My Project

I’m excited to show my project to the world! In short, I created campaign materials for an effort to convince the city of Ann Arbor to create universal preschool. These materials include four op-eds arguing from four different POVs, scripts for emailing and calling representatives, general talking points, and graphics people can share on social media. I hope you enjoy!

Writer to Writer Journal: The Art of the Attempt

For this blog post, I read “The Art of the Attempt” — published in issue 0 of the Writer to Writer journal — by Caitlyn Zadwideh. This well-written and relatable article is about the complicated process of writing. Although I’ve never thought explicitly about this process, I still found myself relating to almost every step in the writing process that Caitlyn described.

In essence, Caitlyn says that writing an essay is mostly about translating your thoughts — which are inherently messy and tough to describe — into one tangible message. Furthermore, Caitlyn makes the argument that this process is impossible to do perfectly. No writer, regardless of their skill level, can flawlessly describe their thoughts. The art of an essay, then, is trying to get it as close to perfect as possible. As a writer, this is oddly comforting to hear. Whenever I write, I try to create a perfect product. Obviously, that’s impossible. As a result, I often leave an essay feeling unsatisfied. After rounds of drafts, I’ll usually arrive at a point where I don’t know any more edits to make. Still, I feel that something could be changed to improve the finished product. After reading this journal, it’s relieving to know that other people also struggle with this — and the quest to create a perfect product, while impossible to actually achieve, results in a better end product.

Speaking of the process of editing and revising, the author also wrote about how essays are the result of a series of revisions. For the author, their first draft is often bad; however, that’s not a problem. At this stage, their main concern is simply getting their ideas onto the page. From there, more drafts are written — with the intention of refining these ideas into intelligible language. As I read this part, it truly felt like the author was writing about my own writing process. Regardless of the writing — from scripts in my screenwriting class to essays in my english classes to articles for The Daily — I always start with a terrible first draft before moving forward. However, unlike the author, I think the hardest part of the writing process is creating this first draft. Once those ideas are down on paper, the most labor-intensive part for me is done. Furthermore, the revision process is actually my favorite part of writing. While getting my ideas down is hard work, the nearly-artistic process of fine-tuning this language is why I really enjoy writing.

Finally, I found it interesting when the author suggested taking a break from your writing for a few days as a way to clarify your goals during the revision process. While I agree that this is a useful way to break a cycle of writer’s block, my problem is that I seldom have a few days to refresh my point of view. At least thus far in my academic career, most of the writing I do for class has an externally enforced deadline. Given the craziness of college life, I often start writing with just enough time to finish before this deadline. Consequently, a goal of mine going forward is to begin the writing earlier than is necessary. If I do that, I can give myself the option to take a few days break if necessary (and if I don’t need a break, then at least I don’t have to hecticly write the essay).

In short, I loved this blog post because of the parallels between my writing process and the authors’. It’s crazy that although this piece was so relatable, I’ve never sat down and formerly thought about the process I follow when writing. After reading this journal post, I now feel like I have a better understanding of my own writing process.

Writer to Write Podcast: Heather Ann Thompson

For this blog post, I listened to the Writer to Writer featuring Heather Ann Thompson — a historian and academic at UM focusing specifically on African American studies. Shockingly, I found almost all of the topics she discussed to be relevant to my experiences as a writer — specifically, through my time at Michigan in Color (the space on The Michigan Daily for students of color to talk about our experiences on campus).

First, I 100% resonated with her background as a writer — down to my mom also being my “first editor.” My mom, an English major, always encouraged me to write. On the one hand, this meant that I don’t remember ever consciously realizing I enjoyed writing, it was simply something I’d been doing forever. However, on the other, that doesn’t mean writing is an easy process for me. This is particularly true regarding my writings at Michigan in Color. Given that all of my articles and stories were narrative based, I had to invoke or reference my identity as an African American male in every.single.piece. of writing. Done once, this can be freeing. Done often, it can be exhausting. However, much like Dr. Thompson, this writing is still worth it to me because I care deeply about the material. I truly feel that, at the end of the day, if my pieces helped even one person, it was worth any labor (emotional or otherwise) that I put in.

Furthermore, I resonated with Heather Ann Thompson’s distinction between writing solely for academia and writing for the public arena. Her rationale for creating such a distinction is that writing for the public arena involves making the writing more accessible for people outside of the world of academia. At Michigan in Color, we routinely ran into this problem. As a space focused on social justice, our pieces were often saturated in terms that people outside of the SJ community may not have ever encountered. In my head, pieces with SJ language are the equivalent to academic pieces — both are only able to be consumed by certain audiences. However, to make it more accessible, it’s necessary to shift the tone and language of the writing. That way, more people can understand the topic and actually take lessons from it.

Where my experiences and opinions diverged a bit from Dr. Thompson’s is in her insistence that “everybody’s truth is right.” Although she clears this up a bit during the audience questioning where she admits that extreme situations — like the Holocaust — don’t have multiple sides, it still seems like many of the issues that I see as one-sided may be seen as having multiple sides by her. Particularly, given my interest in issues related to race (and her studies on the topic), it sounded like she sees there being multiple sides to the issue, and all deserve to be equally heard. Furthermore, while Dr. Thompson acknowledged her privilege as a white woman, she went on to say that it’s her job to tell people’s stories from their vantage points. A core tenet of Michigan in Color is that we can only speak about our own identities. Even when we cover events, we send people who share that identity. That’s based on the assumption that it’s nearly impossible to tell a story from another person’s vantage points because you don’t share the experiences they do. Given Dr. Thompson’s success, I’m sure she’s aware of this and found ways to navigate it, so I would have been curious to learn more about what that process looks like for her.

All in all, I enjoyed listening to this talk because of our shared interests in the African American experience. Although there are some areas I would have liked to hear more about, it was still very helpful to hear how someone else (particularly someone of a different identity) thinks about their writings on these issues.

Overall Thoughts on the Course

Looking back on the past semester, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed the writing minor’s gateway course. Truthfully, when I first heard that the bulk of the course would be dedicated to expanding on a piece we’d already written, I didn’t think the class would be too challenging — and I definitely didn’t expect to grow as a writer as much as I have. In that regard, this course greatly surpassed my expectations; I’m not sure if I’ve ever worked with a piece the way I was forced to in this class. Never before have I taken an idea and changed it so radically, and this process made me think about my original work, and my writing in general, in new and interesting ways.

Perhaps ironically, my favorite part of the class had little to do with writing at all. My favorite part of the gateway was the attendance questions everyone answered at the start of class. Usually they were hard (and it seems the harder the question, the earlier I was called), but it was so interesting seeing the different answers and approaches taken by my classmates. Even through these exercises, it was easily apparent how smart and thoughtful the rest of the cohort is.

My only complaint could have been avoided with better study habits: at times, the work felt a bit overwhelming. There were times when I had so many ideas and not enough time to organize them on paper, although I suppose that says more about my time management skills than the coursework. Overall, I enjoyed this semester and would definitely recommend the program to a friend.

Finding My Voice

One of the biggest problems I ran into when crafting my website was finding an appropriate voice for my content. In my original plan, outlined in experiment #3, I spoke about the need to maintain an authoritative voice free from my own opinions. Ideally, this would look like a history textbook or, for my intent of disproving myths about the South, an entry on snopes. I chose this route because I thought it would give me credibility as a historical writer because it would show that I’m not allowing my own biases to creep into my work. However, in practice, I quickly realized this is not the route I wanted to take. If rereading my writing sounded to dry to me (which it did before changing the voice), it would be certainly be too dry for anyone who may potentially be interested about the topic. Additionally, I felt an obligation to state how dangerous these misconceptions are, despite this inherently being based on my own personal opinions. You wouldn’t find a history book that accused confederate troops of being racists and terrible people (most of them would focus on objectivity and implicitly force their readers to consider “both sides” of the issue); however, I decided that it would be disingenuous for me to act as if that’s how I truly feel. Because this topic is so personal to me, I decided that I wanted to interject my own opinions in. As a result, the piece is perhaps less formal than other similar sites  however, it more accurately reflects my beliefs and values.

Tracking My Author

My favorite recently written piece by Sheelah Kolhatkar was titled “The Tech Industry’s Growing Gender Discrimination Problem.” The piece took a hard look at the low propotion of jobs held by women in Silicon Valley (the article even mentioned there are more men named Matt than all female employees at Tesla). It’s a real issue, and one I believe must be addressed. If the industry truly wants to make the world a better place, they must first have a workforce that is representative of the people they’re serving. However, I believe that everyone on the blog agrees with that assertion. As a result, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to the format of the piece as opposed to its content.

I enjoyed the piece so much because Kolhatkar told it by focusing on the experience of AJ Vandermayden, a female employee at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. Her accounts of harassment and being passed over for promotions were well explained by Kolhatkar, and, ultimately, Vandermayden sued Tesla for gender discrimination. Although on the surface the piece appeared to be about one person, it was actually about an entire industry. Vandermayden’s story isn’t unique — a point Kolhatkar successfully drives home — and thousands of other women experience the same type of discrimination in their workplace. Yet, choosing one person to “focus” on was so effective because it humanized the situation much more than a collection of statistics would have.

Additionally, the piece had an audio component — which was appealing for separate reasons. At The Michigan Daily, we’ve been making a big push towards multimedia. This push includes podcasts, which is something my section has tried to implement this past semester (and hopes to continue to explore in the coming year). It may seem small, but it was refreshing to see a site as big as the New Yorker also taking efforts to improve their multimedia presence. This opens up their content to more people (for example, people listening on their commutes or the visually impaired), allowing it to reach a much larger audience.

Choosing Photos

In crafting my website, I decided the best way to format it would be to have one long scroll down page full of information. That way, readers first see why I’m interested in the topic, then read about the history of the south (the main chunk of my content), before ending with my thoughts on the present-day and future implications of the issue. However, the major drawback to this format is that my website appears as one long, intimidating scroll-down. In order to combat this effect, I decided to put in many pictures. I tried my best to make these pictures related to the content either immediately preceding them, or immediately succeeding them. Additionally, at times it was tough to find a picture that captured the mood I was hoping for. For example, I remember searching “Slave Plantation” on the Library of Congress’ website. Blown away by the amount of pictures available, I had to think about the overall aesthetic of the site (I even considered my recent use of a painting instead of a picture, so decided I need to add a black and white photo). Additionally, I tried more often than not to pick photos that incorporated stereotypes/misconceptions about slave life. This was because my entire site is designed to debunk these myths, and the photos (in addition to serving as “page breaks”) allowed me to showcase these misconceptions.

Howard Markel’s Talk at Literati

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk at Literati by Howard Markel — a University Pediatrics, History, and English professor and author of “The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek.” While he spent some time talking about his book, the majority of the talk was dedicated to him as an author. For example, Dr. Markel spoke about writing at least 1,000 words per day (apparently an effective cure for writer’s block) and the importance of revising his writing over and over again. And one comment he made directly related to the content of our class: finding an audience. Luckily for Dr. Markel, he said his diverse background in the humanities and medicine makes it easy to switch between writing for different audiences. As a result, it’s easy for him to write for groups ranging from current students and leading figures in the medical field. Additionally, he claimed this background makes it easier to know what people want and don’t want to read. For me, since I lack this breadth of experience, it’s much harder to relate to an audience. For my website, it’s a struggle crafting a piece that’s interesting for history buffs without being too boring for people who aren’t at all interested in the genre. However, I hope that diverse topics I’ve read about can supplement my lack of experience.

Website Format

For me, one of the biggest struggles I’m facing when laying out my website is how I want to display the content. Specifically, I have questions surrounding whether I should have multiple tabs to break up my content or if I should have one long scroll down. With multiple tabs, it makes the content more digestible. Additionally, since it’ll contain my own opinions along with objective facts, multiple tabs will let me separate the two and help lend me more authority. However, since I want to tell a story with this piece, that format breaks it up into hard to follow bits. On the other hand, a long continuous scroll preserves the story, except this preservation is at the cost of readers’ attention. Personally, I wouldn’t enjoy visiting a website that is one long scroll down because it makes the text seem endless and uninviting. As a result, I’m still undecided about which avenue to take. If anyone has any ideas, please leave your suggestions below!

Following my author

On Monday, Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote an article titled “Profiting from Puerto Rico’s Pain “ in which she wrote about the affect of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s financial state. The piece explained Puerto Rico’s situation before the hurricane: the island was borrowing more money than it could pay back. And while that was happening, people on the island experienced increasingly worsening living conditions. This is because the investors were hounding the island to repay their loans with unreasonable interest rates, robbing the territory of funds it could have used for the wellbeing of its residents. However, the destruction left by Hurricane Maria made it clear that the island couldn’t repay what it borrowed, and many of the firms backed off. However, now, law and consulting firms are sapping resources from the territory’s government as they claim to be helping Puerto Rico’s recovery. However, in Kolhatkar view, this is just another instance of Puerto Rico being ripped off by wealthy firms.

Honestly, I was surprised by the piece given that Sheelah usually writes about technology. Although her biography did mention that she occasionally writes about Wall Street, most of her content seemed to talk about Silicon Valley (or the impact of the technology coming from these companies). Although I still found the piece interesting, I could see how someone less interested in policy (and more interested in technology) would be turned-off by the shift in subject matter. Additionally, I feel like the piece could have been more informative — most of the background was gone over in such little detail that it came across as confusing. Other than that, I enjoyed the piece. I just wasn’t used to a piece of this topic being written by this author.