Reflections of a Graduate Student

October 19, 2012
As the last semester of my English M.A. program speeds forward, I grow nostalgic. This period is bittersweet. I’m excited to leave behind late nights of homework and to move on to whatever the next phase holds. But I have never regretted my choice to pursue a grad degree in English. (The night before a final paper is due doesn’t count.)


This is not because it will allow to me to make substantially more money. (It won’t.)

This is not because I think a graduate degree will vastly increase my chances of glittering success in the field I chose as an idealistic, optimistic undergrad. (It hasn’t yet.)

This is not because I have some idealistic notion about how current research in English departments everywhere is going to change the world. (Unlikely.)

It’s simply because the things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve garnered during my graduate years have been deeply valuable and truly irreplaceable in more ways than I can count.

This post isn’t meant to be melancholy, though. One of the things I’ve learned, in a program that emphasized writing studies, is how not to teach composition. Students of Writing Studies are hounded, nagged, and lectured until we would die before we would Ever. Teach. Composition. Like. That. 

So chronicled here (with a bit of light-hearted tongue-in-cheek) are some teaching methods that English graduate students, especially those whose programs emphasize composition, are taught to avoid like the plague. I’ve even included some take-aways that writers of all walks can use.

1. In a composition class, a teacher should use lots of literature, especially novels. Students of all majors will naturally be more effective writers if they read a lot of literature, especially poetry from the English Renaissance period.

Take-away for writersNot all reading is good reading. To hone your craft, especially read the kind of writing that you want to master.

2. There is only one good way to teach writing. Hound your students until they master it. Make them practice until they drop. They’ll get it.

Take-away for writers: Someone else’s method may not work for you. If you are frustrated with a method, stop. Drop it. Try something new.

3. Pre-writing is useless. Brainstorming. Looping. Free-writing. Bah Humbug. Make your students write an essay, for crying out loud.

Take-away for writers: Sometimes the long way around is actually the shortest. Stop trying to write the novel, the post, the book and just spend some time doodling or journaling or brainstorming. 

4. Drafts? Excuses. If it’s not there the first time, it won’t be there the second time. Get it right the first time or go home.

Take-away for writers: Write. Then re-write. Then re-write again. Drafts are your friend. The first draft is simply the beginning of a long and painful journey. So get started.

5.A perfect draft, clear as crystal and utterly free from any errors in grammar is the ultimate goal.Get your commas right or stop.

Take-away for writers: Grammar is important. Really important. It aids clear communication and one’s professional image. But grammar is a means, not a goal. Don’t obsess over comma errors at the same time you’re worrying about content. They are different issues. Prioritize accordingly. 

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Books | Career

All’s Well That Ends Well, Part II

July 5, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well moves quickly. Did you finish Act II? Here's the gist:

Scene I

The King sends his soldiers off to the war with Italy. Helena arrives at the French court and announces that she possesses a cure for the King's illness. She then strikes a deal with the king: if her cure succeeds, he must let her take the husband of her choice.

Scene II

This scene is rather brief. In it, the Countess sends the Clown to France to get news of her son from Helena.

Scene III

Helena cures the king and he allows her to choose her husband. She chooses Bertram, much to his dismay. In order to delay the marriage, Bertram decides to run to France, leaving Helena with his mother.

I can't help but be irritated at Bertram in this scene. His snobby attitude seems uncalled for and certainly is unlike the Countess' behavior. But I suppose the plot demanded it.

Scene IV

Parolles tells Helena that, since Bertram must leave for a time, the marriage must be delayed.

Scene V

Bertram says goodbye to Helena. He bids Helena to take a letter to his mother and leaves, refusing to kiss her. After Helena leaves the stage, Bertram swears that he will remain from home as long as Helena lives there.

The plot thickens. If you're behind in the reading, check out the recap of Act I.

For Thursday, on to Act III!

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Books | Career

All’s Well That Ends Well, Part I

July 2, 2010

Day 1 of this new endeavor was a success, although I am glad I didn't set my sights any higher than the completion of Act I. So here's the recap:

Main Characters:

  • The Countess, a nice old lady whose husband died.
  • Bertram, the son of the Countess.
  • Helena, the ward of the Countess
  • Parolles. I don't know yet how he is going to play into the plot, but Helena calls him a "notorious liar."
  • Lafeu, an ambassador from the King of France.

Scene I

In this scene, we are introduced to the main characters. We find out that Bertram's father has recently died and that Bertram is heading to France.

Scene II

In Scene II, Bertram arrives in France and is received kindly by the King of France, who is apparently suffering from some disease that no one can cure.

Scene III

A steward tells the Countess that Helena secretly loves Bertram. The Countess calls Helena in and tricks her into confessing her love for Bertram. Helena then explains that she has in her possession a cure for the King of France. The Countess sends Helena off to France to cure the King and win Bertram's heart.


For Monday…..Act II.

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Books | Career

Reading the Bard

June 30, 2010

I have a lot of "eventually" goals. Eventually, I'd like my scrapbook photo albums to be current. Eventually, I'd like to go to England. Eventually, I'd like to read all of Shakespeare's plays.

The problem with "eventually" goals is that they must be turned into manageable pieces to actually become reality. My scrapbook albums are being completed a page at at time. If I can do a page a week, I'll be caught up by the time I'm, oh, 45 or so.

England just has to sit on the back-burner until after I finish graduate school. And after I find a job.

But I could be working on the Shakespeare goal more effectively right now. I'd love to read the plays that I haven't read. I'd like to re-read the plays that I frantically raced through during high-school and college English classes.

So here's the plan for turning "eventually" into reality. There are 37 Shakespeare plays. Every play is 5 acts long. The acts are fairly manageable pieces. My plan is to read 2 acts a week, and to complete a play every 2 and 1/2 weeks.

I'll chronicle the journey here to motivate myself to keep reading. Join me! Maybe I'll only make it partway to my "eventually" goal, reading one or two plays that I've never read. But maybe….just maybe…I can make it all the way.

Friday's goal: Act I of "All's Well that Ends Well."

What are some of your "eventually" goals? How do you plan to turn them into reality?

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