Advice to Fall 2020 Capstone

By the time you’re reading this, so much will have changed. Will you be online? Will you be in-person? I can’t say. Either way, you were probably looking forward to your Writing Capstone being just like you Gateway – a tight-knit group of writers that meet twice a week to discuss their writing and make cool things – and I’m here to tell you that that is still possible, no matter if you’re online or not.

Before the criticisms start bubbling up in your brain, let me inform you that I do, in fact, have some basis for this claim. Unlike every other semester of Capstones, I was part of the Winter 2020 Capstone in which we spent the first half of the semester in-person and the second half online. I had the advantage of getting to know my classmates in-person before we were asked to move online, but I actually found our online interactions even more enjoyable and productive than our in-person ones. This may be due to the fact that it was the second half of the semester and not the first, as opposed to being an in-person vs. online thing, but I felt that being online and able to see everyone created a sense of community in a way that an airy, spaced-out classroom didn’t.

It is true that you will have to work harder at this than I did. You, potentially, could be meeting your classmates online for the first time and never seeing them in-person after that, but I have faith in you. Hopefully, by this point, you’re accustomed to using Zoom or BlueJeans or whatever program is being used (unless you’re in-person, then yay for in-person!), and, if your class is anything like mine was, you’ll adjust well.

My advice, then, boils down to this:

  1. Treat this like you would any other crazy adventure: roll with the unexpected, laugh when you can, and give other people (and yourself) a lot of grace and understanding if things start working out in ways that aren’t ideal.
  2. Communicate well and often. Gmail is your friend. (Well, maybe not your friend, but you get the idea.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to share your writing! The notebook reading series was one of my favorite parts of the class. The sooner everybody gets sharing, the sooner you start to get a feel for everyone’s voice as a writer. And the sooner that happens, the sooner online class will feel enjoyable.
  4. Give T (or whoever your professor is) a lot of your patience and kindness, but also make sure you reach out if you need anything at all. She’s super helpful and, honestly, one of the sweetest humans alive. You’re in good hands!
  5. Take your Capstone project one step at a time. Especially if you’re having to work from home, deadlines might seem more lax than they really are. Don’t get behind, but don’t stress out. A good (but flexible) schedule is better than winging it.

Hopefully this helps! And hopefully you won’t need to worry about the online bit, but who knows? Either way, have fun with it! This class can be a blast as long as you keep up with the work.

Enjoy yourself, and happy writing/creating! 🙂

on capstone & coronavirus

I’m coming to you on the eve of our virtual class showcase and eve-eve of my last day of undergrad to share my some of my personal experiences and advice for tackling the Minor in Writing Capstone!

When the semester began, I was anxious about getting through this course. I worried I wouldn’t find a project that interested and excited me. I stressed myself out thinking about the amount of work this project would require.

However, now that I am almost past the finish line, I am happy to report that this experience was nowhere near as stressful as I feared it would be, and I am emerging with a project I’m excited about sharing! I also genuinely enjoyed class, especially after Michigan went remote. Having live class gave my Tuesdays and Thursdays at least a little bit of structure and provided a welcomed opportunity for social interaction. I had fun!

Here are a few pieces of advice to make the most of your semester. Hopefully you’ll be back in the classroom by this point, but if not, do not fear!

  • Make sure your project is something you’re excited to work on. One of my initial ideas was closely related to my major and would have been a cool project to add to my professional portfolio, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed working on this project nearly as much if I’d picked that idea. Don’t be afraid to do something you’re selfishly interested in. Don’t try to force a project that you’re not truly excited about finishing.
  • Engage T and your classmates often! For me, the community is what has made the Minor in Writing so fun and unique. Foster this sense of community by communicating frankly with your class about your ideas and providing thoughtful feedback on your peers’ ideas.
  • If you are relying on other people for content, get it as soon as you can. My project involved recording interviews, and once I got them done, I felt under control and had plenty of time left in the semester for editing and other aspects of the project. People can be flaky and everyone gets busier as the semester progresses, so plan for this and get the content you need early!
  • Take into account the type of worker you are when making your production plan. If you know yourself and know that you aren’t going to work on your project every few days or even every week, don’t designate a bunch of work for every single week in the production plan.
  • Don’t stress out and do your best to have fun! The stakes are relatively low and this project presents an opportunity to experiment and do something you’d never get the chance to do in another class. Seize it!

Whether you’re in the classroom or at home, everything will work out and you will finish your project and you will graduate. Keep this in mind and have fun!

My advice to you!!

Welcome to Senior Year!! And welcome to your writing capstone. This is such a unique and special community where you learn from each other, harbor safety and support, and create unbelievable work. This semester has definitely been a rollercoaster. There are days when I love my project and days when I can’t stand it. Having switched online in the middle of the semester, it has taken a lot of will and motivation to complete this daunting project.  Here’s some advice I have for you as you embark on this exciting class. 

  1. Try to pick your project as early as possible and really find a niche idea/opinion/genre/medium. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with my project since writing about privilege can be super uncomfortable. I recommend writing about something that is out of your comfort zone, a passion, a curiosity. It can really be anything which is the beauty in it but make sure it is something you want to write about. Purpose will come with passion. 
  2. Create a detailed production plan and stick to it. With classes going online halfway through the semester, creating a new production plan and sticking to it was very difficult. If classes are online, I recommend staying on track as much as possible because the work will creep up on you. 
  3. Lean on your peers. This capstone community is such a unique and strong group that is truly there to support you. Lean on your professor but also the peers around you. Get to know them. This made it much easier to share personal work with them and so much more rewarding getting feedback and advice. This community is truly awesome, take advantage!
  4. Know that your project will not look like how you envisioned it in the proposal, and that’s OK and normal. Your project will likely take many turns, edits, forms, etc. This is all part of the project process! Embrace it and don’t get too hooked on the details or the changing landscape of your project. In the end, you will create something you are proud of and that’s what matters most!
  5. Have fun! While this project is a lot of work, it is truly a time where you can reflect on your time at college, use new skills, and be creative! Take advantage of the opportunity!


Good luck!!!

Going Remote (capstone)

For those who might be taking Writing 420 remotely (in no particular order):

  • don’t be afraid to use office hours with T! especially to get more one-on-one face time going remotely
  • be open and honest about where you are in the project, and if you feel like you need to say something or are worried about your progress, speak up earlier than later; you’ve only to gain!
  • keeping to a schedule is hard being remote; make plans and actually follow them. if you end up breaking the schedule, make new plans and follow those. if you end up breaking that, maybe you should talk to T, lol. don’t fall behind the best you can.
  • creativity & passion > grades
  • engage in class as much as you can; those 3 hours every week are only awesome if you’re an active player in them
  • likewise, make time to read people’s projects / works ahead of time and be ready to provide feedback; think about the level of respect & time commitment you expect others to have for your project
  • eat food, drink non-alcoholic beverages, have a dog on your lap; as long as you can focus and feel happy in-class, that’s positively infectious to everyone’s mood
  • where-ever you are, show your work / project to peers / friends / family as much as you can during times like this. get some feedback and have some fun with it
  • respect that mentors / consultants may not want to help you given the difficulty of remote interactions, but do not give up on the project itself
  • similarly, be ready for setbacks due to remoteness. if you have a project that might be hard to do because of remoteness, don’t abandon it (maybe now’s not the best time; maybe after class), but just be ready.

Can’t think of much more. Hope this helps.

Alex

Forgetting the Fear

Oh god. Staring at the currently unpopulated white space of this text box, I feel overwhelmed. What do I write? If I write something, will it matter to anyone? Will it matter to me?

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I find it a little hard to believe that after (nearly) completing a whole class dedicated to my writing goals, I still feel this way when starting a new project. Even if the “project” is just a blog post. Just like anything else, writing gets easier the more it’s practiced, but the beginning never ceases to feel scary, it seems.

When I begin brainstorming for my Capstone project, I thought I had it all figured out. I knew I was going to make a book, and that was the least scary thing I could imagine. And then I actually sat down to write something, and The Fear wormed its way into my brain. Why was I even doing this? Who would care?

My biggest piece of advice for my September self (besides the obvious “you don’t have time to write, design, and print a book”) is to write like no one’s reading. That might sound counterintuitive or depressing or completely wrong, I get it. But when in your college career have you been able to write whatever you want for a whole semester for credit? This time should be savored, and it shouldn’t be hijacked by a paralyzing fear of the “audience,” whoever that might be.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t listen to the feedback you receive on your work. Your Capstone cohort will likely be one of the nicest, most tightly-knit groups of writers you’ve ever encountered (I know mine has been). They really want you to succeed and they’ll give you great constructive responses that come from a place of love and genuine interest. Listen to them.

Maybe you don’t need to hear this, but I’m writing it anyway because I’m trying this new thing where I write what I want without second-guessing myself: your ideas matter. If that inkling of a project pinging around in your head excites you, if thinking about researching it for hours, spending time with it, shaping it into a thing that will live in your hands or on a screen… if all of that makes your chest glowy and warm, do that thing. Start today. As long as you’re passionate, as long as you care, someone somewhere will, too.

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Writing 420: My Best Advice

During my time in the capstone course, I learned a few things.

I was always overwhelmed by the possibilities. There were so many suggestions coming my way, so many things that I wanted to try. But, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it all. There comes a time when you’ll have to sit down and decide what you want to spend the semester writing about, what form you want it to take, and what you want the project site to look like. The sooner you do that, the better off you’ll be.

The best thing that I did for myself was choosing a project that I was passionate about. Doing the work never felt like work to me because I was enjoying myself as I did it. Everyone in my capstone class had such different projects, but the one thing they all had in common was a passion that inspired them.

I found that immersing myself in my peers projects was extremely beneficial. Workshop days are the best because you get to see everyone else’s projects developing. I learned so much from workshop days, even when it wasn’t my work being discussed. When looking at your peers work, you can see first hand what works well and what doesn’t. Then, you can apply it to your own project. You can learn just as much, if not more, from reading, critiquing, and supporting the processes of your classmates.

I definitely had my hiccups along the way, but I am so proud of the work that my classmates and I produced. I couldn’t have done it without them.

So, future capstone students….

Good luck. I believe in you.

The last chapter

You’ve made it. If you’re reading this, planning for your capstone, you’re likely about to begin your very last semester of your time here at Michigan. Can’t you practically taste the rest of your life after this class comes to an end?

Well don’t give into that excitement and terror and uncertainty yet. This class is an important one. The capstone to the writing minor, like the gateway and probably many other classes you have taken in relation to your love of writing, is centered around you. What do you want to know? Who do you want to be? What do you want to create? Why is it important you put this creation into the world? That is why you are in this class. Not just to fulfill your requirement. Not to fill space in your academic schedule. To create. To find yourself through your creation.

As you begin this class, know that the chaos happening inside your head is completely normal. You’re probably thinking things like What the heck am I going to spend all semester doing? Is X project good enough? Do I really care about this topic? Will I have time to get everything done? Is it going to turn out like I hope it will? Breathe. There have been many before you, and many will follow you, who think these same questions and still finish the semester with an incredible piece of work. Somehow or another, with your dedication and passion for writing, you too will be a successful capstone student. 

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Take a second to breathe. It is okay to stop and reflect.

My advice to you as you begin the course, is to think with your heart. The project that you are about to create needs to represent something you love, something you are truly curious about, something you are willing to dedicate dozens of hours upon. Do not think with your brain. Don’t get wrapped up in how much work it may or may not be, who your consultant could possibly be, what grade you think you could get, etc. These logistics will come up eventually, but when choosing a project, the first priority must be your interest. And remember that a project can be basically anything. Maybe you just want to reflect on your time as a student here. Maybe you want to write a novel. Direct a movie. Make a twitter. The ideas are endless, so don’t limit yourself to something your brain tells you is a safe bet. This is a unique opportunity to explore the wide range of possibilities. 

What’s more, remember that although this is your last class of the minor in your last semester of your last year here as an undergraduate student, it is not the end. It is the end of a chapter in a long book of your life. One that will have many more ups and downs, creative projects, social outings, challenges, and more. Do not wallow in the finality of your time here. Continue to be curious. Continue to learn. And most importantly, continue to write. 

Words of Wisdom

Five tips (just for you!) written in five minutes (or less)

Tip 1: The semester is what you make it

At least this semester (Winter 2019), it seems like there isn’t a lot of direction/instruction to the Gateway course, so you really have to forge your own path/journey. There were a few structured assignments at the beginning where everyone is doing basically the same thing, but the Experiments start the snowball of “whatever you choose,” so choose wisely! Your depth of learning depends on your own standard/threshold of research and engagement, so if you’re not careful to do as much as you can while you can, you might miss out on this great opportunity to explore new avenues of your writing ability.

Tip 2: Embrace the chaos, but stick to deadlines

“Dive in” early on, plan ahead, and keep up with the deadlines. There really isn’t time to waste when it comes to the experiment cycle, so make sure you know ahead of time where you’re going with your projects, and then make sure to start trying to get to that place as early on as possible. It’s perfectly normal to make changes as you go, but try to have a game plan, even if you expect things to change a bit.

Tip 3: Share!

The “tote bag reading series,” as my professor (T) called it, was born out of a hesitance against participation when T asked for a few people to read their work each class. Essentially, then, we had to pick several names out a tote bag each time to decide who was going to read. As time went on, however – after we realized everyone was a great writer and everyone had something to learn – we warmed up a little more to the idea of participating. So, my advice to you is this: don’t hold back from sharing just because you’re not sure if your writing is “good enough” or “worthy of sharing.” As a Minor in Writing student, you can be confident that you were selected for the program because you’re an amazing and passionate writer. Not only that, you are someone who can both contribute and receive to the overall study and practice of writing taking place in your classroom. And that study is much more beneficial when the participants participate, so be happy to share your work! At the very least, your writing can be a celebration of your craft and/or a helpful way for others (and yourself) to learn, so embrace your identity as a writer, and share!

Tip 4: Get to know your professor and classmates

Getting comfortable with those around you will make reading and discussing writing and ideas so much easier, more fun, and more helpful.

Tip 5: Find your voice

Test new genres and mediums, test new styles of writing, take the chance to write the things you want to write. After sitting through a semester of classes, I can see that most people have their own voice. Some voices are academic and clear. Some voices are cheeky and hilarious. Some voices employ dry humor and resigned narration. Some voices wrap things up with a nice bow. Other voices leave the reader questioning. Some voices make you think. Other voices make you laugh. Still other voices manage to do both. Embrace the different voices around you, and learn from them. Start to tease out how your voice is similar and different from the others in the room; what it is that makes your writing style what it is? Hopefully, by the end of that process, you’ll have a little better understanding of who you are as a writer.

That’s all from me for now! Good luck in Gateway!

Don’t listen to me

If you’re looking for advice on navigating the gateway course, don’t listen to me. I only say this, because this post is a requirement, but I also want to maintain my negative opinion of “advice.” I think our generation, especially students at this university, asks for too much advice. We’re scared to just go shit deep into something without having someone “advising” us on how we should do it.

So, if you want to do this class right, just stop giving so much of a fuck. There is no way to do it right. Just create whatever you want to create throughout the whole way. And if it works for you, good job. And if it doesn’t, good job.

In the grand scheme, school’s useless anyway.

A Gateway to Great Things

I’ll start with the biggest piece of advice—savor the experience. At least for me, this class served as a break from my usual tireless, academia-filled days. It helped me escape from nightmares of textbook readings and monotonous study routines, giving me a chance to remember my unrestricted and authentic voice as a writer.

Also, don’t be afraid to share from the writer’s notebooks! Initially, I was wary about reading work that I messily jotted down in a pocket-sized notebook within a span of five minutes. Just remember that your classmates are not judging you. Everyone is supportive and wants to hear what you have to say. It can be really enjoyable if you let it. It’s also a great way to get to know your classmates as writers and as people.

As for more business-oriented matters, make sure you choose a topic that you are passionate about for the experiments. I really can’t stress that enough. The project was a really great experience for me because I chose a topic that I wanted to spend almost half of the semester with. Go with your gut! Furthermore, start work on the e-portfolio or experiments that you know will take a long time earlier if you can. If you are not able to, that’s ok too. You will still have enough time, but it never hurts to get a head start.

Basically, you’re going to do a lot of writing this semester. So, by the end of your time in the gateway course, that writer’s bump on your finger might grow, and that’s a sign of success.

Have fun!