Pieces of the Puzzle

Erica Sterling Pic

by Erica Sterling  15C

I had been scrolling through my forty-two page chapter on my computer for two hours. Cutting and pasting sentences and paragraphs, painfully discarding hard work into a document labeled “Chapter 2: Junk Writing.” There were sections that I loved because they were well-written, thoughtful, organized. But there were many more parts – much scarier sections – that made me wonder how I ever made it to my senior year of college. The language was trite, sentences read out loud made me pause for breath, the same verbs were repeated too many times, transitions were nonexistent, and anecdotes that I once thought were relevant and compelling bored me.

As much as I wanted to give up and try again later, I couldn’t. I didn’t have the time. It was a Friday afternoon, the sun was finally shining, and I had told my thesis advisor that by Friday, February 27, chapter two would be submitted. As soon as I emailed her a week prior with the self-assigned deadline, I considered it a contract that couldn’t be broken. The only way I was going to finish my thesis was by sticking to these deadlines.

Another hour went by, and still, there wasn’t an ounce of seamlessness or clarity throughout the chapter. My eyes were tired from staring at the screen, and I grew tired of moving back and forth between page six and page twenty-two, where I felt that the ideas expressed could be joined together. I thought back to a story my roommate told me about her time in the first grade; how the teacher instructed the students to simply erase the words they didn’t want, or cut – with scissors – the words they felt were in the wrong place, and paste them elsewhere. This was a tactile writing activity, one that was probably used to engage the children as they practiced a new skill. And I thought to myself, “Maybe I should try that.”

So I printed the twenty-seven page, single spaced chapter (forty-three double spaced would have been too overwhelming) and laid the pages out on the ground in three rows. I began to re-read, marking up the pages with my red pen, crossing bits out. I used scissors to cut out whole sentences and paragraphs, and shuffled the pieces around trying to make sense of the chaos I had created. I sat on the ground for hours amongst scraps of paper as an office mate occasionally laughed at how ridiculous the sight must have been.

But there was something oddly therapeutic about being able to see the whole chapter laid out in front of me, and how I could physically shift ideas as I edited. By the end of the day, the chapter still had its flaws. And I left the Fox Center that night with more tasks added to my to-do list. But I no longer felt (entirely) hopeless about chapter two of my thesis. The pieces of the puzzle would eventually come together.

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