Thursday, March 08, 2007

Damn academic aspirations

Okay, aside from taking a class on the subject, which doesn't seem to be likely anytime soon given the upcoming courses being offered, how the hell do I become a better academic writer? I've never been strong at deciding when and how to cite sources (beyond the obvious technical aspects, I mean) and how much and how deeply to explain a concept to the intended audience. I am great at creating "Reader's Digest" papers and tend to condense everything. I do not "expand" on topics enough, but I am at a loss at finding a balance between writing for someone who hasn't a clue about the subject and writing for an audience that is familiar with the material. I feel like I'm treating my audience like fools if I assume that they know nothing about the subject, which is one writing strategy that I've been told to use. This is something I need to get over.

I've put in a request for one such class: Writing in Library and Information Science. But it is seldom offered, and the request was put in kind of late, so I'm not sure what the possibility of it being offered before I tear all my hair out is going to be. I've got two research papers to write this semester, along with two essay exams, one of which is in-class and closed book. And I'm a little worried, especially since I haven't written a timed essay since 2000. At least with that particular bit of writing I don't have to worry too much about citing, just content and clarity. And I don't have to worry about first drafts, second drafts, etc., since it has to be written in a limited amount of time.

The whole "drafting thing" is a problem too; I usually just "write raw" and get frustrated if I have to keep coming back to something in order to finish it, which is likely a big part of why I have an Incomplete from last semester. I tend to feel like what I write should be perfect straight from my brain and if it requires reworking, then I must just be a horrible writer and a bad student. Sorry, doing a little self-analysis here as well as asking for advice.

So why all this agony? Well, I'm going to working towards a Certificate in Special Collections starting this summer, and since the two courses I'm taking are condensed, (10 class meetings, in the space of two weeks), I know it is going to require a lot of focused writing. Scary! And now I'm looking at a possible CAS, which isn't a very solid consideration at the moment, but still. And then there's the whole future issue of working in an academic setting, which might require publishing, or even if I worked in a different type of library, there are projects that happen, grants to be written, conferences to present at...

Excuse my ego here for a moment. I'm intelligent. Very intelligent, according to the tests and other evidence. That isn't the problem. However, focusing on writing and other school project stuff is an issue. When I was an art student, I could lose myself for hours drawing one item, getting into a flow state. The same thing happens when I am reading something very engaging. Time just slips away and before I know it my stomach is screaming at me for food and the sun has gone down. Is the problem that I'm not enjoying what I'm doing? Or that I feel I shouldn't be enjoying it because it is school-related and I'm getting a grade on it? Or are there other underlying issues? I'm floating through Grad School at the moment, absorbing little and getting A grades without trying hard. Wasn't much of an issue as an Undergrad (well, it was an issue for my professor-husband, but he doesn't count any longer), but this is what I want to do as a career and I really need to shift gears.

If I carried over the credits which I earned while I was a staff member and had them applied to my Master's, I could graduate at the end of this summer. But I am very much not ready to go back to the "real world," although having money again would be nice. I don't feel prepared to have a job interview, I don't feel like I have a specialty or am particularly good at anything in my chosen field. I'm attending the best Library School in the country, but it doesn't mean much when I'm not using the tools and opportunities given to me.

Now how the hell do I make everything better? I'm reading a great book about writing, but it is geared towards fiction and autobiographies, not academic writing. The advice on focusing and pushing through when you think you can't write any further is valuable, though. But reading books is only going to take me so far, I realize.

Beyond writing, I need to make a huge change in the way I approach academics. And that is worrying me.


Miss E said...

I would highly recommend taking advantage of the writing center on campus. I know a few people who work there, and they're great. It won't take the place of an actual writing class, but they might be able to help you think about your writing in different ways - it certainly can't hurt!

Anonymous said...

As a graduate student in rhetoric, I highly recommend courses in this subject. You wrote that you have trouble figuring out "how much and how deeply to explain a concept to the intended audience." Trust me, that's what rhetoric is all about. I don't know if Champagne-Urbana offers graduate courses in rhetoric, but if they do, I recommend them. Here at Iowa State, our Rhetoric & Professional Communication program offers a course called "Academic Writing." I don't know if your university offers its counterpart, but I'd be surprised if they didn't.
-Evyenios (Brad)