St. John's College Annapolis The Program

The Curious Incident of the Essay at Midnight (of the 6th of February, of course)

By Brian Liu

February 6th has passed and that means that senior essays are done! In order to graduate St. John’s, the college requires, as one last tribute to the Titans of the Liberal Arts, seniors to write an essay roughly 6000 to 13,000 words (that’s 20 to 40 pages) on any topic and any book as long as it is vetted by the Dean. Students get 1 month off of classes to focus on their paper. It is a time of intense focus on one particular subject or author, and often becomes one of the most meaningful experiences for a St. John’s student.

Personally, I have a hard time considering myself a good writer. I have an awkward voice and often times I’m too eager to impress with my words and my sentence structures that my writing becomes a jumbled mess. If my writing comes from a place of insecurity it often becomes nonsensical, over ambitious and full of mixed metaphors. But if I have learned anything from this writing period it is this: a good writing experience is an honest confrontation with the author(s) or subject matter that you are writing about. And an honest confrontation is one without pretensions or hidden agendas. You must approach the author, via the essay, as you are: eager to listened, ready to be humbled and prepared to engage with your own opinions. So for me, writing this paper, was not only a practice in learning Nietzsche’s interpretation of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics (ok, I am pretty pretentious), but it also became an exercise in authenticity.

This will be forever what I love about St. John’s: it is a college that allows you to ask personal questions in an academic setting. The school is a place to learn yourself (in the individual sense, but also in the wider, more profound, human-kind sense) through dialogue with these authors. The essay was a great opportunity to find my voice through vulnerable dialogue. I personally found my subject matter very difficult, but in order to be productive I had to disarm my writing from my fears. I had to avoid defensive writing and put myself out there.

These are some thoughts on my writing experience. I’ve put a wordle of my essay on this article (a wordle is a word bubble that consists of the most common words in your writing. The biggest word is the most commonly used.) And below that, is a picture of the jubilation that smeared my face like strawberry jam at kindergarten lunchtime, when I finally had my bound copy of my finished my paper in my hands.


P.s the title is a pun off of the title of a fantastic young adult novel called: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I recommend the book for thoughtful and fun reading.



The student writing staff of the johnnie chair blog

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