“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s beautifully daunting words every time I begin writing essays for my English classes. The truth is that it is simply hard for me to sit and pour out everything inside of myself onto a blank page. Sometimes, my jumbled, even occasionally uniquely insightful thoughts cannot seem to escape my head long enough to become coherent, powerful sentences. This is the case especially when I’m writing about Chaucer…or Spenser…or Wordsworth. And isn’t that the goal-besides trying to get a good grade for a class-to actually write something new, profound, and fully worthy of being read. I am left with the question of how do I write? How do I sit down at a computer and “bleed”?
Writing English essays requires me to think entirely for myself. Rather than study material, and get tested solely on it, I have to, or more so, I must, interpret the text from my own perspective. I think this is one of the most liberating aspects of English, but also inherently difficult. Fitzgerald once said that “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I honestly hope that is not what it takes to write well, but I have found that writing papers requires some sort of prewriting strategy. Perhaps I am anal, but before I even begin writing a thesis, I type up a tremendous amount of possible quotes I can use from the text. This is a rather tedious process, but I like to see all the material I am considering writing about on one page. I can organize the quotes and visually create arguments through this method. Even this process, however, is not the hardest part about writing.
The Thesis. The essence of the essay. The truly significant, vibrant, divine, treacherous, beating heart of the essay and occasionally the bane of my existence. The entirety of a paper summed up into a sentence, or two! The monumental heaviness associated with a thesis weighs on me before I write. I cannot write essays until I have a thesis so I am often staring at a blank screen for quite a while. Recently a GSI shared with my class a technique for tackling this intimidating aspect of an essay. First, make an observation. This can be about the meaning, style, syntax, speaker, actions, etc. involving the text. Then, add onto the observation by drawing an inference. Essentially, consider how the observation connects to a more compressive issue. Finally and most importantly find significance in the observation and the inference. Ask why does this matter? Why is this important? What larger themes is the evidence supporting? I suppose this sounds simple, but I find that often times it is easy to forget why observations do matter as a whole. Additionally, I often try the Hegelian method for thesis writing. Under this process, once I come up with my thesis, I consider (and write) an antithesis. Then, incorporating the two, I create a synthesis (of the two sentences). With the synthesis, the essay will be able to have an overall argument.
After I have survived writing a thesis, the rest of my essay seems to flow. It can be a rather tedious process and I usually count the words as I write. Sometimes I do not feel inspired by the material and often I procrastinate. But I consider that it is also my job to find inspiration from the text. It is my job, as an English enthusiast, to find passion and meaning beyond the surface of literature. It is also my fortune, I suppose, to engage with such a fluid literary tradition.
The structure of how I write may be because of the western standard that I have grown up with. I am not positive if yet, or ever, I will be able to “bleed” onto a page as Ernest Hemingway notes. However, with clarity and certainty, I believe and hope as Jack Kerouac does that, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”