Challenge Journal 4

The capstone project was my first attempt at writing fiction. As I write about in my “About the Author” page, I am very used to writing about real, concrete things, be it my experiences, opinions or political data. When writing about personal experiences, you must make decisions about what to include. The author gets to decide what details to highlight, explain further and what characteristics of people to include. When explaining factual information, the author must be sure they are giving enough context that it will make sense to the readers.

When it comes to realistic fiction the authors’ choices are completely different. Rather than deciding what to include, the author is in charge of entirely creating these characters. It takes a lot of imagination and creativity to write fiction. The author must be able to fully picture a scene, accurately describe it and also know what the audience will take away from it based on their opinion, not on experience.

I had a lot of trouble deciding how to end the piece. I had to think of something that would feel like closure for the audience, while also being realistic and not cheesy. I looked online at some open forums for inspiration, but found this part the hardest to think of. I needed the audience to be satisfied and feel like the story was over, while not introducing any new ideas or characters. I had to constantly re-read what I had already written to be sure that the ending was consistent.

The End is Near

It feels hard to believe that I’m almost done with my capstone project, the minor in writing, and my undergraduate experience here. It doesn’t even feel real. My capstone has been such a positive experience compared to how I usually feel about writing for classes. I think it’s because I decided to write about something I already knew about and had a passion for – both things were crucial for me to truly enjoy investing my time in this project over the entire semester. But, I also shouldn’t get too reflective on it as if it’s a finished product – it definitely isn’t yet! I have a lot of writing, editing, and creating left to do before I’m satisfied with my website. I know that when I’m done with it, I will feel proud because of how passionate I am about the writing I’m doing.

To be honest, in my entire time here at U of M, I’ve felt my writing get worse and worse and worse. Maybe it’s because I literally procrastinate everything until it’s almost turned in late. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned so much about how to write that I’ve felt like a beginner starting from square one compared to my classmates. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t totally passionate about my writing topics. I feel that with this project, I’ve learned how to start the writing process. You start by thinking of what you are passionate about, and then let the ideas snowball and take shape and form into what feels like a temporary final product (because who knows, you may want to revisit it, and, dare I say, repurpose or remediate it?) So, I’m just really happy that I finally see myself growing in my writing. I’m starting to write about what I’m passionate about and already know about, even if the ease of it always felt wrong. It’s okay if it feels easy, I think it’s supposed to.

Challenge Journal 4: “”””untitled””””

ahahhahahahahahah there are 6 days until classes end.

more importantly, it’s 7 days until i see david sedaris.

which, like, well, um, technically the capstone project is due the 20th (someone said the 19th but the syllabus says 20th so i’m going with 20th) but david is coming the 18th and i am a fool!!!!

i definitely work better under pressure, and i think that’s because i don’t do well with soft deadlines because i don’t take myself seriously/have no authority over myself. not sure if that makes total sense but basically if i set a deadline for myself, future flick just laughs in my face and doesn’t do what she was told to do. it’s a horrible system and yes it’s the worst.

there’s a fine line for me. there has to be enough of a time crunch but not too much. if i have to force myself to write and i’m not feeling it, i’ll likely produce garbage and frankly that’s just a waste of my time. the intro part of my capstone that i wrote just when i felt like it was infinitely better than the sections i tried to force myself to write afterwards for my workshop session. if i’m moderately stressed but writing because i have real thoughts and ideas – that’s the sweet spot. the problem is that i feel like that sweet spot is somewhat out of my control to find. clearly, i’m really good at accepting responsibility for things. procrastination is just so…fun..amirite?

i don’t know how to do anything when i actually have real time to get it done. for example, i’m only in 9 credits this semester and i have been at my all-time lowest levels of productivity. it’s kind of pathetic but we’re just going to go with it because it’s too late now to change that. maybe i just crave the rush of the stress. ?¿? ok that’s enough psychoanalysis for my wednesday night.

ps i happen to know that someone went to T with a capstone idea that was to talk about themselves and david sedaris and i want to know who you are…

so that we can be friends

 

ok bye call me beep me

Here’s to (me)? Nah…

So the bio section is a little weird. When I was first setting up my site for the og workshop I was all “yeah I’m gonna link my Instagram, It’s gonna be a little mysterious and fun.” And then I looked at it.

My Instagram is basically all food. That has nothing at all to do with my project.

Frankly, fun and mystery don’t really have very much to do with my project.

My bio so far feels a world away from the rest of the site. How do I remedy this?

I think that my initial bio ideas would make sense for some sort of author website, but this is a project website. So, I need to lose the personality extensions (insta, quirk, mirth) and mold it into something a bit more architectural and, potentially, angry.

The site example I looked at from previous capstones was an activism project, which isn’t too far off from where I’m trying to leave my own project. His bio was all about the labor activism that he had been involved with in and around campus. So maybe my bio turns into an open cover letter?

I say this, because I’ve been applying to jobs like crazy, and all of my cover letters have the common element of me wanting to live/work/make an impact in my community. This project is all about that community. Writing this now, it seems hecking obvious. And I’m sure anyone reading this who knows anything about my project is like “duh, ur dum.” But it never ceases to astound me how we can compartmentalize things so much in our heads that it takes a few months and an army for the lines between them to start to blur.

I’m so used to separating Job and School. And now School is about to go away, at least for a year while I regain some mental capacity and health, and Job is going to take over. I wonder if something might replace School in my head’s filing cabinets, or if it won’t ever quite go away until after my masters. Or if I decide to teach at some point, which I kind of want to, maybe it will just transform a bit? Because I do like have compartments; I think it makes my inner life categorization a bit easier, even if my desk is a literal mess.

 

desk mess studio work space
                         actually me rn

Ew.

 

Anyway, I really do hope that I keep being able to have separation in the parts of my life, even when the categories become less outwardly defined. I love the moment when things just ‘click’ together. During my time here, this usually happened between different classes, which was honestly one of the most exciting things, because it made me feel like I was on track, and that everything really was connected. Not being sappy, just being real.

I think that’s my end of semester mantra.

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!

Edits and Revisions

My least favorite part of the writing process is revising. I’m someone who doesn’t like to do anything halfway. My rough drafts aren’t just vague ideas thrown at a page in hopes that something readable will eventually emerge. I like to revise even my very initial drafts to try and make them as good as they can be. And when I submit something for peer review, it means that work is something that I’m proud of. So when it comes time to get that work deconstructed and rebuilt with the help of my peers, it’s hard for me. I get instinctively defensive of my work, and I don’t want people to dismiss my effort without giving it enough time or thought. In short, I’m distrustful of other people’s edits and revisions.

I understand that this is a flaw. Every piece of writing, no matter how good or how bad, needs a fresh pair of eyes and a little bit of revision. It’s important to be able to sit back and let others tell you what your piece needs to improve on, no matter how difficult that is to do. Something that I’ve been trying to do in an effort to fix this problem is to make sure I find peer editors and reviewers who I really trust and whose opinions I value. I think having that ethos behind the reviewers gives them an extra level of credibility to the point that I’m willing to take their advice at face value. I need reviewers whose revisions I will react to with interest rather than instinctive defensiveness. And I think I’m in the process of making that work. Revisions are definitely important, and it’s time I give them the attention they deserve.

Breaking from Habit

In the past four years, I have found success in a writing routine which I know to be misguided. I’ve been most adept at writing when my back is against the wall, and therefore tend to write close to an impending deadline. This method has served me well (at least in terms of grades) in my time at Michigan, but that has typically been when I receive a specific prompt with a clear list of eligible sources.

The Capstone project is undoubtedly too broad for this approach, and—despite laying out a production plan—I have had to do everything in my power to resist the urge to continue in my ways. Artificial deadlines and ensuring I have had certain tasks completed promptly have definitely led to a change in some of these habits.

However, at the same time, I feel there are some merits to the urgency and clarity that is provided by having my feet to the fire. Consequently, I’ve decided to put off certain goals as I continue to write pieces for my Capstone project. Chief among these is the task of tying together all of my work. My initial impulse was to have a sort of encompassing purpose in mind as I began my research and writing, but—while I do have a grasp for what that purpose will be—it is almost impossible to know specifically what your project will accomplish until you have completed all of your work.

While the Capstone has given me an opportunity to break from some of the more unwise habits I’ve developed as a writer, it has given me an understanding of why it is that I feel compelled to put off certain tasks. With this new understanding, I have become better at not falling behind without feeling like I need to have everything done well ahead of schedule.

Balancing the Elements of an Effective Website

Thanks to the Gateway course, the Capstone project isn’t the first time I’ve had to create an online writing portfolio. With that being said, it has proven to be more of a challenge than my first attempt three semesters ago. As open-ended as the Gateway was, it still provided students a framework for a site that was, plainly, an academic writing portfolio. Almost every website had a home page from which you could easily navigate to the “Why I Write,” “Repurposing,” and “Remediation” pieces. This framework definitely took some of the stress out of creating the portfolio and allowed students to focus almost entirely on their writing.

This template doesn’t exist in the Capstone, and—in contrast—the implicit goal of most students (myself included) is to make a website that is more than just an academic portfolio. Thus, the challenge becomes making a website with a greater purpose and appeal than just being a portfolio, while still ensuring that it properly functions as a Capstone portfolio (because that’s still what it is).

On top of this challenge, basic elements are important to consider in designing a website that is effective in terms of both aesthetic and substance. I’ve had to wrestle with whether to have either a single home page with different strips that the reader can scroll down or a simple home page with tabs laid out across the top (as I did in my Gateway portfolio). Another thing I’ve considered is having videos / audio cue automatically upon opening the site. This is often something that annoys me with news and media websites, but at the same time it offers an opportunity to create atmosphere—through sports commentary—right when the reader opens the site.

Throughout all of this, I have had to ensure that I don’t lose track of the most important part of the website: the content. As fun as gimmicks and aesthetic flares are to create, it has been essential to ensure that none of these distract from making a site that streamlines the reading process for my audience. This aspect has proven the key consideration in the final weeks of my project, and is something that I hope to have fully conquered by the time all of my writing is complete.

Finding Purpose through Research

When I first began brainstorming my Capstone project, I wrestled most with what topic it was that I intended to write about. Once the topic is determined, finding the purpose seems pretty straightforward. When I decided to write about two sports and their similarities and differences across continents, I figured then that my purpose would simply be to generate a thorough comparison.

While that idea seemed reasonable at my project’s outset, it didn’t take me long to discover that the breadth of American football and world football’s significance was too massive to encompass through writing in a lifetime, let alone a semester. Prof. Andrei Markovits—who I sought advice from earlier this semester—had no qualms about letting me know this. Suddenly, I found myself with a collection of research materials and some writing completed, but I lacked a clear purpose. While there is certainly a wide array of issues within my topic that interest me, it has—through my research—become increasingly obvious that all of these cannot be tackled while maintaining a clear, cohesive purpose (the “Why?” of my Capstone project).

This dilemma is something that I’ve rarely run into in writing, because—unlike most writing I’ve done—the Capstone is open ended and asks the writer to determine his or her purpose. As refreshing as this freedom is, it is certainly a challenge for any student accustomed to being told the subject and goal of a given piece of writing. Thus, as I enter the waning weeks of the semester, I’m not having nearly as much difficulty with producing writing as I am with the daunting task of ultimately explaining why I’ve written what I have. Once I surmount this challenge, I am confident that I’ll find myself with a compelling project when it’s all said and done.

Challenge Journal 4: Title-less

I find coming up with a title one of the most challenging parts of writing. Whether it be a literary analysis, a research paper, or even an post on Instagram, my creativity seems to disappear. There was one time a friend came to me to help come up with a title for an app, and for the life of me, I could not come up with anything. I’m always so impressed with those who are able to come up with catchy titles and captions, as it is most definitely not my forte.

I seem to be in the same predicament with coming up with a title for my exhibition for my capstone. When museum exhibitions focus on a single artist, it is pretty straightforward, using his or her name as the title. In my case, I am looking at a variety of painters from a wide range of time. My focus is the agency of women in portraiture… basically comparing how male artists illustrated women and what sort of say those women had in their image, in comparison to how female artists portrayed their subjects and themselves. I like the idea of having a catchy couple word title with a colon and then a brief explanation, “____: ______________” but coming up with the words to fill in the blanks has proven difficult.

Although it is a small piece of the project, a catchy title is so important to get someone to look deeper into the project. As much as we are taught to not judge a book by its cover, by scrolling through so many projects, the title and aesthetics of a Capstone project are critical to capturing a reader’s attention. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out soon!