Although it was almost three years ago now that I began to write my undergraduate history thesis on “Ideas of Sovereignty in 13th century Europe,” the memory of this process still clings vividly to my mind. To date, writing this thesis has been one of the hardest processes I have put myself through. There were many factors that made writing this thesis difficult and after my time at GMU’s Writing Center here at I realize not only did I learn a lot about writing from him and the process of evolving as a writer, but I learned a lot about the discipline of history as well.
Taking the time to reflect on learning is important and I am glad that the Writing Center has offered me a space to reflect on experiences I have had such as writing my thesis. The fact that I had to write a large yet focused paper began to change my writing process and complicated matters for me. I didn’t understand why I was struggling so much to write my thesis. Now I understand that my struggle was that I was trying to implement the tools and knowledge I had in regards to writing a 10-20 page paper into writing a 50-75 page paper, and that just doesn’t work.
I wish while writing my thesis I would have been able to recognize the shift in my writing process as it was happening. Taking the time to stop and realize your writing process is changing is important; ignoring this fact can complicate matters for you too. Having the ability to stop and acknowledge you are potentially having “growing pains” as a writer can save you a lot of headaches. Acknowledge this will help you begin to accept how your writing style is beginning to change instead of fighting it.
Trying to cling to your old habits as you are evolving as a writer is detrimental to your writing process. For example, I was used to dealing with maybe ten sources max for a research paper. Now I was staring in the face of 25-45 sources, and my ways of processing the information from those sources and integrating them in a paper were not up to par because it was too much. Instead of recognizing the importance of taking less detailed actual notes and making summaries of authors’ main points for each source that I could refer back to, I tried to take detailed notes over books that had thousands of pages—this process just didn’t work.
After turning my first 10 pages in for my thesis advisor to look at, they were all shot down. Instead of starting fresh—in retrospect it is apparent that that is what I should have done, none of my paper was working—I tried to bend and shape my first 10 pages through edits. If I had to do it all again it would not take two months of trying to edit 10 pages that just weren’t working to throw them out the window and start of scratch. I would have realized that revision sometimes means throwing away what has been written and that throwing away paper does not mean throwing away the ideas those pages hold. In your own writing process pay careful attention to when you feel most frustrated and are experiencing the most cognitive dissonance because it is in these moments where something in your writing process is going awry, it is part of your writing process that is calling for a change.
So, when it comes to your writing process and the process of evolving as a writer, be aware that you’re always changing. If I were more aware this was happening I would have been better able to embrace the confusion I was having rather than trying to fight it. I would have been a much more successful writer. As Alanis Morisette so famously says, “What it all comes down to, is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet.” And the fact of the matter is that when it comes to our writing processes, none of us will ever have “figured it out,” and that is because our writing is an ever-changing process So, next time you seemingly “hit a wall” in your writing process, accept it, and see where your writing process is taking you, see what you can learn from it, and enjoy the journey of becoming a stronger writer.
March 29, 2015