Challenge Journal: Keeping Up Rituals.

My capstone project is made of up three distinct parts: the “guts” (the research, observational writing, and written argumentative sections), the polished top (the website and the comments section), and the interviews (this is at least what I call them in my head). As I sat down at a library desktop to write a final draft of my “guts” the other day, I found myself completely unable to fall into a flow of writing. Everything I typed felt forced and clunky. I had allotted myself three hours that Saturday afternoon to do this, and, after thirty minutes, I had written a measly 300 words.

So, I reverted back to an old tactic that I used to do in high school and earlier in college: I turned off the computer and sat down at an empty table, promptly spread out all of my print sources, opened my “capstone” notebook, and began to write by hand. I ended up writing five pages front and back and, for the first time in a while, I felt like I was really flowing with my writing. I even drew out boxes and sketched pictures in places where I felt like I would use my multimedia elements in tandem with my writing on the website. When I was writing by hand, it felt like I had a greater degree of freedom to sketch out all of the elements of my project, which was helpful in creating a sense of unity that I had been missing.

I got a hand cramp after about two hours, so I stopped my writing. My goal is to finish up that “final” draft this Tuesday night (aka tonight!) and have it integrated to a site by Thursday evening. That way, this weekend can be spent editing the soundbites and maybe getting one last interview with a key faculty member. I might just continue writing that last bit of the draft by hand because the first attempt went so well. I also think that the process of typing up my written work, which I will also have to spend a fair amount of time doing, will act as a built in revision/proofing time (which I already usually have to force myself into doing anyway).

Thinking back on Twyla Tharp’s “Rituals”, I feel like I could have been more conscientious about maintaining some sort of steadiness in my project process. I wish I had thought to go back into my “bag of tricks” in terms of writing a little sooner, because this particular device worked so well. This semester has been very uneven in terms of time commitments (what with Porgy and Bess rehearsals and the opera and *gasp!* requirements for others classes) so going to the same place at the same time in the same way wasn’t always feasible for me in terms of when and how I was going to work on my project. That being said, I think I could have picked something a little smaller scale or portable that would help me get in the zone- and therefore prevent me from wasting time staring blankly at a new Word document page.


Regardless of the timing, I’m glad I had a breakthrough in terms of getting over the productivity slump that sometimes happens near the end of projects. My only question now is whether or not you all have also found some new (or old!) ways to inspire your brain to make the final push and fall back into a motivated workflow. Did any of you maintain rituals that you made at the beginning of the semester? Let me know!

Emily Cotten

Emily Cotten is a sophomore Vocal Performance major at the University of Michigan. She hails from North Carolina and enjoys reading, writing, and blasting opera hits in her car while driving down the highway.

One thought to “Challenge Journal: Keeping Up Rituals.”

  1. Hi Emily!

    So great to see you writing in your notebook. I also have similar humdrum block when I’m just sitting in front of a blank word doc. I love the versatility that you found just being able to sketch out multimedia elements on the paper. I’m finding myself do this too, as I get more and more frustrated and, frankly, my eyes are getting strained, from staring at the computer for so long without getting much done.
    Most of what I’m doing now is working within the website, so I do have to keep going back to check how everything looks, but I’m working much better by sketching out what I want it to look like first.
    But I completely understand what you’re saying about rituals. As things are heating up in my other classes, I’m finding most of the time I have to work on the website in during “the inbetween.” It’s hard to balance the requirements of a major, even one you still somehow really like, with that of a minor you love just as much or more.
    I’m glad you had your breakthrough moment!

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