enter a conversation.
The importance of recognizing the correlation between reading and writing goes beyond literature and writing. When we boil it down, the connection between the reading and writing process is an example of how communication helps us to develop the way we process the world around us. In the same way that using Freud’s description of Melancholia helps us understand why Hamlet treats women so poorly, an understanding of the personal lives of refugees help us to understand the importance of providing aid in the refugee crisis. In America’s current climate, we see politicians and consumers alike jumping to radical conclusions with little to no context. Take for example this tweet from Donald Trump. When 2018 Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, was presented with her award, she presented Donald Trump with a collection of letters from her immigrant and refugee students. In a sense, she basically handed him several contexts by which to understand the crisis at hand. Manning recognized that Trump was jumping to conclusions about the types of people that were entering the country. Had Trump developed his ideas as he communicated with the stories of refugees, perhaps he would act more compassionately towards them.
Over the course of the semester we have written six essays with a variety of topics and methodologies. I present to you my four strongest. They show the skills I have developed over the course of the semester. In addition to these works, I have also included a process portfolio which shows my newly found understanding of the fluidity of the writing process and how that has shifted the way I understand literature as a whole
My first essay “The Power of the Audience in The Tempest”, is a close reading of The Tempest using historical context. I was working from a close reading that I had already written so my eyes were really opened to the power of research. Research not only adds depth to an argument, but it can lead the claim itself in an entirely new direction.
I then took my next essay, “The Tempest: Shakespeare’s Rebellion” one step further by incorporating critical sources and inserting my own ideas into a conversation. The process of developing this essay taught me that while sources can be helpful they can also take a paper on the right track and derail it entirely. I found that the critical source I was using was unreliable and ultimately took away from the strength of my argument.
Next is, “Losing Order in Loss: Tracking Hamlet’s Melancholia,” a psychoanalytic critique of Hamlet. Dealing with Freud, a more complex, methodological context, taught me the importance of clearly and thoroughly articulating the content of a source. Doing this in my revisions helped me to clarify my claim and structure my argument better.
By the time I sat down to write my feminist critique, “Performative Gender in Hamlet’s Grief,” I was relatively confident in using methodological sources. My next step was to find a way to apply that context so that I can support my argument with a strong logical foothold.
Along with realizing that the writing process is complex, I have also realized that there are times when an essay is not worth pursuing. I found this to be true in my initial close reading of The Tempest, which I chose to develop using strategies we learned later in the class, and in a social critique of Hamlet, which required more effort to revise than I could give without sacrificing the quality of some of my other pieces. More details about this process can be found in the process portfolio.
I realized that sources are not only used to strengthen an argument, they are used to put a piece of writing into conversation. They help to develop ideas rather than strengthening pre existing ones. In such a politically divisive time, this skill is more important than ever. Going forward, I will aim to seek out conversations in order to develop my ideas to the fullest extent.