The permeating influence of fictional texts seep into the composition of the students that have consumed them, whether or not those students are aware of this phenomenon. Writers that consider themselves professionals are not exempt from this transaction of style either, given that many contemporary novels are consistently compared to those that came decades before them. While the urge to emulate the techniques of a favorite novelist or academic scholar will be increasingly overwhelming, the fact of the matter is that writing is, first and foremost, a remarkably personal act. In seeking to imitate the stylistic choices that have been utilized in other famous pieces of literature, the action of morphing the written word becomes almost second-hand, a reiteration of something else that has already been said in a similar format. Thus, the general rule of thumb when creating prose within the composition classroom is that of the following: write as your own self, not in a copy-and-paste arrangement that leaves little room for personal growth. The beauty of this particular course is that students have the ability to hone their writing skills that are unique to them (as well as obtain information on citing, formatting, etc.), and in many cases, the utilization of personal voice and experience can greatly influence a piece.
For example, I want to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, or rather, I want to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald. His prose is eloquent, yet tinged with sarcasm and poignant, political criticism that can only belong to that of an author that truly knows his topic and has lived his given subject matters. That being said, I’m a twenty-year-old, Caucasian female that has little to complain about besides the odd night wherein I have to decide whether to complete homework assignments or watch the next episode of Attack on Titan. Clearly, I am not equipped to handle the same aspects of life within my compositions. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have the ability to compose about a plethora of other topics, though, such as: drowning in collegiate financial debt, being a female in an age where feminine oppression is still pseudo-predominant, or losing a Wi-Fi connection and being unable to watch anime on Netflix.
However, this is not to completely discourage the influence that authors have upon impressionable students. In fact, students can discern a great deal about their own stylistic choices by experimenting with the structures that they find within their favorite texts. Fiction students are often encouraged to flip sentence structures and rewrite paragraphs from their favorite novels in exercises pertaining to the morphing of text. The identification with these pieces of writing should be seen as a relative first step in the process towards becoming a self-actualized writer.
The next stages of the process are slightly more ambiguous. As aforementioned, writing is a personal matter, and imitation will be honed in upon immediately. In a similar vein, following the precedent that has been set by others can be incredibly constricting when it comes to improving individual art formats. As cliché as it sounds, most refining will be spawned from the honing of skills and the eventual rebellion against the techniques that the writer has learned. In this way, writing is almost like that of a backwards cycle, given that so much of it hinges on the stylistic choices that are formulated by the twisting of specific restraints. No other field of study will encourage students to combat the rules that they are taught once said students have properly mastered them; it is almost as if composition professors are molding miniature, literary anarchists. For instance, students in varying forms of composition (personal statements, fiction pieces, etc.) are often warned against the onset of stereotypical and cliché statements, given that they can often contract from the content. However, in other such classrooms, such as that of the sciences or business-related fields, clichés and standards formats are encouraged. Thus, composition exists in a limbo-like stage wherein students are both asked to conform and rebel against given class constraints.
Within the Writing Center, I often hear, “I really don’t understand how this applies to me,” to which I generally reply, “That’s great!” While students are often confused by my response, I encourage them to analyze why it is that they feel this certain way. Compose a list of general thoughts and analyze them. How do they influence the product that the student has created? How is the student’s personal voice utilized? This exercise demonstrates that student reaction and experience within the composition classroom not only influence the student’s general opinion of the assignment, but also the final product that is submitted.