When Rodney Dangerfield was filming Caddyshack, he was often frustrated when the other actors and crew didn’t laugh at his jokes while filming scenes. Caddyshack was his first comedy film, and after a lifetime of stand-up comedy he was used to knowing if he was doing well by the audience’s laughter. He thought he was doing terribly, when in reality he was performing just fine, if not splendidly.
There is a worrisome trend in student writing: Students with good papers who believe they are bringing in a bad paper. Bad papers likely exist, but I’ll believe it when I see one. If you’re bringing your work to the Writing Center, you probably care enough about your work that you aren’t writing bad papers.
You can’t please everyone all the time with your writing. So, if you’re unhappy with your paper, it’s probably because you are out of your element, like Rodney, and you’re just not tailoring your work to the right audience (which is probably going to be your professor). College can be intimidating, and we hear from a lot of students that their classes here are the first to require them to write a real academic research paper. They’re stand-up comedians, and they’re terrified of their first film role.
Professors can be a little intimidating, too. It’s their job to be a little intimidating. Writing Center tutors are students going through crazy new things just like you. But, we’ve done this before. We know how to write a paper. We can help you get through that and be better on the other side. Don’t be afraid that we’ll tell you to rewrite your whole paper. We might. It’s a good thing you brought it by, or else you might not have discovered that. There’s a lesson in the inverse here, too: Even if you think you have a good paper, bring it by. Chances are, a new set of eyes will improve it.
There’s really only one key difference between the students who have been to the writing center and those who haven’t. The ones who came are smart enough to know their good paper could be better. That they could be better writers.
Too bad poor Rodney didn’t figure it out.