The students I see usually present themselves in a variety of emotional states. These emotional states are inextricably linked to where they are in the semester, as well as where they are in their assignments. As I’ve had to dive back into my thesis this week to do some more writing, I found myself empathising with my students. The process of collecting information for an assignment, reading that information, and then distilling that information into a cogent and coherent piece of writing is tough! What’s perhaps more tough (for me at least) is that I know what I have to do but the emotional rollercoaster that this process tends to take you on is, I find, more draining than the process of writing itself.
I was reminded this week of what one of my colleagues calls, “The Squiggle”. This is essentially a big squiggle that we draw to show our students that most of writing and reading does feel confusing and like a big mess but that feeling confused and all over the place is part of the process and (hopefully) results in clear thinking on the other side. The aim of showing students the squiggle is to reassure them that the state of confusion/ sense of feeling overwhelmed is normal and an attempt to reassure them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
The squiggle is not to say that writing and/or reading is disorganised (in fact we advocate a very organised and methodological approach to tackling assignments). However, I’m sure most could agree that the process of writing assignments, no matter how organised you are can feel like the squiggle.
I’ve drawn a version of the squiggle below that reflects, in part, what I feel I’ve been going through recently having to read and reread some new texts. Underneath the squiggle you can see the actual steps and on top of/in the squiggle you can see the ‘inner monologue’ of sorts that tends to accompany such a process.
I often wonder if these, often quite horrible, feelings will go away. Or, indeed if everyone feels the same way? Certainly, my own experience and the experience of my students seems to suggest so. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as perfect writing. There is only rewriting. And unfortunately our ideas don’t generally tend to come to us fully formed (unless, of course, you’re J.K. Rowling and the idea for the Harry Potter series comes to you in an epiphany as you’re riding a train and then you decide to go with the idea and then you make billions of dollars and then you never have to write anything again or think of another idea ever again which would be cool). In the meantime, remember: There’s no such thing as perfect writing – only rewriting (I think it was Robert Graves who said this!). The squiggle is your friend!