As a non-English major I possess the ability to offer an interesting perspective on why studying English literature is valuable, which you will see in this introduction. Although somewhere inside I knew there was value in English, I didn’t see how it could be applied to the real world until my first semester of college. English has always been a subject I was naturally inclined to and drawn toward, whereas my writing journey began at a young age and will continue to be with me forever.
My passion for English found its roots as early as grade school. Growing up I was the girl who actually enjoyed mastering the intricacies of tedious spelling and grammar rules. In fact, I was in the annual spelling bee (which was my favorite school event) nearly every year from first grade to eighth grade–which I won several times up against upperclassmen in the exhilarating final rounds (I will never forget how to spell the word “ukulele“). Oddly enough, to this day I continue to love proofreading other people’s writing and have even considered becoming an editor someday. I was also quite the voracious reader. I remember in around the second grade switching out dinosaur books from the book-mobile at school for reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage with my father at bedtime. By middle school, I devoured in mere hours all the Nancy Drew books of both the old and new series that my local libraries had. In middle school, I spent countless hours and immeasurable care in my writing assignments, challenging myself to try new styles and practice the best sentence construction. Never under my name would a perfunctory paper find its way into the hands of a teacher.
In high school I continued on my path by carrying this dedication into my writing and speech. By junior year, I was receiving positive feedback from teachers (and on some occasions, strangers) on my papers that my writing was already at a college level. In my English classes, I noticed that I tended to read much more deeply into my analysis of literature than other students. I took several English classes, including all the upper-level classes offered such as AP Literature and AP Language, as well as a journalism class. English even took over my extracurricular activities. I was a founding leader of my school’s newspaper, which I wrote for from sophomore to senior year. I also participated heavily in Forensics, eventually earning state-level recognition awards for my mastery in speech writing and performance. My love for English stayed with me after high school, and has brought me to this class (and this blog!).
When I arrived at St. Norbert College this year, something inside me felt that I needed to fulfill my passion for writing. At class registration, I told my advisor about my interest in writing, knowing that it was something I would enjoy doing for a class. Though I am currently pursuing a Communications major for an intended career in PR, I was somehow subsequently placed in ENGL 305: Literary Theory and Writing because of its reputation for being heavy in writing. Despite its reputation as a difficult class among upperclassmen and a mysterious warning from a bookstore worker not to take it, my love of writing outweighed my fear. And here I am, at the end of the semester having successfully completed the class and sharing my writing with you! My enjoyment of English, yet again, seems to have overflowed into my extracurricular activities in college. In my time outside of class I can be found writing for the Honors Program newsletter, the Honors Pulse, and returning competitive speech as a Forensics judge.
After taking this class and realizing how much being an effective writer could help me in my post-graduation career opportunities, I have decided to “convert” to an English emphasis. Although it was a chance encounter, taking this class has affirmed my skills and my appreciation for the value of English literature and writing. I have learned that even though as a soft skill English literature and writing may not appear to everyone as being useful–that is, in comparison to hard skills such as math and science–it is still very important in society. For example, from personal experience I can attest that writing develops one’s empathy (the understanding of others and the world), communication skills, analytic thought, and research abilities, among other things. Literature in all forms possesses the ability to elicit a higher level of thinking. By giving transcendent meaning to mere words, it asks readers and writers to explore newly discovered concepts and ideas. In reading and writing, one can make concrete and descriptive the intangible and invisible forces of the world, such as beauty, life and death, and seeing the world from the viewpoint of another. If nothing else can convince someone of the value of writing, let it be this: it is a basic principle that reading good writing makes one a better writer. Better writers mean better communicators, better communicators mean getting ideas heard, and getting ideas heard means making change in the physical world where the hard-skill people dominate.
Each writer has their own process for becoming such skilled communicators. My writing process is very organized and personal. First, I highlight the objectives of the assignment. Then, I spend a lot of time thinking about what topic I wish to write about. For me, the thesis I create must be original, thought-provoking, and well-supported with unique evidence or else I won’t write it. Once the right topic idea comes into my mind–that’s it, I just know and am 100% confident that is what I will write about. I then think through every aspect of the topic to make sure there are no holes in my argument, and that every element is satisfied with sufficient explanation and analysis. Next, I make an extremely detailed outline, which often includes all of my evidence (ie: quotes, research) and analysis so that it reads exactly as my paper will be written. From there I sort through the ideas in my outline in order to determine what it is I am arguing, and formulate a well-written thesis that fully summarizes and coherently portrays my complex argument. I block out a large chunk of time in my schedule to write, and will then write for hours on end until at least a majority of the paper if not all is complete. I prefer to write without any distraction–this means I’m healthy, relaxed, and have all my other work out of the way so I can focus entirely on my paper. Most importantly, I take great care and attention in my writing, meticulously perfecting my word choice and grammar while making sure I return support to the thesis. Finally, I go back and edit my paper with fresh eyes, making sure that every word and sentence is exactly how I like it. However, it is very difficult to explain the writing process as an action, so much as it is more of a feeling. I really just “vibe” and become passionate about my writing.
Overall, I have taken this class as an opportunity to improve and build upon my writing skills. Prior to this course, I knew that I was a strong writer, understood grammar, and could easily construct an argument with thorough analysis. However, there are many other skills that I have gained as a result of my efforts in this course. For example, I have learned how to write papers of a longer length, and with that came time management. I also strengthened my ability to construct deeper theses, read complex literary criticisms, conduct research, and use MLA properly. In addition, I have come to appreciate the peer review process, which I otherwise would have rejected out of distrust for others and the sake of time. I now realize the value held in allowing others to make transactional contributions to your writing that make it better, as well as the need to do multiple drafts and track the improvement of your work. Most shockingly, I have been opened up to the world of literary theory which introduced me to the wonderful ability to pull multiple meanings from the same text by using different approaches that complete the understanding a work.
This portfolio is a reflection of not only my learning in ENGL 305: Literary Theory and Writing, but my lifelong progression as a writer. I hope that you enjoy my writing blog, which provides an up-close look into my writing process and mindset for each essay. Take a look at my process portfolio, which is documentation of the evolution each of my papers has undergone. In closing, I encourage you to read my presentation portfolio to see the polished final product that I have poured many hours and much passion into. Enjoy!
~Alexandra Shea Paleka