Take the Extra Time, Sit Down, Get a Deep Understanding | A Revision by Grace McGahan

In the spring of 2023, Grace McGahan took my Writing & Inquiry class at the University of Tampa. Like many students, she struggled on her first attempt to write an analysis essay. The assignment asked her to take a cultural text, pose an interpretive problem about it, and then, through a careful examination of textual details, construct a reading in response to that problem. These are not easy tasks. Her struggle is a common and understandable one. What is remarkable, though, is the way Grace took a step back, worked to figure out what it was she hadn’t understood, and then came back on a second attempt to write a much more successful analysis essay. I was so impressed by her efforts and by how improved her revision was that I asked if I could share her drafts here, along with a conversation she and I recorded about the struggle and process of revision. These artifacts—the two drafts and our conversation—offer an inside look at the real deal work and struggle of learning and revising.

First Attempt at an Analysis Essay

Here is Grace’s first attempt at writing an analysis of the music video for Lizzy McAlpine’s song “Ceilings.” The analysis consists mostly of general statements about love, about problems, about fantasy, and so forth. However, the essay does, though vaguely, begin to name the key problem that the later essay much more successfully posed and answer, the question of whether the love depicted in the music video is real or just a fantasy. This draft, as Grace comments in our recorded conversation below, does not actually make very much use of the text of the music video. This draft seems to be one that, as she puts it, was thrown together the night before it was due.

fantasy versus real love

While reading the text Ceilings by Lizzy McAlpine, there are constantly recurring thoughts that are in the back of my head. Many thoughts are positive and some are negative. Many problems occurred. Some problems had answers and required deeper thought. When a problem occurred I tried my best to find a solution. This wasn't the easiest and took a lot of analyzing. 

A recurring problem that is throughout the whole text that appeared to me was “fantasy”. This came across as an issue because it leaves the reader wondering. This is a good and a bad thing. The good thing about this is it leaves the reader to use their imagination and allows the reader to explore their answers to the occurring problems. The bad to this is their answers could potentially be way off task and not in the right direction. The problem I've seen and come across is there's such a story to the song and the lyrics have such meaning but if it's all a fantasy, does the meaning mean anything? The songwriter has certain lyrics appear many times. One word that appears more than once is “lovely”. The problem is if it's all a fantasy and none of it is real how lovely is that? These lyrics contradict her feelings. A lot of the words used by the writer have a lot of deeper meanings. This causes a problem because it makes the reader wonder how much meaning is real if it's all fake.

These problems have solutions if you allow yourself to find the answers. I looked for answers after the problem occurred to me. The answer is not obvious and took me a lot of analyzing. While reading the lyrics, the writer is going into detail about how she and the fantasy lover interact with each other. The only problem is that it's a fantasy or comes across as a fantasy. I analyzed how she still sees the good in her situation even though it seems fake. Her mind is still happy to be able to imagine the good from someone who is either not real or not in her life anymore. In the lyric “you kiss me” she's still thinking about this fantasy character in a loving way. A kiss is something you do with someone who means something to you, someone who is special. The problem is fantasy or real life. The answer to this that comes to my head by analyzing this text is, fantasy or not this person is still special to still be thought positively whether they are fake or not.

Problem and solution is a worldwide topic. From a young age children are taught there is always a solution to an issue. Being able to create a problem and find an answer on your own is a challenging task. This song I've chosen is a challenging song to work with because you can think about the words and interpret them in many different ways. This song is popular in our generation as it sets an example of what love in our generation is. All a fantasy because it's so hard to find. This is a problem in today's generation and the song Ceilings. The solution to this problem remains the same either in today's world or in this song, always find the best and still find love for people even when it's difficult. Why you ask, because it makes you a better person at the end of the day. Finding good in the worst situation makes life brighter.  

Revision of the Analysis Essay

Now here is Grace’s revision. The heart of the analysis—the question of whether the love depicted in the music video is real or fantasy—remains. She does explain that problem much more clearly now, pointing to specific details in the text that make her wonder. Moreover, almost everything else about the essay has been rewritten. The general comments about love and life are replaced with a careful examination of details in the text, leading her (and us) to a much better understanding of the music video than before. Grace was able to make this significant change, as she shares in our recorded conversation below, by stepping back and looking carefully at what was being asked of her, studying the learning resources provided in the class, and taking her time to go step by step through creating her analysis.

Love in Disguise: Is Love All a Fantasy

At first a houseparty appears. This seems to be where two lovers first connect. At first they are living their own lives then the words “lovely to be sitting here with you” appear and it then jumps into a scene of the two lovers laying in a bed together.(at the 0:40 mark). This scene shows great significance to the music video Ceilings by Lizzy McAlpine. This key moment opens up the idea of fantasy, if this love is true. One second it is there and the next it is gone. At first, the realization of them being together and then the next moment, the singer being alone in a field saying things repeatedly such as, “alone”. This creates a problem in the back of the viewers head such as, is this love real or is it just a fantasy?  It opens up questions and allows you to analyze much more such as, love, relationships, and timing. When we look closely at Lizzy's lyrics on where the two lovers stand with each other, it allows us to see what the true connection they have with each other is. This gives the viewer clarity on how this love may appear as a fantasy but goes way beyond that. 

The first realization where I stopped and took a second to recognize a sense of fantasy would have occurred when the singer repeatedly said “but it's not real”. After this line was said multiple times I analyzed what happens when it's said, it cuts to the girl sitting alone on a curb (2:11) , standing alone at the beach (1:44), or standing alone in a field (1:46). These specific moments show great emotion. The fantasy of the whole love story becomes questioned when two lovers are shown but then is contradicted by them being separated as well as the constant use of the word “real”. What's being questioned if it's a fantasy is not the people and the situation they are in, rather they have true love for eachother. Their relationship with each other resembles love. In many ways this is seen. One being how raw and deep they are with each other. From the way they smile, and look at each other (0:58). Although there is a lot of love shown there is pain as well. Their love contrasts with pain, one moment they are kissing and cuddling (2:25) and then the next second the girl is alone upset in her bed (2:30). The transition from love to pain is important. At some point all the love ends and pain gets introduced. It all ends. No more parties, no more walks on the beach, no more eating together, no more cuddling, no more love. Love gets filled with void, pain, and despair. It goes hand to hand with comfort and chaos. Two people at once, comfortable and very wholesome. This then leads to chaos, the singer running screaming, “but it's not real”. These lyrics are mentioned at a part in the song and they are significant in allowing you to realize that their love is a fantasy. Although it is not that their love is fake. Just maybe a fantasized love, a muse. 

The emotion that is conveyed throughout the music video allows you to gain access to phases and processes of their love growing into pain. From comfort to chaos it sparks the realization of their fantized love. Their love at first seems to be positive and that is how it is shown to the viewers. It starts as hugs, kisses and going out to eat. But as the video goes on curiosity comes as is any of this truly real, or is it all a fantasy? There was a specific time that makes you truly see how their love is a fantasy. At the end of the video (3:10) they hug and get introduced to each other as if they do not know each other. If it were all real and the love was true between the two of them, how could they pretend they were strangers. They act as if they were not once lovers, and it is made known that their love was all a fantasy.

In some cases, people truly love each other and the love is true and wholesome. In this video the actions the lovers had towards each other conveys a specific message. But pain was conveyed as well and this is a contradicting factor. The ending of this video allows viewers to realize it was all a fantasy. This was a key point that was noteworthy. The fantasy is the way the girl viewed their relationship and her point of view. Their love for each other was able to be seen but how the girl believed it was shown. From lovers to strangers all in the span of 3 minutes. The significance of love, pain, chaos, and comfort all allow the true fantasy to be portrayed.

Our Conversation about the Revision

The following video captures my conversation with Grace about her process, how she wrote the first attempt, what she struggled with, how she figured out what she wasn’t understanding, how she went about writing the revised version. She figured it out piece by piece until it finally clicked. Her advice to other students? “Take the extra time, sit down, get a deep understanding . . .”


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