Similar topics, different platforms

Hi! I’m Annie Humphrey and I’m a senior from Boston, MA studying BCN. I feel such mixed emotions about graduating in April—I’m so relieved to take a break from the stress, but I’m also terrified to leave the comfort of the college community and figure out what I’m doing with my life. I participated in two of my favorite writing communities last semester; I took English 325 (Creative Nonfiction) with Nick Harp and I wrote opinion columns on mental health for the Michigan Daily. Both communities required me to write about fairly personal issues, but the style and platform were very different.

I really loved Nick Harp’s class, but for some reason I found the class more challenging as I went along. The format was open ended, meaning we could write about whatever we wanted from our lives using whatever style we felt was appropriate. This worked out well for my first essay; I had recently gone through a messy breakup and was excited to finally have a chance to write down my feelings. I became so invested in the piece that I kept revising and accidentally submitted it several hours after the due date. This was probably my first essay where I cared so much about the story I was telling that I didn’t care about the grade. Luckily, my passion showed through and I wasn’t marked off for lateness.

Unfortunately, this trend did not continue in the class. After the first piece, I felt like I had nothing else left to say. The aftermath of my breakup took up so much energy that I couldn’t seem to access my emotions from any other challenges in my life and write about them. In addition, I had become so used to the writing style I used in my biweekly columns that I couldn’t remember how to show and not tell. For the Daily, I used concise language and always said exactly what I wanted to say without embellishment. While being direct worked will in a newspaper, it frankly sounded boring and preachy when it began spilling over into my English 325 essays.

Writing for the Daily was a great experience for me. I had never written for a newspaper before, and I loved the challenge of figuring out how much to share with the world. At first I was worried that a lot of people would criticize what I had to say, but everyone was really supportive and nothing in my life changed dramatically after broadcasting my voice to the world. However, I realized I still had to be careful with what I said because I lot of people had access to my articles—professors, administrators, residents (I’m an RA), and future employers. There were times when I wanted to be as open about my life as I was in English 325, but I knew that mentioning things like my breakup wouldn’t be appropriate or wise because my ex still went here and a lot of our mutual contacts were reading my articles. At times I grew frustrated with the limits that my lack of anonymity gave me, but in the end I think this was all part of the fun of writing these columns.

Annie Humphrey

Boston, MA native. Senior BCN major with premed focus. I love singing, writing, and having meaningful conversations with people.

4 thoughts to “Similar topics, different platforms”

  1. Hi Annie
    I really enjoyed your post! I can relate to the stress of leaving the cozy college community and figuring out what to do with my life from there, it’s a scary thought that I just try to push out of my head most of the time.

    I find it interesting that so many of us belong to one writing community that requires concise, tell-don’t-show kind of writing, like you and the column for the Daily, and another that’s more creative, a show and not tell kind of style, like 325. I took 325 a couple semesters ago and, while I liked the class, I also found it hard to pull a lot of emotion and meaning out of my life experiences. I was working in a lab that required me to throw personality out the window when I was writing, which I think made it harder to access when the time came.

    Hopefully this semester will be a bit more like your first paper for 325 and you can get really passionate about your writing.

    Best of luck this semester!

    Kristen

  2. Hi Annie,

    I can totally empathize with you regarding showing not telling. It took me a lot of time as well. When I was busiest, I was writing 3-4 sports stories a week and it’s all telling. And until I took English 325, I never was able to write differently. So like you, that class did me wonders when it came to writing.

    Also, where in Illinois are you from? I often forget that it’s such a big state. After all, most people think Chicago is the Capitol.

    Like Kristen said, 325 made me feel like I over-glorified my life. I don’t know if that is the case, but who knows. Perhaps my life is just that interesting. After all, who wouldn’t want to read about Jason doing a juice cleanse. I’m happy to see, however, someone who is in a similar boat as me when it comes to writing communities. I understand the grind of the Daily.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your work.

    Best,

    Jason

  3. Hi Annie,

    Great post! I have also been struggling with my excitement to leave college, but my complete stress about trying to find a career and a life after this…

    Anyways, as much as I loved 325 with Nick, I also completely sympathize with the challenges you faced in that class. I had never had such open ended assignments, and as such always second-guessed my choice of topics. It’s also interesting to hear about your essay on the breakup, because I similarly wrote my second essay about my on and off again relationship, and when I started it, the guy and I were broken up, but by the time I submitted it, we were back together, which made for some interesting struggles with tone transitions.

    I love that you touched on the topic of anonymity in your post. I know you mentioned it in the context of the daily, but it is also something that I have struggled with in my writing. As much as I want my voice to shine through, it is always difficult to account for the sensitivity of others’ viewpoints.

    Looking forward to working more with you!

    Best,
    Amy

  4. Hi Annie!
    I can definitely relate to your two vastly different writing communities, since I often find myself in the same situation. I write for both SHEI Magazine and The Black Sheep–one which is serious and factual, while the other is satirical and humorous. I often have trouble completely shifting over and blocking the other one out, especially if I have been working with one type of writing more frequently. It is definitely difficult to balance two different genres, but as I can tell from your own writing experience, there are other times where you’re simply just inspired and the shift is easy. I think that switching between genres and practicing with different types of writing is something that we can all work on as writers, because when we become too used to a particular way, it’s hard to switch over.

    I also can definitely relate to your frustration with lack of anonymity, since I frequently write articles with bylines. It’s always intimidating when someone comments on your posts, references them, etc. because I never know how people are going to respond. I think that as a writer, that is definitely a milestone that we will all have to work to get over, and have the added confidence that what we want to write about will appeal to someone. I too feel frustrated at times with having my name attached to writing, because I feel like I can’t be as open as I could since I don’t want to necessarily offend anyone or cause a controversy between friends and peers. I really liked reading about your experience, and it’s great to hear someone with a similar outlook!

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