Trusting Academic Instincts

Submitting my first essay for my first graduate level course was stressful; it was probably similar to the first essay I submitted for my undergraduate course. I spent a lot of time preparing quotes, editing, editing, and then a bit more editing. I used a trick taught by The Voice Magazine’s editor and worked through my essay backward to read each sentence on its own. Reading straight through sentences can blend them together making fragments go unnoticed. It was four pages of highlighting.

I hit submit, and then remembered the many questions after each asking me if I am sure I want to submit—by the final question I was doubting it. However, I took the plunge and pressed yes, again.

I know I was overthinking the essay. I over thought the depth I needed to go, or rather, the amount of information I needed to cover, which sacrificed depth. I had read through it so many times that I was no longer sure what I was even reading. I had taken breaks and come back to it and it got to a point that I needed to let it go.

For the following week, I tried to bury the anxiety of what was going to come back. This was it, it was either going to boost my confidence or shatter it. I imagined all kinds of outcomes; I thought about the essay, and I thought about ways I should have focused it more: I had been too scattered; I tried to cover too much.

But the essay came back, and I did well—could have done better—but it did not shatter my confidence. The areas to improve were ones I had been stressed about, but there were many good comments, and I reminded myself that I am not taking these courses because I already know what I am doing. I am taking them to learn. To figure out what I am doing, to learn how to analyze and dissect novels to another level. This essay showed me that I have the ability to do this work at this level, I have insights into novels that I need to trust and learn to explore.

This first essay showed me more than just how to improve my next one. It showed me to trust myself, that the imagery I commented on was worthwhile—that it was an impressive observation. When I was overthinking the essay some of these observations were ones I had considered cutting from the essay altogether; I had evidence to back up the observations but were these meaningful enough?

It is easy to get lost in the work, but it is important to remember that you are not here to prove what you already know.  You are here to learn, to improve. And I know that for the next essay I will trust my instincts.  I will take the feedback, and I will improve my critique.  There is always room for growth, whether that first paper gets a 100% or not, what would the point of all this be if not for personal growth?

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