End of the Semester Writing Woes

As the end of the semester approaches (ASU’s last day of class is April 24th!) so too does an intense dose of anxiety and stress. As graduate students we have a LOT on our plates. Not only does the end of the semester signal grading a lot of composition papers and assigning final grades, but it also signals something even more treacherous: PAPER WRITING. A non-graduate student friend of mine called the other day and asked me if I was so excited that classes were almost over, my response: Excited?!? No, I am not excited, the fact that classes are over in a week means I need to write two seminar papers AND grade. Although she definitely did not deserve my tirade, it made me recognize how unique our situation as graduate students is. We love what we do, I LOVE WHAT I DO, but around this time of year I tend to forget that I am supposed to be enjoying this time of my life. I started thinking about why I feel this intense anxiety and pressure at the end of the semester, and from talking with so many of my peers, I know I am not the only one who feels this way. I know (or pretend to know) I am a competent writer and beginning scholar, right? I mean we all are in a graduate program so we have to have done something right along the way to get accepted. But why do we forget this come the end of the semester?

While sitting with one of my professors and talking about my final semester paper, I just said, “Ahh! I am so anxious about this paper that I don’t even know where I am going to start!” And, like all great professors, he recognized my high level of stress and calmed me down. He reminded me that the point of a PhD program is to produce scholars, the future of the field. He emphasized the word “produce”, and that no one expects us to be perfect right away. All of the work we do should be aimed or have the ultimate goal of being useful in the future, but all papers, seminar papers that lead to portfolio papers, papers that hope J to lead to publications, papers that lead to chapters in a dissertation, all papers have to start somewhere. And more importantly, they are never perfect on the first try REGARDLESS of the level of the writer. Everyone, even those untouchable Gods of Romanticism we work with on a daily basis, has to review, revise, and rework papers. My professor reminded me that this is a “first draft” of a paper and to give it my best, but relax.

Relax…as much as I wish I could relax, at least I walked away from the conversation with a much better perspective about the end of the semester paper writing rollercoaster. We are all students working incredibly hard to master our trade and each semester is a stepping-stone towards the ultimate goal. But it is just that, a step towards the goal, not the goal itself. So as I prep and begin to write my two seminar papers I am remembering (or attempting my best) to breathe, relax, and enjoy the process of becoming a scholar knowing that my papers will not be perfect by the time I submit them and that is okay because ultimately, it is only a “first draft” of something that can be so much more.

(My first fun read of the summer will be Daisy Hay’s biography of the Shelleys, Byron, Keats, and friends called Young Romantics, and I am excited to tell you all about it next month ☺)