A Personal Reflection by Emily Elridge

Over the last academic school year, I have notice myself as a writer grow and expand. I have realized a lot about myself as a writer and have seen how much potential I really did have.

As a first semester freshman, I was intimidated by all of my classes, especially English. I was always a fine writer, but was never really forced to think about what I wanted to write about and how I was going to approach that writing assignment. As a high school student, I was given prompt after prompt, usually preparing me for standardized tests or large final exams. Those assignment prompts would always tell me what I was to write about and gave me different ways to approach said topic. Basically, my teachers did the thinking for me. In my earlier days, well not quite earlier, but when I was around 13 or 14 years old, I enjoyed writing short stories about things that I made up and things that I wanted to write about — not told to write about. When I was forced to write about specific things and was not really able to think on my own, I would really struggle with writing, and over time lost a lot of creativity.

When I mentioned this to my first semester English 111 professor, she seemed disappointed. She said “No! You’re too young to lose creativity”. Then, I realized that, in this college English course, I am encouraged, not discouraged, from bending the prompt to allow myself to write about what interests me.

Over the course of the last semester, every time I would start a new Inquiry, I would read the prompt and see so many possibilities for my upcoming essay or short story. I did not try to answer all of the questions, instead, I would choose one topic to pick apart and really dig into. Now, I had more interest in the assignment and more enthusiasm when I wrote. One of my favorite writing assignments of all time was, believe it or not, the last project we had in English 112. It was a Creative Application that allowed us to choose something from recent pop-culture to critically respond to in various forms. I chose to analyze how people responded to Mean Girls the movie via blog posts. This was my favorite project because I was really able to focus on something that interests me and what was relevant. I know this project allowed me to think critically, and outside of the box, which is good practice for any future, similar assignments.

Between English 111 and 112, I have also noticed a difference in my ability to evaluate other people’s works. I was not a great peer reviewer at all when I first started in the fall. I would be too scared to say what I really thought. Over time, though, I realized that I would want other people to give me constructive criticism, so I should “return the favor” and say what I was really thinking. I also mastered the skill of making the criticism nice, yet constructive, without coming off harsh or demeaning. I think that is just as important as anything when doing peer review.

This course has taught me a lot about the actual process of writing as well. It taught me to research and analyze. The Cultural/Historical analysis paper taught me a lot about researching. I not only had to research the topic of my paper, but I had to research the actual history of the novel, Persepolis. The book Persepolis involved the Iranian Revolution, which I was totally uneducated about. Since I knew nothing about the Revolution and the novel did not give much historical background, I had to do some basic research on my own to help understand the novel to the fullest. I realized that, even though it was a hassle, I had to do some research or else I would be totally lost while reading the rest of the novel.

As far as research goes, I struggled at first. In my writer’s letter for the Persepolis paper, I wrote, “[The] basic information was easily accessible through web pages and news articles, as well as online encyclopedias. Yet, finding information and research about the children of the Iranian Revolution specifically and the effects of war on this exclusive group of young people was harder to find”. It showed me that there will not always be a ton of sources about the topic I chose to write about, which is another reason why I found it important to “plan ahead” at the start of a large project like this.

The curriculum for English 112 was challenging, but it let me see my full potential. The first Inquiry was a critical analysis of a short story. I learned about discourse communities, and then applied it to my own life. In my first Inquiry about language and identity, I wrote: “How we identify with others gives us our own sense of belonging. When we come home from college or arrive to a party, we all greet one another with our own language; that helps us connect with the people around us.” I wanted to relate what we were learning about in class to my everyday life. The strategy of using language and culture to identify with certain discourse communities is a valuable skill that I will use in my future without a doubt. Being able to indicate a specific audience and use certain methods to connect to them is a skill I have gained in English 111 and 112. I practiced using diction, writing style, and certain phrases to connect to my audience. I also learned a lot about rhetoric and its advantages when it came to persuading an audience. This all came together when I wrote my Inquiries in English 112, I was more able to focus in on my audience and really connect to them on a deeper level.

All in all, I have seen myself grow as a writer since the beginning of the academic school year. Throughout English 111 and 112, I have picked up skills that I can use in the future no matter what or where. The use of rhetoric, discourse, and persuasion are all things that I feel comfortable using. Over time, I have also increased my ability to think on my own and “write outside of the lines”. Although I struggled with a couple of Inquiry assignments, I learned many skills from them such as research on historical topics. I know that I will use a lot, if not all, the skills I learned in my first-year English classes throughout the rest of college career and beyond.

Editorial Team’s Note

In her reflection essay for ENG 112, Eldridge tracks for us how she learned to use creativity to explore specific assignments in her own way, or as she puts it, “bending the prompt to allow myself to write about what interests me.” She goes on to point out the several techniques that allowed her to channel her creativity. For Creative Application, she applied reading techniques to a television show that interested her. For Cultural/Historical Analysis, she had to delve into research in order to find ways to approach her subject in her own way. And finally, for her close reading, she used language and identity as a frame for reflecting on her own communities. Throughout ENG 112, we hope students will learn skills that help them engage new assignment prompts, regardless of discipline or mode, in order to make their own contributions to knowledge. This reflection essay shows how Eldridge has achieved this very important outcome.