LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Grammar Post: Shitty First Drafts

I am hoping that at this point, you all are working on (at least) your first draft of your papers.  We have addressed some of the frustrations about writing in earlier posts, so for this week, I am going to post instead one of my favorite pieces of writing by Anne LaMott titled “Shitty First Drafts” from her book on writing, Bird by Bird.  I think there is something reassuring about knowing that even people who write for a living, and who have been writing for decades, still feel anxiety and frustration while they are writing.  Whenever I get really stuck or frustrated with my own writing, I find re-reading this brief excerpt really helps.


Shitty First Drafts

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Grammar Post: Take Your Time

This is the third in a series of posts aimed at helping you through the process of writing your research papers. Read the first on creating an argument here. Read the second on using good research well here.   I have already addressed forming your arguments and using good research well in previous posts. This post will be focused on easing some of your drafting anxieties.

Tip #3. Research papers take time

A number of you have expressed anxiety about how you aren’t clear on your argument yet or you are still struggling to make all the pieces fit together.  This is TOTALLY normal and to be expected.  At this point in the process, you are likely trying to refine your own argument, pick out primary texts, locate secondary texts, read those sources and incorporate them into you argument, while choosing which parts of those sources should be included in your paper and how to balance them with your own ideas and the information from your primary texts.  Whew.  Here are a couple of tips for you to cope with some of this juggling act. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grammar Post: Use Good Research Well

This is the second in a series of posts aimed at helping you with your research papers. Read the first on creating an argument here.   This post is more directly pointed at research, which you should be working hard at, in preparation for your annotated bibliographies, due April 2.

2. You must use good research well.

A key element of this paper is coming up with your own thesis (see #1), but you also need to show that you have done enough research and are informed enough on the topic to make your argument reliable: this is all about establishing your ethos as a writer.  Believe it or not, you all are now experts on Golden Age children’s literature, more than the average person on the street.  You belong to a community of experts and you want to demonstrate that you are in conversation with those experts.  As such, you should be looking for expert opinions to use in your paper.  If you are working primarily on the literature aspect, you should be looking at the peer-review journals that we talked about in the library.  For those of you who are focusing more on the cultural aspects, (marketing, media, bestsellers), there will be peer-reviewed journals that deal with these topics, but you may also be looking at different kinds of experts: the heads of marketing firms, newspaper/magazine editors, publishing industry insiders.  You should all be good at evaluating the sources and should be able to tell the difference between a reliable online source and one that would not be considered academic or trustworthy.  As always, avoid sites like Wikipedia,, or sparknotes.  If you choose to use less reliable sources (blogs, newspapers, magazines), you will need to take a moment to justify your choices in your paper, in order to shore up your ethos.

There are a couple of expert-level ways to incorporate research into your papers.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Grammar Post: Creating an Argument

All of you are now hard at work on your research for your final papers, and if the proposals and the conversations I have been having with you in office hours are any indication, I am really looking forward to see what you come up with.  The next couple of blog posts will be general advice on research.  I wanted to put some of my advice in a central location for you to look at, in case you are feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or lost.

Tip #1. You must have an argument

A research paper without an argument is like a Christmas tree without lights: not much to look at. Most of you have asked some really interesting questions in your proposals or outlined some interesting themes: now is the time to turn those ideas into an answer.  Your thesis should be assertive, clear and strong.  It should also be original and based on your own thoughts and ideas, though you will need to back up your thought process and concepts with the ideas of other experts. Your thesis should not include caveats like “I think,” or “it is kind of like this.”  Your thesis should not try to straddle both sides of an issue: “This is both strong and weak,” or “this book is and isn’t a classic.”  You should write your thesis as fact, and then spend the rest of the paper backing up that fact. As you continue through your paper, each time you have thoroughly demonstrated a point or explained a concept, you should be sure to pause and remind the reader how point 1 (or point 4), ultimately ties back to your overall argument.

In this class, you have already worked on two basic academic argument structures: a genre classification and a close-reading.   Academic essays have a few basic argument structures.  The first is a genre classification where you define the characteristics of a genre and then apply argue that a text (usually one that is classified in various genres) belongs in or out of the genre you have defined.  For instance, one could write an essay based on the thesis: “The Hunger Games belongs in the category of post-colonial dystopia due to its use of ABC” or “The Water-Babies should no longer be categorized as a children’s book because it does not meet criteria X, Y or Z.”

Another basic structure is a close reading, where the essay makes a claim for a certain literary device, symbol or motif being used for very specific effects.  For instance, a close reading essay might trace all the mentions of rings in The Princess and the Goblin and argue the ring stands for XYZ symbol.

Other common academic arguments can focus on author’s intent (Nesbit intends to critique the British forms of entertainment,  as evidenced by her use of XYZ), form (The Water-Babies is not a novel but a fairy tale and here are the places in the text that demonstrate the formal differences), or comparison (The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan both imagine children transported to an imaginary land, but one does ABC while the other shows XYZ.).

There are obviously other kinds of arguments, but the important thing is to HAVE ONE!  A good rule of thumb: if you (or a friend/classmate) can not disagree with you, you are not making an argument.  Also, an argument is not a collection of “the following things from the  book are interesting/cool.”

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Grammar Post: Proofreading Tips

General Strategies

  • Take a break! Allow yourself some time between writing and proofing. Even a five-minute break is productive because it will help you get some distance from what you have written. The goal is to return with a fresh eye and mind.
  • Leave yourself enough time. Since many errors are made and overlooked by speeding through writing and proofreading, taking the time to carefully look over your writing will help you to catch errors you might otherwise miss. Always read through your writing slowly. If you read at a normal speed, you won’t give your eyes sufficient time to spot errors.
  • Read aloud. Reading a paper aloud encourages you to read every little word. Any time your text is awkward or confusing, or any time you have to pause or reread your text, revise this section. If it is at all awkward for you, you can bet it will be awkward for your reader.
  • Read your paper out of order.  Some recommend reading backwards (last sentence, then the next to last sentence), but Read the rest of this entry »
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