My Writing Comfort Zone

Anytime I’m given the freedom to write about what I want, it always comes back to the same topics: social media, celebrities, news, pop culture etc. As a communications major who’s looking to go into this world after college that naturally makes a lot of sense. Yet sometimes when I’m given an assignment and I choose a topic that falls into one of those categories, I feel a little bit defeated. Like, do I really only know how to write about one topic?

Back in senior year of high school we had a year long “keystone” project. I initially wanted to do something about medical abnormalities (I was not planning on being a comm major) but as my ideas progressed I realized I wanted to instead focus on the effects of social media on our high school environment. Four years later with this capstone project a similar thing happened. I started off with a project focused on what it means to be a descendent of the Holocaust, as the grandchild of two survivors, and how to preserve shared history. Though I still find this meaningful and interesting, there just wasn’t enough there for me to envision a project that I would feel satisfied with. So, I switched my topic to one about how influencers build personal brands online. There are also multiple instances of this throughout other classes from an open letter assignment in English 225 to a campaign for a social cause in Comm 417. It always comes back to the same topics.

I think through this capstone project I’ve come to feel way more ok with this. Certain classes do push me outside of my writing comfort zone but if this is where I’m comfortable and where I excel I should probably embrace that.

How do you define done?

As the due date creeps closer something I keep wondering how I’m supposed to know when it’s done. I’m doing a series of short pieces so am missing some of those traditional markers of done-ness like a certain length, fully developed characters, a beginning, middle, and end, a conclusion, etc. I also have the thought that maybe I don’t have enough pieces, maybe I should add one more and then one more leads to two and so on. There’s always something I can add, it’s just a question of if I should. It was nice to have the freedom to create our own projects and to set a rubric for ourselves but it can be hard to know when you’ve met your own personal standards.

I’m typically the kind of person who works right up to a deadline. The perfectionist in me screams at the thought of submitting something more than a day before the due date because it can always get better. In some instances, like applying to jobs, this is not the right mindset. When I first started writing cover letters it would take me days analyzing the smallest details and word choices. I realized this was holding me back because often the sooner you get it in the better. Once a job posting even disappeared from a company’s page before I got the chance to submit it.  Though this project doesn’t have that same sense of urgency to it, I’m falling into that similar trap of not knowing when I’ve done enough re-reading a tweaking to be satisfied.

So, I’m trying to find a definition for “done” that isn’t just when it’s due.

About Me

How do you decide what’s interesting about you? A writing problem I’m encountering right now is how to create the “About Me” section of my website. There are two factors to consider: format and content. 

For format, I was thinking of mirroring how the rest of my site is set up. I’m writing about how influencers build a brand for themselves online, and each influencer has a section set up with their name, their @, and then below that the writing. I include pictures from their Instagram, relevant videos, quotes etc. For my section I am considering setting it up the same way, but there definitely isn’t as much to write about myself. I am nowhere near an influencer so wouldn’t want to come off as if I’m pretending I am. For content, I don’t know what to focus on. Do I talk about my major and what I’ve learned in classes? How I spend my free time? Where I grew up? My media consumption habits? What and who influences me?  

To get some inspiration I went back to my gateway website to see what my About Me page looked like there. I talked about my upbringing and my career aspirations but it was very surface level information that anyone could use as a fill-in-the-blank template. It didn’t explain to the readers why it made sense that I was writing what I did, so I think I’m going to steer away from that. The capstone is much more unified in theme than the gateway so this allows me to create an About Me more tailored to the project. To bring it back to my first question, just need to figure out what’s most relevant and interesting about me to share.

The Right Tone

I learned the other day in my marketing class about one-sided and two-sided messaging strategies in promotion. One sided usually just praises, but two sided both praises and points out shortcomings, and the latter works better for audiences who are currently opposed to or have negative associations with what you are trying to promote. If I consider my capstone project to be a “product” I think this is super applicable.

My project is centered around the world of influencers, more specifically the concept of how someone grows and sustains a personal brand on social media. To many, especially in mainstream media coverage, this isn’t seen as a legit career. It’s weird and foreign and destructive. To me, as someone who has been following this industry since its inception back in middle school, I can understand how this industry is much more complicated than a number of followers. So, I’m leaning towards a two-sided messaging strategy here.

The issue I’m having is tone. I’m trying to strike a balance between coming off as curious and excited about my topic, but also a bit cynical or judgemental as well. If I praise too much I might come off as naive or unrealistic, but if I criticize too much then why even write about it? In English 225 we wrote open letters and I wrote mine to an E! News reporter who bashed some young YouTube stars at the Teen Choice Awards for being irrelevant and undeserving of their spotlight. I took a very negative approach, I was very judgy, berating her and preaching at her how to do her job as a reporter better next time – as if I had any expertise. I need to remember that even though I know a lot about this world from my own interest I am not a professional (yet) and need to make sure my tone reflects this. 

Challenge Journal 1: Rituals

Writing is something that can be difficult for me to just turn on and off like a switch. As a student I am inundated with requirements of drafts and rubrics and deadlines so sometimes I don’t have a choice. This, however, leads to vicious cycles of procrastination, so much so that I now prefer to work under a very tight deadline. The pressure fuels me. But to arbitrarily sit myself down at 4pm on a Tuesday to write a paper that’s due in a week, is to write uninspired. If you want to see what inspired writing looks like, you should see the notepad app on my phone. It’s a sacred space full of essay fragments, rants, lyrics, concepts, lists, quotes, recipes. In moments where I have an idea or I feel inspired it’s as if that switch just goes on for me and I NEED to put my thoughts into words. Luckily my phone never leaves my side.   

I don’t have a ritual for writing. The most consistent thing about my writing is that it’s usually done last minute if I’m up against a deadline but this is more of a way of life than a ritual. Or, it’s a ritual I need to stop. I guess when I write in the notepad app on my phone the big difference is that I know that I’m only writing for my eyes. There’s no chance anyone is ever going to see what I write in there in its raw form. But when I’m writing for real, as soon the pen metaphorically hits the paper (I never handwrite, hence metaphorically) in my mind it’s as if its already in its final form. A ritual that I could establish for this semester could be to start any writing process with a free-write. Maybe I will feel more inspired if I can get over the mental hurdle of feeling like it has to be close to perfect and instead write down literally anything that comes to mind. I can treat each new doc that I create as a new note on my phone. 

Enjoyable Reading

The key to enjoyable reading is enjoyable content. I could be in a noisy cafe, on a bumpy car ride, in the middle of the jungle, on a beach or in my bed — if I like the book the setting isn’t going to matter to me. That being said, my favorite environment to read a really good book in is my bed at night. I don’t need tea or a snack or music, just time. I love that feeling of being so invested in the book that nothing outside of that moment matters. I forget that I’m in my bed at home and that I have to wake up for my 9am class and instead feel like I’m right alongside the characters in whatever fantasy land they’re in. Often I’ll look ahead and count how many pages are in the next few chapters to decide if I need to mentally prepare myself to stop reading or if I can squeeze in a few more chapters before going to sleep. However if I’m not really enjoying the content of the book, when I put it down after giving it a try or two I’ll probably never pick it up again. My attention span for just an “okay” book is relatively low, but when I actually really like the book I make every effort to pick it up again no matter the setting.

 

 

Repurposing

  1. Who is the intended audience of the Teen Choice Awards? 
  2. What qualifies someone to be considered a celebrity? 
  3. What are the flaws in modern celebrity culture? 
  4. What is a fandom and why is it a thing? 
  5. What role does social media play in creating one-sided yet meaningful relationships with celebrities? 
  6. What role does humor play in digital news reporting? 
  7. At what age is it no longer socially acceptable to watch or enjoy things labeled as “teen”? 
  8. In what ways do social media enable an entire demographic to speak in one voice – the way people took to twitter to respond?
  9. Is entertainment news and other like sources an effective way to report on things? 
  10. Why do we care so much about celebrity?  

How can I help the reader engage? 

  • People are often very dismissive of celebrity and pop culture because it’s too shallow or unimportant, but I think that if I can get at a deeper meaning it will help the reader engage more. 

What is the reader already likely to posses that they will use in order to help themselves engage? 

  • Even if the reader doesn’t follow any pop culture trends or figures, celebrity culture is so ubiquitous that everyone is going to have at least some grasp of the concepts. 

News

I would sit down with the newspaper and sip coffee in the morning like the cliche says I should, I just don’t have time. And I would watch network news and extract my own non-bias view of the news from that, but I don’t even have a TV. So digital news is the easiest and most accessible way for me to know what’s going on in the world. This doesn’t mean that it’s the best way, clearly you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But no matter how childish or naive or silly the news source may be, they’re all somewhat useful in an attempt to be a moderately educated human.

  • One news source that seems to be pitched directly to me is Yahoo News. It’s so easily accessible every time I open my email with the perfect amount of eye catching headline and graphic image to make me want to click and read more. The purpose of their news articles isn’t to go into a scientific jaunt, rather to
  • A news source that is too easy for me and is maybe designed for less news literate people is Buzzfeed. I do think that the approach Buzzfeed takes to addressing certain topics is fun and obviously very successful, but it takes away from it being a quality/sophisticated news source if that is the goal.
  • A news source that is beyond me is the Wall Street Journal, not because the content is necessarily too sophisticated but because there are so many articles on so many topics that it becomes too hard for me to sort through on my own and find what’s most relevant.

Voice

Senior year of high school I was paired with a student to peer edit our papers and to be completely candid, he was a terrible writer. With grammatical errors that I probably haven’t made since fifth grade, with no organization and no sense of self, it was actually painful to edit. But what really confused me was why. He spoke perfectly fine in real life, he even wrote rap lyrics which were surprisingly good. I always wondered why he couldn’t just write the way he colloquially spoke, because that’s what I always did. 

In my own writing if I’m given the creative license I really love to be casual and build myself as a personality for the reader to hang out with rather than an anonymous robot behind some text. I know that this is the voice that I seek out as a reader on platforms like Buzzfeed so naturally it’s the kind that I try to write in too. And conveniently the topic that I’m most drawn to writing about, anything relating to media, is conducive to this kind of voice.Whenever I get one of those pick-your-own-topic-but-follow-this-rubric assignments I always resort to to pop culture, social media, television, music or something of that sort. I feel like this is the only topic that I 1) have enough personal knowledge on to make the writing less forced; 2) have enough interest in to spend more than a few hours with; or 3) even know how to write about. I have conditioned myself to only write about media and entertainment topics that now trying to write write a paper on anything else can lead to me re-writing the entire thing the night before because I realized my original topic wasn’t working. In terms of formal markers in my writing, I often like to start papers really broad or philosophical before narrowing in to exactly what the paper is on.

How did I acquire my voice? I don’t know, it’s just my voice. I don’t see it as an extension of myself, as another persona, an outlet to be the “real me” or however else people often like to describe it. Of course I didn’t have the same writing style in my third grade paper on Eleanor Roosevelt, my Bat Mitzvah speech, my Common App for college or even my final paper for an AMCULT class just last semester. Partially because each assignment inevitably has its own tone and requirements, but also because life is always happening and things are always changing. There isn’t one definitive a-hah moment where I found my voice because it was always there just evolving. In 10 years when I’m writing something important for a job my voice will be different than it is now. I don’t think it’s fair to limit myself as a writer to “my voice” only.