Research Writer Interview With Pam
Making My Teacher Laugh
What do you offer that might be different from other writers?
I learned long ago that if I can make my teacher laugh or pause in their reading to think about my argument or criticism, then I’ve given them something that other students haven’t. At this moment, they already appreciate the paper—because it’s different from what they expected—and they’ll be inclined to give more credence to the literal analysis within the paper. It seems a simple thing, but knowing that instructors have to grade multiples of the same thematic paper every time they give an assignment, I like to give them that little something extra to make their experience as enjoyable as the writing process was for me. It’s in these shared moments, between teacher and student, that the writing assignment becomes more than a means to a grade—it’s an opportunity to share the inherent character of the work (that they chose, or were forced to use, as part of the syllabus) and demonstrate how learning through analysis can be a valuable process.
You’ve been writing for a long time and have surely written about the classics multiple times. What is it that keeps you fresh while writing model papers?
I love delving into the classics again and again because it’s a discovery process, one in which I get to be creative about my analysis and seek that next new idea from the work. It’s exciting to re-read prose and still be impressed by the complexity of the language and importance of the themes. It’s part of the process. And for me, it’s a source of joy in my life because I love re-telling the classics for each new client in a way that will make them proud.
How do you approach each new assignment?
I like to read through the instructions for each assignment carefully before I even put pen to paper, or text to screen, as it were. For me, one of the most important aspects is being able to follow the instructions exactly—because, at the most fundamental level, there isn’t a single instructor who wants to read a paper that hasn’t followed their directives. From that point, I’ll re-read the literature, find secondary sources (if the paper requires them), and begin to formulate my argument. I also have a cool-off period with every paper during which I let it set for a while before coming back to it for editing and possible changes. I like to look at it with fresh eyes, to see what I could add, at this stage, that could improve the argument or offer an analysis I didn’t flesh out while initially writing the paper.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
Writing is a skill that, like any other, improves the more you use it. For me, writer’s block has come when I’ve either been writing far too much (I reach a level of burn-out), or too little. When this happens, I take a step back and give myself a mental shake. I know that I have the words within me; I just have to acknowledge that they will not go from fingertip to screen if I’m panicking or forcing anything. When I was writing fiction, I learned that you can’t just write a three hundred page novel in a weekend—it has to be a gradual process. One of my favorite writing instructors once told me to set a timer and write for ten minutes a day. No more, no less. In those ten minutes, there were days where I could pound out twenty pages of amazing prose. And of course, there were days where I had trouble coming up with 1000 words. The point is that it got me writing. It trained me to write for a short period of time and to come up for air and think about what I had written. Writer’s block is purely a mental game. If you train that writing muscle, you can overcome writer’s block by treating it the same as you would a hurdle in any other skill: patience, understanding, and perseverance. And perhaps most important of all, you cannot panic. Even if you only have three hours to write a paper, you have to take the time to find that solitary moment of calm within your mind in which exists astute analysis and clever thematic examinations. It’s there, trust me.
Random writer: /writer-ruth