I teach research writing, and I require most classes to submit "cover letters" with their essays--I ask them specific questions about how they think they did, what about the writing process troubled them, and these letters help me comment more effectively on their work. Cover letters tend to truly reflect the mood they're in before they turn in a paper. Some are exultant, some morose, some brown-nosing, and so on. They're one of my favorite parts about teaching.
Recently, a student turned in a final draft of a paper. The cover letter began with the sentence:
"Having finished my paper, I feel as if the final draft is exponentially better than my girst drafe."
This sentence struck me as an incredible microcosm of the arrogance and anxieties of my first-year writing students. So I'll deconstruct it here.
"Having finished my paper"
The student feels relief at meeting her deadline, however, she's still not convinced of a process-oriented approach to writing. She thinks this one is DONE, and the fluidity of writing suddenly gets codified, stabilized, by her notion that this paper is going to never change.
"I feel as if"
This student, like many I meet, uses "feeling words" and opinion words instead of arguing clearly for a position. Either this draft is more effective, according to certain criteria, or it isn't. She feels as if it is, which means if I argue with her, I have to carefully address her feelings. We might disagree on whether the paper is effective, but she's allowed to feel whatever she wants. Using "I feel" instead of "this is" makes people seem less certain, and less authoritative. It also protects her from having to change her position. I see this very often in classroom discussion too--students are careful not to openly dissent, for fear of getting in trouble with me or their classmates. They tie their identity into everything, so disagreements are always personal. It's difficult to help them untangle their notions of "who I am" from "what conclusions I've drawn from the evidence I perceive."
"the final draft is exponentially better"
She's hopeful! She worked hard! She wants to show me that she's engaged in the revision process! These are great things. It's possible, though, that she would balk at doing another rewrite, because she believes she's already fixed everything possible. It's rare for these papers to get that much better in one revision, and it's more likely that she's changed a number of sentences around, not truly rethought her ideas.
"than my girst drafe"
This student used the word "exponentially," and correctly used "than" instead of "then," but has two typos in a row? An idiosyncratic and hilarious mistake. But who really cares about her first draft, when now we can imagine what a girst drafe might be. The arrogance here is that many students do not read over their work at all before turning it in. They don't see the need for proofreading. They don't quite understand the importance of their presentation. It's not about being boringly professional, it's about being conscious. Aware. Making real decisions about what others see.
By the way, she wrote a nice paper--I think it was a B+.
So my most favorite gem to come from this experience:
What is a Girst Drafe? Let's invent some.