Proofread Your Day

1. Check Your Formatting
When’s the last time you ate? Have you gotten 8 hours of sleep in the last few nights, showered recently, spoken to people you care about and who care about you? These are easy points, with clear guidelines. Get your MLA right and then we’ll talk.

2. Thesis
Your thesis statement should establish a purpose. What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you headed? Make sure that your paragraphs, your actions, are working to meet those goals. Everything you do should back them up.

3. Peer Review
Perspective helps us see where we’re going wrong and where we are making improvements. When’s the last time you sought someone out to admit where you are weak and get their opinion? Find someone who knows as much or more than you and ask them what they think.

4. Evidence
How are you using your sources? Do they simply affirm your point, or are you using research that challenges you? Your texts should give you new insight and push you to new ideas. Don’t settle for bad information. Use your evidence wisely, look into it carefully, and cite your sources appropriately.

5. Read Your Paper Out Loud
Take a good hard look at what you’ve written. Read it out loud, backwards and forwards, to hear how the sentences sound. You’ll spot your errors. There is no writing, only rewriting, continual chances to begin again. Change the whole thing if you have to, find new sources, write a new thesis, ask for a new prompt. Revisions are good, fresh starts are healthy, rough drafts are encouraged. Find where your extended metaphor is getting a little tired (right here).

While this checklist does not guarantee an A or provide an exhaustive list of ways to combat a bad day, a bad week, or a bad year, maybe it’s a start. When my students get stuck on writing papers, when they can’t find anything to put on the page, I tell them to start with a summary of their texts–-start with the easiest thing to write, get something on the page, and hopefully you can work from there. Small steps towards a compete paper and a complete life.

A friend of mine has said before that she thinks everyone struggles with a mental health disorder to some degree, and I’m starting to see that. For some, anxiety is a response to external stimuli, but to others, it exists completely independently, with a mind of its own that decides to pipe in at the most inopportune times. For some, depression is a feeling they experience from time to time, a pervasive sadness they can’t shake. For others, it is an emptiness that rules their everyday life.

I can’t begin to understand what everyone in my life goes through, nor can I pretend that I know how to address everyone’s struggles. I’m lucky that I get relief from the fear that sometimes drives my life, and that I can see the worries I have from a safe perspective. Lately, my good days outweigh my bad.

But this might not–will not–always be the case. I’m tempted, in times when fear and anxiety rule the way I live, to retreat into myself, to hoard money and friends and knowledge or whatever I think will bring me security. I want to be independent and show that I’ll be just fine, thank you very much.

But who says self-sufficiency is all that important?

I’m learning to admit my weakness, to show my soft spots, the underbelly of the dragon who defends his wealth. To reach out when I’ve had a terrible, stuck-in-traffic-haven’t-eaten-screw-everything kind of day and say that I don’t feel right. And more importantly, to admit that I’m having a bad month or six, and that maybe I need more than my own two feet to stand on.

I’m finding that more people than I think are in the same boat, that we’re leaning on each other’s shoulders and drinking from each other’s pots of coffee until we have the strength to stand again. I might never have just my own two feet, but it’s very possible I’m not supposed to, that self-sufficiency is not my ultimate goal. My thesis is to help those around me flourish, to cheer them on, to be a support for others just as they are mine, to bring about a future where darkness will no longer be. And what a purpose that is.

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