Writing For A Grade v. Writing For Myself

When considering the writing communities that I’m a part of, my mind instantly jumped to two broad communities, academic and personal. When it comes to academic writing, I often overthink my audience in hopes of getting a good grade. At the beginning of each semester, I will try to “figure out” my professor or GSI in order to determine what type of tone to take and, sometimes, the angle to present. I can usually tell when a professor prefers a formal or informal tone but, a lot of times, this is really a trial-and-error process for me. Though some courses allow me to express creativity through my writing, for the most part, they are required to follow strict, clear structures and present a singluar prompt. If I stray away from the prompt or try to experiment, this if a risky move. For a Communications course I took, I debated playing it safe and possibly getting a B grade or so, or taking a risk on a more nuanced topic which could have either been really good or really bad. I went with my gut and expressed more passion and creativity in my piece regardless of the strict prompt. I did not do great on the paper, but at least I properly presented my writing style…right?

Not my journal, but still cool. http://gabriellegranger.tumblr.com/post/54426217826/5-favourite-things-travel-journal

Additionally, though it might not be a “community,” per say, my personal writing stands in stark contrast with what I write for most school assignments. The only intended audience for my journaling of fun projects is myself only, which completely changes the tone I take. Since it is low-stakes, I’m not afraid of misusing words of perpetuating cliches; it’s my own, so I don’t really care what others think. Also, I only journal whsen I feel like it, and I never force myself to write on a schedule or anything. So, I’ve found that my pieces tend to me more authentic since them stem solely from my own interest. In this mini writing community, the writing drives itself and often moves in completely unexpected directions. For example, when I sat down to write my New Year’s Resolutions the other day, I started strong but ended up on the topic of making the most of each moment of college that I have left. This self-propelled direction can be really useful, especially if I’m writing about a conflict I have; a lot of times I’ll find answers through writing that I never expected to get. At the same time, however, writing often raises more questions than answers, leaving me considering the nuances of each topic and thinking more deeply.

The merging of these two communities shines through in my brainstorming process. Since personal writing helps clear my mind and raise/answer questions about a topic, I often free write in an informal tone about a topic for a school subject. Because I’m the only audience of my brainstorm, there is less pressure to perform and I find it easier to get my thoughts organized. From there, I conform to the accepted norms of the academic community for the topic, whilst presenting my own opinion.

Let Me Have A Bittersweet Moment Real Quick.

My usual response to the last day of class.

I’m not usually sentimental about school. I think the last time I was genuinely even a little upset when a class ended was the last day of fourth grade. Since then, I’ve never been that person that claps after the last lecture and, instead, I’ve left classes with deuces in the air and never looking back.

But, as you may have gathered from the title, this class was different. At least in my academic experience, it’s rare to take a class where you not only learn something you’ll actually use three years from now, but you do so with people who are as passionate as you are. But with the Gateway course, I got just that.

So thanks cohort for the inspiration; thanks T for the enthusiasm even though we seemed tired and unresponsive in the morning; thanks blog contributors for your entertaining posts; thanks creators of Wix for the easy website editing software; thanks to everyone for being everyone.  I feel like I’m making an acceptance speech or something.

And after countess hyperlnks, background changes, embeddings, page alignments, filler texts, undos, redos, and caffeine-fueled epiphanies, here’s my E-Portfolio. Thanks for taking the time to check it out, and have a great future everyone!





An Open Letter to Future Writing Minors

Dear Writer,

Congratulations! If you are reading this, you have decided to join the best of us as part of the Sweetland Minor in Writing.


At this point, you’ve probably thought a lot about why you wanted to minor in Writing and articulated that desire through your application essays. So I’m not going to tell you something you already know in saying that you made a good decision (even though, in that last statement, I ended up saying what I said I wasn’t going to say). I will, however, provide you with a neat, numbered list of some advice, gathered from what I’ve observed, enjoyed, and messed up over the course of this semester:

1. Have an open mind.

This is probably the most cliche piece of advice ever. I feel like having an “open mind” would apply to anything, whether it’s the first day at a new job or if you’re on an awkward blind date or if you’re trying a new brand of cereal. It’s generic. But it’s true. Over the course of the minor, you’ll probably change in your writing style; it’s important to keep an open mind when observing that change.

Love your topic as much as this chihuahua loves this other chihuahua.

2. Pick a topic you LOVE.

I don’t mean “pick a topic you are okay with” or “pick a topic you like.” You seriously need to be deeply, irreversibly in love with your topic. Spending all semester on something you don’t care about would not only be miserable for you, but your lack of enthusiasm would likely show through your quality of writing.

3. Dedicate some time to picking that topic, and actually think about it.

When I was considering which topic to choose for Project 2 and 3, I kind of sifted through folders on my computer a bit without really thinking about it. It was casual. Too casual. Take some time deciding what to choose, and don’t rush into it. If you think about it more later and want to change your idea, change it. As was mentioned earlier, I’m all about that change.

4. Get to know the beautiful thing that is Wix.

Seriously, the best way to format your EPortfolio. Hands down. Who needs C++ or Python when you have Wix, man.

5. Channel your urge to write for fun.

In the minor, you’ll talk about writing, you’ll think about writing, you’ll write about writing. Which is kind of weird at first, since–before starting the Gateway course–writing seems kind of inherent. Professors tend to use writing simply as a vehicle of communication for you to present what you have learned in their course. But writing is an actual thing. and when you’re thinking about writing ALL. THE. TIME, you’ll want to write more often. So keep a journal / Word Doc / napkin nearby at all times for when the inspiration strikes.

Now go write something.


My Love-Hate Relationship with Writing

Because this post is devoted to “bold proclamations about writing,” I thought I’d dedicate this time to come out and put something out there that I’ve been keeping in for a while, because I just think I need to share for closure if nothing else. Here it goes:


There. I said it.

Among our wonderful cohort of Writing Minors, we talk a lot about why we love writing: how writing is freeing / enjoyable / the best thing ever Which, don’t get me wrong, it totally is…sometimes. But the conditions have to be right.

When it’s 4 am and my paper is due in five hours and I’ve crawled my way to page 3/12 (double spaced), the conditions aren’t right. At these points, I kind of hate writing. It’s usually at these points that I can never come up with the right word, the right phrase, the right topic. Just last Saturday, I spent five hours in the grand palace known as the UgLi, searching far and wide for a term paper topic. With every Google search, I became more and more fed up with this stage in the writing process; I always think the topic has to be perfect before getting started, which (as you can guess) tends to limit my options some.

Continuing on with this venting session, I could also do without papers for classes on themes I have no passion for whatsoever. A prime example of this was when I wrote a research paper on the future role of dentists in society. The struggle to even start these projects is so real, since I
know it’s just going to be hours of staring in front of a blank screen trying to get some words out there with no emotion whatsoever. I’m just like, can I turn this into a haiku or something.

Even with topics I care about, I get stuck so often in my writing. Something kind of upsetting is when I care too much about something and and go on to ramble about it for pages, only to find out that everything I said makes no sense in correlation with the prompt. Or when I want to say everything and only have 2 pages to say it. Or when I want to expand it just a little more, when I want to say what I feel but have no idea how to say it, and am struggling for the right way to express this when the project is due the next day.

Life is hard.

Sure, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the land of Microsoft Word but–at the peak of my frustration–I need to remind myself that, all in all, I love writing. I think we’ve all established that but, at times, it’s definitely a love-hate.


Stuff That Doesn’t Get Old.

I get sick of things really easily. Blessed with a shorter-than-average attention span, I was that kid that participated in just about every extracurricular for about a week (or until my mom paid the deposit), later realizing they weren’t “my thing.” I have to buy things in small quantities, as I quickly grow tired of gum flavors, shampoo scents, and popular songs (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift.)

Still, some things never change. Here are a few things in my life that I am grateful will never get old:


Actual photo of a cat not getting old.

Jennifer Aniston. (She seriously Does. Not. Age.)

Going to the movies in the middle of the day and sneaking into other showings after.

Christmas music. (Except Santa Baby. That one is kind of creepy.)

Re-enacting the scene from The Notebook where they lay in the middle of the street like it’s no big deal.

Every season of “Parks and Recreation.”

Coffee. (Unless it’s expired. Then it’s old. Throw that out.)

Fishing with my dad on Lake Huron.

National Parks, and obnoxiously pulling the car over to take pictures every 200 yards.

Photo-shopping my friends’ faces on things.

The Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack.

Hot pretzels with mustard.

Cats. All of them.

Re-reading The Catcher in the Rye in the summer.

That episode of SpongeBob where’s he’s delivering the Krusty Krab pizza.

Flannel. (Just for 90s grunge? I think not.)

And of course, for relevance if nothing else, writing.

So How About That Project 3.

I told myself I wasn’t going to put off Project 3. I was going to start it way in advance because, too often, I have experienced the pain and self-disappointment of starting something the day before it’s due. So this is me pledging to start this project early. Even though it’s due in less than two weeks.


Actual photo of me listening to my voice recorded.

At least I have an idea. I plan to take my topic from Project 2 (which was a New York Times Op-Ed piece) and turn it into an NPR-style radio piece. I’ve been listening to an unhealthy amount of NPR lately in preparation for this project, which has led me to become more politically and culturally informed as well as made me feel like a 65-year-old man listening in his Buick on the way to Bingo Night. This “research” is welcome though, since I have always enjoyed listening to NPR when I can. Hooray.

There’s still a lot I need to get done in the next two weeks. I’ve gotten the audio content for the interviews and transcribed all of them, now I just need to write and record my own commentary. I’ll probably look at what I had for Project 2 and maybe repeat some of the same ideas, but I hope to present something new as well. If I can write and edit it all this weekend, I will be proud of myself for actually being proactive for once.

Actual footage of me trying to figure out GarageBand.

Then, I’ll just have to record it. This will be exceedingly difficult since I cannot stand to hear the sound of my own voice. Seriously props to all of you who have been forced to listen to me speak, because I think I sound like a nervous boy going through puberty when I am recorded. In desperate attempts to dispel my anxiety, people have told me that I “sound nothing like” my recorded voice in real life. But there’s no way for me to know this for sure. Can’t trust ’em.

ANYway, I will stick it out and record myself reading the piece in a way that would sound similar to NPR. I think the real challenge will be in editing the audio. I’m not technologically-gifted and have never worked with GarageBand. So this will be fun. But really, I will try to watch some online videos and talk with people who know what they’re doing to get this done.

It’ll be fun…right?

Literally Not Even About Grammar

I’m coming out and publicly stating right now that this post isn’t really about grammar. I guess if I wanted to tie it into the topic I could say it’s about adverbs. One adverb in particular. The adverb that specifically, particularly, completely, wholeheartedly grinds my gears.

That adverb is “literally.”

There was a time whenlitkim “literally” meant something. We could use the word as a way to express reality when something happened just as a figure of speech implies, a synonym for “actually.” Back in the day (when “literally” was a strong word and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt) people might “literally eat the whole thing” or “literally wait for hours” in dramatic situations.

Today, however, the word has literally been ruined.

Want to make a point? What to sound dramatic? Want to have your voice heard? Throw in a “literally”!

No line at Chiptole? “I literally peed my pants.”

Barista messed up your order? “I literally want to hurt someone.”

Stubbed your toe? “I literally am so done I can’t even omg what is life.”

Perhaps the scariest thing in the age of “literally” abuse is how the word somehow slips into your vocabulary unnoticed and suddenly you too are misusing “literally.” So many of my friends “literally can’t” and “are literally so done” round-the-clock that I have found myself slipping out an “I literally cried” here in there, regardless of whether or not tears were produced in actuality.

Figuratively, I want to crawl under a rock  when I hear people (or myself) misusing “literally.” Yet it’s something so ingrained in our language now that I think we’ve hit the point of no return, and that we need to just give up the word (and everything it once stood for) for good.

We’re literally so done.

The 5 Things I Know I Should Do When Writing But Don’t Actually Do

I am a hypocritical writer. After spending a lot of time in writing-related courses, I feel like I have a pretty good  understanding of what we are all supposed to do to make a good paper. And I agree with these things. Still, for some unintelligible reason, I don’t actually do them. So here’s a list of those things that I should do and tell others to do but don’t actually do:

1. Get started early.

Sometimes I get things done early but, when it comes to writing, I live in procrastination nation. (That was supposed to by funny.) We hear it again and again that we need to start our first drafts early so we have time to revise, and some classes even require drafts to be turned in a week or so before the final is due. But I can’t seem to write (at least, not write well) unless the assignment is due the next day. Which is horrible but, nevertheless, true. It’s led me to some pretty interesting all-nighters in Club UgLi and a few nearly-traumatic coffee overdose experiences.

2. Outline first.

“Turn in an outline of your paper on Tuesday.” Nope. That’s not happening. If an outline is assigned to me, I will probably just make up some bulleted list that won’t actually relate to my paper in any way and pretend that it does. I know deep down I really should outline, because it would help keep me on track and add a fragment of structure to my disheveled thought process. But whenever I try (which I don’t do often), I get stuck and just have to start writing the actual thing. Like many areas of my life, my organizational process when writing is a hot mess.

3. Journal every day.

This one I really wish I followed. I think journals are so important, and that they’re something I would really treasure when I’m old and wondering what I actually did in my college years. When I was younger, I was an avid journaler and would write pages of nonsense (including quotes that I thought were deep in the seventh grade, thoughts about the meaning of life, and who I sat with at lunch) in various Hello Kitty notebooks. Looking back on these now, they are seriously hilarious and I thank young-Allison for actually writing on the reg. But the excuse I give now  is the same excuse I give for just about everything else–that I don’t have the time.

4. Have a clear thesis.

I’m sorry, but if I could fit the main idea of my paper in 140 characters then I would’ve just tweeted it instead of putting out ten pages. Teachers would always tell me to have a thesis that follows the observation-argument layout and plainly presents the main idea of the paper. I have such a difficult time doing this. A lot of times I will write the whole paper, think it’s great, and realize I didn’t have a sentence that could be considered a thesis. At that point, I’ll usually just throw something in at the end of the introduction. This is probably not a great thing to do but, in my sassy defense, if they want the main idea of my paper then they can actually read my paper.

5. Write in Times New Roman.

Sure, I’ll turn in my stuff in 12-point TNR like any student. But all I can picture when I see that font is an old, gray man in a mauve robe sitting on a plush armchair smoking a pipe in a rustic library whilst reading a leather-bound book entitled “Antiquity.” Come on, people. This is the future. Let’s switch the Helvetica already.


Getting My Life Together

Actual photo of where my project is at right now.

Amongst the unrelenting madness that is this week of midterms — I’m going to be straight with you — I have not thought about Project 2. Last week I was on top of it; I held five audio interviews, two formal, three informal, for my article. However, these files are currently chilling in the My Documents folder and have not listened to / transcribed / evaluated them at all since they were recorded. It’s on my list.

But that’s okay! I think the next step I need to take would be to listen to the interviews again, note common threads or trends, and — would you believe it? — actually start writing this article. Because. after countless displays of procrastination, I have learned that starting something usually helps get it done.

Right now, one of my concerns is developing my voice for the piece. I’m trying to imitate an Op-Ed article, so I will be able to implement my own thoughts and utilize the first person, but still am not sure how formal to make this. Also, I think the style norms of journalistic writing may be freaking me out a little; I need to convince myself to just get a first draft done and go from there.

Become a Peer Writing Consultant

sweetThis post isn’t for the Gateway, but I thought I’d use the blog to shamelessly promote Sweetland’s Peer Writing Consultant Program! If you love writing, which I’m assuming you do, this is a great opportunity to share your skills with other students st the University. I can honestly say consulting is the chillest-yet-most-engaging job I’ve had, and it definitely beats what I was doing before (serving coffee to sassy people). Apply here, and learn more on the Writing center Facebook page. The deadline to apply is November 3rd, so you have a lot of time to get on that. (Consultants also get free t-shirts, so if you’re looking to expand your Sweetland shirt collection, here’s your chance.)