Ritual: Organize

As my (our) college career comes to an end, I’ve done a lot of writing that I’m not familiar with, namely cover letters. The problem with cover letters is that I’m told they should be formulaic, but I’m not a formulaic writer. Where some people write them like Mad Libs- filling in the spaces with the proper names, adjectives, and experiences- the only part that remains the same for me is the signature. There’s a general structure, of course, but from there I have a desperate desire to precisely tailor myself for the position (I can’t control my resume, at this point, but I can control the quality of my cover letter!).

From here it seems I have no ritual to my writing; even comparing it to writing essays or the (veeery rare) journal entry, there’s very little that connects them because I can’t bring myself to follow a mold. I have to approach everything on its own terms or else I feel like it restricts my thoughts, which makes my writing process lengthy and incredibly inefficient (e.g., I completely scratched a draft of this very post because I didn’t like it).

With all the variables, however, I realize that one way that I always begin my writing is to organize. Writing the heading, adding page numbers, opening and organizing every document I’ll need for the assignment: I have to get all of this out of the way first or else I can’t focus. For my cover letters, this meant that I had open tabs for the job description and company; I had already formatted the heading with the correct address and hiring manager name, if I could find it; and I had already decided which resume I would use (I have one for research and one general). Once these are all in place, I have all the tools ready and at my disposal to craft the perfect cover letter.

With all this said, it should come as no surprise that I could work all day and only apply to 5 or 6 jobs. Perhaps I should become a little more formulaic when it comes to quantity over quality. However, this ritual forces me to produce high-quality work and will hopefully help me in the future as I continue into grad school and, eventually, academia.

Challenge Blog One: Rituals

When Tharp listed out a few of her daily rituals, it forced me to consider my own. At first I was struck by my seeming lack of ritual. Sure, I have a structure to my day guided mainly by classes and how hungry I am at any given time, but that didn’t seem like the same thing as ritual. When considering writing specifically, I thought back to the papers I wrote over last semester and realized that the writing process I help students with everyday as a consultant in Sweetland, isn’t necessarily what I follow myself. I was struck by a scary thought. Is it possible that I have written so many papers over the course of my academic career and felt overly capable of turning in “decent” work that I have developed a rushed, un-ritualized habit of writing?

Upon further reflection, I found this wasn’t entirely true for a couple of reasons. First, I think that ritual is different than having invested interest in a paper. Maybe I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the topic of everything I wrote, but I still went through the same stages. I always start by making myself a cup of tea before I even think about sitting down and when I finally do it’s at my desk, in my room, with my door shut. So far that gives me two rituals: a hot drink and a quiet, secluded space. Like Tharp’s ritual of getting into the taxi cab they are small, but important first steps.

My last one I thought of after reflecting on a cover letter I submitted last week for a job I was especially excited about. I didn’t know where to start, because it differed drastically from any other job I had ever applied to, which meant a completely revamped cover letter. So, I took out a pen and paper and jotted down some of my qualities that I thought best reflected me and suited the job at hand. Then I thought, duh! This is my ritual! I always, without fail jot down a handwritten, rough, and not honestly all that detailed outline (I’m talking a few sentences at most and sometimes just a few words), before I start writing. It’s never much, but once I have my idea written down on paper I can start formulating the rest of my essay/cover letter/what have you. It might sound trivial, doesn’t every writer formulate some sort of outline before starting? Maybe, but having that spark of inspiration down on paper in a word or two is my third ritual nonetheless. Hopefully I’ll discover more this semester.

Challenge Journal 1: Getting Jazzed Up

So this is it. The beginning of a semester long extravaganza involved around creating a capstone project, something substantial to epitomize my experience as a minor in writing.

Do I know what I want to do for this project, where I could (almost) literally do whatever I want?

Oh god no. I think I would have a better time picking a topic at random from a hat and doing whatever I draw as my project.

So before I haphazardly fling myself into this coffee filled and keyboard-breaking task, it’s probably a good idea to figure out how to jazz myself up.

I like to get jazzed up. Helps gets me motivated.

But here’s the kicker: I got to think of a way to constantly jazz myself up, figure out a practice to continue to give myself some pep well into the future. That, or I try to do the entirety of the project all in one day and REALLY jazz myself up beforehand, something which I can say from firsthand experience is not fun (I try to have fun with these things: fun and jazz are a pretty good combo). In other words, I need a jazzing ritual.

This is not my first time with a troublesome prompt like this though. English 325, sophomore year, essay 3: Write an essay on a topic of your choosing (!). Although this “essay” didn’t have to be a stereotypical essay, I still had no idea what I wanted to write about for that, let alone what form I wanted it to take.

So I played some Frisbee. I put all my concerns behind me, and ran outside tossing a plastic disc for about an hour and a half. Afterwards, while rinsing myself off from a hard-fought battle of disc chasing, I decided upon writing a poem. It was a start. I got really jazzed up over that—don’t think I wrote a poem for a college class before, so that put some pep in my step/fingers.

So the bigger question is if I am willing to go outside and play some Frisbee to figure out an idea for my capstone project, to follow through with my previous ritual.

It’ll probably be a good way to give my keyboard a break.

Challenge Journal – Rituals and the Importance of Lead and Dread

I love to write. Or, maybe what I like is actually a side effect of writing, the feeling that I am molding a tangible representation of the otherwise indecipherable thoughts whirling my head at top speeds. The strange awareness of my brain churning through different combinations of words and strands of thoughts leaving nothing but words on a page that sounding like molasses dripping from the bottle on a hot summer day. Just as the blades of a wind turbine cut through the air, extracting energy to power the world as we know it, my brain extracts an end product capable of inspiring mental images and the entire array of human emotion. In short, this feeling is the feeling that I am creating something really really good.

The key takeaway from the above paragraph is that the sensation arrives when I am creating something good. Something really really good. So, how do I get “into the zone” so that I can accomplish something sufficiently good?

The location is not important to me.

Nor is a banquet of snacks, or a specific beverage or selection of music.

I can work in the deadly silence of the Law Library, or the bustling loud of Espresso Royale.

I and my atmospheric writing needs are versatile.

What is not flexible, however, is my first step. I need to handwrite some amount of my piece.

Perhaps I am intimidated by the vast whiteness of Word’s template document, or perhaps it is the expectant pulsing cursor which becomes more and more insistent with each passing second that I do not write. Regardless, I find that I cannot find inspiration until I have physically handwritten exploratory thoughts and ideas regarding a piece.

Although I know this about myself, I still struggle at the beginning of each major writing assignment to commence my ritual of smearing pencil lead upon a blank sheet of paper. I am not sure if it is simply the dread of starting, or the concern that my ritual will fail me and that I will not create anything of worth.

This semester, I hope to take steps to overcome this struggle of mine. I love to write. And I need to remember that before spending hours dreading the start of my ritual.

Does anyone else struggle with a similar initial dread? How do you medicate this shortfall? Or do you think it is merely part of the process?