It’s been a while…

This is my first blogpost back, as I’m done with my first month at my junior year here at UM. My academic interests have taken a 360 turn and I’ve changed my major from economics to history. Therefore, I will be writing this semester….ALOT. I had no idea how many papers that this major required. Even though I’m not taking any SWC classes, I’m pretty sure that my writing will be refined greatly through this process. It’s about to be an interesting and difficult semester (filled with writing) and I’m up to the challenge that this (necessary) life change will require. I hope ya’ll’s semester is going great, that’s all I have for now.

Why I Still Kind of Hate Writing

It’s 5:52 PM on a Sunday evening. I’m in the Asia Library on the 4th floor of Hatcher, in a room set a ways back from the rest of library. It’s outfitted with a number of comfortable (but not too comfortable) chairs, there’s a little blue and white mock Ming style vase in the corner, and there are even windows that afford a lovely view of the asphalt on top of the building and the icky-looking grey sky above it. This is a surprisingly awesome place to get stuff done. So, why is the document open on my screen still blank?

See, I’m writing my Statement of Purpose for grad school applications. These really aren’t hard: you say why you want to go to grad school, why you’re qualified to go to grad school, what you want to work on, and who you want to work with. There. Simple. Shouldn’t be a problem. Right? They wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to write them. I haven’t moved from my spot in 5 hours, and still nothing’s set in digital ink. While I know I’ve probably done worse in the past, this somehow brings my rocky relationship with writing to a brand new low; the longest statement required of me on an application is 3 pages (double spaced, no less). This sucks.

When I wrote my Why I Write paper last year, I focused my essay around how very much I hate writing. I know, maybe not the greatest move to open with for someone seeking a minor in writing, but hear me out. Writing is by and large the hardest thing I have to do on a regular basis with regards to academia. In my entire academic career, nothing has even come close to making me feel as stupid as writing does. There are no right answers (just better ones), there’s no handbook to tell you what to do (because let’s face it, Strunk and White are about as useful to writing as something absolutely useless  is to…well…anything…see how tough this is?). There’s only you against yourself, and I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m kind of mean. You know that little voice you’re supposed to have inside your head that quietly cheers you on, saying nice things like, “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this!”? I think I got that little guy’s evil twin, and he’s never louder than he is when I’m writing. And now that grad school is in the picture, it feels like he’s talking through a megaphone. Why wouldn’t I hate this? Yeah, it feels nice to be done with writing, but getting there makes me question if its even worth it. As one of my personal heroes Dorothy Parker famous observed, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Shouldn’t things get easier with time and practice? Why does writing get to be different?

At the end of my Why I Write paper, I talked about how I felt like Sysiphus when I write,  doing something painful, something futile, something oddly punishing over and over again for eternity. But there was a glimmer of hope in that statement, because maybe one time when I rolled the rock up the hill, it would stay put. That optimism is more or less gone. That’s not to say I don’t think I’m not getting better at writing, or that I think I’ll stop getting better. I won’t. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate it my whole life.

Joshua Kim is a future professor of English literature and composition. He fully realizes the irony of this, he promises. 

“Rhetorical Reading” Reading: Tedious but True

I’m not going to lie, I found “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning” by Haas and Flower quite difficult to grasp. Contrary to Shelley’s experience, the graphs were just about the only thing I initially understood! The in-class précis exercise, however, was very helpful for me. Between being forced to articulate in writing my summary of the authors’ arguments and consulting with the rest of the group, I was able not only to come to a much greater understanding of the reading but also to see how its premises apply to myself as a writer.

To start, I can clearly see in my own reading and writing the connection the authors identify between the two. Reading done for the sole purpose of getting information, they argue, is likely to foster writing that only serves to tell, devoid of all critical analysis. For me, this is very interesting because I can certainly see in some of my past writing this tendency to just state facts without turning them into arguments. Even argumentative essays–by their very nature “rhetorical”–can suffer from this defect if information is merely stated and not analyzed. I recall one essay I wrote a while back about job outsourcing which consisted of little more than simply quoting sources that happened to agree with me. Had they read this essay, I’m think Haas and Flower would have surely lumped me in with the “non-rhetorical” beginners–a place where, admittedly, I probably still belong.

One of the questions this piece does not directly address is the strength of this link between one’s reading techniques and his writing abilities. For example, if it’s possible to improve my argumentative writing skills by reading rhetorically, is it similarly possible to improve my rhetorical reading skills by writing argumentatively? If so, then this writing class will undoubtedly prove highly beneficial in a college setting where tedious academic reading (skimming, in my case!) is too often done solely for the “information-getting” part.

Seriously, those reflections help

Recently, I was tasked with writing a case study in my math upper-level writing class. In my attempt to make sense of a long-winded court case and to analyze the case convincingly, I found myself bumbling along quite a bit. When my professor asked if anyone had looked up guidelines or sample case studies, I had to lower my gaze.

Anyone would think that given the number of times I’ve sat through lectures and workshops that always revolve around “do your research, look at examples, learn from them, write your paper, and always revise multiple times,” I should have known better than to attempt a genre without proper research. That incident was enough to make me question where I left my writing toolkit (probably buried under all the squiggles I have to see every day). It was a good check, though, because it helped me see how I was forgetting about the importance of being intentional in my writing.

One of the biggest struggles I had with the Writing 200 (it’s 220 now?) class was the reflection portions of the projects. Before then, I only ever had to be concerned about producing a good essay. But, in 200, I had to justify my choices explicitly and then, after turning in a project, write about what I felt could have been improved. It felt strange having to point out the many flaws in ­my “finished” work. And having to justify my decisions? Can I just be honest and say that sometimes I make some decisions because they “feel right” while I’m writing and editing? But – this realization came sometime during the semester – having to be explicitly accountable for every decision I make in my writing has turned out to be one of the best tools my professor has given to me.

Being intentional while writing may seem to be a no-brainer. But doing it consciously is quite another issue. When I pause while writing to think, “Why am I doing this?” the answer isn’t always immediately obvious. That is when leaving notes in the text or in the margin helps a lot. When I jot down my thoughts concerning why I’m choosing to do certain things, it makes the revision process a lot easier.

This was particularly helpful in remedying my rather haphazardly thrown together case study. Before turning in the draft, I looked back at everything I’d written and questioned myself about things I had barely noticed before. In revising the draft, I could see where my paper became weak and how to fix those spots given my intentions in explaining an idea in the paragraph. The revision became less intimidating and a lot more productive than if I had done it without outlining the reasons for my decisions while writing. Phew.

 

Back to Blogging!

It’s been a while, huh? While I haven’t been blogging for this site in quite some time, I have been blogging for other classes. I’m taking Sociology 454 (Law and Society) this semester. For that class we have to blog at least 3 times throughout the semester and comment on a classmate’s blog every week. I find that blog to be particularly compelling.  I love how topical the threads have become. Since the class focuses on how laws play out in the real world, there are tons of news stories to comment on. For one of my posts I talked about the collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin and the opposition they have received. One of my classmates blogged about voter identification laws–a topic that is of great interest to me. I think the blog works really well for that class since we all have something to say about laws and rules. One person posted about the age requirement of 21 to consume alcohol, and the class went wild with that one!

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Student vs. Faculty Perspective

A common theme amongst these “Students vs. Faculty” posts revolves around situational factors. Most of us don’t side with either the faculty or students exclusively 100% of the time since there are many factors that influence whether we choose to be “good” students or simply blend into the crowd.

I find that when I’m in a class that is relevant and important to my major, I go above and beyond to meet and exceed the class expectations. I want to stand out in these classes, so in these cases I want to identify with the faculty and come across as a mature, dedicated, and ambitious student who separates herself from the common herd. Whether it be going to office hours regularly or putting in that extra effort each homework assignment, I’ll do what’s expected and more to distance myself from the rest of the class even though it means pushing beyond my comfort zone.  I can also tell that when I truly find myself siding with the faculty, it’s in those classes where I’ll choose taking traditional handwritten notes over using a laptop.  Handwritten notes > laptop use is seriously becoming “The Michigan Difference!”

On the other hand, in those classes which aren’t of utmost importance to my major at U of M (i.e. those mandatory additional natural science/humanities/etc credits), I don’t put in the extra effort to stand out from the crowd. I’m guilty of that, but also ok with it. I’ll still strive for an A and do everything that’s required to do well in the class, but I’m more likely to side with other students in these types of classes. It’s not because I’m a slacker, but because I find more value in putting extra effort into things that will benefit me more in the future.

Faculty vs. Students at U of M

I thought the question posed in class as to whether we affiliate with the faculty at University of Michigan or the students in our classes was especially interesting because I had never reflected on the fact that these were two distinct groups and it is inevitable that every student, including myself, identifies with one or the other on some level whether we are aware of it or not. I would have to say that personally my affiliation with one or the other varies depending on the class and professor. Initially coming into a room filled with fellow students I have the attitude that I am a good, hard working student who really wants to learn, and I should be rewarded for this whether or not my peers are on the same page. In this sense I would say I identify with the staff, because I seem to want to put myself above the other students in the class, whether it is true or merely how I preserve myself. I think that this stems from being rewarded in middle school and high school for having this work ethic when other kids seemed to regard grades as meaningless or irrelevant. Therefore, when reflecting, I believe I was taught to side with the faculty out of habit and practice.

On the other hand, when a professor is a particularly hard grader, does not explain assignments well, or has ridiculous tests or teaching methods, I immediately gravitate towards the other side, the students. I am quick to become a part of the masses and submerge myself in conversations about how unfair it all is and how awful the class is as a whole. I no longer want to distinguish myself as one of the “hard workers” because it has no benefit if I am not being rewarded, and it is far easier at that point to change my attitude and level myself with my peers so I can vent and express anger. Misery loves company, and when I am miserable in a course it is usually because of the professor, which hinders my desire to learn the material. Although I am not proud of this fact, I become one of the students who whisper in the back of the lecture or go on Facebook instead of watching the slides and completely distance myself from the faculty.

Obviously, I think that the former scenario serves me better because I get more out of my classes when I affiliate with the professor and hold myself accountable for being a driven and distinguished student. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and sometimes it just feels better to be a part of the group.

Blogging with personality?

 

This guy is a lil bit of a goober- but in the middle, he decides if a blog doesn’t have personality, it’s not interesting. The reader will remember the article more if you infuse it with personality. “To me it’s always about you, the writer.” Is this true for all blogs? Do we always need to insert personality? Is a blog a blog because it’t not a news article, in other words, is the opinion section of the newspaper blogs in print. Is there any value in fact based, not personality infused blogging, or is it then no longer blogging? Is personal infusion into news what we value most about blogging? Sorry, lots of questions…

What? I Can’t Hear You, Reader!

Writing tends to be a one way conversation. You write what you are thinking and how you feel without feedback. In a normal conversation with a friend you receive feeback and responses to what you say, which is what helps guide what you say. When writing, you don’t have these responses. In an essence, you are blindly writing knowing that the reader cannot respond. What I have learned this week is that we do need to think of our writing as more of a two-sided (or more!) conversation!

For class this week, I was assigned to read “Reading and Writing Without Authority”. One of the main points of the piece was that your writing should sound like a group full of people talking and discussing different views on a topic, with the author also participating with their opinion. I was excited to see that the prompt this week was directly related to my reading!

If a writer were to incorporate views other than their own in their writing, they allow their readers to have a voice, as well. If the reader doesn’t agree with your personal opinion, they may agree with one of the other voices in the “conversation” of your piece. This can actually help keep the reader interested and involved with your piece rather than simply disregarding it if they disagree with your view.

When writing an argumentative piece, the author’s goal is typically to guide the reader to agree with their opinion. If the author doesn’t shove their personal view down the readers throat by including opposing viewpoints, the reader will probably be more likely to “listen” to the conversation and be open minded.

As I continue writing essay in classes, I plan to take this idea to heart. Sometimes when we are so passionate about a topic, it is difficult to want to include opposing viewpoints, but the bottom line is that by including them we could actually have a better chance of swaying our reader’s opinion!

Well, that was officially the wordiest piece of writing I have written. Sorry about that! Hopefully you were able to follow along…!