In order to do well in English, you must possess this quality

A slightly different post today: instead of focusing on a specific technique or learning approach, I’d like to address the elephant in the room – mindset. 

I don’t care how many literary devices you’ve memorised, how well you understand a theme, or how much you enjoyed reading a poem or novel, because none of that translates into a good essay if you don’t have a well-calibrated mindset. But what does a “well-calibrated mindset” mean? 

Simple – it’s a fancy shmancy term for self-confidence. 

It’s having that inner voice which tells you, “hey, it’s chilled, you got this.”, or “hey, you’re actually good at this (or you can be good at this). So all you have to do now is to just show it.” 

Humans are funny creatures; we are more amenable to indoctrination than we know, and that includes self-indoctrination. To re-appropriate Descartes’ famous maxim, you are what you think.

So, if you believe (or at least convince yourself to believe) that you are the best thing since sliced bread, and project this image out there to the world, then I guarantee at least some people will buy into this impression. Of course, how long this impression will hold in others’ minds would also depend on how valid it actually is, which is why you’d better make sure this self-confidence is justified to a large extent. And while I’m not a fan of people who toot their own horns, I do think there’s more than a grain of truth to the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy. 

But how does this relate to your study of English, and how does having self-confidence help one write better essays? 

Well, if you consider what literary analysis is, it’s really just a statement in which you convey your specific views on a poem, novel, play, or text. 

  • What do you think about the author’s use of language and style? 
  • What is your opinion of how the poet’s use of structure and form successfully shapes the work’s themes? 
  • How do you evaluate the writer’s use of rhetorical devices to strengthen the persuasiveness of his argument? 

Etc. etc., the point is that writing up an essay on any literary work is essentially an exercise in self-expression – except it’s not your views on your frumpy-looking econ teacher, or your brother’s new platform heel-donning girlfriend, or Starbucks’ Unicorn Frapp, but on how awesome or crappy a poet Tennyson is, how relatable or ridiculous a playwright Shakespeare is, how empowering or morbid a feminist Plath is – you get the drift. 

Not sure what you think, but to be given the temporary wherewithal to make judgments about some of the greatest writers of all time is incredibly empowering. It’s like you’re the teacher who’s grading Tennyson, Shakespeare and Plath on their writing. If you love lit, isn’t that such an honour; if you hate lit, isn’t that such sweet, sweet revenge? 

Either way, I hope this post makes you more motivated to do this ish now. So be confident, go forth and stop sitting on your words!

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