FINDING A TOPIC
Why is it so hard to find an essay topic, when we are given the opportunity to write about anything we choose?
What’s the phrase? A-holes and opinions — everybody’s got one. True enough, and the evidence is abundant.
Take a look at any online forum or e-newspaper that allows readers to comment on articles (i.e. Slashdot). Stand near a Speakers’ Corner video booth, or a downtown bus stop, coffee shops, or office water cooler. Or just lurk quietly in the background of any electronic chat room. You are certain to find at least a few people spouting their opinions on anything and everything, generating hundreds of sentences on everything from the topical to the obscure.
Those who have no insights to offer will flood airwaves and computer screen with redundant explorations of the mind-numbingly mundane (the weather being the cliché topic of choice). People love to express themselves, and if the opportunity does not present itself, they will most certainly invent one.
I’m no different – I have a lot to say about a lot of things, and I’ve never been shy about expressing myself, or looking for opportunities to do so (some might say my creative interests are an attempt to manufacture even more expressive outlets).
So why is it that when I’m given an assignment that asks me to write on anything I like, I’m at a total loss?
Writing essays is easy for me, after all. Once I get started, I can often complete up to a twenty page paper in a single day, assuming all of my research materials are handy. In fact, I find research papers to be the easiest of all.
But here I am, taking Intermediate Composition — a sleeper course that I’ve chosen because it’s a pre-req for many others — and I’m stymied by an assignment that asks me to write a 750 word expository essay. Getting started is always the hardest part.
So what’s so hard about expository essays? I’ve literally written hundreds of them. And 750 words? It’s miniscule – a mere hour’s work, at the most. I’ve written longer “to do” lists without hesitation. Often I have a very hard time keeping my essays short enough to remain within the word limits of my assignments. And yet I’ve spent two weeks mulling over the topic for this stupid little essay!
I can at least take solace in knowing that I’m not alone. My husband, who writes constantly on a variety of topics, took this same course two years ago. The other day, I asked him how he’d liked it. He replied, “I couldn’t figure out what to write about.”
Maybe the trouble is that writing is something that comes too easily, but when you put a label on it (expository essay, reflective essay, comparison and contrast), it sounds like something new, something really specific, and not like the writing we do day to day. Maybe I’m simply intimidated to know that this time, it’s my writing that will be critiqued, not my research, or my ideas.
So far, I’ve completed one essay for the assignment, and promptly scrapped it. It was far too overworked, self-conscious in its precision, and oddly sentimental (odd for me) . Now I’m working on second idea, which pivots on an extended metaphor about – ironically enough – knowing how to write.
So am I alone in this? I often hear from people who tell me that they find writing essays to be really hard, but now I wonder: is it the writing they find hard, or are they like me – grasping for that foundation idea to get them started?
Considering this makes me wonder – why are there no courses on how to generate ideas? Or on the stimulation of the creative process. After all, few great discoveries have been made without their origins in a truly creative idea. Why we’re even teaching computers how to be creative by developing fuzzy logic systems which more closely emulate the more elastic decision-making processes of the human mind than traditional information processing models.
So if we are teaching computers how to think outsides of their boxes, why do we put so little emphasis on doing the same for people. Human creativity is not a given, after all, but merely a potential. And with continued cuts to arts programs in schools from kindergarten to the post secondary level, this potential will surely become less and less realized. This trend is likely to continue given that graduate with technical degrees have been consistently shown to make more money (and people overlook that graduates with arts degrees consistently rate their degree satisfaction much higher).
Then again, maybe I’m in the minority when it comes to having difficulty coming up with assignment topics. Either way, I’ve just managed to write about 800 words on my inability to write. The irony is not lost:
Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief
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AU Students make your donation in memory of Uncle Vic.
Once again, AU student advisor Bonnie Nahornick will be shaving off her hair for a good cause. She’s asking this time for donations to the ALS Society of Alberta, and her shorn locks will be donated to Wigs For Kids.
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AU Students make your donation in memory of Uncle Vic.
For more information on the event, or how to RSVP: http://www.geocities.com/baldster2004/2004_ALS_Fundraiser.html