My Capstone: The Open Ended Conundrum – Challenge Journal #2

I like direction. Well, I am most comfortable when I know which direction I am headed towards. I write essays and complete projects in this frame of mind, tracking my steps and pacing my way to the finish. I feel comfortable.

The capstone project has challenged me to create my own purpose. For the first time, I am not asked to follow traditional rubric oriented academic procedures. I have been trying to brainstorm ideas for the past week, however, I always refer back to a great worry. I ask myself, “What if I pick a topic that I end up not enjoying to research? This will make my semester much less enjoyable.” I was afraid to pick a topic that I could grow disinterested with – until I heard P Carl and Claudia Rankine speak.

Carl and Rankine addressed transforming Rankine’s book “Citizen” into a theatrical performance. I expected a discussion about the difficulty of bringing words to life. However, the conversation shifted to address Rankine’s process, similar to my capstone brainstorming sessions.

Rankine specifically spoke about how some of her best ideas occurred when she was writing to some other end, completely shifting her ideas in an instant. In fact, this sequence was so common that her original intention of bringing “Citizen” to life completely shifted to developing a completely separate theatrical performance.

Upon hearing how such an established and seasoned author/playwright goes through this process, I immediately became less worried about this happening to me. I examined the worst-case scenario being shifting my project to some other topic that I could be even more excited about.

I very much appreciate P Carl and Claudia Rankine visiting the University of Michigan. While I went in to the discussion thinking that I would take away ideas about expressing individualism and the importance of collective communities, I took away a very needed assertion: To not be afraid to shift directions in my own work.

Now, I am even more excited to begin my capstone project. The open-ended nature doesn’t intimidate me. I will take the weekend to continue to brainstorm potential ideas. When this list is compiled, I will move ahead with the option I am most excited about. I will also hold on to my brainstorming list in case I would like to add to or completely shift from my original idea. I thank P Carl and Claudia Rankine for showing me that this is not only okay, but beneficial.


3 thoughts to “My Capstone: The Open Ended Conundrum – Challenge Journal #2”

  1. Hi Louis!

    I appreciate your comments about last Thursday’s event with P. Carl and Claudia Rankine. I agree it was inspiring, and the questions they raised were enlightening and thought-provoking.

    I am much like you and feel as if I write my best when I have an essay organized neatly in my head before starting. However, I must be honest that the driving question/main point often shift from where I began, and it tends to startle me. I used to think this was pretty bad, and would often beat myself up over it (“Gosh Bekah, do you have any idea where you’re going with this? What kind of a writer are you?”). However, from our recent discussions in class, I’ve realized that it’s okay if we find ourselves going in a different direction than originally planned, and in fact, this can lead to some greater idea/realization in the end.

    For instance, I recall an essay I wrote for English 325 last year (a personal narrative about a friendship full of turmoil) where I found myself writing without a point in mind. I just kept typing and typing-it was like the words just had to come out and arrange themselves on the page. In the end, I came to some conclusions about the person in question after documenting the events. It gave me great perspective to write first, and then sort everything out later.

    I don’t know where I originally found this quote, but I believe it was Joan Didion who said* “I don’t know what I think until I write it down”. This assures me that it is perfectly normal to come to a realization as you write, rather than in advance of beginning your essay-I hope it does the same for you.

    *found the quote here on Goodreads, which is awesome, btw:

  2. Hi Louis!

    You’re totally right: the open-endedness of the capstone project is an opportunity to create something meaningful that will stimulate you the entire semester. Thinking about it this way is less daunting.

    Your anxieties about coming to a standstill during your project manifestation are entirely relatable. For an English class last semester, I had to create an audio essay and ended up switching my topic the night before it was due. I’d put a good amount of research into my initial topic, but I wasn’t able to yield the artistic result that I wanted and frankly just didn’t enjoy the process. If you reach a similar point (though you seem way more prepared for it, so you probably won’t get in too deep!), I think it’s worth noting that the night I spent working on my second audio essay was effortless compared to take 1. What you lose in time, you gain in quality of your writing.

    Do the topics on your brainstorming list have certain elements in common? Usually I find that what I really want to write about is underneath a lot of things I think I want to write about, so if you’re still unsure about the direction in which you’re headed, maybe your list contains an underlying point of interest.


  3. Hi Louis! Your struggle with feeling comfortable with open endedness is one that I relate to a lot. During my senior english class in high school, my teacher left the responsibility of deriving a possible essay topic to each of us, his students. We had no guidelines, and for the first time, we were free to write about whatever our hearts desired. While the concept was initially exciting, the night before my first rough draft was due, I found myself completely lost. I had no idea what to write about, no idea what would be interesting to talk about, and no idea how to choose something that would keep me interested for the next couple of weeks of editing.

    While I am sure that that first essay was not great, I learned something important from the process. I needed to be open to my initial ideas morphing into something completely new and unexpected. Having a prompt restricts your ideas to one path. Without the prompt, the opportunities are endless. That being said, committing to an initial topic is the hardest part of the process, but once you get past that, remember that you are not locked in to one path or topic. You will always be able to change focus points if you happen to get bored with your initial choice.

    Is there one topic that you are considering that you are most excited about? If so, don’t be afraid to commit to it! If it isn’t working out, there will be other directions you can take. I usually will select a topic and start brainstorming and from there land either with a more developed version of my initial choice, or an entirely new topic that I am extremely excited about. If there is not a topic you are particularly enticed by, maybe spend some time with the topics that you do have now and explore how you can branch off from each/all of them.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to hear how your project turns out! And remember, although your starting point is finite, the directions you can take from there are endless.

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