An Overview of My Writing

Recently, I found a journal of mine from elementary school. This discovery got me thinking a great deal about how much my writing has changed over the years. I remember being that age (eight or nine) and wanting to be a creative fiction writer when I grew up. The funny thing is that I can divide up my ages into epochs of styles of writing that I was obsessed with. For example, when I was twelve and thirteen, I was dedicated to short fiction stories and describing forests (all of my twelve/thirteen year-old stories took place in forests).

To be brief, since I learned how to, I cannot remember tire of writing, especially creatively. Thankfully, my work has grown: both in vocabulary and in actual settings (my stories are not solely based in forests anymore!). The most dramatic difference I can trace in my writing, however, happened between my freshman and sophomore year of college. My academic writing course gave me a framework to look at writing that I had never considered before, and I have been exposed to a wider canon of literature to learn from. Now, to end this professionally, I will pat myself on the back.: good job, Meggie!

A Change in Voice

Much of the writing I’ve done in the past few years has been for academic essays in school. These pieces seem to have a fundamental contradiction: I write about subjects that in all honesty I know hardly anything about as if I’m an expert researcher. I understand that this style of writing is useful in a class setting because it allows students to demonstrate their knowledge to professors. But it seems totally useless for anything other than that. Who wants to read dense, formal writing by an author who doesn’t have the expertise to say anything trustworthy and substantial?

I’ve engaged with and learned about a lot technical subject matter over the course of this semester: mapping software, health disparities, socioeconomic inequality, and academic research on urban accessibility, among other things. Although all of this has been really interesting, I don’t feel like I have the same authority as the professionals to make arguments about ideas in these fields.

A solution to this problem is to reorient the essay to be about my journey as a lay-person, seeking to learn about the subject matter. Since this is a new perspective for me to write from, I’ve been studying models in science journalism to see how other writers assume this voice. One idea is to lay out a premise and say something like, “So I decided to find out more…” and jump into a conversation with an expert, letting them use their authority to talk about the ideas. Although it’s uncomfortable to break out of my old habits, I think that this project will be a good opportunity to become more versatile as a writer.

Short thoughts on the ongoing issue

What Richard Spencer tries to do strikes me a plan less for a visit than for a strategic attack on the values upheld by the U-M institution. But then I thought such would be the case only if this school’s values stand against Spencer’s, in both theory and practice. And many of the Regents’ statements led me to doubt. The grounds of their justifications for allowing a fascist platform on our campus seemed to be, in descending order of expressed importance, ethical (pronounced almost unanimously), legal (occasionally), and financial (not at all). The criticism that the school’s moral standpoint amounts only to rhetoric not to action, is definitely not new. Witnessing the emotional harm done to many classmates throughout this week, let alone the possibility of physical harm, I was able to develop my belief that Spencer should be banned. Forcing a minority student-worker at the Union to help set up the corporeal stage for white supremacy might not be the destruction of that person’s self, but it will be the destruction of this place as home. What provides future generations with greater ethical insights may be Cameron Padgett v. University of Michigan, not a boycotted rally filled with fascists. My knowledge falls short but the school’s principles shouldn’t, if this is an honest institution.

Following a Writer: Erin Overbey

As I teased in my last post, I chose to follow a writer I already had a little experience with through my investigation into Joshua Rothman, Erin Overbey. Like Rothman, Overbey is an archivist at The New Yorker (the chief archivist, in fact) who specializes in writing pieces covering the magazine’s historical coverage and trends on varying subjects of interest. The article I first took a look at of hers was one on “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Imperfect Romance with The New Yorker,” which she co-wrote once again with Rothman. As I mentioned in class on Tuesday, I’m interested in the culture of 1920’s America, and Fitzgerald is one of the quintessential chroniclers of that era, so this article was right down my alley. It is a short article, but it highlights the various pieces that Fitzgerald submitted to the magazine – which was still in its infancy during Fitzgerald’s time – and how Fitzgerald actually spoke lowly of the magazine and its content despite his contribution to it.

In another article titled “In Trump, Echoes of Nixon’s Constitutional Crisis,” she dissects the parallels between Nixon and today’s president. Published around the time that Trump fired FBI director James Comey under suspect circumstances, this article puts Overbey in a different situation from the other pieces of hers and Rothman’s I’ve highlighted. Here, she uses her position as archivist to compare contemporary politics with Nixon’s area based on The New Yorker’s live coverage of both. In doing so, not only can we better notice parallels between these two situations, but also how reporting of such circumstances has changed over time. It highlights how Overbey’s writing is not just a fun or interesting means of reflecting on the magazine’s (and in a sense, the role of the press as a whole’s) history in the country but also relevant commentary on it.

Tracking an Author: Joyce Johnson

In Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958, Johnson reveals the letters written between her and Jack Kerouac during their short relationship that began nine months before On the Road was published, and Kerouac became instantly famous. They were two very different people, Johnson being young and determined, and Kerouac nearly burnt out, who were set up on a blind date by Allen Ginsburg. The book fascinates people because it shows a kind and soft side of Kerouac that most were not aware of. She pairs the letters with commentary about being a young woman during the Cold War fifties and her affair with one of America’s most interesting writers.

Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 was published in 2000 by Penguin Books

Multimodality in Everyday Texts

After reading Chapter 1 of Writer/Designer, I began to pay more attention to the modes used in texts I encounter in my everyday life. The 5 modes discussed in the chapter are: linguistic, aural, visual, spatial, and gestural. As I focused more on the texts I saw, I started to notice the use of these modes everywhere:

  • Gmail: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy (Youtube): Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Facebook: Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • LinkedIn: Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Handshake: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • The Forest and the Trees: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Graphic T-shirt: Linguistic, Visual Spatial
  • Rowing Poster: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Pleasantville (Movie): Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Canvas: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Google Calendar: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Philanthropy Video: Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Sociology Powerpoints: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Psychology Articles: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Soymilk Container: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Menu at Angelo’s: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Michigan Agenda: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Internship Applications: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial
  • Instagram: Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Snapchat: Linguistic, Aural, Visual, Spatial, Gestural
  • Flier in Ross: Linguistic, Visual, Spatial

While I may not have caught all the multimodal texts in my environment, I definitely noticed a lot more than I would have before reading this chapter. Looking at the list above, it’s easy to see that all of the texts I have encountered use linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. I attempted to look for texts that only used one mode, but it was impossible—multimodality is present in every text, the modes are just used in different ways and with varying degrees.

7/20 of these texts contained all 5 modes. Upon closer observation, I realized that all the texts I saw with all 5 modes are social media sites and videos, forms of entertainment. It is no surprise to me that forms of entertainment utilize all 5 modes, as their deliberate usage increases audience engagement. While social media sites and videos are comparatively new, forms of entertainment have always used these 5 modes, proving their effectiveness through the ages.

Perhaps the two most different texts were an internship application and Pleasantville, a movie. As you can see from one page of the application shown, Cisco only utilized linguistic, visual and spatial modes. The usage of the linguistic mode can be seen through the simple word choices, as well as the organization of the words into questions and answer choices. The visual mode contributes to the layout of the application as well as the black and white color scheme. The spatial mode accounts for the organization of the application in different “steps” as well as the arrangement of the questions. These modes are effectively used to create a simple and intuitive job application that doesn’t look to “busy”. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pleasantville uses the linguistic, aural, visual, spatial and gestural modes. The trailer for the movie can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSDm62Hmbf4. The linguistic mode is evidenced by the word choice as well as the delivery of the movie script. Music, sound effects, tone of voice, volume, and emphasis are heard through the aural mode. The organization and proximity between people/objects of each scene is arranged through the spatial mode. The gestural mode applies to every movement—on the face, hands, body—of all the actors in the movie. These modes are used to increase the entertainment value of the movie, capturing the attention of audience members by providing constant stimuli. The difference in the use of modes definitely contributes to how different these two texts are. It is extremely interesting to see how these modes work in different types of texts, catering to the various functions of the texts.

Reflections This Far

Looking from where my project began with the initial piece I wanted to revise, it is funny to think of how my project ended up so radically different from what I initially imagined it. This is because I followed my interest in different content matters that popped up. For example, during my first experiment, I thought I would eventually end up writing about the history of sensitivity, or at least of historical reactions to sensitivity. Instead, I am writing about emotional expression in the public sphere as opposed to private. I am also researching in fields that I did not think I would be applicable to my project in order to give it a holistic perspective. All-in-all, this project is turning out to be very different and more expansive than I had planned for it to be, but I think (fingers crossed) it will turn out well.

Author Tracking

I came across an article by Mary HK Choi featured on NY Times. Rather than that her writing itself stood out in particular, I just recognized her Korean name and decided to look her up. Although there was no Wikipedia page, she presented her life story as an op-ed piece on NYT. She is actually a Hong Kong native who immigrated to Texas then to New York. Unfortunately, I was not able to learn how her writing career set off. Yet according to her Squarespace website, she writes for GQ, NY Mag, The New York Times, The New York Times, The Awl,The Hairpin, Jezebel, Elle, The Fader, Complex,WIRED, Allure, Matter, MTV and The Atlantic, not all of which I recognize. She is also a Vice News cultural correspondent and surprisingly a comic book writer for Marvel (namely, Lady Deadpool.) It was interesting enough to me that she has been able to establish herself in such a diversity of venues and media forms as an Asian immigrant and with a casual, unequivocal tone of prose.

Choosing A Venue for Gateway Project

Initially, I chose Squarespace for my project because I found a template that checked all of the boxes I had for elements I knew that I wanted to incorporate. However, upon discovering that keeping your website past a two week trial period cost money, I found a similar template on Wix (for free!) that only required a little altering of the format. The template I choose fit with my project structurally: each page flows between the others in a way that suggests that each tab hold different content, yet with a similar background and uniform color/design scheme that does not throw the viewer/reader for a loop. Also, the navigation menu was always present on the top of the site in all tabs. I did not want a disappearing menu because, when I encounter that online, it often feels disorienting. Ease of navigation is crucial, especially if I want my readers to spend time going through the actual work.

Writer to Writer Experience

As writers we constantly put ourselves out there. Everything we write can be interpreted in so many different ways, and we take that risk knowing that idea. Although I was not able to attend Writer to Writer at Literati last week, I listened to the podcast to hear Dr. Howard Markel’s thoughts.

He highlighted many important points, but one that particularly resonated with me was the importance of reading. With the craziness of college, it is hard to read in our free time. I have been making it a point to read more in my free time. He discussed that reading is important primarily since it constantly keeps you inspired. Being constantly inspired is often the hardest thing when writing. As a writer, I know that there are so many ideas I want to write about, but the ones that I do write about are the ones that have inspired me or ones I hope to inspire others with. Inspiration can strike at any time. So pick up a book, and you never know what could happen next.

Additionally, Markel discussed how to improve your writing by gradually increasing how much you write each day. This is something that I did last summer, and I saw improvements in my writing even though I was only writing for myself through journaling. He highlighted the importance of revising work, but doing so intelligently. Taking breaks is super important as well – do not rush the process!

Overall, I think this was an interesting conversation. Dr. Howard Markel discussed his background in medicine and writing, illustrating how he was able to combine both interests and write medical history books. Even one type of writing is not for you, that does not mean you can’t be writer. Writing is for anyone who is trying simply to tell a story, whether it is their own or not.