Writer-to-Writer Talk @ 🔥 L I T erati 🔥

Sorry for the title, by the way. It is late, I felt the urge to blog, and I am somewhat incoherent.


In all seriousness, having the opportunity to attend the Writer-to-Writer talk was phenomenal, especially for the experimental piece I am currently working on. With Dr Shelley Manis interviewing Dr Heather Ann Thompson in an independently-owned book store, Literati, local to Ann Arbor. Throughout the entire talk, I had not heard of this book before (my fault) and had not heard of Dr Thompson prior either (also my fault). The modest space, surrounded by bookcases and the store’s quaint decor, allowed me to be included in the conversation, as if I was in a dialogue with Dr Thompson herself. The comfortableness of the space, too, gave me the confidence to ask my question (though I did nervously fumble a few words once all the faces turned to me).

‘Helllloooo, loved the talk by the way. I really liked that ‘torture’ theme you mentioned earlier. So, when you are in the writing process and are trying to balance in-between from being too vague or too explicit–and choosing what to intentionally include or exclude in your writing–whilst still trying to empathise with and immerse your reader, how do you decide what you want to keep in your writing?’

That is a lot of words. Basically, I was asking, ‘how do you decide what to include or exclude in your writing and how do you avoid being either too vague or too explicit?’

Her response hit home the point of ‘setting up’ your reader to know what is going to happen. I found this concept to be interesting. Dr Thompson highlighted the age-old concept of ‘show, don’t tell,’ as she described her writing process in detail. For example, setting the vibes of a scene or the character’s appearance, etc., all can enable the reader to already connect and feel the scene without it even happening. As she pulled up the example of a gory torture scene from a recent movie, she described how properly setting up the scene to the reader can convey the emotions of the event without having the event explicitly happen. This allows the reader to easily predict what is going to happen, based on a scene that is possibly just a few seconds before the plot’s climax. I think this is great advice to keep in mind when trying to stir up the reader’s emotions, through symbolism and metaphors versus explicit behaviours and actions.

My favourite takeaway from this (especially being a strong supporter of the feminist theory!) is when an audience member asked her a question about the intersection of her social identities when writing Blood in the Water: what is it like to be a white woman writing a book like Blood in the Water (which describes the experiences of people-of-colour)?

Dr Thompson said that, as a white woman who has convenient access to resources to research these issues, she has an obligation. Dr Thompson’s voice raised with a strong fervor as she said that, and the energy and passion (which was one her favourite words, by the way) vibrated throughout the room.

She really did make history come alive.


You can see the Michigan Daily article that covered the talk, too!


A Room of Your Own

I was very moved by Maria Cotera’s interview on Writer To Writer.  I was disappointed to have to miss the event in person, but am so glad I got to listen to the podcast.

There were many part’s of Maria’s story that I really learned from and enjoyed.  I loved the way she addressed the changing modes of writing, and that in response we must change the way we think about writing.  The hottest writing is happening online through modes like twitter and blogging.  It was helpful to hear how much she loved blogging, since we’ve been doing so much blogging recently.  She explained that it forces you to write for a large audience and to write often.  In addition, she emphasized the fact that in blogging, you’re not writing for an audience of specialists.  So, you can accept that you’re in a transitional process and let your fear of the public reading your writing fade.  This was important for me to hear.

My favorite part was Maria’s story of the first time she witnessed writing.  The image of a Chicana feminist woman taking her children to McDonalds to play on the play space while she wrote books by hand stuck with me long after listening to the podcast.  I found it remarkable that her mother wrote without gaining any fame or remuneration.  She was self published and created her own knowledge, believing in the importance of her voice and cause even without reassurance from anyone else.  Upon hearing her tell this story, I realized that I had never really thought about the first time I witnessed writing.  I wondered why this isn’t something we talk about more.  Surely, for all of us who love to write, that first exposure to writing left a mark on us and, perhaps without our knowledge, planted a seed that eventually grew into a passion for stringing together words into a piece of art.

For me, my first exposure to writing was through my dad.  As a little girl, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I think I realized for the first time that we aren’t indestructible.  I became afraid of what could happen to me and the ones I loved, and couldn’t sleep most nights.  So, my dad began telling me stories about a little boy named Friedrich, a painter who saw and painted the best in people…sometimes things even they couldn’t see in themselves.  I was mesmerized by his stories, by the way his words created characters and thrilling suspense and endings that made your heart swell with hope and joy.  As his captive and insomniatic audience, I watched his process of writing and felt its power.  Perhaps that’s what gave me such a love for words and writing.

Maria used a quote of Virginia Woolf’s that I loved: “A woman must have a room of her own if she wishes to write.”  Maria talked about how that room is not only literal, but also metaphorical.  How do we find time and space in our lives to write?  How, in a time of endless demands and pressures, do we find room to write for our own joy?

Again, I thought of my dad.  His literal room was a bit unconventional.  I remember sitting on our front porch, looking out over the outline of the Blue Ridge mountains fading into the smoky dusk’s light.  He would smoke a pipe and write notes in a leather notebook.  He has the perfect literal room to write.  Yet, he doesn’t have the metaphorical room.  Yet, he talks now of how he always wanted to be a writer but never had the time to truly do it.  With working enough to send a kid to a $56,000 a year university and another to a state university, it’s not hard for me to understand why he doesn’t have time to write.  But, my hope for him, reignited by Maria’s story about her mother, is that he can find a metaphorical room as spacious and peace-filled as his literal room.  After hearing Maria’s words, I hope we can all find that rom.


“Writing in the margins…a passion to communicate”

So I just listened to the podcast of Sweetland’s Writer to Writer session, and I have to say, I’m so bummed I didn’t get to go to live event! It seemed like there was so much energy in the room, so kudos to anyone who contributed to it. Maria Cotera seems like a really amazing person and professor—her voice came off as calm, yet powerful in a way. I could almost feel her passion and commitment to her work through the recording (as weird as that sounds).

Before I started to listen to the podcast, I didn’t really know what Maria was going to speak about. I knew the purpose of the session, but I didn’t know any specifics. So when she started talking, I was so shocked that her story was so relatable. She starts the conversation by speaking about her mother, and thus her exposure to writing through he mom’s social action and plea for justice. As she was speaking about her mom, I started to think about who my writing guru was—the person that inspired me to start writing. Maria’s story sounded so familiar to me, because that’s really how I got into writing (and I didn’t even realize it until after she mentioned her story). It hit me; Maria’s relationship with her mom reminds me a lot of my relationship with my dad. I guess more specifically, Maria’s mom reminds me a lot of my dad.

I should give a little background first: I am the youngest of five redheads who grew up in a house that strived on organized chaos. We were all the products of two passionate, energetic, silly, and loving parents who strived (and still strive) to make the world a better place. I didn’t grow up like the other kids in my neighborhood. Instead of family meals (which rarely occurred because everyone had such crazy schedules), family time consisted of stuffing envelopes for various philanthropic causes (which include, but are not limited to, foster care reform, LGBQT issues, or donating money to help refugees in Israel) every Sunday evening around the dining room table. The envelopes consisted of eloquent and powerful writing that was supposed to motivate recipients into action. Essentially, my dad would spam his contact list and use as a human assembly line. But somehow, I didn’t see to mind this tradition. My dad’s passion was contagious, and as I grew up, I started to realize that he was using his writing to make the world a better place. I was inspired and motivated to do the same.

In high school, I joined our nationally ranked newspaper, The Lightning Strike, and quickly worked my way up to Editorial Editor. As the head of the Editorial section, I was in charge of layout and design of the pages, oversaw all of the content being written, and wrote the unsigned editorial, on behalf of our the staff. My pieces were unconventional, as I geared toward topics like human rights, the importance of voting, community action, and social justice. I hoped to use my writing to motivate readers into action, and thus developed a passion for writing about social change. Like Maria, I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.

However, Maria and I differ in the definition of “the voiceless.” During the podcast, Maria spoke about “writing as a communicative art; avenues for telling stories that haven’t been told. [She has] an impulse to tell stories about the people have been ignored because time has passed.” However, Maria argues that she only gives a voice to people who are dead, because it’s impossible for them to speak up. But she won’t speak for those who are alive because “everyone has the power to speak for him or herself.” Frankly, I don’t agree with that. To me, speaking out seems to be a privilege—one that not everyone has access to. My father and I do a lot of work with children in Foster Care for this reason alone. People who do not have support systems, who are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, who don’t have the proper outlet, who are silenced by authority or the system at large. All of these people are very much alive and don’t have the power to say anything, for the consequence is way too risky. These people are living examples of “the voiceless” and their stories desire to be heard and spread, so the world can do something about it.

Therefore, I use my power of words for those who are not granted that privilege. In essence, that’s why I write.

And that’s also why I wish I were at the live recording of this event—so I could bring this up and ask Maria her opinion. In the meantime, I’m curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts, so feel free to comment below! If you (like me) missed the show, here’s a link to the recording. Enjoy!

McDonalds? More like McWriting! #rayray

I’m joining the chorus of Minors blogging about Professor Maria Cotera’s Writer to Writer presentation at the Literati book store in downtown Ann Arbor. The first thing I want to say is that I am really happy I went for the sole reason that I got to experience a venue and an event that I will probably never visit again. By that I mean that if I weren’t in the Minor in Writing program, I would have had no interest, motivation, or idea that event like this was happening at a bookstore on a random Thursday night. Not only does the Minor give you the opportunity to explore yourself through our class assignments, but also to seek out new ways to widen your scope of the local writing community. I went to a reading for Ray’s book during the Gateway Course ([PIKA!]) at the Vault of Midnight comic book store, so the Minor has exposed me to events and places I had no idea even existed. So, thanks Sweetland and the MIW program!

Now to Professor Cotera’s presentation. Everybody else on the blog has talked about Professor Cotera’s message on being passionate about what you’re writing about. I couldn’t agree more with what she and everybody else has said–being passionate about what you are doing, whether it is your writing, your career, your hobby, or your social life, is of the utmost importance. How can you expect people to read your writing when you wouldn’t want to read it yourself?

However, I want to blog about something different. She talked a lot about her mother and how she learned to love the writing process by watching her mother write at McDonald’s on scratch paper. She then proceeded to talk about how some of the best writing nowadays is happening on blogs–more blogging=more writing, and as she said, writing a lot is the best way to become a good writer. Ray then asked the question about whether Professor Cotera missed anything about the era where people were writing on scratch paper and napkins instead of blogs and the Internet. I’ve thought about the same question myself before because I constantly find myself distracted when I type on my computer. With ESPN, Buzzfeed, and Twitter just a click away, I often find myself procrastinating when my writing stalls or the going gets tough. These moments are crucial to a writer; as Professor Cotera says, when things aren’t making sense, when you feel like you are stuck, that is when you will really start figuring out the direction your writing is going. Sometimes I think it would be simpler just to have you, a pen, paper, some light, and your thoughts (yes, I know I can do this nowadays too. But with endless distractions and the craziness that is college life, as well as the fact that most assignments are due online/via electronic word processors, I often find it challenging to find self-restraint when I work on a computer).

So, I’m wondering if anybody else has these same thoughts. Do you think writing would be better or worse if you could just write all of your assignments with pen and paper? Like Professor Cotera’s mom, do you have a  “McDonalds” that you consider your personal safe haven for writing? How do you deal with the inevitable distractions of working on a laptop, computer, iPad, etc? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


In case ya missed it: 5 take aways from Maria Cotera’s talk #rayray

Hey all! For anyone who didn’t capitalize on the 100 point opportunity this Thursday at Literati (shame on you…JK. Kinda.), here are a few of her take aways about writing that I found potentially helpful:

1. Form affects tone. When you are writing for a blog, you adapt your “bloggy” voice. When you are writing academic research, cue the distance passive (i.e. “The following dissertation will argue that X…”). Secret  is: no one likes the latter of those two. It feels distant and, frankly, boring. (HINT: our evolution essays should probably avoid that academicky passive voice.)

2. Boring to write, then boring to read. This plays into point 1 a bit.

3. Don’t “invisiblize” yourself as the writer. (This also plays into point 1 about the passive voice. Why should I care about what your “dissertation” is arguing? I’d rather see YOU and your passion about the topic. Read: it’s OK to use “I”.)

4. Start with a structure you know (i.e. classic essay structure)…it’s a safe jumping off point. Then, once you have the structure a little, nuance it. (Could help when drafting this weekend…).

5. There is strength in taking risky challenges and making them the focus of your work. Ask questions. Provoke. Push a little.

…That’s it! See you in class.