Dear Prospective Minor in Writing Applicants,

I was hesitant to apply to the Minor in Writing because, well, I didn’t really know what it was. It was introduced to me with an email forwarded from an older friend without any real explanation. As I searched the Sweetland Center’s website I understood the structure of the program, but I still had unanswered questions. How much freedom do I have to write what I want? Am I just going to be studying grammar and punctuation all day? What will the classes be like?

I wished I could have seen students’ work, their progression, their struggles. I wished that there was a glimpse into the program other than the descriptions of courses and historical syllabi.

Over the course my time in the Minor in Writing Gateway, I’ve developed an understanding for all of these questions. And so, I wanted to share my experiences to show you, the prospective applicants, my struggles and progression, my missteps and successes.

An accumulation of my experimentation can be found here, in my Gateway ePortfolio.

You’ll see a discovery of my writing process, how I learned to think again. You’ll see the progression of my voice and how I learned to highlight it throughout various genres. You’ll see how I developed a strong sense of different audiences, and how they might react to assorted techniques.

And hopefully, you’ll see how I plan on continuing to experiment and question my ideas from now, until my final Capstone course, and beyond.

Happy reading, prospective students. Send in that application; you won’t regret it.

Best,

Ashley

Genre and Style

Inhabiting a new genre has been a fun and informative experience. Although this project is an experiment in style, it has also become an experiment with my own style. I have found that as I emulate this style of writing – investigative New York Times style journalism – I am figuring out more of what I can do with my writing, and the ways in which my voice can be heard.

For me, all of my beginning efforts were focused on the content of the paper, and how I wanted to project it. While before I had associated genre and style with the , what occurred to me was that style encompasses these aspects of content and structure as well. Looking through the examples I had found and were using as reference, I spent more time focusing on what the authors talked about, where, and why. This new lense helped me figure out the true nature of the genre, and how these pieces were able to have their distinct influence on their readership. This helped me realize that I did not need to include any personal anecdotes or any sort of explicit opinion, except maybe through conclusion, and based on facts and perspectives explored throughout the piece. This was more freeing, in a way, as writing the piece became far less open ended. There is obviously room to play around with it, which I will do, because this is a topic that is still very close to me and in order to reach my intended audience I will need to tweak the ‘projection.’

The structure has been a bit tricky upon revision, as I realize that a lot of my writing goes on longer than the NYTimes piece I have been emulating. It goes into more detail and the paragraphs are denser, which is not necessary for this style. In terms of new vocabulary, I do not think I have learned any new words, but I have definitely put to use different types of verbs. Trying to be assertive in my writing, yet still objective and journalistic.

Yearning to Appeal

My source material is an essay response, rigid and formulaic, designed to answer a question and not to intrigue an audience. With my repurposing project however, I hope to achieve the exact opposite. But where do I begin? Well, before any video can be made, a script needs to be written. It can be difficult to visualize the final project from some written words on a page, I know, but it needs to be done nonetheless. So keeping my goal of beautifully flowing poetic text in mind, I stripped away all the bulky analytics from my essay response, leaving only the pretty words and elegant analogies.

What is left? A style I am not used to writing, at least, not used to writing recently. For class papers I am so used to a certain form of retort, but this video script requires something else entirely. The text has to be interesting yet not overwhelming, to entertain the audience and at the same time inform them. And so it has been quite an interesting journey so far, trying to reach this happy medium. However I think I have relied too much on the pretty sounding side and haven’t included enough of the key information I wanted to get across to my audience. I am trying to figure out how to weave these facts in without weighing down the light drifting narration style that I am going for. Who knew that walking these two worlds could be so intricate.

New Style

Honestly, I thought writing an article in the New York Times style would be fairly easy. Because I have experience writing for a newspaper, I didn’t think it would take very much time for me to figure it out. Turns out, I struggled more than I thought I would because I started overthinking the style I’m used to utilizing. I also tried to use rhetorical questions now and then, and I realized that I would have to research if that would be OK in the sports section of the Times. As soon as I started second-guessing myself, I stopped writing efficiently. Writing this blog has actually been very helpful for that reason; I’m able to come to terms with why I’m struggling.

Going forward, I think I’m going to try to write more of an opinion piece for my topic. This could go in the Opinion section of the Times, or appear as a column in the Sports section. Instead of using examples of sport psychology in action and trying to explain why athletes make certain decisions, I’m going to make the argument of why there should be a sport psychologist on any NCAA or professional team. That way, I can use more of my voice and not rely on outside sources quite as much.

When it comes to the actual style of the New York Times, I had to reassess what I had learned from the Daily. The Daily follows AP style, as does the New York Times. The New York Times also has very high credibility, so I will have to make sure that all of my sources are credible. It’s also known as “The Paper of Record,” which means that my audience is essentially the nation. I’ll have to use examples that ALL sports fans care about, not just ones that I care about. Overall, the sentence structure is very straightforward. I didn’t have to add new words to my vocabulary because the level of comprehension is aimed at the average U.S. citizen.

Genre and Style

I wrote my first draft in a style that closely mimicked a New York Times article, when I was initially planning on having a much more laid back tone. However, as I began to write I found that this was the easiest way to get my ideas down on paper – in a journalistic style – because there were so many facts I wanted to include in the article. For my next draft, I think I will attempt to make the style a little less hard-hitting, and a little more conversational. One way I can do this is by introducing my interview subjects! Because neither were able to meet with me until next week, I did not include this part in my draft. However, this part will take on a much different style than the article section. This part will read more like a creative piece of fiction, though it will of course be the true stories of my interview subjects. I am really looking forward to integrating this part into the piece because I think it will really change the tone of the project, making it more relatable. My goal is to inform my reader with the first section, and then make them feel really connected personally to the issue by essentially being able to experience through storytelling in the second.

One thing that was really interesting however, was taking the very dry and technical language of my initial source and making it more journalistic. Instead of using legal jargon to dance around what I was really trying to say – I could outright make an opinionated claim without having to back it up with a source. I found this really refreshing because I really had to restrain myself from explaining my opinion in my initial source. This is why I found the in-class “translation” exercise so helpful. I essentially used this translation method to interpret various sections of my original paper that weren’t too bogged down with legal jargon. Overall, though it was definitely a nice change of pace I think I can go one step further and make the language even more conversational. I think the style that I wrote in for this draft was a really good first step in understanding my topic and converting really dry material into something meant to be both informative and enjoyable to read.

Shifting to Investigative Journalism

Because I decided to shift my form from opinion-editorial style genre (original form) to investigative journalism it has been difficult to completely rid the piece of my opinion, especially because it is a topic I am very invested in. I have been trying to implement a more intellectual structure in that I provide statistics or quotations from interviews and then thread together patterns from that data without allowing bias from my own opinion.

That being said, I think my new go-to sentence structure would be point-evidence-point, where I make a point, provide a statistic or quote, and then bookend that with an argument. I also ask a lot of rhetorical questions throughout the piece. For example: “But just how important is culture to job seeking millenials?” or the ending sentence, “So, will this the Ross Class of 2015 that redefines what it means to recruit #LikeAMillenial?”

I need to research my ideal publication sources more to fully understand the ins and outs of the investigative journalism genre, specifically how to implement data and appropriately ask rhetorical questions.

I think it will be challenging yet rewarding to continue revising this investigative journalism style. I do not have much experience with reporting without a persuasive or instructive edge. In fact, I noticed as I was concluding my draft that I had a tendency to either try to persuade or instruct the audience based on my argument. I will have to constantly keep this objective perspective in mind in order to deliver my results and analysis without opinion.

It’s Been A Long (But Rewarding) Journey

When it comes to the genre and style I’ve adopted for my repurposing project, I’ve found myself creating several elongated thoughts, which could really use another look or two. Since I was in middle school, the comma has been at times both my best friend in writing, and my worst enemy in writing. As I look to mature my writing, and adapt new styles of writing while revising my repurposing project, I have strong hopes that I can work to strengthen my sentence structure and diction in the process.

Syntax has never come to mind for me while writing, I feel that this is the case because my previous teachers had not heavily covered the intricacies of grammar. My personal sentence organization has been either loved or unloved by my previous instructors as well, it comes down to whether the ideas I’m conveying make sense on their own, en route to also getting those thoughts down on paper. That being said, I work to place heavy personal emphasis on using a wide array of vocabulary within my essays. Although certain words in my works of writing feel as if they were lifted directly from the thesaurus, the truth is often that I’ll tend to sit there for minutes at a time, recollecting every which word that could possibly make a given sentence better.

I’m proud of the strides I’ve made in my writing, throughout the course of my continuing education at Michigan. The process in becoming an advanced writer is a long one, no doubt. And with the changes I’ve made in my own bag of tricks, hopefully one day I will make it there.

Cutting the Fat & Finding the Right “Voice”

Words don’t come easily for me. It often takes several drafts before something sounds the way I want it to. That said, I think I am still at the stage where all my sentences are only just perfunctory–to capture my thoughts as I fiercely scribbled them down. I have yet to “cut the fat” and delete the fill in words. But my voice and style is in there, I’ve just got to work a little harder to dig it out.

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   Something I have noticed: I’ve always liked inserting myself into the narrative, but I am finding that since I’m talking about a more sensitive topic, it might be better with I wrote the article in third person. This is quite hard, since the project is as much a personal journey as it is something created to educate my audience.

   Also, because I’m talking about a sensitive topic, potentially walking the fine line of being culturally sensitive and addressing racism, I have to pay special attention to what I say and HOW I say it.

frustrated_kid_at_computer
   It’s not easy. But like all pieces of writing, all I need is more time and some good ol’ advice. 

Me, Myself, and My Style?

What a blissful period of time in my life when I thought this whole thing would be easy as pie. Turns out I was mistaken. I did not anticipate the challenges of transforming my blog into an advice column to be so difficult. Yes, that is the point of the project, to expand my horizons and test my creativity, but it is a lot more complicated than it seems. I discovered that when I was writing my advice column I was forcing a lot of things. I found myself embellishing… A LOT. I was forcing words and phrases in places that I really did not need them. This aspect of my writing reminded me of a lesson I learned in high school from the book “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. One of their rules was “Omit Needless Words.” Well it turns out I needed to revisit that lesson and do some thinking in how I was going to establish my voice.

I like to think I am funny sometimes and I think that is definitely prevalent in my writing style. I have not had many opportunities to write freely for non-academic purposes; therefore, my own voice really has the opportunity to shine through. I think that adding a bit of my sense of humor into my advice column will establish my tone for the piece. The way I see it, people don’t want to be told what to do, so if there looking for advice, the last thing I want to do is put readers through a boring list of do’s and don’ts. I have gained a lot of knowledge from my model source in the areas of structure and tone. In the advice column I have chosen to emulate, the author establishes her tone of voice and is consistent with her voice and sentence structure. I think that I am still trying to evaluate how I want my syntax to develop.

I did not incorporate too many new words or phrases into my first draft. I began the process writing what I researched and what I know, therefore it was very much dependent on my tone. There are still areas I hope to expand on from my first draft to my second and I am excited to continue the process!

Adding Humor When You’re Not Funny

Like most of my peers, I went into this project with a little too much confidence. The New Yorker, I thought. It’ll be easy, I thought.

Real Housewives

Wrong. Soooooooo wrong.

Not only do the staff writers for The New Yorker have an insane personal dictionary, they’re also funny. Prior to beginning this project, I wasn’t anticipating having to include humor in my repurposing project. This aspect of the new genre in a new style is both enjoyable and extremely challenging for me. In my opinion, adding comedy (in my case, attempting to add comedy) to a written piece heightens the vulnerability of the writer. Since humor varies from individual to individual, it is increasingly difficult for a writer to ensure that their joke is understood–even more so that it is understood in the way it was intended. What I have noticed as I wrote my draft is that I might think a certain phrase is funny because I tend to have a more sarcastic tone. However, sarcasm is tough to detect in the written form because it requires a certain understanding of context and an awareness of the reader’s background or experience.

The articles themselves are more like short essays. These essays have forced me to adjust my sentence style to a more compound-complex structure. From the articles I have looked as a model, personal experience as well as whimsy are critical to crafting a memorable argument. Each author, while having a unique voice, allows readers to daydream and draw out themes that challenge and excite them.

Each piece also exudes an air of coolness that has been difficult for me to emulate. The diction and sentence structure of each piece appears so effortlessly composed, as if they sat in a coffee shop and cranked out the piece in 30 minutes with minimal error. While I know this probably is not the case, and I definitely won’t be doing that for my final draft, it makes me think about how important it is for a piece to be appear sophisticated and put together even if it was created without a strict plan put in place. A way in which I hope to improve my piece will be through refining my sentence structures and adding words that both reveal my love of language and surprise my readers. However, I do not want my piece to appear as if I spent an hour looking through my thesaurus, picking out difficult sounding words, and then sprinkling them into my project. Each word, like the words used in The New Yorker, must serve an explicit purpose. A balance will need to be struck between making my article chic but not to the point where my reader cannot understand my argument.

Clueless

My goals moving forward will be to get my entire argument and all of my ideas on the page before going in and adding new words. I want to make sure that my argument is solid before I go in and make finishing touches because I think, at the end of the day, a piece is only as successful as the argument it makes. The revision process won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can push myself.