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a poet’s guide to academic writing

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

I assume that you have stumbled upon this text with the enthusiasm of escaping the overgrown ‘fluff’ that has accumulated on your pen over the years of literary self-discovery. Either that or you are simply my UCWR professor looking for a suitable final percentage to complete my semester grade. If you identify as the latter, thank you, but more on that later.

First and foremost, it is advised that you attain yourself a copy of They Say I say by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein and Russel Durst. Though the doodles seem too inviting for a college writing course, this book helped polish much of my writing philosophy, with a few too many chuckles along the way. Academic writing can be a daunting, for everyone, not only writers who believe they are too theatrical for the world of academia. But with this book and the UCWR course, I realized that having more structure does not entail taking the poetry out of your words, but simply making their purpose clearer to your audience.

One of the biggest strives towards academic writing is finding the courage to put down your ego. Take my dramaturge’s word when I say writer’s block does not exist. You are simply too much of a perfectionist to begin (Lamott 1994). After forcing myself to simply start with word vomits, I finally see the value of drafting. In my true stubborn creative writing style, I always wrote my essays in one sitting. It’s not even a preference, I’ve just convinced myself that it is the only way I am able to write well. However, in many cases, the flimsy first draft actually enhanced the creative voice in my pieces. By allowing myself to subconsciously babble, leave to later re-edit, I approached the prompts with a clearer head and saw the texts more in their whole. With this, I was able to identify any parts that may seem too vague and need further explanation or supporting evidence. I became more aware that I cannot always expect my audience to understand my intentions and instead need to give them the tools to venture my work. After laying down the framework of my essay and making sure all points I want to get across are clear, I can always go back and add in flowery details later.

Within this process, my technique in concision and clarity saw the most growth. I still reread the Williams’ Understanding Concision from time to time and now apply the five principles of concision in both my more academic and more creative pieces (Willams 1990). Being ambitious with one’s language isn’t bad but when it does not serve as an initial catalyst in expressing your ideas, some revision may help. It was eye opening to learn a more efficient way of saying more with fewer words. I will admit that I was confident about having already mastered this technique, but I was merely doing so by stuffing all my ‘fluff’ into a short and heavy sentence. This was what made my writing so “brilliant that it is confusing” (Fiorelli 2018). By spreading my metaphors between two or three sentences, I am now able to create better flow for my essays and solidify my both my argumentative and clever word intents.

During one of my many dramatic office hours episodes, I was acquainted with the reality that the common myth of creative writing and academic writing’s divorce is false. This is perhaps the discovery that I will take with me the most. I came in thinking that I would be developing a whole different set of skills because one could not perform in the presence of the other. Now I leave, fluffier than ever, yet questioning whether there must be a divide between two techniques that together can only make textual creations stronger? But I will let you write for yourself.

May all word nerds unite.

Works Cited

Fiorelli, Dr Julie. I Have Anxiety When I Write Ha (Millie) Le. 27 April 2018.

Lamott, Anne. "Bird by Bird." Lamott, Anne. Shitty First Drafts. 1994.

Willams, Joseph M. "Concision." Willams, Joseph M. Style Toward Clarity and Grace. Scott, Foresman and Company , 1990. 110-115.

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