As quarantine has made abundantly clear, writing is the most essential tool of a Rocker. I cannot even begin to explain how much more typing I do every week because of the new online platform, and I’m an English major, so I can imagine how absolutely terrifying it must be to those of you who are not used to pumping out a few 500-word responses every day. In my time at Simon’s Rock, I’ve developed a bit of a formula for the long-form response journal, so I’d like to take advantage of these troubling times and share it with you.
Annotate. Seriously. It will make your readings take a little longer, but it will save your grade. Personally, I use sticky notes to mark sections I like with short analyses, but you don’t even have to write thoughtful comments; just flag each part of your reading that interests you.
Choose your quotes. You know those passages you marked? It’s likely you found them interesting because they shared similar themes. Find a few stand-outs and type them into your document. If you are particularly short on time, look for paragraphs that relate to your theme—you can make them into block-quotes to help expand your word count, though I wouldn’t rely on this too often because your professors will begin to notice.
Break the journal into chunks. I always start with a brief introduction which states my thoughts and opinions (this is basically fluff, but it helps to engage your professor, show that you care, and, most importantly, make your RJ longer). Then, I move to my main theme and explore it for as long as I can. This normally fills about 3/5 of the page. Next, I discuss some extra quotes which were not ample enough to form a theme but still had room for analysis. Finally, I conclude with an end reflection and, if we have not completed the text, my hopes for the future chapters. If we have completed the text, I talk about how to apply the information to a final project or my further studies (ex: “I am interested in how Linge uses the prose form and I plan to work on my own prose poetry following his example”). Try to reach your word goal, but don’t worry if you fall short. We’ll get to that later.
Note: Pick a tone for your journal that keeps you from wanting to drop out of school. This is going to sound stupid, but for my English RJs I pretend I’m the queen of England because British accents shoot me into that scholarly tone that professors love. During my science requirement I had more trouble getting my work done, so I had to entertain myself. I wrote as conversationally as possible, throwing f-bombs into every sentence. I edited all of them out, of course, but I couldn’t have finished my work without the self-allowed freedom to write like an idiot.
If you’re short for time, you can skip this step, but it really makes a difference: rest. Try to spend at least ten minutes away from the journal (my personal style is to write in the wee hours of the morning, sleep until class, then come back to the journal right before it starts). This helps to distance yourself from your work so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes.
Edit. Fish out those oh-so-annoying two-in-the-morning typos, but also use this step to expand to reach your word goals. Be careful with your wordiness, but don’t be afraid of it. As long as you vary your sentence lengths a few extra conjunctions, interjections, transitions, or quotes should not feel out of place. The break you took might have even lent itself to new analysis which you can now use to fortify your work. By the end of this process, you should have a solid RJ as well as your marbles, which are oft lost when stressing over these godforsaken assignments.
I have been following this technique for the last year and have seen an improvement in the quality, speed of completion, enjoyment of process, and grades of my response journals. I can’t guarantee you will have the same results, but trying something new can’t hurt. Good luck, and happy writing.
Elise Kelly. Elise Kelly is a sophomore at Simon's Rock and The Weekly Cad's President and Director of Creative Publications.