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A Writing Odyssey: My Journey from Literary Hardship

Writing an essay is a taxing task, although one I came to realise was a rewarding one.

However, I didnt use to think about writing the same way, rather I viewed with it

apprehension. I saw writing as a tedious task that was second in importance to my other

interests. This was so much so that whilst choosing subjects for my A Level exams I restricted

my subjects to only the sciences and mathematics. As such, when I first came into this course I

felt anxious and underprepared. I expected that much of the course would focus on writing

subjective essays on bizarre texts, as Ive been accustomed to in my pre-tertiary education.

Instead it was a welcomed surprise. As opposed to my expectations, the course taught me a

writing and reading process that changed my essay methodology, as well exposed myself to a

range of writing types that I have employed in the various essays within my portfolio.

Writing an essay for me usually occurred late at night without preparation such as

notes. I had no process apart from typing my thoughts directly on the page as they came to me.

And oddly enough this writing process that I had always seen as bad was somewhat validated by

Lamotts Shitty First Drafts, whereby she explained that every good writer does not have a

work of art on his or her first attempt. Rather writing is a gradual process that leads ones first

terrible draft to good second drafts and terrific third drafts. Though this renewed my

confidence in writing, I knew that there were changes I still needed to make. As opposed to

leaving my essays as they are after one attempt, I should structure them with the purpose of

improving them over multiple drafts. This changed my outlook on essay writing, now realizing

that writing doesnt necessarily have to be planned from the outset. I now choose to plan my

writing days in such a way that each day makes simple improvements on the previous drafts, to

the point at which I can now see a work I can be proud of. Like a diamond in the rough, this

writing process showed me that my essays had potential beyond what was initially apparent.
Another aspect of literary process that previously discouraged me from writing was

reading. I tend to find it tedious reading long texts, trying to extract meaning from a range of

literary sources. My general approach was to try to either skim through the whole text or to

read word-by-word for its entirety. However, Beans Reading Difficult Texts changed my view

on the reading process. It explained that reading is not about speed nor is its methodology

always the same. Rather, there are different aspects of effective reading. The most useful advice

to me was about understanding the context of the discussion and looking at texts as a

conversation with the author as opposed to a [source] of inert information. Now instead of

just reading a text just to absorb facts, I read a bit more about the general topic that the text

focuses on and I try to understand the authors point of view on the matter at hand. Another

piece of advice that made me comfortable in my ability to read effectively is to read with varying

speeds. Compared to my previous method of reading at a uniform speed, it is instead more

efficient to read slowly or quickly as the content requires, for example, when there is heavy

subject matter, then reading slowly is beneficial, but when there is background information with

little relevance then it can be skimmed. This skill was especially useful for my piece The Past

and Future of Green Transport, as this essay required me to analyse data from numerous

articles to create useful content. This changed my overall outlook on reading, as I now find it

easier and more enjoyable to engage with texts, and thus this has helped my analysis and

writing.

Another important aspect of the course was technique. At first I dreaded this, as for the

most part my experience with English techniques was rooted in literary analysis. Yet what I

didnt realise was that this was a writing course, and instead of teaching the difference between

anthropomorphism and personification the course taught various effective writing

techniques. One of the most useful techniques was lexical and textual cohesion as it makes

sentences and paragraphs work together in aid of the overall topic. As well as this, topics on
structure helped provide me with better understanding of writing essays. This was specifically

utilised in my essay on green transport, where I summarised the history of various types of

transportation and wrote them in parallel narrative structures that complemented each other.

Other small topics throughout the course also provided me with a greater knowledge base for

writing, from dangling modifiers to reporting verbs and adverb clauses.

My first experience with multimodal texts occurred in writing Mastering Rationality:

Overcoming Common Sense. At first, I was quite unsure about writing the text as I had never

been exposed to writing outside traditional essays. This was so much so that I was reluctant to

even write the piece as I wasnt sure how to approach it. As such, I began by first getting

familiar with the topic, as advocated by Bean, which constituted reading Freakonomics and

engaging in my own research on a topic within my writing, blackjack. I then followed Lamotts

advice and wrote a shitty first draft. Knowing that it is normal and even recommended to write

a bad first draft allowed me to get more comfortable with this unfamiliar style of writing. After a

few revisions, I began to see my work transform from a collection of non-cohesive sentences

into a fully functional blog post.

Whereas at the start of the semester I would have been daunted by the task of writing

essays at Berkeley, my experience throughout the semester in reading and writing has made it

easier for me to get accustomed to new topics and writing styles.