07 May 2010

academic writing and caffeine addiction

I am about a page and a half away from the page requirement on my last final of the semester, but I think I could potentially overshoot it by a mile. Which has never happened in the history of me and writing papers, let me tell you.

But a lot has changed since I wrote my first five-paragraph-essay in the ninth grade.

At some point, Desmond Harding told me that if I turned in a five-paragraph-essay, he would shoot me in the head. Or something like that. I thought it would be easy, but I accidentally wrote one anyway. Then I revised enough that it wasn’t a five-paragraph-essay, and then revised it some more so it wouldn’t suck, but something went wrong because I got my paper back with the words “NO FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY” written in the margins and I counted… and there were five paragraphs, and then Desmond Harding shot me in the head. Or something like that.

Dr. Patty gave me a dense book that I liked and told me I could write about whatever interested in for 10 pages and it wouldn’t be intimidating at all because it would be fun. He was right, even though he tried to talk me into writing about nature and conservation. Or birds. Or canoeing in Wyoming. Or something like that.

Oh, Dr. Patty.

Oh, Thoreau.

William Brevda taught me that yes, you can write a 10 page paper in less than 24 hours, with a hangover, if you dedicate yourself to the task. That means shoving down calories for energy, even if stress and peppperoni threatens to send those calories right back up the spout. That means closing down the library at 2 a.m. and moving over to Kaya, but you must then take advantage of the Idiot Studier’s Special – free additional espresso shots in the midnight hours. You must also resist altercations with your previously MIA boyfriend who drove all the way from the Upper Peninsula and went directly to said coffee shop without so much as a phonecall.

William Brevda taught me that with persistence, tears, and coffee, even such a painful paper can earn an A.

Desmond Harding told me that I should stop writing a five-paragraph-essay. Okay. I figured that one out. Then Mark Freed told me I should stop writing anything that wouldn’t fit on one piece of paper. From that day forth, I abandoned conclusions and most introductions. At that point, it was a good feeling. Letting go of unnecessary baggage feeling.

Last semester, I remembered how to do all that stuff I forgot about in the two-years I spent NOT writing academic papers. My paper grades were an accurate indicator of the variable memory of humans.

And this paper…. this final paper of my first semester of graduate school? This paper has taught me the following valuable lessons:

  • Somewhere, deep down inside of me, I like to write introductions. Two page introductions, apparently.
  • Writing without at least two shots of espresso at hand is mostly impossible.
  • A paper does not always have to feel like a death march.
  • Maybe the tools of fiction revision – the constant tinkering of sentence structure to achieve maximum effect, replacement of words to clarify intent and meaning – are relevant to academic papers as well.
  • I should get back to work so I can finish all 7 thousand pages before they are due in 9 hours or so.

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