While some aspects of our lives encourage us to cultivate the creative mind, the academic sphere is generally not one of them. We inhale information just to regurgitate it on a test later. We write essay after essay in a structured format to get them over and done with until all the passive voice builds up and every paper starts to sound the same. While some projects and presentations open doors to more colorful thought, we may not realize that it is just as boring and painful for professors to read our papers as it is boring and painful for us to write them.
But take a moment to think of your favorite professor. Maybe they didn’t always get to all of the material allotted to each class period, but they probably were energetic, didn’t refer back to their notes or PowerPoints constantly and spoke more from the heart. Anyone can spit out information to a room of note-taking students. It is the passionate, invested professors who keep our attention and maybe even help us retain some of the things they’ve said.
It may seem absurd at first, but your papers could be the same way.
I had been taught the basic five-paragraph formula since middle school and have spit out my fair share of dry essays. But as I sat down to write a paper on an Emily Dickinson poem my first semester here at Eastern, the idea of robotically producing another essay sounded dull and tedious. My GPA was a clean slate, so I figured it was as good a time as any to go out on a limb. I threw formal structure to the wind and wrote from my gut.
Though it’s nearly impossible for me to write another essay with the same gusto I did with that first paper, my professor’s comments were encouraging enough to change the way I’ve written throughout my entire college career ever since. By picking out key quotations beforehand, I would start free writing about what I felt was important to me personally regarding whatever the subject matter was. Giving myself this flexibility, the conventional “three body paragraphs” weren’t boxed in and I let one thought flow into the next whenever it felt right, sticking in the quotes and references where they would best apply.
While this approach certainly isn’t applicable to every paper you may be writing in college, it’s open to original and personal thought that puts your mark, your voice, onto the page. Break the formality and actually use “I” once in a while. Resisting structure in the academic sphere is not as seemingly prohibited as many incoming freshmen may think. And don’t think you have to be creative and original necessarily to stand out to your professor. Do it for yourself.
As you read this, you might think that it takes too much extra effort to be creative or passionate when you have something that’s due tomorrow. I say that as long as you have a general idea of what you want to say and a thesis to branch off of, writing from your gut, your heart, is the easiest thing you can do. Because if something stems from you—and you know yourself better than anyone else—it’ll come naturally. So let go of that stuffy, passive voice and put yourself on the paper.