Dr. Jen Sweeney directs the Writing Center and teaches literature and seminar.
BardVERSE: What’s easiest for you when creating an essay? What is more challenging?
Dr. Sweeney: I absolutely love starting essays. I love sitting down at my computer and typing my heart out. I’ve usually spent an exorbitant amount of time thinking about what I’m going to write about before I sit down, so it’s all in my head waiting to pour out. There is something truly magical and relieving about getting everything out on paper.
In terms of my struggles, I hate revising. Let me clarify: I don’t just hate revising. I absolutely loathe it. I struggle to see the fullness of my essays, which makes it incredibly hard to see where I need to add or subtract. Because of this, I get really anxious about getting rid of sentences and paragraphs because I’m never truly sure of my decisions to cut. Revision takes me forever and it causes me a lot of stress.
BardVERSE: What’s been your favorite essay you’ve written at Bard? Why?
Dr. Sweeney: The last essay I got published was absolutely my favorite to write. I had a moment of realization last year that I have the freedom to write about whatever I want in the position that I am in here at Bard and that I hadn’t really taken advantage of that. Plus, I had in the back of my mind this amazing presentation I had seen at a conference by the scholar Brittney Cooper. She had made the point that academics tend to scoff at pop culture feminists like Beyonce Knowles because they don’t use the jargon of the academy. That set me to thinking about what kind of paper I could write in support of Beyonce. I didn’t have to worry about any sort of negative backlash from other academics because I’m in a place that appreciates good arguments and interesting ideas. So I wrote the paper and it got picked up by a journal. It was fun to spend months analyzing Beyonce’s career, watching her videos, listening to her music, and writing about it.
BardVERSE: How do you get into the mind space for writing?
Dr. Sweeney: I am a kinesthetic learner and so I always have to be moving in order to think. By moving, I really mean exercising. I have to be really pushing myself in order to get the ideas flowing. For example, I wrote the entirety of my dissertation while training for half marathons. I would run up to sixty miles a week just so that I could come up with the arguments that I needed to progress my ideas. I ran everywhere. I think I saw more of Binghamton, New York, where I got my Ph.D., from the sidewalks than I ever would have otherwise. I only got chased by a dog once. It was a westie, so kind of embarrassing. Even for my Beyonce essay, I had to run. I trained for my first full marathon and ran from E. 200th Street all the way to W. 25th Street, just thinking and working through my Beyonce paper. I guess it worked because it got published.