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But now that you’re here, I guess you have no choice but to read about my struggles so far in writing my novella for capstone. Darn!

My first struggle is that the middle of my manuscript has no plot. That’s because I had such a clear idea of what I wanted in the beginning and end of the novella. And now, I’m stuck in the middle.

Literally.

I’m too ashamed to workshop what I have so far, mainly because I think it’s so cheesy that it’s not yet worthy of your minor-in-writing eyes. I know we’ve all felt that, so feel free to mentally snap in commiseration.

Image result for snap gif poetry applause

What I realized would be helpful is if I wrote out a summary of my novella so far. That way, everyone in class will at least know what’s happening each time I bring in my 35-page draft, and I will no longer be forced into an awkward state of dishing out vague, unhelpful descriptions.

Zach got me thinking more about what kind of character I want Death to be, which is awesome, because I’m not sure yet myself. Also, Sydney got me thinking about what illustration I’ll have on the cover, which is also awesome, because I’m also not sure yet. Note to self: think about these things later.

I’m going to be honest; I’m struggling to make this blog post longer. I think it’s because I always hated blogging, so I’m trying to get better at it. So I’m going to tell you about my Halloween costume.

I’m going to be Princess Jasmine, because the live-action for Aladdin is coming out this summer (which, if you haven’t seen the trailer, what are you doing still reading this?!
Go watch it-bye: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g5knnlF7Zo).

My boyfriend is going to be Aladdin, but we’re struggling to find him a stuffed animal monkey to borrow for his costume. Every Aladdin needs an Abu, so if you have an Abu you would like to donate to me for a day, I promise I’ll take good care of it (seriously, my email is fshaidar@umich.edu, help a girl out):

Image result for funny abu aladdin

So many things to think about, so much more to write. Even though the draft was due yesterday.

Good luck everyone!

1: The Journey Begins

Both for me and Amir, the main character of my novella/novel: Dying Man’s Wish.

 

The Orontes, or “The Green River.” This is a scene-to-be in Dying Man’s Wish. I took this picture of the Asi (Orontes) River near the Beqqa Valley, in Lebanon. (Excuse the poor quality of this image; this is just a screenshot of the actual image).

 

The coming-of-age plot centers around the son of a grave robber, Amir, as he begins to gain perspective on life and death in an ancient Middle Eastern society. The setting will bring to life some of the monuments and stories native to the Middle East. In this way, I aspire to both comment on and alter history through a creative lens, the way I imagine my ancestors interacted with the monuments, or lived the stories we now tell. It’s almost like re-writing history, the way I imagine it, to create a piece of historical fiction.

The plot is narrated by Death, an opinionated, all-knowing entity whose form is left up to the imagination of the reader. Ironically, Death offers comedic relief at times, and bits of experiential wisdom at others. Mostly, though, Death is the primary raconteur of the story.

Other elements I want to incorporate into the novel/novella include social and political commentary on issues that still impact the Middle East today. In this way, I hope to discuss modern issues that are really just continuations of ancient issues, such as women’s rights and political corruption. Doing this grants me a way to discreetly, but not innocuously, “show the world its own shame,” in the words of Oscar Wilde.

But I also want to show the world its own beauty. In part, that is where the image above, along with others, come in. I will incorporate a series of images I have taken in my travels abroad to serve as various settings. More on this later 😉

Thank you for reading!

Project Pitch: Advertising Storylines

Retrieved from: https://www.danodonnell.me/884688365675/

Today’s pitching session was definitely more challenging that I expected; it was one thing to write all my ideas down on paper, but it was an entirely new experience trying to verbalize them to my peers. Part of the problem, I think, was because I wasn’t fully sold on any of my ideas myself. Of course, at the time they were conceived, I thought they were interesting, but the more I tried to plan their actual execution, the more I began to second guess myself. This isn’t a new feeling, however; I think any writer can sympathize with me when I say that the more you try to write, the harder it gets.

Beyond questioning my production plan, I was primarily concerned that other people wouldn’t find my ideas interesting enough. For this reason, I was shocked by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support I received after sharing, specifically towards my commercial-based idea. To be honest, I was completely winging it on that idea; writing storylines for commercials and advertisements has always been a hobby of mine, but I never thought anyone would actually hear my ideas unless I was asked to pitch them in an interview.

Moreover, hearing everyone’s feedback reinvigorated my excitement about this project, and made me feel significantly more confident in my work. It’s funny because my second idea was to write a personal narrative — which in theory should be much more difficult because it requires a great deal of honesty and vulnerability — but it was actually more nerve-racking to present my commercial pitch instead. Maybe after years of writing personal narratives (even when they were never read by others) I’ve subconsciously become more comfortable and confident in that style of writing, even when I’ve written about things that are not so comfortable. It’s a weird paradigm to process.

Anyway, I’m really excited about pursuing my commercial idea further and to continue receiving feedback from the class; it’s amazing how just a few moments of conversation can spark so many new ideas. It’s hard to explain, but usually when I’m creating these storylines in the car I get tunnel vision almost — the adrenaline induced by my sudden influx of creativity blocks out everything else and I’m completely zoned in on creating the perfect pitch. By the end, I feel almost high with excitement, imagining it playing out on a big screen, and that same rush is exactly what I felt leaving class. I’m shocked because my parents and siblings have heard so many of these they’re almost numb to them, but to be encouraged by people who aren’t required to support me / tell me my ideas are good is an incredibly exciting feeling, so I can’t wait to see how this project turns out.

Final Capstone Project <3

Wow, the moment has come. Here I am, submitting my final capstone project. It’s been a long journey, but I am pleased with the result.

This project began as a small idea to document my violin journey through different stages of my musical development. Eventually it morphed into an interactive website called The Independent Musician which features stories from my experiences. Why independent? Well, in college, I wrestled to maintain confidence in my violin playing. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me because I had never struggled like this. It got so terrible that I could barely play a 3-minute piece from memory in front of one person (as opposed to performing a 23-minute sonata for 50 people).

More importantly, I felt like I had lost my musical independence. I was insecure in my unique abilities while surrounded by creative beings.

Over time, and through a lot of soul-searching, I got most of my confidence back. I’m not going to say all of my problems are fixed, but I am feeling truly confident for the first time in a while, and I give a lot of the credit to this project.

My intent is for this site to be a resource for fellow music students (of all ages, but primarily collegiate-level) to read each other’s stories, to discuss issues in the music field, and to be inspired as fearlessly independent musicians.

Many many thanks to my writing teachers and my capstone friends for their feedback and support.

~Rebekah Ruetz

 

Here is my final project. 🙂

The Rhetorical Circle

Wow.

It feels really weird being done with this semester-long journey of a project.

Like, I’m not sure how to comprehend and process this information.

It doesn’t help either that I’m about to graduate in a week and am still denying the reality of having to be an actual adult.

In all actuality, writing this post is really bittersweet; I remember way back in the fall of my sophomore year when I took the gateway class. We were pushed to write in mediums that were alien to us, and we would eventually publish our work onto a website. Which is the exact same thing that I did for this capstone class (with which said website can be found here). It’s really amazing to compare the work I did in the gateway class with this capstone project; it still retains the humor I like to include in any writing, but it feels so much more mature. It really highlights the fact that I learned a lot in that small window of time. Got to love that Greek rhetorical circle of starting and ending at the same point, am I right?

I guess since this is going to be my last blog post, here’s some advice to anyone about to do the capstone class and is looking for guidance:

Do what you love. It’s going to make the project a hell of a lot easier if you do something you are actually passionate about. The trick here, though, is that you have to know you’re passionate about it. Don’t go into it thinking, “Oh, this might be a cool thing to do,” cause I can almost guarantee you that it is not going to turn out in your favor when the work piles on top of you (although you may be one of the lucky few: if you want to take those odds, then go for it). Find something that you would be willing to spend many sleepless nights on, something that you wouldn’t mind researching for hours on end, something you wouldn’t mind working on for more than three entire months. If you can find that, then it will make the class, the project, and the semester an incredibly vivid and amazing experience. I was lucky enough to find a project that I had such a passion for, and it was even better in that I could include my friends in it. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I would have changed my project in any other way. It’s something that I’m happy with–both in the end product and the road getting there–even with the inhuman amount of coffee I ingested this semester.

There’s more advice I could give, but I give a fair amount of it on the website, so I’ll incentivize you to check it out that way.

For being a Minor in Writing, I’m surprised at how difficult it is for me to come up with more things to say about this project and the journey it took to get here.

So I don’t think I’ll say much else: just sit back, enjoy, and, as always,

I don’t have a title for this post, or my website…yet!

As I’ve been working on my website this week, I’ve been struggling with the challenge of finding a catchy title.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my project, my website’s purpose is share my stories about the highs and lows of pursuing music at college, and also to generate honest conversations with others about their experiences.

Originally I was thinking about something along the lines of “The Independent Artist”, since I want to focus on what it looks like to maintain confidence while being closely watched and shaped by teachers. However, now I’m looking for something more wholistic, if that makes sense.

After speaking with my mentor, my capstone teacher, and my entire capstone class, the general consensus was that “musician” needed to be in the title to avoid confusion. Otherwise, “artist” is just too broad and might suggest that I am a painter. Additionally, since my stories are specific to the musician life, it just makes sense to narrow in on that audience. So, I guess I’m heading in the direction of “The ______ musician”.

To be honest, I’m a bit frustrated with myself, because I didn’t have an issue finding a title for my 220 project last year, which was called Refuel My Day (see here). I  started calling it “ReFuel”, and then changed it because I wanted it to be a place for people to visit daily. The title came pretty naturally because it literally described what the site was meant to do. I am encouraged for my current project though, since I spoke with my capstone teacher today about mind-mapping (apparently this is a Joan Didion exercise). I haven’t done this since high school, but I’m going to give it a go again tonight and see what happens. Hopefully I’ll have a new and improved site title by our last class on Tuesday! Wish me luck!

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

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!

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.

Challenge Journal 3: Time & Writing

I think my biggest issue this semester has been finding the time to do all of the things I want to do here before I leave. I’ve been feeling the pressure to say “yes” to every opportunity I’m presented with. This has led me to being in rehearsals all night and classes all day, but I figure this is my last semester to overload before I’m released into the big, bad world of financial independence and a do-it-yourself schedule!

The thought of that is daunting, but I’m also looking forward to graduating because I’ll finally have the time to devote to things that I want to do. In particular, I’m looking forward to having the time to write about things I want to write about, rather than writing about things I’m required to write about. I’ve struggled majorly with this over the past two years: It feels like a waste of time to write — or read — for myself/for pleasure when there’s always so much that could & should be done for my classes.

I want to write more nonfiction essays and poetry. I also want to spend more time crafting pieces that don’t have an end goal or grade in mind, but are rather just for the purpose of self-expression. I think so much of my thinking & work over the past four years has been centered around the future, so I don’t even know what it means to write or work on something without a clear & specific goal in mind. One of my favorite people I worked with was performer Gavin Creel, and he’d always talk about how the show we were working on was about process rather than product. I think that’s relatively rare in our goal-oriented society, and it’s a frame of mind that I’m working towards every day (:

I guess I don’t have a specific *solution* to this problem — I’m just hoping that GRADUATION and finally being done with all of this work that feels kind of arbitrary and aimless will help me to make room for the things that really matter to me!

XO,

Jess

Image from: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/5b/20/40/5b20408f724660f076b46f346004767f–funny-new-year-happy-new-year.jpg