Capstone Challenge Journal #4 – Where to go from Here

I cannot believe its almost the end of the semester. Moreover, I cannot believe its almost the end of my undergraduate college education! One thing I am really struggling with as this semester winds down is how I am going to continue writing beyond college.

I intend to move to DC and continue contributing to neuroscience-related research at the National Institute of Health after graduation. This job will definitely come with a lot of writing tasks, however they will be scientific writing assignments and a lot of brief business-type writing. In an earlier blog, I discussed how I have had a problem in the past with balancing factual and creative writing, and I am worried that with this new job I will regress back into a writer without the ability to creatively capture a reader’s attention.

I think that the two courses I have taken in college that will help me the most in retaining the creative writing skills I have developed will be English 325 and the MiW capstone course. English 325 showed me that I can write in a creative and entertaining way that keeps a reader’s interest, and the capstone showed me that I can balance this entertaining quality with factual writing.

I think that in order to maintain my writing abilities beyond college, I will need to practice the skills I have learned (especially in these courses). I will need to keep writing outside of work so I do not lose the skills I have worked so hard to acquire the past four years. Writing has never come especially easily to me, and the growth I have undergone as a writer in college is exponential. It will be through continued individual practice that I take what I have learned with me, into the ‘real world.’

Capstone Challenge Journal #3 – Making the Connection

I have never had to edit a piece of work this comprehensive in the past, and it is challenging. More than just little grammatical errors, there is a lot that, upon finishing my writing, I need to go back and rewrite/tweak. This is because a great deal of what I thought originally during my project changed over the course of the project. I thought originally that I would be concluding the piece with my definition of consciousness, however the more I investigated consciousness, the more I realized it is something that I do not think can be defined. Because of this shift in perspective, I am having to go back and change some sections in the beginning to better accommodate the conclusion I reach.

Something similar to this happened in only one case in the past that I can think of. In English 325, which I took last semester, I wrote a personal narrative. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write about when I started, but I knew I wanted to write about my travels. I ended up writing four different sections about four different places I had visited the previous summer. It was not until I had fully written out the sections, each detailing a different adventure in a different place, that I found the common connections and a shared theme between them. I knew that instead of expanding on one section for the entire narrative, I wanted to combine the sections with their common theme. This took a bit of reworking, but in the end I think it turned out really well.

I think having this past experience made me less worried when I began to notice that my discourse was shifting from what I had stated in the introduction of my Capstone. I already had an idea of how I wanted the capstone to go when I started it, but I allowed myself to stray from the path and ended up with an entirely different conclusion than I expected. I knew this would mean I would need to do some tweaking to the beginning portion of the capstone, but I also knew that, though it would take more work, it would turn out better this way than it would have if I hadn’t let my opinions shift as I gained more information over the course of my research.

Capstone Challenge Journal #2 – A Tale of Procrastination

One of the only other courses in which I had to generate this much written material was not, in fact, a writing course. The longest paper I have written was instead for my anatomy and physiology course. It was a research paper based off of a lab we had completed the previous week, and I had put off writing the paper until, of course, the night before it was due.

I think this was the worst experience I have ever had with writing. I basically had to lock myself into my room with my laptop for like 6 or 7 hours. It was like pulling my own teeth trying to get myself to write this paper. It wasn’t that I was not interested in the material, it was just that I had put myself in a position where I could not even enjoy the process of writing because the stress of the deadline felt like such a stressful and ominous force. I remember how much content I felt like I had to throw together without having the time to make sure that it fit well and supported my argument. By the time I finished the paper, I had no time to edit and ended up having to turn it in pretty much immediately after I completed it.

Long story short, I did not do well on the paper. I was not so much disappointed in the points that were taken off for factual errors, I was much more disappointed in points that were taken off for writing style and grammatical errors. I knew I was better than that. I knew that the biggest issue with my writing in this case was the fact that I hadn’t had the time to fully enjoy the process of writing and editing. I hadn’t given myself the time to write a strong rough draft to edit, I had written a weak rough draft and turned it in.

In the case of this capstone, I want to make sure I am giving myself adequate time to both write and review. I do my best writing without the immediate stress of a deadline, so for this project I need to keep the final deadline as far away as possible from when I intend to finish writing. I feel like I am in a very good position with my writing right now, so I am hoping I can continue at the pace I am going and leave plenty of time to spare.

Capstone Challenge Journal #1 – Is Anyone Interested?

I feel like I am a strong writer. I feel like I can accurately and concisely get my point across to a reader. This being said, one thing I really struggle with as a writer is how to make what I write interesting to readers form a wide variety of backgrounds.

Most of what I have written in the past is scientific articles and research papers. In these genre’s, it is not so much about form as it is about content. For this reason, I often find myself, even in creative writing, drifting towards factual rather than entertaining. This is not to say that writing cannot be both factual and entertaining, I just haven’t been able to find that balance yet.

I have gotten better over the course of college in writing more engaging pieces. Last semester, I took English 325: The Art of the Essay. This course pushed me to employ more creative means of writing in different non-fiction genres. I enjoyed that this class focused on creative non-fiction as it allowed me to ground my writing in reality while still developing a creative flair. Our first writing assignment in this course focused on writing a paper based on a scientific ~thing~. I chose to write mine on the phylogenies of trees in biology. About half way through the assignment, I realized my paper had absolutely no personality. Instead of tying the trees to something bigger, I had more or less written a research paper on trees for a creative non-fiction class. I re-evaluated with the help of peer reviews and rewrote my piece using the tree phylogenies as an analogy for my family, which I appropriately title “my Family Tree(s)”. Even though it had a rocky beginning, it turned into one of my favorite pieces of writing from the course.

I am hoping to do something similar for my capstone in this course. I would like to take a semi-scientific principle(consciousness) and expand upon it, drawing similarities between it and many other components of life. English 325 helped me develop the skills I need to do this, and I am hoping they will translate well into this project.

How to write an Anthology

In my previous experiment, I tried shortening the content of my personal narrative origin piece to fit within 200 words but retain its emotional impact. For my next experiment, I would like to take this idea further and really distill the emotion and story of my personal narrative in the form of a Rupi Kaur inspired anthology.

Rupi Kaur is one of my all time favorite poets, and my favorite books of hers are Milk and Honey, and The Sun and Her Flowers. In both books, she combines poetry, prose, and simple drawings to deliver powerful messages about her life to the reader. I think that by converting my origin piece into an anthology similar to Kaur’s, I could have a very cohesive project that conveys both the story and emotional aspects I want, while also following my desire to make my origin piece more short and concise. This shortness and conciseness is what I think will draw more interest from the readers.

In a Writer’s Digest entitled “Hearing Voices: 6 Steps I Used for Creating an Anthology,” the following steps are listed for writing a powerful anthology:

  1. Find a unique theme
  2. Set Goals for Your Anthology
  3. Create Guidelines for Contributors
  4. Search For A Publisher
  5. Call For Submissions
  6. Secure Release Forms

Okay, so this is a pretty easy list to accomplish considering numbers 3-6 don’t really apply to what I’d be trying to accomplish. In my last experiment, I opened up my project to include the stories of friends and family. After considering doing the same for this Anthology, I decided I would like to keep this experiment exclusively my own. I would do this in order to, as step number 1 advises, “find a unique theme,” which in this case would be my own story.

As for number 2, “Set Goals for Your Anthology,” my goal would be to express positivity in the face of one of my most tragic memories. Rupi Kaur divides her writing into 4 parts: the loving, the breaking, the hurting, and the healing. I would try to do something along these lines to draw my theme together (though the actual divisions of the story are TBD).

In another article by The Writer Mag, called “How to create a salable anthology proposal,” it is suggested that the idea should be made “razor-sharp” and “unique.” Both of these goals can be accomplished in my anthology’s case by tailoring the compilation to my personal story and the things I learned from it.

I think the biggest challenge of writing this anthology will be staying on a single topic and making it a theme that a wide audience can relate to, as Rupi Kaur does in her anthologies. In Writer’s Weekly, on writing an anthology it is important to know who your target audience is. In my case, my target audience is all who have lived through what they would consider a tragic experience. I need to be able to take a personal story and open it up to a larger world view. Though this aspect seems intimidating, I think with more research (and re-reading Rupi’s books a few more times) it could be accomplishable.

How to write a HONY style Human-Interest Story

For my origin piece, I’m using a personal narrative detailing a car accident I was in when I was 18. The story is pretty personal, but something I want to work with and alter to make relatable to a wider audience. I also feel like when I was doing the original writing, I was constrained by my page limit and used over-explanations and superfluous language to meet a certain page number. For these reasons, I originally thought I’d like to convert my piece into a magazine type human interest story, but then I got some feedback on an idea I had to mimic a sub-genre of human interest story modeled after the brief and monologue-like Humans of New York stories, and decided to roll with that.

I love the HONY series because the author does a great job of using an opening statement that draws the reader in, and the stories are able to convey so much about the person in as few words as possible, something I want to mimic to an extent with my own writing.

For this project, I would collect not only my story, rewritten in quotations, but also the stories of other people who have gone through tragic/life changing events. I would try to get approximately 10 different stories from different people, each under 200 words but with enough information to transmit the same effect as a full story, just as the Humans of New York project does.

In order to understand what makes a human interest story itself so interesting, I looked at an article entitled “How to Write a Good Human Interest Story” on booksoarus.com. According to this, there are 5 main keys to writing a good human interest story:

– pick a topic that you like, something that appeals you

– focus on getting the emotion right- think about what you want the reader to feel

– highlight positivity

-describe people, places, attire, and time so people can picture the story

– end it on a positive note

This same article also states that headline choice is important because you want something that draws the reader in without giving to much away about the center of your story. Additionally, you want to include a conclusion that leaves a “good taste” in the reader’s mind.

In another article entitled “The Power of the Human Interest Story” on zazzlemedia.uk.co, it is stated that a human interest story serves to put “people at the heart of the events,” which is what I’d like to do with my writing. Another part of this article that I find interesting is when it goes on to explain how news stories in the past were usually framed around certain people and events as a way to more effectively explain emotional situations, like war.

I’ve never really had the opportunity to write HONY style human-interest stories. Even in my high school newspaper class I was always a sports and news writer, and since I’ve been in college, all I have done is research papers and limited creative writing. I think this will make this experiment a challenge for me as I find the excessive emphasis of emotional conveyance within this genre very daunting.

Words from a hillbilly

My name is Nia and I come from a small town. Like, really really microscopic-level small. I tell people I graduated with 80 people in my class and their first response is “Oh cool you went to a private school!” to which I reply: nope. It was painfully public.
Laingsburg is located 30 minutes north of Lansing (the city I tell people I’m from in every college icebreaker) and is surrounded by corn fields for ten miles in any given direction. A quarter of the school population is in FFA (Future Farmers of America, for those of you who don’t know), there is an annual “drive your tractor to school day,’ and yes, like the country school stereotype, almost everyone is related by blood or marriage. After all, it’s a town that no one leaves or enters. An island in the middle of Michigan. But when I was growing up, I was an island within that island.

My mom is from New York, my dad is from North Dakota, both taught at MSU when I was young, so I lived equidistant from the highway that leads to Lansing and Laingsburg. My parents thought it would be good for me to be involved in a small town community, but little did they know the exclusion that came without having any family ties within the town.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have friends growing up. Two of the most important people in my life are my childhood friends Erica and Addi, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the start of our friendship was mostly due to our collective difference from the other people of Laingsburg than our similarities to each other. Addi was adopted when she was in third grade, and Erica’s parents moved to Laingsburg from different areas of Lansing. The three of us were an unlikely trio of nomads without bloodlines rooting us to Laingsburg.
As dismaying as this fact was when I was in grade school and all the brownie points came from whose parents were related to whom, I could not be happier now for my detachment.

Laingsburg is a lovely little town, but with more emphasis on little. The people who live there have had parents who lived there, and grandparents who lived there, some all the way back to the town’s founding. And this fact makes me glad to have had the experiences I have had, and to have been able to experience different cultures in the urban and liberal environment of Ann Arbor.

My parent’s always told me to reserve my judgment, and I think the duality of my rural upbringing and metropolitan college experience is what really solidifies that for me. In both cases, you cannot judge people from different backgrounds. I don’t hate Laingsburg or the people within it. Yes I wish they could experience more of the world and be more informed about different cultures and styles of living, but I wish the same for many of the people I have met in liberal Ann Arbor. I wish they understood what it means to be from a small town, with the comfort of everyone knowing your name.

Each life style comes with it’s own pluses and minuses, but the point is: go and exist where you are comfortable and happy, and reserve your judgment from those who choose to live differently. I have legitimately been called a “Hick” in Ann Arbor, and a “City Girl” (not a good connotation) in Laingsburg. Living on both sides of the spectrum during formative years of my life makes it so crystal clear to me that your lifestyle is exactly that: YOURS. Be where you are happy and healthy and surrounded by people who support and love you. The people of Laingsburg are happy where they are. The people of Ann Arbor are happy where they are. My hope is that you are happy where you are too, and can respect the happiness of those in other places.

Other important thing about me: I’m really obsessed with corgis, here’s a gif of one wigglin it’s bunz 🙂