High school essays were the worst. We all remember them; writing extensively on topics that generally didn’t interest us. Maybe it was just me, but writing to impress others wasn’t the most fun way to spend my time. The thought of comparing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to artwork and poetry brings back feelings of sadness, exhaustion, and confusion.
I was lucky enough to go to a fantastic high school and I have had some really awesome teachers. Mr. Yanosey and Ms. Keller were my Junior and Senior year English teachers and I genuinely looked forward to their classes every day. They had lots of energy, positive attitude, and it seemed like they gave their students a lot of freedom in their projects. I remember one of my best friends and I made a video project for Ms. Keller’s class that was hilarious and a lot of fun to do. But when it came to writing essays, there was no way to get around how boring and uneventful they were. We were assigned topics and told how to write about them. Uniformity was the name of the game, and that game sucked. Late nights writing about topics that genuinely didn’t interest me were easily some of my least favorite high school memories.
Everything changed with college English class, though. Suddenly, writing didn’t seem that bad. Nick Leither’s CTW I class was very different from any english class I had previously taken. We were told different writing strategies and we talked about broad topics in class. The class made us read and discuss what we had read. We talked about what the reading meant to us and how it is applicable to our everyday lives. Then, when it was time to write our essays, our only job was to use what we learned in class and to write about just about whatever we wanted. Although my high school english classes were taught by fantastic teachers, my writing has improved more over the past year than it ever has in that amount of time because I was given extremely broad topics to write about, which allowed me to write about what I was interested in.
Our very first essay was one that really changed the way I looked at writing essays. The only specific direction we had to follow was that we had to write about an object. I chose a watch and talked about the importance of time and how the watch symbolizes fashion and how those two things connected. I had thought about it before and it was really cool to be able to use that idea for an assignment. I honestly didn’t expect to get the chance to do that for a while.
Oh. I lied earlier. There is one other criteria for writing assignments: you had to do something different (experiment) in each paper. My experiment for the first paper was that, since it was a paper about watches, I wrote 12 paragraphs and listed them as “1 o’clock,” “2 o’clock,” and so on. I also put pictures in there because that seemed like a good way to add to my essay. Overall, I had a lot of fun with that assignment because I had so much freedom. It wasn’t my best essay that I have ever written, but I didn’t hate writing it.
Next, for our next two essays, our topic needed to be food related. I enjoyed researching about the food that is served in our cafeteria, but overall, both felt more like high school essays when I was writing them than my first essay. A step in the wrong direction. But we had a long break and I soon forgot about my english class in an effort to do well in my other classes.
Spring brought a new term, as well as another shot at CTW. Determined to enjoy writing more, I told myself that I would take advantage of the freedom I had in my writing. We started off with an essay that felt more like a refresher-assignment to kind of get all of us students back in good writing form. Although I didn’t have as much fun researching the history of workers in factory farms in California, it did just the trick. I was ready to tackle the next two essays.
The second essay of the quarter brought, in my opinion, my best writing of the year. I wrote about a topic that I’ve had a little experience in and that I’ve always been a little curious about. Violent video games aren’t my favorite video game to play, however, growing up in a house with three other boys, Call of Duty was the only game we could all simultaneously participate in. So its not like I have a burning passion for violent video games, but it annoyed me a little to hear people who have never played or experienced them blame them for school shootings and other tragedies. I investigated the subject, and my original opinion was right; most psychologists agree that teenagers playing violent video games won’t make them go shoot up their school. In order to reach my target audience, I wrote in a conversational way. This was the turning point for my writing. I really wrote in a way that made me enjoy writing it. Instead of trying to impress a teacher or professor with fancy words and stuff, I wrote like I would to a friend or a my parents. It was in a conversational way and it felt more natural than any of my other writing. That essay was the best thing I’ve written this year and maybe even the best essay I’ve ever written. The whole reason it happened, though, was because I had freedom to choose my topic and the incentive to experiment in my writing. My experiment was writing in a conversational way instead of writing in a voice that was clearly not my own, and I think that from now on, whenever possible, I will write in that way.
My final essay was sort of the opposite. I wrote my final essay on a topic that I had just about no experience or prior knowledge of. Islamic tradition and its relation to ISIS and other extremist groups is a touchy subject, however I feel that I handled it well and my extensive research paid off. Because this is a more serious subject than informing parents of video games, I felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to write the essay in the same, extremely causal way. Instead, I only used words that I would normally use in a regular conversation, but kept contractions (don’t, won’t, can’t, etc…) out of it. It felt comfortable to write and, because of this, I feel like I wrote a very good essay.
I’m proud of how I have progressed as a writer because at the beginning of the year, I had no idea how to a topic that would be engaging to both me and my reader. Now, I am able to identify what topic would be interesting and also how to find a way to do that topic justice. Eating Animals taught me that it is okay to write about something that you might not usually write about. I’m not an expert on anything, but I can write in a convincing way while admitting that I’m not an expert. That book and Columbine both taught me that, since I’m not an expert, I better do my research if I want to write a good essay. With the right primary and secondary research, I can write an essay on just about anything.
That’s why this class has made me confident for my next 3 years of writing essays and any writing in my future.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.