The Oberlin Stories Project

On embracing writing

Anna Zeemont ’13

“Oberlin revolutionized the way I think about writing - which in turn shaped me not just as a learner but also as an individual.”

3 students collaborate at a table

When I first came to Oberlin, I was incredibly anxious about college-level writing. I had always suffered from severe writer’s block, in part because I lacked confidence. I remember telling my professor this after the first day of my first-year seminar, Satire and the Uses of Laughter—I was unsure that I was ready for an essay-heavy class. She told me not to worry and assured me that I’d be fine in the course. She was more than right.

Within the first month, I fell in love with the content of the class. We read classic satirical literature, like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and watched episodes of South Park and The Colbert Report. I looked forward to our class discussions, which were always really meaningful and, to me, sophisticated. Still, I initially dreaded the papers.

I remember the professor discussing our first assignment and telling us something that I first thought was strange, but fundamentally changed the way I approach and think about the writing process, even now. She told us to write about something we enjoyed or were fascinated by. Writing papers, she said, was an opportunity to delve into a topic you cared about or work through something you found confusing. As obvious as these ideas might sound, I’d never really considered them. In high school, I wrote to demonstrate something to a teacher, to get a grade, not to learn or to explore things I actually liked. This was totally radical for me—that writing papers wasn’t something you just did just to please a professor, but to allow for the most enriching learning experience possible.

Over time, I began to take in this new way of seeing the learning and writing processes. Because I saw writing as a worthwhile and productive task, it became a less agonizing process. I still occasionally suffered from writer’s block (and still do), but when things became too hard or frustrating, I meet with my professors, who are always eager to talk things out, or with a class writing tutor. In addition, I often hit up the Writing Center, the drop-in peer-tutoring site located in Mudd Library.

As I’ve continued throughout my college career, I’ve gained more confidence in my abilities as a writer, thanks to this strong support system and new way of thinking. At the start of my junior year, I applied to become a writing tutor and was accepted into the writing associates (WA) program. The class all WAs take, Teaching and Tutoring Writing across the Disciplines, is one of my very favorites of the classes I’ve taken. In it, we discussed the importance of seeing writing as a process, not as a product, and how best to support students who are still transitioning into seeing it that way themselves.

While taking this course, I simultaneously acted as a writing associate. In fact, I served as the course tutor for the very first-year seminar that I’d taken two years earlier—one of the best experiences I’ve had during my time at Oberlin. Because I knew so well what it was like to be unenthused and anxious about the writing process, I tried my best to impart helpful tips and encouragement to the students in the course. I met frequently with the professor (who had, by then, become my academic advisor) about the course and led two in-class writing workshops, one about writing thesis statements and another about integrating secondary sources into a larger paper.

Writing is still challenging for me. But now I see it as a fundamental element of the learning process and an integral part of why I have found my education at Oberlin to be so fruitful. Furthermore, my positive experiences with the writing process and working as a writing associate have inspired me to pursue teaching as a career. Oberlin revolutionized the way I think about writing—which in turn shaped me not just as a learner but also as an individual.