Challenge Post One: When I can’t use my own voice, I don’t know who’s writing.

Have you ever been in a class where a teacher gives you an assignment, but the teacher has such a strict criteria for what he/she wants that you do not have any freedom to think? I had that happen to me in my English 225 class, which ended up being an unpleasant course for myself. For each assignment, the teacher wanted it her way or the highway. Here is an excerpt from one of my essays:

The Big House, State Street, Zingerman’s delicatessen: all aspect of Ann Arbor that make it a small, up-and-coming city. In Jane Jacobs’ acclaimed piece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the urbanist outlines the rigid criteria for a city to be considered “great” and “progressive.” Jacobs mentions diversity, concentration, and sidewalk population as just a few of her specific eligibilities of what makes a city note-worthy. Although Jane Jacobs has a strict qualification of what a great city is, Ann Arbor would be categorized as a thriving city based on the multicultural and security aspects of the community that coincide with Jane Jacobs’ arguments.

When I read that paragraph, it sounds nice, concise, and academic. But, who is writing it? It definitely does not sound like my voice; it sounds cookie-cutter and boring. Sometimes, I am so concerned with achieving the desired level of content on a paper that I completely lose my voice. And without voice, who is speaking?

I’m moderately nervous about this problem for my capstone project. My project is about Beyoncé’s rise to becoming an icon, which gives me quite a bit of liberty for my tone (I prefer to write how I speak– sarcastic and to the point). However, there is so much content needed that I do not want to get in a monotonous routine of writing just to get information down.

An annoying, yet necessary, task I will need to perform is reading my work out loud. Reading out loud sometimes helps me get creative with my writing, and I can notice more readily where I’m writing to formally. I want my piece to be understood by an average reader, and I do not want this to become a research paper.

My voice is important, and it is a critical part of my capstone project. Comment if you have any techniques when you realize that  you are deviating from your desired tone of your piece.

2 thoughts to “Challenge Post One: When I can’t use my own voice, I don’t know who’s writing.”

  1. Hey Jennifer,
    I completely empathize with you over that feeling of not recognizing my own writing and losing my voice, especially with a strict prompt . I had to write a psych research report about my professor’s experiment on the congruency sequence effect for a class, and looking back at it now, it looks like someone else wrote it. It lacked that notion of being genuine, and it just did not feel right.
    One technique I find to be useful in increasing my own voice is to act as if I was presenting the paper to my friends. Obviously, I would not want them to get bored; they’re my friends. So I sprinkle in some creative language, sarcasm, and funny anecdotes to help liven up the mood, and gauge how effective said quips would be based on their reaction. Of course, this only works for the papers that do not require formal tone, which I do not think would be a problem with this capstone project.
    I am curious though; what do you mean when you say you want your piece to be understood by the average reader? Do you mean the average reader at the University of Michigan, or are you trying to make it applicable for anyone who so desires to read on such a topic? You don’t necessarily need to answer the question, but it is food for thought when you start working on this project.

  2. Hi Jennifer!

    I really relate to what you’re saying- this is really similar to what I’m struggling with in the project. I’m writing about dance, and I’m scared that I’ll get too sucked in to discussing the evolution of dance and the history of dance that I’ll forget to voice my opinions about what I’m saying. Its hard to find the balance between content and tone. I liked your idea to read your work out loud, I could see how helpful that would be in making sure it flows nicely and is coming across the way you want it to. One other thing I always find helpful is printing my writing and reading it while writing in the margins and crossing stuff out. Having a print form as opposed to just looking at it on the screen makes it easier to detach yourself from the work and read it like you were an “average reader” as you put it.

    Best of luck getting the project rolling! I am a hardcore Beyonce fan- I can’t wait to see your project come together!

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