I am warning you in advance, fearless reader, that the second sentence of this passage will start with the word "and" and the third sentence will be a run-on.
And here we go.
(Here comes the run-on. Inhale). As I imagine the vast majority of students can attest to, they have often been handed back first drafts of papers or, God forbid, final copies and found them to be covered with enough red slashes to make any dominatrix proud as well as so-called "grammar correction" codes on the sides of the errors that explain the mistake the writer made and must be referenced with a key explaining the mistake to the student. Agh! (Exhale).
Maybe this only occurs to those students who have more of a writing based major where formulas for essays must be rigorously followed. If a paper is seen lacking the sanctified structure of thesis statement, proof of thesis and explanation for support, then some act of high literary treason has been committed, one that must be dealt with not only with a low grade (all that the student actually cares about) but with such dirty words as "verbose" or "flowery."
In addition, there is quite possibly the most vile and nightmare-inspiring phrase that will ever appear on a graded paper: "vague and unclear." Now before MLA lovers and those who sleep with "The Elements of Style" under their pillow (the latest edition of course) begin to write heated and grammatically precise responses decrying my opening words as nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a long-winded fool, I must explain my position.
I love proper grammar. I find short, surgical precise sentences to be artistic. A sleek, well-polished essay is admirable. When students live in fear of straying outside the boundaries of "essay format," they lose all sense of creativity in not only critical essays but also in their writing as a whole. Rules that have been drilled into our literary subconscious too strongly dictate writing form and serve to limit students from finding their own unique, creative literary style and voice.
While writing should indeed be clear, this does not mean that it should be sterile, put together with the fewest words possible to transfer information from the paper to the reader. Too many students have been led down a jaded path when it comes to producing written works. Consequently, their creative minds become clouded and what I shall refer to as The Cult of the Five Paragraph Essay determines their writing style.
The Cult of the Five Paragraph Essay has indoctrinated countless students with the beliefs that personal opinions should be kept to a minimum, individual voice should give way to a straightforward explanation of the facts and above all, established structure should not be challenged.
Does appealing to the desires of the Cult lead to higher grades? Most likely. Does bowing to the wishes of the Cult and dutifully following the Cult's written propaganda (i.e. writing prompts), lead to an informative and useful paper? Oftentimes, yes. Does giving in to the Cult's desires to de-individualize writers and reduce them to students who merely regurgitate information stifle creative writing skills and suppress artistic voice and experimentation? You bet your Cliff's Notes it does.
This is not to say that professors, TAs and other members of the Cult do not have students' best interests in mind. I firmly believe that all teachers here at my university want to see students become self-aware, creative individuals who are able to formulate imaginative thoughts and express these ideas through written words. This is, after all, why many individuals choose to become teachers. I have been assured numerous times that it is not for the money.
Yet danger lies in the fact that when the writing process becomes drilled in and mechanized, students tend to do little more than fill out an essay chart of sorts. "Insert thesis here, follow with two examples here and finish your paper with a conclusion, repeating what you have already said in different words." Subject matter notwithstanding, the majority of students' written works often seem to be carbon copies.
I feel the time has come to ease up on the rules, to break away from the Cult of the Five Paragraph Essay by not only questioning the tenets of scholastic writing, but by sometimes ignoring them completely. The three-part thesis statement most often found in the last sentence of the first paragraph is about as boring as Al Gore – In the dark – on Valium. For example,"Blah is bringing down the nation due to blah, and blah and finally, blah." Sure, this is a great way of setting up a structured (boring) paper, but students must realize that there are others ways to write.
Students should try to pepper papers with sentences that are vibrant and electric as say, George W. on cocaine. For the love of God, students should use some descriptive and bizarre metaphors every once in while! There is no rule against it. "The lights on the ceiling were bright" is a fine sentence with no loose ends to complain about, but "The lights danced along the ceiling like radioactive nymphomaniacs" paints a more creative, poetic picture and shows that the writer is actually putting some effort and thought into the words he or she is choosing.
Students should start sentences with "but" when you feel it will sound proper. "But isn't this against the rules?" No! If "but" will start the sentence with a strong effect, than by all means do it. There are only two kinds of sentences: good, clear sentences and bad, uncertain sentences. I urge all students to be concise in their writing but still remember to have FUN. (Oops, I wrote a word in all caps, that's a no-no).
Realize that there is more to writing, there is more to literary expression than the members of the Cult of the Five Paragraph Essay would have you believe. If you must humor their monotonous needs for the sake of grades, always remember in the back of your mind that writing is not a formula, it is not a cold, fill-in-the-blanks, Mad-Libs-style system, but is instead the most readily accessible and undeniable means of self-expression available.
Remember this the next time you are at office hours and the professor says, "This sentence is unnecessary and too flowery. Why did you try to write it this way?" Regardless of whether or not you end up changing what you wrote, look at the professor and calmly say, "I wrote it because it felt good."