Extreme Essays

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Between finishing my thesis, grading, and lesson planning this weekend, I didn’t have a ton of downtime–and when I finally did crash for a break every now and then, I found myself watching a cake-decorating competition marathon on the Food Network.

The challenge each cake artist faced was to decorate a three-foot cake in a limited amount of time.  Sometimes they got to prepare in advance; other times they had to plan and execute on the spot.  And we’re not talking ordinary cakes–these things were bona fide works of art.

When the time was up, no matter what, the decorating ended.  The judges were tough, unafraid to dole out the criticism along with the praise.  I never heard a judge say, “Well, you were limited on time, so we’ll let this imperfection slide.”  The challenge was clear:  how good are you?  Do you stand up to the challenge and emerge victorious?

It got me thinking about in-class writing:  complete essays students must compose from start to finish in 42 minutes.  It’s unfair, they tell me, because our essays would be better if we had more time to work on them at home.  On the one hand, yes, it’s true that good revision is an enormous part of being a writer.  But do you have the ability to produce, to analyze, to dig in depth in a limited amount of time?  Are you pushing yourself to succeed no matter what the circumstances?

And yes, occasionally there will be a dropped cake, a bombed or unfinished essay.  But you can always make another cake, enter another competition.  You can learn from your mistakes, develop techniques and strategies for managing your time and honing your skills, and do better the next time around. 

Bon appetit!