December 3, 2012

The Writing Associate and I: A short story about writing, papers, and flaws

Admit it, we all have our weaknesses. Some of us are just better at some things and bad at others. At least for me, I am terrible at writing. In my sister’s words, “Your writing skills SUCK.”

I guess I never really looked that much into it. I have always expected my writing to get better as time goes by, without having ever realized that I was wrong, until this semester.

After the Thanksgiving break, due to a minor scheduling mistake, I discovered that my 10-page architecture paper was due in 2 days.  I FREAKED OUT. I rescheduled as many meetings as I could, pushed back many floating tasks, and even decided to skip the long-anticipated civil engineering career fair. It was time to get serious.

Over the course of 2 days, I have stayed up both nights, read over 50 articles, drank over a gallon of Skillman’s white chocolate mochas, and managed to finish 8 pages of the 10-page paper.

Clearly living in the library.

Like always, at exactly 7:00 the night before a major paper is due, I went to the Writing Associates (WA) in Pardee Hall. They have always been a reliable source for writing assistance for me here at Lafayette. In fact, I don’t think I have ever submitted any formal paper without giving it to the WA to check it first. The habit happened after one of my freshman professors threatened to fail me if I did not visit the WA before submitting my papers.

The magical thing about the WA is the fact that they are able to offer a fresh perspective on the paper, and with great writing skills, they are able to discover many mistakes that I was unable to detect. They have always been there, always open, waiting for students to drop in for help every Sunday to Thursday 6-9.

Thinking it was a literary masterpiece, I confidentially walked up to the WA and asked them for grammar help. When I walked out, my confidence was completely destroyed. Not only have the WA ripped my paper apart, but it was no longer the same paper: different organization, different style, yet still mine.

Going through my paper, my WA discovered that the paper had good content, but no flow, no organization, and no direction. She pointed out that this architecture paper should only focus on the main object, the building, instead of both the building and the architect.

She was right. I spent 3 pages talking about the author of the paper and not as much on the building. So my WA and I spent over an hour correcting spelling, grammar, and organization.

Some people have said criticism can sometimes be harsh, but in this case, harsh criticisms have helped me to construct a stronger, better, and more fluid  paper. After the meeting, I realized that I only had 6 hours left to reconstruct the paper and to finish the remaining pages. I knew that I would need another fresh perspective on it, so I swallowed my pride and called my 15-year-old sister for help.

My sister, who is actually my cousin, and I grew up together in the same house, and we got so close that sometime I even forget the fact that she is my cousin. She has a particular interest in writing; in fact, she wrote one complete fan-fiction book (over 300 pages) by the age of 10. She is currently working on another book. Thank God I prefer science and math, while she prefers writing.

Using Google Documents, as I wrote, she corrected. We worked on it until 2 in the morning, and even when it passed her bedtime, she was still committed to stay up and helped to correct my paper. That’s why she’s one of my favorites.

In the morning, after 2 days of aggressive writing, I had one of the best papers I’ve ever written. And I could never do any of that without the incredible help of the WA and my sister.

I guess that I have always realized what my weakness is without ever doing anything to improve it. That is the exact reason why I have decided to write this blog. I don’t like writing; I don’t hate it either. I am just bad at it.

Now, after a semester of writing and working on papers, I have realized that my writing skill won’t improve with time; it will only improve with experience. And I am happy to say that next semester, I will be taking another writing course: Public Speaking.

posted in Binh Pham

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