introducing… The Pleiades

I’m so excited to present my Capstone Project, an essay titled “The Pleiades.”

My experience in this class and working on this project has been a wild ride, and definitely a highlight of my senior year / college experience.

This piece has been evolving throughout my life; I’ve always been interested in my family’s history and I’ve always wanted to write something about it, but never quite knew what angle I should take.

A few months into this semester, the idea to tell this story came to me during a weekend visit home. I immediately changed my Capstone Project to what it is today, and I’m grateful for the serendipitous moments that led up to my lightbulb idea.

s o o o o o . . . here’s the link i guess . . . see ya college

syd’s declassified capstone survival guide

Hi future capstone peeps,

Whether you’re in a classroom in North Quad, a house in Ann Arbor, your childhood home, or wherever you may be, I hope you’re excited to take the Capstone course.

I’m turning in my project tomorrow (virtually presenting it on Zoom, to be exact), and have a few bits of advice to help you make the most of this class.

  1. Choose a topic you’re passionate about and figure out what it will look like later. You’ll have much more fun and get a lot more out of the minor if you’re excited about the content. For the first few months of the semester, I was working on my project a sluggish pace. I liked the aesthetic of my idea, but there wasn’t a huge why when it came to my project. Make sure you care about your why!
  2. Don’t be afraid to change your project. Like I referenced above, I switched my project pretty late in the game, about halfway through the semester. I was procrastinating on my first project, and randomly got an idea for a new project when I was visiting home one weekend. I wasn’t sure what my project would look like, but I had an idea of a story I wanted to tell and explore, which ended up elevating my writing minor experience. I ended up writing in a genre that I’ve always wanted try, but never really found the chance. I also conducted a lot of research because I felt that it was important to my project, so I felt like I fully developed my project in a way that I may not have otherwise.
  3. Utilize Sweetland Writing Workshops. I know they’re great virtually, and I’m sure they’re great in person, too. Ask your professor to recommend someone who has experience relevant to your project. It’s nice to have someone outside of class to help you with your project, and they’ll be hands on about editing with whatever type of feedback you’re looking for!
  4. More of a logistical note: when you’re in the workshop stage, make sure to take detailed notes of your classmates work as you’re reading it for the first time. This makes it much easier to give them valuable feedback.
  5. Have fun with your class!!! It builds up a layer of trust that makes the workshopping more fun and effective.

Good luck and if you ever have questions feel free to comment on this post and reach out!

new blog post, completely new project

My last blog post discussed my wide variety of project pitches, but alas, the project I’m actually pursuing is not even CLOSE to what I initially proposed.

A few weeks into working on my original project, I spent a weekend at home and got lunch with my Grammy’s childhood friend. The conversations we had inspired me to change my project. I am now writing an essay about the Pleiades, my Grammy’s group of friends that she’s had since high school.

So far, I’ve done pretty much all of my research. I’ve done tons of research on the Pleiades (as in, the cluster of stars the group is named after), and read lots of different stories cultures have told about these stars since ancient times. I’m planning on weaving in this history and these stories in with the stories I’m telling.

Here are the Pleiades, if you were wondering!

These stories are of the lives of the group of 6 women who call themselves the Pleiades. So far, I have recorded interviews with 5/6, and have an interview planned with the last one tomorrow. After that, I’ll continue the writing process! I’ve started writing my narrative, but definitely still have a ways to go. I’m hoping to meet with someone from Sweetland to help me with the writing process.

That’s all for now! 🙂

first of many reflections

It is great to be back in the Writing Minor community. Although I’ve technically been a part of it since the Gateway course, I haven’t taken a writing class since, and spent a semester abroad. I’m excited to get back into writing, and to work on the Capstone project with support and advice from my peers. For my pitches, I thought of four fairly different ideas, but all projects that I’ve thought about pursuing personally over my four years at Michigan.

After discussing ideas with Alexis, I gained some new ideas on how I can expand upon my ideas further. My first pitch is to create a photo essay about the struggles of transitioning out of college as a senior; I would interview other seniors at Michigan about their post graduate plans, and how they came to the decisions that they made. I find that scrolling on LinkedIn has become such a ‘thing’ senior year (I know I do it all the time), but I tend to see the same types of things again and again, another one of my peers has accepted a high paying job at a large company. This is great and exciting for these individuals, but I also wonder about what everyone else is doing, the people that aren’t posting about it on LinkedIn. I think it would be enticing for college students to read, particularly seniors, to know that there is no ‘better’ or ‘right’ path to take upon graduation, we are young, and pursuing what’s right for you is most important.

My next idea was to do something involving letter writing; one of my friends took a letter writing class here that I wish I could’ve taken, so I thought it would be a fun thing to explore for my capstone project. In class yesterday discussing our ideas, I thought of some potential ways I could utilize letter writing in my project. One idea I came up with in discussion was to send letters to the different places I’ve lived, both here on campus and back home in Cleveland. It would be interesting to see who now calls my Oxford dorm room, room in my sorority house, and apartment home as I once did, and how our relationships with these spaces are similar and different. Another idea I had in class was to write letters to the ten people in my life that I text the most; I’m interested to see how our communication changes and what new things I can learn about my closest friends and family from letter writing. I came up with one of these new ideas in the middle of our class discussion, and another when talking to Alexis. I love taking the time to unpack our ideas and discuss them in class, because the ideas of others often spark new ideas for my own work.

The last idea I discussed with Alexis was a collection of poems/short pieces of writing/illustrations inspired by Mari Andrew, one of my favorite writers/artists. I would want to chronicle the past, present, and future of my life in this project and create content that others could relate to. This idea was very similar to a few of Alexis’ ideas, and it was great to connect and share what we were both looking to accomplish and reflect on in our projects.

winter break travel vibes

just in time for break, check out my final project to get some travel vibes:

I created a zine that takes you on a journey through my travels last summer. There’s a haiku on each page, for each city, along with photos and other artifacts from my trip. I wanted to keep the website simple to let the zine speak for itself, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of condensing huge experiences into simple, short haikus, trying to still convey the feeling and most important details of each city. So, take a glimpse into some places across the world and get a little taste of my travel experience.

Thanks everyone for such a great semester!

writer to writer, sorry I’m late

My excitement about the writer to writer event had me so excited… that I completely forgot to blog about it. But never late then never, right?

This event wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, because I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I know that I love Literati (and all the events that they host), and I love hearing from writers, so I didn’t look too deeply into what was in store.

Hearing from Heather Ann Thompson was INCREDIBLE. Without knowing much about her work, I unrightfully assumed that this was going to be an interview with some random writer that had interesting things to say, but wasn’t as accomplished and well known as Thompson. I wasn’t expecting to hear from a Pulitzer Prize winning author in such an intimate environment. Let alone, on a topic that I’m extremely interested in.

This semester I’m in Psych 211, the service learning class where I get to visit a prison to volunteer every week. Throughout the semester I’ve learned about the criminal justice system in America, so it was especially exciting to get to first hand hear the perspective of someone who is extremely knowledgable about the issues incarcerated people face.

Additionally, aside from the fact that the Attica prison uprising is a subject up my alley, her style of writing about important, nonfiction topics in a way that is appealing to any audience. This is exactly the genre I see myself working with in my future as a writer. I love learning about important social justice issues, but my style of writing is casual and informal; I don’t have much desire to write for an academic audience, but someday I would love to do what she did – become an expert on a topic and tell the true story in a way that compels all different types of readers.

Right off the bat, I loved hearing what Thompson had to say because she started off the night by saying that even though she is an accomplished and published writer, it never came easy. She still feels like she’s constantly working on her writing, and that it never “came naturally,” which is something that I have struggled with when thinking of myself as a writer. She reassured me that dedication, passion, and hard work is enough to craft a compelling piece.

I didn’t ask a question in the Q&A because I wasn’t sure if the question I wanted to ask would be appropriate for the whole audience to hear, but I asked her when she signed the copy of the book I purchased that night. I heard from a professor I know that she used some tricks to obtain documents that were important to her story so I asked her about that, and her explanation of how she did that told me a lot about how investigative journalists and authors work hard to uncover the truth.

Overall, I definitely want to attend another writer to writer event, and I learned so much.

the moth, a cool concept –> reality

Last year for my best friend’s birthday, I found a book called: “All These Wonders, True Stories About Facing the Unknown”. Knowing that she shares my appreciation and love for getting a little glimpse into someone else’s human experience through a story, I was excited to gift the book and get to read it myself, too. Turns out, this book was a curated collection of impactful stories from “The Moth”, just transcribed on paper instead of on the radio or in a podcast.

Reading these stories and now, seeing a live The Moth event has ignited my love for this genre of storytelling. I love the raw, real, nature of these stories, the vulnerability that goes into standing in front of a crowd and sharing something deeply personal. I love finding connections to my own life, relating to someone standing in front of me and not feeling so alone. I love extrapolating grand themes about the world from a five minute rendition of a man thinking he lost his bike, when it was really just behind him the whole time.

Like at a concert, the feeling of sharing an experience with a few hundred strangers sitting all around gives the art itself a new meaning. At the Moth, everyone is sitting together, experiencing the same piece of writing with completely different lenses, and that sense of togetherness gives the story a different power. Some of the stories that were shared at the event were very personal, but the support from the community around me left me feeling empowered rather than defeated.

This environment leads me to want to share my own story with The Moth one day. Before the event, this idea intimidated me, but I learned that even if I don’t execute my story perfectly, or even if it doesn’t have a perfect arc, I will have a community supporting me, interested in hearing my story.

the ultimate creative outlet – the zine

When I was first introduced to zines this year, my mind was opened to the limitless possibilities this genre can manifest. From fun doodles, to poems, to a collage of curated texts to convey a message, a zine can contain anything you want it to, and be crafted however you choose. To start getting some inspiration, I recommend heading to Etsy and searching for zines. Here’s a shortcut if you want one – this page is filled with seemingly limitless zines to buy or at least look at previews of.

^ here are a few that stuck out to me. If you want some more examples, here is a great blog post that showcases a variety of different types of zines!

If you would like to create your own zine, first, you’ll need to decide on some content to put inside. However, take this with a grain of salt, because once your creative juices have started flowing and you’re in the middle of crafting your zine, take advantage of the fact that new ideas can arise and they should be embraced! The wonderful thing about zines is that there are no rules, and you can cut and glue and paste and write and draw whatever you want. One of the main purposes of a zine is to form a connection between the creator and the reader, which is most effective when the creator showcases personality through the zine. Additionally, a zine is a light opportunity to bring up difficult topics and personal struggles to others. The artistic component and interactive nature of zines allows the creator to present serious topics in a way that doesn’t seem so scary, and distribute the zine to friends/family/others who would benefit from a personal look into struggles they may share.

Next, curate everything you want to include and gather all of your materials. This can include paper, cardboard, poems, short stories, comics, doodles, markers, pens, crayons, staples, yarn, magazines, scissors, photographs, glitter or get creative and think of something I haven’t! Here is a great video with one way you can construct your zine in a way that makes it easy to be reproduced.

Lastly, get yourself into a creative space, turn on some fun music, and start creating your zine! The process should be just as fun for you as reading it will be for your audience. When you’re finished and it’s time to distribute your zine, you can either send it in the mail to family and friends, drop it in random locations for people to find, put copies up for sale on Etsy, or think of your own method!

Happy creating 🙂

An Open Letter to Someone Who Wants to Write an Open Letter

To you, a writer, whomever you may be,

If you’re thinking about writing an open letter, odds are, you have something pretty important to say. Because if you didn’t, and only had something to say to a very select audience, a normal, sealed up letter would suffice.

So now, what do you do?

Before you decide, I’ll showcase a few examples of open letters that vary in theme, style, and audience.

First is an open letter in the Huffington Post addressed to “Future Madame President”. Written by HuffPost contributor Janet Bertolus, the letter speaks to this unknown woman or girl, giving her motivation and advice to become the first female president. This text has an obvious greater purpose: to address her disappointment that nominee Hillary Clinton did not prevail in the 2016 presidential election. This open letter is structured in a unique format: the author makes a claim (either a piece of advise or a statement about the qualities she envisions in this future president) in bolded text, and then follows that with a few sentences of further explanation. She also uses informal diction, giving the letter the feel that it can be easily read out loud in conversation. The open letter genre is perfect for this rhetorical situation because she wanted to speak in the second person to someone, she just doesn’t know who that someone is yet. And the content of this letter is also relevant to people across the United States, who also now have access.

Another open letter example that is quite different is written by Arianna Huffington, the founder of HuffPost, written to Elon Musk. This is an interesting twist because Huffington makes it clear that she knows Musk personally, and therefore, she could just convey her thoughts to him privately. However, because her message to Musk is something that could benefit many in American society, she decides to write an open letter. She addresses Musk’s work ethic, which consists of 120-hour weeks, stating that this only does society a disservice. If his brain is overworked, he isn’t able to reach his full potential, which could even more so revolutionize society. She addresses this letter to Musk to use his situation as an extreme example, but to overall convey the message to all of those over-workers in America that getting enough sleep, having time off, and enjoying life are too important to put aside for a job. She also uses historical examples and outside research to convey this message, which are also useful in open letters.

The third example is a letter that was published in the New York Times earlier this year called “Open Letter from Time’s Up”. This letter was signed by hundreds of female celebrities, and it is addressed to “Sisters”, and therefore, the addressed audience is women all over America. In the text, the Time’s Up movement is explained, and the women propose a call to action for how our country should go about addressing sexual assault and gender based discrimination in our society. Later on, the letter also addresses those who should do something about this issue, people such as lawmakers and other executives. So, it is clear that this letter isn’t just written for women and girls in America, but also all Americans, because gender based discrimination and sexual assault is something that affects the progress of our society, and therefore, everyone in it.

As you can see, open letters are a flexible genre that can be personalized in many different ways to best suit your rhetorical purpose. Here are some things to keep in mind as you start drafting your open letter:

  • Know what audience you’re writing for! There are at least two you should especially keep in mind.
    • First, your addressed audience… the “Dear _____,”. Open letters are written in second person, and you should have someone (or something, or a group, or whatever you want!) in mind to direct your writing towards. But you also have your implied audience… AKA the reason why you’re not writing this down, sealing up, and actually sending it in the mail. You want your voice to be heard beyond the addressed audience, so keep in mind who it is you want to reach.
  • Your voice and diction matters, set the appropriate tone. Depending on who you’re writing, you could use informal diction and a relaxed tone, or you could use big, scientific words to prove your point.
  • Play around with different formats. There aren’t too many rules! You can use bolded text, italics, —–dashes, outside research, personal anecdotes. The letter is your oyster! 🙂
  • Think about a platform to reach your audience. Maybe this is just in a social media post, but there are tons of platforms online where you can publish an open letter.

I hope this helps, and that you write an open letter that will change the world!



The Art of the Travel Guide/Blog

Travel guides/blogs can take many different forms, have various purposes, and target difference audiences. But one aspect that I believe makes this genre post effective is when there is an evident connection between writer and the place that serves as the subject. If the reader can’t feel the authors emotions towards that place, what would compel them to want to learn more? What would make them want to emulate the authors experience in that place for themselves? What would be the fuel to ignite their travel flame?

All over the internet, travel guides/blogs can take very different forms, and I’ve chosen three very different examples from very different platforms to showcase. These show that it doesn’t matter if your audience is the general public (because the platform is one of the most well-known travel guide companies of today), or the grand scope of New York Times readers, or the family and friends with the link to your travel blog; as long as you know your audience, what they are looking for, and what information they expect from you as the writer, you can still effectively execute the travel guide genre.

Upon starting my research, the first website that popped up was unsurprisingly Lonely Planet, one of the most famous travel guide companies out there. I choose the guide for Venice, Italy to look into because it’s near the Italian town of Crema that I choose to draft for my sample excerpt. This website was multimodal; it included many photos to utilize the visual mode, videos for auditory, paragraphs of information for linguistic, and a easy to follow, yet complicated format of links and tabs to different pages of the guide, for the spatial mode. Rather than just being one long page of information, Lonely Planet has one main page for each place, and tabs that take the audience to different pages for more information. This is a useful tool because with the vast amount of information on this guide, it is nice to be able to navigate around and not be overwhelmed by all of the information you may not need. The intended audience for this site is people who are interested in traveling to each particular place, as there are links to purchase tickets as well for recommended hotel and tour excursions.

In contrast, the next website I looked at was a travel blog by someone from my hometown. She put a pause on college and traveled the world, documenting her experiences on this blog along the way. This is different than Lonely Planet because rather than targeting a mass audience of the general public who are looking for help planning a trip, she mostly started this blog to keep her family and friends updated on her travels. However, this also targets people like me, as I don’t really know her that well, but have gone on her blog with the hopes of finding out how she travels the ways she does, so I can emulate it in my own life. She describes herself as the “queen of frugal travel”, which is something I want to learn tips about. Even though I may not be interested in the exact places she’s been, reading her blog posts reveals her decision making and problem solving processes while abroad, which is helpful when planning a trip, just in a different way than the Lonely Planet guide.

Finally, the New York Times 36 Hour travel column is a bit of a combination between the two above styles of travel writing. It is formatted like a schedule, with exact times in chronological order of how someone can structure a trip to a certain place. They can target the audience of general New York Times readers, offering an escape from every day life, but have an intended audience of people looking to plan a trip to the subject location. The one in this link is for Verona, Italy, a town I passed through on the way to Crema. It is a good combination between Lonely Planet and Danielle’s travel blog because it incorporates both personal accounts of what it’s like to travel in that place, but also includes specific information like restaurant phone numbers to give the readers tools to plan the exact trip the author is detailing. This is effective because the structure shows the audience how to pack lots of activities into just 36 hours, and gives a bit of a personal account and a bit of concrete travel knowledge.

For my travel guide in this experiment, I am seeking to take elements from each of these guides/blogs. I am hoping to convey my own personal experience, the realities of travel, and not glorify each place as much as Lonely Planet does. In addition, though, I want to provide more concrete information about where to go and what to do in each place, more similar to the 36 Hours column. I also want my reader to feel the emotions that I felt while traveling and in my reflection on the experience, which I borrow from Danielle’s blog style.

Overall, I appreciate that this can be a working genre, and I can always change up my format, add more information, and provide contact information so that any reader can reach out with questions.