Simple Things

A student comes to see me. He has received a grade on a three-page assignment that he is not satisfied with. It’s not my class, of course, so it’s not my grade, and he’s not here to complain. I’m just the writing consultant, and my job is to help him figure out what he could do better next time. I don’t have to explain the grade, just propose solutions going forward. This turns out to be quite easy.

He tells me that he’s aware that this wasn’t his best work. He didn’t think he had enough time to do the assignment or was given enough space. (The class had been given one week to write three pages analyzing an assigned case.) He was also unclear about the essay form. (They had been instructed to write what was essentially a five-paragraph essay, with the stipulation that one paragraph had to present their theory.) He recognizes that the introduction and conclusion (the first and last paragraphs) could probably use some fleshing out.

In other words, he had already done my work for me. I tell him to set aside three hours over the next few days, in half-hour sessions. In each of the first five sessions, he simply has to rewrite one of the paragraphs of the essay he submitted. Make sure it’s at least six sentences long, I tell him, and at most two hundred words. The day before, make sure you identify the key sentence; then, when you’re writing, make sure that you stay on task. In the last session, read the whole thing out loud a few times and fix what you can. This will show you what is possible within the space you were given. It will also show you what one week + three hours can do. Don’t tell me you couldn’t have done those three hours of work before you submitted. (I don’t say this, of course. It’s in my voice. In my eyes. I think he understands.)

After you’ve done the work, I tell him, we can meet again and look at the new paragraphs. Then we can decide what you have to work on from here, or whether you should just keep writing more paragraphs, about more theories, and more cases. One moment at a time. Keep it simple. Okay, he says. Thanks … I guess.

PS. I lack the comic ability of the late, great Scott Eric Kaufman. Here’s a post on the same theme, just funnier.

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