the end

My high school English teacher told me that there are never any finished writing, only deadlines. Looking back through my old essays from freshman year, I thought that I would cringe about the naivety of what I had written–and I did. But more surprisingly, in creating the portfolio, I found connected pieces of myself through the years of college writing. The first three lines of my Directed-Self Placement essay could have been taken from the opening paragraphs of my honors thesis. I wrote about the importance of family and friends to a flourishing life as a freshman and as I senior, I expanded on that idea in a honors thesis. But it wasn’t an intentional choice—the itch to keep writing about a topic wasn’t satisfied.

It was also amazing to see how my tone hasn’t fundamentally changed. There is the same eager passion to raise a point or ask a question. The only difference now is that I learned that I often cannot makes big claims as I’d like. Phrases like, “fundamental truth” have tapered into “compelling theory”.

I thought looking back at my old writing would be embarrassing. I thought would have to hide in my room for hours at the shame of all the things I once sounded smart. I was really skeptical that going back through old writing and buffing the rough edges was worthwhile. I was surprised by the things I learned. I wish that I had trusted the process a bit more, instead of kicking and screaming.

In the past few days, I’ve finished my thesis, project and portfolio and completed my final class of undergrad. It have come to many “ends”, and for the next little bit of my life, the most substantial writing projects I will have will be cover letters (boo). I have a hope that my English teacher was right, that your writing is never really finished. And perhaps that’s why I’ve found such delight in looking back at my old essays and stories—it gives me hope that I can continue to grow as a writer.

So maybe this isn’t really The End, but rather just a place along the way.

Next Year, Next Year, Next Year.

When it comes to doing serious writing, I have often felt as though “it’s not time yet.” I’m still a student, so I’ll grind it out, do my work here and start really writing when I graduate. But the more that I think of it lately, the more I want to get after it. There have been so many times when I think that I’m too bogged down with schoolwork during the year to do any writing, and that I’ll just do it when I have time. But I’ve had time before. Last summer. The summer before that. The summer before that. Three, four months when I could have been doing serious work. But I didn’t, because for some reason I felt as though I had to get to a certain point in my writing education before I could start dabbling in real work.

I’m going to be a senior next year. I’ve got one more summer, one more year before I am completely done with school. That’s not a lot of time, especially considering the investment needed for a serious writing project. I really don’t have time to waste, and the sooner I get on this, the better. If I want to write for my career, I’m going to have to get started right away. I can’t go back to living with my parents for another few years before things get rolling, I have to hit the ground running. That means I need to have something to get me going by the time I graduate, that first complete project that will show me than I can do it.

Writing is not some magical, unique talent that you’re either born with or without. While it’s true that some people are more naturally gifted than others, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to produce good writing. So, if I want to be a good writer, a great writer, then I’m going to have to write. This summer, this upcoming year, have to be different. This summer I’m planning on doing my first real, major project. I’ve had a few ideas kicking around in my head, a few documents with ideas and details that I want to write about “but didn’t have the time for.” Well I’m going to make time for them, and have something to show for it.

But I’m sure that I’m not alone in this position. Everyone has those ideas, those plans, those ambitions. It’s tough to get yourself started, and easy to think that you have plenty of time. But, as many people will tell you, the time flies by incredibly quickly. You can’t be afraid to get going, you have to go after your goals if you want to be successful.

The Modern Writer, The Modern Market

I have wanted to be a write novels for a long time. I have wanted to do what I enjoy for a living – to never have a boss, to work at my own pace and in my own style. I want to be excited for work every day, and never have to drag myself out of bed for it. I never want to settle into the grind, or to be unfulfilled in my work. However, I have also always wanted to be able to afford a house, raise a family, and be able to eat. For a lot of people, they are stuck between choosing what they want to do and what they should do in order to make money.

For a long time, and for most people, a potential career in writing forced them to make a decision between the two. Writing has always been romanticized, and many of our favorite writers seem like geniuses who couldn’t possibly be emulated. “How could I ever be a writer? Fitzgerald was a writer. Hemingway was a writer. I’m not like those guys, I can’t just do it.” If you want to be a writer, you’d really have to be talented.

It used to be a huge risk (and it still is), and it used to be a big investment. And if you couldn’t get your book traditionally published, you’d have to use…the “s-word.” Self-publishing conjures up images of failed writers with ten thousand books sitting in their garage and dashed dreams of fame and success. But these days, self-publishing is a very viable, and in many cases more profitable way to sell your book because of the growth of ebooks. A successful, well-marketed eBook can bring in substantial income, and gives the author a much bigger share of the profits. Royalties are closer to 70% for eBooks, compared to the 10% offered by most publishing companies for a writer’s first book. Publishing companies take care of marketing, which is a huge part of a book’s success. But a knowledgable person who looks in the right places can make a killing without having to get bogged down by the kind of contracts offered by publishing companies. If you’re concerned with seeing your book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, however, traditional publishing is what you want.

The lower risk involved with ebooks is complemented by the increased exposure made available online, which makes people much less dependent on publishing companies. Since marketing your own book is now actually feasible, people can more easily make a living, even if their books have more moderate success. Of course, we all dream about hitting it big, and aim to do so, but there are more and more people who make a decent living off of writing. I am very grateful for the shift, the break away from the more all-or-nothing attitude which writing had been famous for. People used to think (and some still do) of writers as either major successes like J.K. Rowling or as dirt-poor, writing-obsessed sob stories. I am most definitely not a tortured-soul, emotional, “writing-is-why-I-was-put-on-this-earth” kind of person. I just greatly enjoy writing, and I think that in time I can be really good at it.

Gameification

Gameification was an unexpected part of Writing 220, and a kind of grading system which I’d never used before. For the first time, I was starting out with a zero and building towards a 100%, instead of the typical system of starting out with a 100% and trying to stay as close as possible to it. I actually rather like the switch, and I think it’s a more encouraging and productive fashion of assigning work to students. With most classes, I check the schedule for exams and papers, see what the minimum amount of homework I have to do is, and skip everything that’s unnecessary. Classes are about getting the best grade with the minimum amount of work, so students are constantly thinking how to get out of doing things, which turns the class into a chore. With gameification, however, the mindset was completely different. Looking at the grid and the possible assignments, the objective was completely the opposite: we had to figure out how we could do more in order to get more points, which was very motivating and got me thinking about the class on a more involved level.

Making the switch was definitely a struggle at first, trying to figure out how to get these points while learning about new kinds of creative platforms at the same time. Probably the hardest part  for me was trying to juggle all of these different parts of the class, which for awhile were seemingly-unrelated. Class exercises, blog posts, ePortfolios, annotated bibliographies, reflections – they all came together at the end, but it took a little bit for it to all to make sense. The freedom we had in the course could either be a gift or a curse, depending on how organized you were and how willing you were to seek help (something I didn’t do often enough).

Depending on what kind of person you are and how your school year is going, Gameification can either be a gift or a curse. I found it kind of amusing that my perception of the system would change based on my mood, how I would subconsciously word the requirements differently if they were working for or against me. At the beginning of the semester I often thought, “Great! I get to spread only five blog streams over the semester? I can knock those out no problem!” As things fell behind and got more crunched, it more closely resembled, “Crap! I have to squeeze in five of them? How the hell am I gonna get these done on time??”

Despite my own difficulties, I feel as though gameification is a good system for ensuring that students get involved with the large variety of projects necessary for an intro course. With the blog, the exercises, the annotated bibliographies, the major projects, and the different platforms for sharing work, I feel much more prepared to handle these different assignments in the future.

 

I was wondering how other people handled gameification, and what kind of problems they had. Any unexpected difficulties, or major successes? Do you prefer the usual system, or did you enjoy this shift from the norm?

 

Applied Efficiency

As I take class after class in college, my writing habits don’t really change (though not for lack of trying). Despite promising myself every semester that “next time I won’t procrastinate,” I somehow almost always find myself with an entire paper to write the night before it is due. To top it off, I’m usually so stressed about having that much work to do in one night that I will put it off even further! As a result, I have enjoyed many many nights where I get to start my paper at midnight and hand it in at noon. I know that’s not the sort of thing that teachers want to hear, but it’s the unfortunate truth.

However, I somehow always finish my papers on time (*knock on wood*). They’re not all prize-worthy, but they’re turned in on time. This path to completion is always quite nerve-wracking and uncertain, and I’ve handed in papers at 11:59  on quite a few occasions. But that got me to thinking, how does the timing work so often? I’ve stretched four-page papers over 12 hours, and I’ve ripped through ten-page papers in six hours, both situations bringing me to the dropbox with seconds to spare. In some cases, the amount of time I need depends on what type of paper I’m writing, but the habit is too common, the timing too exact to be a fluke.  It’s as though my brain recognizes the timeframe and doles out calculated amounts of creativity and inspiration in order to custom fit the paper to the session. If I were given an essay to write and 16 hours to do it in, I would finish it in about fifteen hours and fifty-five minutes. If I were given the same essay to write, but only four hours to do it in, I would finish it in about three hours and fifty-five minutes.

Like many other writers, I go back and forth between periods of just staring at the cursor as if I could will it to write, and periods where I tear through two pages in fifteen minutes. When time is crunched, I cycle through more quickly, and have fewer periods of writer’s block. I think it probably has to do with rising stress levels as the deadline gets closer, and how my mind responds to it. I realize that this is not exactly the most responsible way to get my work done, but somehow I convince myself every time that I don’t need to start that paper quite yet, I can do it a bit later. After I eat, after I shower, after one game of pool, after one more episode of South Park. It’s incredibly frustrating, because despite not being organized and punctual, I am very conscientious about getting things done on time. As a result, I pull a ridiculous amount of all-nighters, and sometimes my work suffers.

 

Any other sufferers of chronic LMS (Last Minute Syndrome)? If not, what does your writing timeframe look like? Do you spread it out over a few days or do you knock it out in one go? Ever missed a deadline?

 

Writing Anxiety

Like many unfortunate others, I possess what is possible the very worst trait there is for a writer: I am self-conscious about it. I hate sharing my work, particularly when I feel as though I haven’t had time to properly refine it or if it’s based on a prompt that I am not that comfortable with. I have very few insecurities, but when my writing gets personal (which it often does), it’s tough for me to let people see it.

Because writing is so variable, it’s possible that I could turn out something brilliant, or I could turn out something awful, based on what my mind is like at the time. Even when I’m done, I often don’t know if what I have is good or if it’s garbage. And when I do think I have something good, that adds another kind of pressure: if I know something I’ve written is bad, I’m not too concerned about what the feedback is going to be. But if I have something I’m proud of, I’m much more nervous about being told that my “good” writing is actually terrible. Of course, this never actually happens, because a lot of writers are in a similar position and understand that everybody has their good and bad days with writing.

This hesitation is much worse when sharing my work with people who are not consistent writers. When someone wants to see a piece that I’ve written, there’s a certain expectation that comes along with the label of being a “writer” (whatever that definition may entail). When people hear that I’m in the writing minor, they want to read my work and compare it to theirs. People want to see how your writing is special, what makes your work better than theirs. Of course, they don’t actually care that much, but I still feel as though my work reflects on me more as a person when it’s being read by someone who’s not just assigned to critique it.

I am well aware that the best way to gain experience and skill as a writer is to have your work critiqued, so I do try very hard to get over my fears of sharing. I remind myself at this point in my life and my career as a writer, I am still very much a novice. I know for a fact that 90% of what I produce will be pretty bad, so it’s not a big deal. Also, when I worry about what other people might think of my work, I tell myself to think about other people’s work that I’ve read in the past. I can’t think of a single one – despite my bashfulness when sharing, in the back of my head I know that people are too concerned with their own work to bother dwelling on mine.

 

Do you get nervous when you’re sharing your work? How do you get over it?

 

 

understanding the process

At 2:33 am tonight, I had an epiphany whilst picking dried Elmer’s glue off my fingers. I finally understood the process.

I’m sitting looking down at my remediated assignment.

The initial idea was to take my repurposed essay and turn the concept into a magazine collage. Middle school was my collage-making peak and I missed the feeling of cutting ‘n’ pasting, forming new contexts around images, from snapshots that used to mean something else.

I entered my night of art with a few boxes and arrows, an outline of sorts of what I imagined for my large poster collage. As I flipped through the latest issues of GlamourWomen’s HealthCosmo, Lilith, and The New Yorker (my roommates’ interest spread as wide as the sea), I snapped out this photo, that string of words. I’d cut something out that I wasn’t sure would fit what I had in mind but that seemed somehow . . . right. I had a sense of trust in whatever was taking over me.

Next step was to dive in to the placement of images and words. After a period of shifting things around, I started to see what was forming, and it seemed like it was almost beyond my control. I didn’t think that what I had before me was what I had envisioned, yet it was working. Then I’d have a blank spot that needed to be filled and to remedy this I’d flip through a few pages of the closest publication. Aha, the words ‘where integrity is’ and those speech bubbles. Now this could be cool, I thought.

This felt similar to writing but stranger. As with a writing assignment, it helps to have an outline, to have a clear map of where you’re going. I know it makes for smoother writing, and with less hurdles to jump over in the middle. But that usually isn’t how I’ll approach an essay. Whether it’s for lack of time or trying, I don’t usually go at it with an outline. Writing for me is often about a word, phrase, thought, or experience that will inspire me– as happened tonight. I thought, this is something I need to write about, something I want to remember. So I jotted a few notes down on one of those inserts inside Glamour asking for a renewed subscription and rushed home before I lost the inspiration.

I realized though that with anything you need a backbone to stick with no matter what seemingly genius idea hits you. It may seem good to run with at the time, but any solid piece of writing, art, or music needs a foundation of integrity. I appreciated the process of creating tonight. Maybe I’m a visual learner, all I know is the process was clearer to me than with an essay. The proof laid right before my eyes.

Laughter

I just thought I would share some uplifting moments I’ve had with this class even in the last days of stressing about getting the full 2,000 points. First, all of our last minute, somewhat desperate emails have been pretty awesome! I love reading all the creative ways we are getting points and the creative ways we are asking for them… I really enjoy all the advice people are giving and the support we are giving each other.

In the midst of coming up with all the ways I can get points, I can get pretty frustrated. It seems like I should be done with school already or at least that the end should be near, but as I look at the list it just gets overwhelming and feels like the end is way too far away. I had all these things I wanted to do in Ann Arbor before I left that now seem like they are getting cut short because I still have work left. What I’ve realized, though, is that I kind of enjoy that some of the final moments of undergrad are going to be doing the same things that I’ve done for four years – cramming in assignments at the last minute, spending hours and hours and coffee shops, and sitting with friends to keep company while doing work together. I’m trying to savor the moment and ignore the small amount of misery!

Finally, every once in a while, I look up from my computer and laugh. At least three times now, I’ve realized in the middle of writing that I am reflecting on reflecting.. sometimes reflecting on reflecting on reflecting. I just have to laugh. I don’t even realize how silly it kind of is when I do it, but then I announce it to my study partner and I can let go of the frustration and laugh at it all.

I hope you all are getting these small moments of joy when finishing up this semester! Good luck!

The Bible as Western

Actually, a lot of people have had enough with the History Channel and its miniseries “The Bible”.  Pick a topic, any topic, and it seems that the miniseries represents it badly.  Doctrine, race, politics, gender – there are a dime-a-dozen bloggers upset about the show’s portrayal of these issues.  But what I want to know is this: How did the creation of this miniseries, broadcast on a major TV channel, get off the ground? And why do people love it so much?  Because love it plenty of them do.  Judging from Facebook posts, even some of my peers are (to all appearances, unironically) held in The Bible’s thrall.   Oddly enough, I stumbled upon part of the answer in a History class.

“Did you know,” my Consciousness of History professor asked us, “that Bill Clinton claims to have seen High Noon twelve times?  That religious zeal marks a true Western fan.  And remember: Westerns are an American phenomenon.  I want you to think about this as we watch the film.”  I idly jotted down the statistic in the margin of my notebook and willed myself to stay awake through what was surely going to be a boring hour and a half.  I don’t like Westerns.  But despite the individualist-cowboy-macho aesthetics, I was interested.  The film was good, objectively speaking (the editing was even better).  It also reminded me of something.  As we were all hurrying out of the door at the end of class, our professor shouted at us, “The Western film has no room for ambiguity.  Think about what that means for our next class.”  I stopped, one arm through my jacket.  Of course, I thought.  The Bible is a Western.

But what did I mean by that?