The world of academia is undoubtedly a fascinating place, full of conceptual intricacies, abstracted explanations and grand ideas. In college, we engage with this world on a daily basis, exercising the power of our human intellects to bend words, make logical leaps and draw new connections in the hopes of developing and learning, honing our own skill sets. All too often however, it can seem as though this world of ideas and concepts remains distant from the rest of our lives. We may walk into the classroom and readily discuss topics, and on good days, the things we learn are immediately applicable, tangible and accessible even when we are not in actively academic settings. On bad days, this is not always the case. We might be able to understand and engage with the material when we are immediately obligated by an assignment or by a classroom environment, but when we leave that environment or submit the paper, we immediately switch off, returning to the thoughts and activities that speak more directly to our interests, to the material we are passionate about.
I would like to argue that in order for us not only to perform our best academically, but for us to gain the most from our engagement with this world of academia, it is necessary for us to find a way to break down this divide between personal and academic realms when it inevitably crops up. We’ve all faced down paper topics that seem genuinely uninspiring or interesting, and we’ve all written papers or submitted assignments for which we felt little enthusiasm or pride. But the opposite is likely also true — we have bridged the divide between the concepts we discuss in the classroom and the conversations we have with friends, or the activities and interests that we pursue extracurricularly and written papers that fascinate us, that are compelling, engaging and even exciting to write.
When we write these personally enthralling papers, not only do we engage in learning that draws together disparate areas of our lives, but the writing process often becomes easier: the ideas become more accessible and more articulable because they are your own ideas, and crafting a paper that addresses these ideas may be easier and more fulfilling than attempting to write a paper on material that holds little direct interest for you on a personal level.
In order to avoid divorcing ourselves from the academic content we produce, there are a few different tactics that might be worth consideration:
Consider the prompt: How does this prompt play into the things you find yourself considering in your free time? What elements of the assignment relate to the fields and concepts that you find the most compelling?
Remember that everything is interdisciplinary: Academic disciplines are hardly cut and dry categories that exist distinct from other realms of thought and investigation. Boundaries around disciplines are constructed in order to facilitate discourse, but can certainly be stretched and even breached. It is certainly not impossible to write an English paper through a psychological lens, or to write a Psychology paper employing literary analysis.
Talk to your professor: It’s entirely possible that your professor will be excited about you tweaking a prompt in order to write the paper you want to write. Even if the prompt is inflexible, your professor may be able to help you to understand ways to remain within the boundaries he or she has set while still engaging with the material that interests you directly.
Freewriting: Leigh Ryan and Lisa Zimmerelli provide suggestions for uncovering hidden intricacies in a topic in their discussion of freewriting. How would you write the paper without any constraints? (Ryan and Zimmerelli, 45) How can you address the prompt in a way that also allows you to discuss the concepts you are most interested in?
It may not always be possible to bend the prompts for the papers we write. Every now and then, we must instead find a way to manufacture the interest and enthusiasm that underpin strong, effective writing when it does not come naturally. Yet when the opportunity arises, it seems only practical to write the paper that seems the most intuitive, the most grounded in our immediate experience.
Ryan, Leigh and Lisa Zimmerelli. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Fifth Edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. Print.