Bossypants- Tina Fey

Since I had to work during the talk, I watched multiple interviews by Tina Fey speaking on her fairly recent book, Bossypants. If anyone hasn’t read it, they should, and preferably on an airplane like I did so you laugh a lot and the person sitting next to you thinks you’re weird. In the “Google talk” and the interview with Gale King, Tina talks a lot about her start in comedy and improvisation. Improvisation was a instrumental part of her comedic talent, as well as writing abilities because she was taught how to think quickly, follow a set of rules, and most importantly, that an idea formed by two people is probably better than an idea thought of alone. This collaborative aspect is important in creating a successful work. In fact, Fey and her editors chose the title of her book, her editors turning down multiple titles before “bossy pants” stuck. Another thing Fey discussed was her love of language at an early age. Her father was a writer for a business newspaper and later a grant writer, and she talks about being a child and being expected to write and to write well. What I found most valuable from the interviews was her advice on comedy in writing and film. Self- deprecation is helpful in comedy, but you should not doubt your work abilities and what you produce. Be confident in what you are saying/doing and don’t ask questions, make statements. This speaks to her confidence as a writer as well as her talent as a comedian.

Here are the links if you would like to watch…

“How I Write” Event with Dr. Sheila Murphy

On Tuesday evening (October 23), I attended Sweetland’s “How I Write” event with University of Michigan Screen Arts and Cultures’ Associate Professor, Sheila Murphy. This wasn’t the first time I heard Professor Murphy speak. Professor Murphy was one of a select group of guest lecturers for UC 225 (22 Ways of Thinking About The Games We Play) during the Winter 2012 semester earlier this year.

It was easy to relate to Professor Murphy. She told very personal stories about why she writes, the process of how she writes, and how she continues to motivate herself to write more – even though she doesn’t need much motivation (just comfy pants, good snacks, and some pre-writing music). She also has a new book out, which I’d like to read, “How Television Invented New Media.” 

As an aspiring writer, one thing I struggle with is eradicating jargon. Professor Murphy discussed why she gets frustrated and annoyed with jargon in the field of writing. Murphy said it should be, “legible and accessible.” I agree with Murphy in the sense that writing should be legible and accessible, but sometimes there’s pressure to establish your ideas in a certain way. Writing should be a way to convey an idea or a message – so, why complicate it?

One thing that really struck me, which prompted my question at the end of her presentation, was why, as a child, “Was she discouraged from asking people ‘Why’”?

Often times, people unnecessarily ask the question “why”. But, there is nothing wrong with being inquisitive if it serves a useful purpose. For me, I frequently find myself asking others… “Why.” Whether it’s in the professional setting, in the classroom, or with my friends – there’s always more to discover. That’s why I ask the question.

Professor Murphy ended with wise words of advise to individuals looking to improve their writing: She says be invested, be committed, and avoid jargon (especially for undergrads), use your brain, even if it gets reformatted, and never take what you’re doing too seriously.

Wear Comfy Pants.

Earlier this evening, I attended the Sweetland Center for Writing and Minor in Writing “How I Write” event, ” ‘I’ Am Always First Person: How Auto-Ethnography, Good Snacks, and Comfortable Pants Can Defeat the Time-Honored Tradition of the Boring Academic Essay,” with Screen Arts and Cultures’ Associate Professor Sheilah Murphy. Murphy is a digital media scholar who’s interests lie in digital media theory, technology, television, video games, identity politics, and of course her cats and dogs!

At first, I was a little skeptical about the “How I Write” events in general, because I expected someone who wrote something really academic and discussed their method of writing and research…but as soon as Murphy’s first slide was up (and she mentioned puppies…) – I was intrigued.

One of the main takeaways from the event was when Murphy mentioned that she wanted to write in a way that people can understand…and actually receive it. This reminded me of something I learned during my facilitation and motivational interview training, “Active listening requires listening with your eyes, ears, and heart.” This connection stood out to me because often, someone can be giving you information, verbal or written, and you could be standing there and not really getting a single word. The whole point of communication is to engage the other party! Murphy stressed the importance of not using jargon in order to effectively engage the reader!

I also really appreciated Sheilah’s take on the process of her writing…and how she recommends wearing comfy clothes and setting a timer for 15 minutes and almost forcing yourself to start writing within that time…which could then get you into the flow of an idea (almost like the last line on the 6th page of your shitty first draft!) She also mentioned that it was important to set time aside to write, because in today’s world where there’s always something else to do…writing becomes anything but your first priority.

When Murphy talked about how she never writes on a desk, but rather usually on the couch…I was in total agreement! I basically use my desk as a storage space with about a million books on it, and I end up writing on my recliner chair, in my bed, or outside on the grass (which has been hard to do recently thanks to Michigan’s moody weather of course). And usually…I’m wearing comfy pants – I agree, it REALLY does make a difference. Once I get a paragraph or a line down on my screen or paper, I’m on a roll until I’ve exhausted everything about my idea…or I decide to take a nap. haha

One thing I like to do as well is put my phone away in another room: outta sight outta mind. Technology can be such a distraction sometimes, that just leaving your phone somewhere else will help you control your need to check every single text you receive and promptly reply. Or you can always have your phone stolen and learn that the hard way. haha.

I look forward to using Murphy’s advice as I write my law school personal statement for my re-purposing project and academic writing in general. It just shows you how important your audience really is! I really enjoyed today’s event and I look forward to the next one!

And remember…always wear comfy pants!

How I Write: “Never take what you do too seriously.”

As I sat and listened to the story of Shelia Murphy, Associate Professor of Screen Arts & Cultures (Tuesday, October 23), I had an epiphany of sorts. From a child writing a letter on Manila paper (hate that stuff) with his favorite Crayola or an academic scholar in new media publishing a book putting societal performance in a dialogue with television, writers are just humans. They have flaws and shortcomings. They sometimes can’t do it all and have complete and utter meltdowns in the face of adversity. Sometimes the writer doesn’t feel like the heroine of her story. And that’s okay.

Professor Murphy’s candid portrayal of her journey as a writer was so real. It was filled with tremendous highs and devastating lows. As a student with no prior history with her at U-M, I truly appreciated Professor Murphy’s honesty and genuine thoughts during her brief talk. Although I don’t know her, it just felt like she was being herself for the entire hour – nobody more, nobody less. I feel like this correlates perfectly with her message of being inquisitive in life because YOU want to know why. She reflected on times when she needed encouraging words from friends to keep writing, or to even start to put sentences on a page. She said, verbatim, “Writing can be lonely if you let it be.” So often I’ve felt this way and just thought my emotions were my demises (which is often the case – If I’m not sitting between a 4 and a 6 on the scale of emotions, I’m crying).

My favorite piece of Professor Murphy’s talk came at the very end. She left us with some ordinary advice that, for one reason or another, felt kind of extraordinary on this night. “Never take what you do too seriously.” I may just be in a phase of life where I’m constantly frustrated with coworkers, expectations, relationships, my production, the ideas I try to express every day, but I needed to hear this simple line. I needed to be reminded that I’m human and can’t always be Superman’s Lois Lane: I can just be Emily.

Be Emily.

How I Write: let’s all just cut the jargon!

I really enjoyed listening to Sheilah Murphy talk about her writing process at the How I Write event tonight. One thing that I really identified with Murphy about was her take on academic jargon: it sucks. There is nothing worse than reading a boring academic essay! Why would scholars want to put their readers to sleep, when most of the time their work is actually really interesting and potentially groundbreaking? I have always hated the unspoken “no I” rule within academia, because when I analyze something, whether it be a piece of literature, a political theory, or some social science research, I want to explain my process in my terms so that you can understand me. I actually am in a great English class right now in which the professor recently had us all write mock theses, read them to the class, and then explain to everyone in “real speak” what we actually were saying. It really helps when you are able to understand the writer’s voice, and one major take-away I got from this lecture was that cutting the jargon and using my own voice is ok.

It may take time, but it’s worth it

If I had to summarize what I got out of last night’s How I Write event, I would say this – I got encouragement.

Out of everything that both Melody and Perry mentioned, I felt that the message that stuck out the most to me was that sometimes we just have to let our passions find us. Melody talked about how she had to go through several phases to find herself where she is right now. She told us about how it took many years and a few jobs for her to figure out that she had a passion for teaching writing. Perry also talked about something along the same lines. When I asked him how he found himself doing so many things – poetry, fiction, movie reviews, screenplays – he said, quite simply, that he just found what he loved to do.

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You Can’t Rush Art

Throwback. You Just Can’t Rush Art…

As I sat and listened to the two speakers at last night’s How I Write session, I could not help but admire what they both had accomplished at relatively young ages. After getting lost in the hopeless maze that is North Quadrangle I missed the introductions to both of the writers. But, as I listened to Perry subtly reference all of his achievements while speaking, I was enamored with the breadth of subjects that he succeeded in.

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Write Like Nobody’s Reading?

First of all, I thought both writers were really engaging and I enjoyed listening to them to speak about writing. It made me want to go home and write. Instead, I went out to dinner and returned to my room to write this essay, fat and happy without a single memory of what I originally intended to write about in this blog post. So I’ll let the words flow. See what happens.  Hopefully not this:

One of the most notable parts of the night for me was hearing Melanie Pugh talk about how she had to stop thinking about herself as a writer in order to start writing. The word “writer” carried connotations of being published, and of serving an audience. Moreover, it implied a certain quality of writing. Only by putting aside thoughts of an audience and of achieving excellence, could she begin to write; or at least that’s how I interpreted her words. I have to heartily agree with everything she said. Who has ever sat down to write, thought “I am going to be so amazing and write the most amazing thing,” and actually managed to write? For me, in order to write, I have to let go of the medium, of writing itself. At least at first, I have to focus on my topic, arguments and my evidence. Once those are down, I can take a step back and look at how my ideas are packaged

Thinking of yourself as a writer carries another preconception, which I think hinders writing.  This kind of thinking: “I am a writer; therefore I am published. I am published; I become a writer) .” I find it problematic.  It makes one focus too much on an audience. You’re probably thinking “What? There is such a thing as focusing too much on an audience? Isn’t one of the main things we’re focusing on in this class how to shape our writing to appeal/target an audience?” Or maybe not. You might be thinking about what you had for lunch. Anyways, writing for an audience is all well in good. Professional writers have to keep in mind their audience.  Yet blatant appeals to an audience without the substance of a strong mind and a strong topic can lead to superficial, crowd-pandering articles, that don’t have a vision of their own.  The kind of writing I imagine this person to create:

Essentially the kind of person who sees writing as a vehicle, not for ideas but for their own ego; they’re the kind of people who don’t understand that most writers don’t actually make that much money.

Another peril is that focusing to much on getting published and getting an audience is that it can lead to writers being unable to write as they lose sight of their own ideas in favor of what they think an imaginary body of people will like.  Yet sometimes writing to a specific audience can be useful; many books have  been made up for letters, not intended for the public  but to a sibling, spouse or close friend. For that reason they have a certain intimacy. But I digress.  I think of writing as this deeply personal thing, even if I’m writing something that is not necessarily focused on me and my life.  The writer’s hand cannot be strained or filtered out of a piece like dirty water out of a dish rag, it’s intrinsic to how the piece was created, even if its merely choices about structure rather than opinion. Sometimes it’s more than that though:

So can you know someone by reading their writing? Would it have to be a particular genre of writing such as journal or poetry? Or is it a particular kind of writing; it is said that bad writing says more about the writer than the subject. Do writers come off differently in their writing than they do in real life? Why might that be? Is it impossible to know someone through writing because the writing can’t talk back? Or is it that complete lack of direct action between the reader and the writer, that exposes the writer’s true essence because s/he can’t shape their writing for an individual stranger? Can you get a sense of a writer from their readers?