Challenge Journal 3: Indecisiveness in Tone

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in the process of developing my capstone project is how I want to talk… well, write… about it. It is not a question of genre, as I am very committed to writing labels like museums and having an intro text to the museum like a professional intro text to an exhibition. My difficulty comes when I think about writing the introduction to my project, my “about” section, and my more extended pieces of writing.

Writing in the museum field is fairly standardized, with introduction texts between 200 and 300 words, and object labels approximately 150 words. Although I am following that standard for those pieces in both length and tone, I depart from traditional pieces in my one to two longer pieces. In attempt to maintain cohesion, should I maintain the relatively formal tone, regardless of whether or not they will physically be in the exhibit? I am leaning toward yes… but I fear that people may not want to read a block of text even if I am capping the length at about 500 words. I would like to think that the topic would be engaging enough, even though the tone may not be conversational.

With regard to the introduction to the project… would it be more engaging to have it be more explanatory, relating to the capstone and explaining the purpose of the project that way, or attempt to maintain the sense that it is a “real gallery” until one reaches the about section?

This seems to be the first time that I’ve really encountered writing a significant number of pieces that culminate together into a single project. For the gateway, although each of the three pieces were related and built off of each other, they each stood alone. There was not a need to have a unifying tone throughout. I think that this being the first time having to do this may contribute to my indecisiveness when it comes to finalizing words on paper.

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My Writing Comfort Zone

Anytime I’m given the freedom to write about what I want, it always comes back to the same topics: social media, celebrities, news, pop culture etc. As a communications major who’s looking to go into this world after college that naturally makes a lot of sense. Yet sometimes when I’m given an assignment and I choose a topic that falls into one of those categories, I feel a little bit defeated. Like, do I really only know how to write about one topic?

Back in senior year of high school we had a year long “keystone” project. I initially wanted to do something about medical abnormalities (I was not planning on being a comm major) but as my ideas progressed I realized I wanted to instead focus on the effects of social media on our high school environment. Four years later with this capstone project a similar thing happened. I started off with a project focused on what it means to be a descendent of the Holocaust, as the grandchild of two survivors, and how to preserve shared history. Though I still find this meaningful and interesting, there just wasn’t enough there for me to envision a project that I would feel satisfied with. So, I switched my topic to one about how influencers build personal brands online. There are also multiple instances of this throughout other classes from an open letter assignment in English 225 to a campaign for a social cause in Comm 417. It always comes back to the same topics.

I think through this capstone project I’ve come to feel way more ok with this. Certain classes do push me outside of my writing comfort zone but if this is where I’m comfortable and where I excel I should probably embrace that.

Challenge Journal 4: The Play’s The Thing… Or Is It?

To take a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet entirely out of context, “The plays the thing!”

This semester, those four words have definitely rung true. Especially these past few weeks, now that I’ve finished up my senior recital for my major and all of my other extra-curriculars, I feel like I’ve been living and breathing the play I’m writing for my Capstone project. Creating this story and building these characters has been taking up all of my brain space. Other classes and finals be damned.

Here’s my problem: “the play” has come to mean more than just the words I’m putting on the pages of the script. Recently–as I’ve scheduled a space in which to hold and film a reading of the play for an audience and have been holding auditions and coordinating rehearsal times and choosing a director–“the play” has come to be more of a logistical problem than a writing one. There are so many moving pieces, I’m learning, of a play you’re trying to both produce and write simultaneously. So many pieces that take all of my focus and suck time away from actually writing said play.

What I’ve found myself wondering is this: is the “play” I’m trying to create this semester the sum of the words on the page, or is it the actual physical piece of theatre?

Should I devote my limited time left before the Capstone showcase into making the script itself the very best it can be, or to the logistics of putting on an actual physical production (casting, scheduling, directing, rehearsing, filming). What about the other elements of this Capstone project–the site and the project intro–that I haven’t even begun to think about yet? Which of these elements are most important to a “play”? What should I focus on to make the best “play”? Where should all these things rank in my list of priorities (not to mention, you know, completing my course work for my other classes, doing laundry, and maybe occasionally sleeping). Is “the play” really the thing? What even is “the play”?

As my “writing” problem becomes less rooted in words and more a question of how to prioritize other production tasks to make something that exists outside of my computer screen, I find it most helpful to look back to another physical theatrical production I’ve put on for guidance, rather than a past writing sample. The biggest performance I’ve single-handedly produced thus far? My senior recital in February. I think looking back how I dealt with all the elements involved in trying to both produce and perform my  recital may give me some insight as to how to proceed here.

The week before my senior recital on Feb. 10, I had the flu. Full blown influenza, the kind that sent me home to my parents’ house for a week. I rarely go back there. And yet, I had posters to make and program notes to write and chamber rehearsals to hold and seventeen songs to memorize and a slide show to put together and run live and a dress to find and have altered. It was crazy. I couldn’t do it all myself in the time allotted, especially after missing a full week from being sick. So, what did I do?

I delegated. I called on as many of my loved ones who could help me. I used all the resources my school had available for me. I prioritized sleep and nutrition so I could be productive and energized while awake. I asked for help. Remember when I said earlier that my recital was the “biggest performance I’d single-handedly produced?” I was lying. It was the biggest, but I didn’t do it on my own.

So, maybe I shouldn’t do this alone, either. Though it takes coordination and extra attention to scheduling and extra meetings, I’ve decided to ask a friend of mine to direct my play. I want to have total control over the whole process, but I need to relinquish the creative direction to her, so that I can focus on writing. I’m hiring my other friend, an art major, to design and run the marketing for my reading. I’m making use of the rehearsal spaces and camera equipment U of M makes available for students. I’m going to as many writing workshop appointments as I can schedule, so that I don’t feel like I have to figure out how to write a 50+ page play completely alone, with no other input from people who actually know what they’re doing. I’m modeling this process on the one for my recital and asking for help to do all the things I could do myself, but don’t have time for.

Assuming that that delegation will help me pull this project off, I guess my remaining question is this: What is it that I want to come away with at the end of the semester? Do I want to have a solid, performable script? Or do I want to have a pretty-solid script, and a video of it being read, and feedback from an audience? I don’t know. I’m hoping for the best of both. We’ll see if I get there.

The play’s going to be the thing this next week, no matter the iteration–script or live performance–it ends up in.

Looking Back on Creating a Podcast

Leading up to this project, I really had never been a part of a podcast. For the capstone I was drawn to it as this class is perfect for trying new things, so I thought why not a podcast? I had listened to many before, mostly centered around sports, and this medium seemed more informal and genuine to me than writing an essay or creating a video series. However, there were so many things that I did not know and had to learn.

First, I learned that brainstorming and planning is even more important for a podcast than in an essay. In an essay, the headings you brainstorm can almost automatically be filled with material. I have written out topic sentences for each paragraph to lay out a piece and then fill in the body of each thought and offer transitions, and the job is basically complete. However, with a podcast it is completely different. I outlined a list of questions to ask each respondent and planned to follow that script. However, each person offered their own unique narrative as for how they follow sport and how it has effected their own life. I realized quickly that it was incredibly more important to follow the conversation rather than my set of questions. This made my preparation even greater as I tried to prepare for any and every way the conversation could go.

Second, aside from contacting each respondent, planning a time to meet, and conducting the interviews there was so much more this creation process. It took me some time to tinker with and learn about the technology to most successfully record the podcast. It is so much more than pressing play and talking. I wanted my podcast to offer musical transitions and provide smooth alleyways between each interview. This objective had me spending a boatload of time on youtube trying to learn and mimic the ways that others have done this.

Overall, making a podcast was a lot of fun and taught me so many things that I never thought i would know. This was all possible through the minor of writing. While the process seemed laborious at times, it was definitely worthwhile.

Getting Down to Business

While it feels like everyone else is wrapping up their projects, I feel like I still have so much to do. I’ve been lucky to have a clear idea of my project since its conception, of course with some reworking of the details, but I think having it come so easily has made me push off finishing major components, such as writing final drafts of each section of my project. Instead, I’ve been spending more time working on the design of my website. This stemmed from how disappointed I was in the creation of my gateway website, and having something look so uninspiring to me made me not want to put my hardest work into it.

Now, though, with my website skills looking a little better (I hope), I am excited to get working on the final draft of my project.

Something that was brought up in a workshop of my website recently is that I need to look at the site from the reader’s perspective and cater it to what best fits their needs. Since my project is very research-based (lolol in more than one way), I will need to make each page digestible and engaging to anyone who happens upon them. I will focus on making each page a lot more visual — this will kind of “fix” something I’ve changed about my project, which is to no longer include an infographic. Instead, I hope that each page of the site is infographic-based, with pop out boxes giving more info as well as images. Though this feels like a lot of work right now (and I still plan on making quizzes too!) I know that it’ll be exciting to work on, which is what matters most for me.

 

I’ve reached the end. Now what?

This post is not going to be about a writing problem, per se. It is, however, going to be about an issue I have that is intimately related to the writing that I produce. That is: What do I do with it when it’s finished?

 

For the last four years I”ve been trained to treat a piece of my own writing in a very particular way. Shape it to the audience (usually a professor or GSI), finish it on time, include content relevant to studies, receive grade, and the cycle is done. There’s an understanding between everyone involved that a piece of writing will be generated, change hands, be evaluated, and then be more or less forgotten about. How do I treat my own writing when this presupposed understanding no longer exists?

Let’s say I’m applying for a job. All sorts of jobs desire candidates with strong verbal and written communication skills. At what point in the interview process am I supposed to bring up the fact that I’ve got an e-portfolio that I put together in college specifically to show off my ability to write? Should I even bother to mention that fact? I would think so, but I’m not well-experienced with interviewing just yet.

 

I’ve come to really like the direction in which this Capstone project is going, and I don’t want all the effort I’ve put in to end up without purpose. I also understand that my project in particular, because of the grim subject matter, may not be suited for all types of opportunities, but it does have merit as an example of good writing, I think. How do I make sure that this, and all other writing I compose, remains useful to me in a professional sense, and how, when, and to whom do I present this back-catalog? Is it normal to keep a portfolio of quality writing to sample when applying to professions outside the English Language Arts field?

How do you define done?

As the due date creeps closer something I keep wondering how I’m supposed to know when it’s done. I’m doing a series of short pieces so am missing some of those traditional markers of done-ness like a certain length, fully developed characters, a beginning, middle, and end, a conclusion, etc. I also have the thought that maybe I don’t have enough pieces, maybe I should add one more and then one more leads to two and so on. There’s always something I can add, it’s just a question of if I should. It was nice to have the freedom to create our own projects and to set a rubric for ourselves but it can be hard to know when you’ve met your own personal standards.

I’m typically the kind of person who works right up to a deadline. The perfectionist in me screams at the thought of submitting something more than a day before the due date because it can always get better. In some instances, like applying to jobs, this is not the right mindset. When I first started writing cover letters it would take me days analyzing the smallest details and word choices. I realized this was holding me back because often the sooner you get it in the better. Once a job posting even disappeared from a company’s page before I got the chance to submit it.  Though this project doesn’t have that same sense of urgency to it, I’m falling into that similar trap of not knowing when I’ve done enough re-reading a tweaking to be satisfied.

So, I’m trying to find a definition for “done” that isn’t just when it’s due.

About Me

How do you decide what’s interesting about you? A writing problem I’m encountering right now is how to create the “About Me” section of my website. There are two factors to consider: format and content. 

For format, I was thinking of mirroring how the rest of my site is set up. I’m writing about how influencers build a brand for themselves online, and each influencer has a section set up with their name, their @, and then below that the writing. I include pictures from their Instagram, relevant videos, quotes etc. For my section I am considering setting it up the same way, but there definitely isn’t as much to write about myself. I am nowhere near an influencer so wouldn’t want to come off as if I’m pretending I am. For content, I don’t know what to focus on. Do I talk about my major and what I’ve learned in classes? How I spend my free time? Where I grew up? My media consumption habits? What and who influences me?  

To get some inspiration I went back to my gateway website to see what my About Me page looked like there. I talked about my upbringing and my career aspirations but it was very surface level information that anyone could use as a fill-in-the-blank template. It didn’t explain to the readers why it made sense that I was writing what I did, so I think I’m going to steer away from that. The capstone is much more unified in theme than the gateway so this allows me to create an About Me more tailored to the project. To bring it back to my first question, just need to figure out what’s most relevant and interesting about me to share.

Endings

Something that I’ve been struggling with in regards to my Capstone project is how to end it! This is my first experience delving into fiction, so this challenge is rather novel to me. Normally when I write my stories I focus on non-fiction, so the ending is pretty much taken care of already. However, with the fiction genre, I have a lot more agency in terms of how I can conclude the story. I want it to be emotionally powerful, a big climax that sums up the events that have preceded it and leaves the reader with an empty feeling. I want to make the reader think. To do that, I can’t really draw from my own experiences like I’ve been able to for the rest of my project. Who’s going to be emotionally impacted by an ending consisting of the characters graduating and going to college? In addition to being boring and rather emotionless, that ending is also the cliche to end all cliches. So an issue that I’ve run into that, I suppose, is more of a compounding of the initial problem rather than a new challenge itself, is how dramatic to make my ending without being either unrealistic or over the top.

It’s not really possible for me to address this challenge by looking at my old work because this really is uncharted territory for me. However, I’m attempting to ameliorate this problem by looking at the works that inspired me to take on this capstone project. Namely, I’ve been re-reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, I’m taking note of how he addresses the dramatic parts of the story, and I will try and emulate some of those steps in my ending as well. Here’s hoping it works!

How the In-Class Workshop Impacted My Capstone

Leading up to my in-class workshop, I felt like I had worked very hard on my project site and turned over every stone to make sure it was perfect. I am the kind of person that does something until I get it exactly right, or feel like I do. This is how I have approached my project, and even with the minor roadblocks or setbacks, I am very confident and excited about the product that I am putting forward, my podcast and project site.

Thursday was my workshop day. The class and Professor Julie had so many great ideas about how to improve my site. Some included minor adjustments such as adding a “fun fact” section about each of the podcast respondents. Other larger suggestions, offering a much more time consuming process, included creating a tab for each of my secondary research topics. While it took me some time to learn how to do this and complete it, I can already see how my site appears so much less clustered and clearer.

The moral of this blog is two fold. First, this process continued to teach me the positive effect new eyes and my classmates can have on my work. Their suggestions really made my work even stronger. This will challenge me to think even more critically about their projects to hopefully have a similar impact on their capstones. Second, while it originally was a bit hard to take criticism on something that I had worked so hard on and spent so much time with, it was these critiques that have continued to escalate my project to new heights and it is all because of my classmates and our professor during my workshop.