Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Novel Essay?

Novel Tea-Ching

I'll be teaching a course on writing academic English this summer, and I have to make a syllabus by the 15th of this month, which means that I need to decide on the readings soon. I looked for a model essay online, trying locate one used by Sheridan Baker, since I'll be introducing his famous "thesis machine," but I couldn't find the essay that I was looking for, nor a non-Baker essay that fit the model, so I took about an hour and wrote my own, very basic if functional essay:
The Need for Novelty
Maturity in life is largely judged by a willingness to take on adult responsibilities. Often, this means living one's life according to routines. We accept the necessity of getting up early enough every weekday morning to reach work on time, and our entire day follows a regular routine. Not only does this hold for work time, it also holds for the time after work. Although such a daily routine is necessary to maintain control over our lives, we should also take time each day to experience something novel because doing so prevents boredom, generates energy, and favors creativity.

Novelty prevents boredom. Routines are necessary to a well-regulated life, but they are often boring. I deter boredom in small ways by keeping myself open to spontaneity. For instance, in my teaching, I follow a general lesson plan but allow myself to innovate if I think of an entertaining way to catch students' flagging attention, such as asserting that a "rock star" is a "meteorite," a claim I made in class recently and caught the room of Korean students automatically agreeing with me until I confronted them with the absurdity of my statement. In this way, I help maintain the interest of both my students and myself.

Novelty also generates energy. I maintain a routine of physical exercise four days per week that -- to be frank -- is rather boring in its predictability, a repetitiveness that tends to deplete my energy. I therefore vary the days upon which I exercise, skipping a day if I don't feel like exercising, but making up for the skipped day by performing the exercise routine on one of the three free days. On weekends when I exercise, I reward myself with a cold beer afterwards, varying the type of brew as much as I can afford to do on a limited budget. By these small variations in my exercise routine, I generate enough energy to keep at my fitness program week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Finally, novelty also favors creativity. I enjoy writing, so I keep myself open to the muse and take some extra time to write if something strikes my fancy, perhaps dashing off a poem rather than immediately grading a student's paper. But I don't neglect my duties, so most of my writing comes in the breaks between semesters, when I usually write papers on literary criticism, exploring the fascinating works of such authors as Miguel de Cervantes, John Milton, or Jane Austen, on whose works I have published articles in various journals. But this past winter break, I innovated on my novelty by writing a story, letting an unexpected inspiration lead me astray for a couple of weeks. Openness to novelty thus favors creativity, which can lead the devil knows where!

Thus even though a daily routine is needed for our ordered lives as mature individuals, we ought to make time every day -- and periodically during the year -- for novelty, for in doing so, we can favor creativity, generate energy, and prevent boredom. While we may lack time to follow up on novel projects of a large scale, we can nevertheless remain open to small-scale innovations each day. Doing so will make for more interesting lives, both for us and for others. If enough people were to adopt our attitude toward novelty, we could expect far more satisfaction in life overall. Perhaps that would be evidence of fully mature individuals!

I admit it ain't spectacular, but it's simple, competent, and serves as a much-needed model for an introduction to the basic essay form. I'll introduce it for analysis to see how much the students already know about the parts and structure of an essay. After discussion on that, I'll present my mini-lecture on essay structure. We'll then take a look at Baker's "thesis machine," which will demonstrate the ease of coming up with a thesis statement.

We'll see where things go from there . . .

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At 4:13 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Good luck with the upcoming course.

At 4:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. It looks like a lot of work.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:12 AM, Blogger dhr said...

a "rock star" is a "meteorite"

:-D :-D :-D

Well, I agree on everything you say about routine & novelty. In fact, what you describe is exactly my... routine, *gasp!* one including novelty! sounds like something's not working here.........

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Routinized novelty is like Weber's routinized charisma -- the concept violates the definition!

"Eppur si muove . . ."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Charles Montgomery said...

Er... is the first person allowed in academic writing? I thought its absence was definitional?

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There's some relaxation of that practice, but I discourage the use of first person as one moves up in academic writing.

My model essay was a basic form to be modified for academic purposes, e.g., the personal examples would be exchanged for citations drawn from research.

Jeffery Hodges

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