Advice to Future Cohorts

Dear Future Cohorts,

Welcome to the Sweetland Minor in Writing. In the Gateway course your writing will be challenged in ways that you probably have not been exposed to previously. Specifically, you will be asked to reflect on yourself and your passions, while writing to a specific audience. Additionally, you will take and transform your old work to fit new criteria using multimedia.

Over the course of the semester, I’ve learned a few things that I urge you to consider. Let me outline them for you:

1) Try to do things you’re bad at.

Because, when else will you be able to (without ridicule)? After this class, everything is serious. You probably won’t have another opportunity to experiment with various forms of multimedia, publish fake articles on the New Yorker, et cetera, and you definitely won’t have the opportunity to receive such positive feedback. So, take advantage of it. Try new things. You may find confidence in a new outlet that you would not have found otherwise.

2) Be a helpful critic.

Everyone has a unique viewpoint from which they work and your viewpoint, specifically, may be of help to another student. Learn to be a helpful critic. Offer advice and insight. Don’t be passive – this class provides a perfect environment for workshopping where anything is welcomed.

3) Challenge yourself.

This class in unique in that you are not limited to specific length requirements for any project. My advice? Don’t settle for the “minimum” — whatever that may be. Do more than you think is necessary, and work to make something complete and challenging. It will feel better in the end.



The BOLDEST of Proclamations on Writing.

When it comes to writing, I’m stubborn and spoiled. I’ve always reserved writing for those who have something to write about. I’ve never considered myself a person with something to say. Why should I write if I have nothing to say? Why should I express my thoughts in writing if they have no purpose?

This all sounds sort of depressing (believe me, I’m okay), but I think there’s some truth to it. I have always held the belief that the best books are those that are clearly very real; those that are written by an author who actually lived whatever it is that he or she is writing about. Examples: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Obviously, there are many many exceptions to this definition of “good books,” but generally, I think the idea holds.

Anyway, for the longest time, I was basically just waiting for something to write about. I figured when I become a resident in the hospital, I’ll write a book about my experiences or something. Maybe then I’ll have something to say.

But lately, I realized that the event is much less important than the way it’s told — Writing 220 has shown me this. I have learned to make something from seemingly-unimportant events and memories from my past. Take my previous examples: On the Road is about a few relatively eventless trips across the US, and The Sun Also Rises is about a fishing trip in Spain and a bull-fight. (Admittedly, In Cold Blood stands as an insane story, but nonetheless it would just be another murder if the story was not told so brilliantly.)

So I guess, my bold proclamation is that writing is not for those who have experienced, but for those who, with courage, can say they’ve experienced. “Write” is a verb, after all. If you want to be a writer, you can’t just wait around for something to write about.

My Afterlife Should Contain the Following:

A short list of things I could never get tired of:


1. The band Wilco.

Of all the music I listen to, the one band that I will never get sick of is Wilco. I’ve seen them in concert numerous times, watched all the documentaries, own every album. The band’s diversity encapsulates every type of song and style that you could ever need or want.



2. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

Something about this book is magical. It creeped me out but something about the story just never let me go. This is kind of an odd thing to list for something that I can never get tired of because reading this book over and over again is not a frequent activity for me, but for some reason, to this day it stays on my mind.



3. The podcast Serial

I hope to God that they continue to produce this podcast because since its existence, its consumed all of my free time. It’s very similar to In Cold Blood, but in podcast form, with new dimensions of the story added week by week.


4. Hmmm, what else. I’m thankful for good ice cream. Specifically, the Brambleberry Crisp ice cream flavor from Jeni’s Ice Cream (which can be found throughout Ohio and now Chicago!)


5. Also, Korean barbecue.

Seriously. So good.
Seriously. So good.


Podcasts, Dads, Time, and Stress

Project 3 scares me. Through my Radiolab audio-podcast, I’ll be venturing into some new territory.

There are two difficulties in my project: one, bearing the recorded sound of my own voice and two, organizing and directing a meaningful conversation with my dad and others that ultimately stays true to the points I aim to make. The last part is requiring a lot more orchestration than I imagined. Recruiting friends to serve the roles of well-established psycholinguists is daunting — I feel like I need an interview process — and finding time to record hours worth of conversation with my father has been difficult.

I’ll lay out my plan:

1. record convo with dad

2. record convo with friends as well-established psycholinguists

3. find interesting parts of convo to format into a podcast

4. record my own voice as a filler from convo to convo (similar to actual Radiolab)

5. merge all of this with music and commercials and all

I’m looking forward to moving past the early stages of the project. Hopefully I can jump in soon.


Here’s how Radiolab makes their podcasts –>

The first image that comes up on Google when you search "Stressed out"
The first image that comes up on Google when you search “Stressed out”


Growing up, I was a grammar fanatic. My father taught me to appreciate grammar from a young age. He would sit down with me and review each and every paper I wrote until college, marking up what was right and wrong and explain easy ways to improve my writing through grammar. My writing was structured, simple, and easy to follow. I assumed that if I wrote with proper grammar, I would be a good writer.

But when I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road,  I learned that I was wrong. Kerouac is widely known for his “spontaneous prose,” says Wikipedia, and general disregard for literary conventions — he’s the antithesis of a textbook writer, yet his writing is famous for it’s innate beauty and rhythm. Kerouac’s free-writing style serves as a new domain for which I yearn to tread. Rhythm specifically, is something that I’ve tried to pick up on.

Just randomly (or not?), I found this excerpt on Kerouac’s writing style:

Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though none of it pre-meditated.”

Though proper grammar is great and all, I wish other writers would appreciate this grammar-iconoclasm as I do.



For those of you have not heard my project 2 idea, I will be writing an NPR article about Fragile-X syndrome (an autism-like disorder) and my research on it. The article will essential be a news article describing the foreseeable cure that was discovered by my lab (the Kwan Lab). I would like to incorporate some personal accounts of Fragile-X that I find online. My intentions for the piece are to make it something that is easy for anyone to read and understand.

I went into this project with the goal of making a RadioLab talk out of it for the third project, but I am having trouble fitting my project into a format that would work for RadioLab. If you are not familiar with RadioLab, it is a radio talk show project by NPR that investigates strange stories and seeks to make worldly conclusions from them. It’s an awesome program.

My main concern for this project is that I am not reaching my full creative potential. I am thinking I may change the format of the piece to make something a bit more unique. If I can find a way to make my project fit the RadioLab format, perhaps I will write the dialogue for a RadioLab show.

Characteristics of Fragile-X
Characteristics of Fragile-X


Writing is!


Writing’s not art. It’s not poetry.  It’s not Ginsberg

or Poe. It’s not colored, painted. It doesn’t               float

or   extend or change your world. Writing’s not turquoise! That’s too simple!

Writing is life.

Writing is everything you’ve ever known.

It’s the birthday card from your grandma.

It’s the OPEN sign on the door. It’s the I.N.I.T.I.A.L.S. you carved into that tree in your backyard some time ago, and the embarrassing love notes your mother would write on your napkin in elementary school.

Writing is the vow that you bro-

ke with your divorce.

It’s the black name on your BIRTH certificate that created you and the cold date on your GRAVE that ended you.


Writing is!

"Writing's not art."
“Writing’s not art.”

Happyness (Yes, It’s on purpose)

I’m sitting in the chair at the desk in my bedroom, searching through old Facebook messages, trying to discover some practical way to express the oddity that I see in them. I know I want my project to focus on these estranged, yet intriguing messages, but I don’t know how to make anything of them.

The Elliott Smith song (in the link) comes on my iTunes, and I now believe I’ve found my outlet.

This is entirely outside of my realm of confidence, yet I’d be willing to try it out: I’d like to create a sort-of love story from the viewpoint of a 13 year-old kid who feels so much for a girl, yet his emotions are unjustifiable to everyone else because he’s just a kid. My goal is to use direct quotes from the Facebook messages to build the foundation of the dialogue. It will be somewhat humorous, somewhat sad, and ultimately give merit to the things I felt back that, though now they seem so childish and unjustifiable.

Because much of my project involves finding specific messages of Facebook, much of my early research has included looking through these messages. There is one, in particular, that strikes me: I met a girl on a spring break trip with my family one year and the two of us talked constantly (for a few days). I remember feeling a strong, friendly connection to her.

End of conversation.
End of conversation.

That was in 2008. We never finished that discussion when she was done and we never talked again.

I think it will be interesting and challenging to make something positive out of these now-meaningless, then-meaningful messages, and justify these childish thoughts, rather than degrade them.