on verbage

I was talking to a professor last week on writing and word choice, in particular when to use really dynamic verbs. “There are moments when those verbs are required,” he said, suggesting that there are moments when they are not.  How do we distinguish a non-moment from a moment?

This semester has been writing-heavy for me, which means I am always mildly displeased with my work; there are so many opportunities to fail. I have been thinking a lot of what constitutes good writing and good sentences. A question is this: What are practical things one can do throughout the writing process to write quality work?

Sometimes I will read a draft of my work and write a list of the verbs I used to see if there are ones on which I rely too frequently and to see what the general sense of action is. I also read works I like from other authors; how dynamic is their prose?

What techniques do you use when working on drafts of writing, especially if you feel stuck or uninspired?


thoughts from SLC

My best friend, Calypso, is an alum of both Michigan and the writing minor. She lives in Salt Lake City now. She came to visit me in September, and we had what we call “the critical moment” in a bathroom stall of Mash. The critical moment was serious and hilarious and this: I found myself encumbered, daunted by my course work but mostly by the capstone class. She writes essays like I do; it’s a long, monopolizing trudge, so she understands my apprehension.

What am I to do? And how am I to do it? Are we being set up for failure with the drafts and documents and multimodal requirements and the project?

Those were the questions.

Now I am in Salt Lake City. It is very still here, and I am thinking about a new set of questions:

What if we just complete the tasks assigned to us? What if we don’t allow them to encumber us? What if overthinking it wasn’t a part of the process? What if how we treat the writing process was a reflection of reality: A perfect clause will not save the world so it’s unwise to put pen to paper thinking that it will.


Longform Podcast

As the evolution essay requires us to reflect on our work and find something compelling to say about the pieces in the aggregate, I would like to share with you my favorite podcast; it is from longform.org, and it is called the Longform Podcast. Each Wednesday an interview with a longform writer is posted. I love many of the interviews because they shed light into how each writer works, what they love, what they hate, the trajectory of their career, etc. It is very interesting.

Contradictions and challenges – How to articulate an evolution

There are (at least) two moments of explicit contradiction in my evolution essay. The first is this: “I was simultaneously looking for and loathing purity.” I can’t find words to tease that out; it was what it was. I don’t feel compelled to dwell on that in this essay. Another moment is at the very end. I say something about knowing that I did it (undergrad) right. The next paragraph says that I am very bad at undergrad-ing. I think both are true…but mostly the latter (ha!).

Regarding challenges, I am finding it difficult to connect each section of the essay. But I am tempted to let that appear evident; I’m tempted to leave the space between the sections be choppy because anything else feels like an engineered attempt to smooth edges that weren’t smooth when I experienced them. Also, I fear that much of the essay (in particular, the beginning) is abstract.  In other words, I am wondering if the essay makes sense to anyone besides me.

“Inventing the university” and artful deviation

“The student has to appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse, and he has to do this as though he were easily and comfortably one with his audience, as though he were a member of the academy or an historian or an anthropologist or an economist; he has to invent the university.” -David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University” (1986)

I read this in English 425, and I have been intrigued by this ever since, this notion that we must mimic a genre before we can master it. But what is genre, anyway? Before, I found the predetermined infrastructure of a genre limiting and trite, but I have since realized its utility. Genre tells us where to look for content and where to place our own. But it’s also a signal; adherence to conventions indicates insider status in a discipline.

I am thinking that the capstone project is some sort of test on this front, assessing our ability to see which conventions of our discipline(s) enhance the inquiry of our subject and which conventions only hinder this inquiry. In short, I think we will be assessed on our ability to deviate artfully.

[Pika!] The being verbs

One of my English teachers in high school detested the passive voice. With good reason, I believe, for this voice divorces subject from his/her action, adds the unnecessary being verb, and flattens the writing. And so, when I constructed my writing in high school, the passive voice and the being verbs filled my consciousness. I hated them, for they seemed useless, trite, and unimaginative. I couldn’t think of a greater transgression than saturating a paper with “am” and “was” and “were.”

But then, I consumed more and more excellent pieces of writing that contained….being verbs. How could “IS” appear in these golden works? This spawned an identity crisis for the writer, forcing me to confront the value of these verbs. After many months of considering a writer’s relationship to them, the verbs and I now co-exist. Employing “to be” is a difficult task, a delicate balance, a purposeful undertaking. It can work well, interjecting an air of truth and simplicity to the writing. And I have found clarity and liberation from realizing that sometimes things are. Not everything embodies or conveys or exhibits or suggests. And now, I may love them. I refuse to write gluttonously with them, but I love them nonetheless.

So I wonder, has anyone else experienced this with the being verbs?

[Pika!] Why they sing

Yesterday evening, I attended the Compulsive Lyres a cappella show with my friend, Calypso. As we watched the group’s performance, our spirits grew ravenous to sing, and we both knew that we had to satiate this desire. Upon exiting the Mendelssohn Theatre, Calypso suggested we go to North Campus to find silent space that our voices could occupy.  Decision made, we headed to the CC Little bus station, and we sang with each step.

Interrupting our harmonization, she interjected unsung word: “Maybe the music majors sing in public all the time because they have to. Like we have to right now. Maybe they have no choice.”

So we recall the times spent last year on North Campus in the Bursley dining hall when there would always be that table, the one with students who were full of song and  were unapologetic for it. It went without inquiry; those were the music students. And Calypso’s words got me thinking. When I walk to class or sit in a dining hall, I can study my craft silently. But song is their craft, and perhaps to sing is to study. Perhaps they have no choice.

Remediation for the Poets

An empowering place on the internet exists called TED, a place of which I am sure most have heard. I consider it a portal to inspired thought, and it has brought me to Billy Collins: Everyday moments, caught in time. Collins, once the U.S. Poet Laureate, shares some of his poems that have been remediated to these artsy, illustrated videos.

This video can be useful to watch, for it increases our exposure to remediated works. In addition, I am somewhat intrigued about Collins’ opinions regarding the remediation of poetry. When he was approached to record his poems for the Sundance Channel to illustrate, Collins reflects, “I was initially resistant because I always think poetry can stand alone, by itself.”

I am hesitant and unsure about my ability to remediate, and I fear that the original work’s value or message will be lost due to my inability to use multiple media.

If anyone watches this TED video, what are your thoughts on the remediated poems? Did you find them effective?