Knabb: The lighter side of writing long papers

Justin Runquist

If you don’t want to write that five-page paper this weekend, please e-mail me. I might just write it for you.

You won’t believe this, but I’m starting to ache for those writing intensive classes. Right now my studies consist of nothing but numbers and statistics, and eventually this routine might drive me bananas. Will someone please require me to write a thesis already?

I’ll tell you why I love writing papers in college. It’s challenging like a heavyweight boxing match. Both events usually consist of 12 rounds of rotations between TV breaks and actual effort. The classic papers and fights usually last until the wee hours of the morning. And the whole ordeal usually isn’t pretty at all.

The irony of writing is the opponent is always yourself, not your professor and not the roommate who distracts you with video games all night. Professors can throw you unexpected curveballs with exams, but I bet that nine out of 10 times you’ll be evaluated fairly with your papers. Oftentimes we disagree with our grades, but like boxing, the final score is usually indisputable: your arguments were either powerful or they were merely glancing blows.

That is the fun of writing papers. There’s no better exercise to force you to dig deep and uncover an amazing perspective that no one considered before. Writing is anything you want it to be. You can take the easy road, admit that St. Augustine is boring and write an essay that reads like the instructions to your PC. On the other hand, you can stretch your brain a bit and make a topic sing and dance. Why not take that risk? Why not give your own professors a reason to write better guidelines on their syllabi next time?

My favorite writer is Anna Quindlen because she writes from the heart. She brings the numbers and statistics to life. One critic said, “For Anna Quindlen, there are no issues. Only people.” And she doesn’t hide behind her words: her messages encourage us to face our challenges and take action. Her words are stuff that the best college commencement speeches are made of. (By the way, wouldn’t it be neat to see her speak at Villanova?) Read her famed “Last Word” columns in Newsweek sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Why not mimic her approach? Writing for a class can be a great deal literally. Paper assignments require you to be accountable, like a salesman. Essays give you freedom, while multiple-choice questions play with your head. With writing, you are responsible for everything: the preparation, the argument, the supporting facts, the personal touch and the ultimate grade.

But are papers really about the grade? Think about it. I surely don’t labor over my assignments until 3 a.m. just to see a teacher scribble the alphabet on my paper. That helped me in first grade, but it surely won’t help me 10 years from now. I’d rather win a toy in a cereal box than focus solely on winning As.

I want to learn, but I didn’t always see it this way. My core humanities papers had so much red ink on them that they looked like bloodbaths. Those professors forced me to stare deeply into issues and uncover the truth. In the process, I think they helped me grow up a bit. I question where I’d be right now if not for their suggestions, criticisms and occasional praise.

Another secret is that in the end, perseverance and curiosity win out. In the long run, high grades tend to take care of themselves anyway.

Sure, I’d love to write your paper this weekend. I’ll just find time to write it at Brownies as I celebrate my 21st birthday.