Edit-off? Challenge Accepted.

A few friends and I were enjoying grad student night discounts at a local bar when the discussion turned to writing (we really are that cool, you should come out with us!). The three of us are all going to be in the same capstone course section next semester and we were trying to figure out which among us was the best at editing. The discussion really only ended up being beneficial for the friend that decided to be the judge so her papers were the ones getting edited, but it brought up an interesting point.

The longer I am out of writing classes, the more I am realizing that editing, and especially writing, is not like riding a bike, it’s use it or lose it. I am a big fan of words and I recognize well-written prose when I read it, but producing it has been a lot harder as of late. I can focus in on passages that are not coherent or wordy or not placed logically when editing other writing, but my usefulness quickly runs out when I can’t come up with a constructive suggestion. I read a book this summer called Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and it was one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. It was one of those where you didn’t think about metaphors, or how choppy the sentences are, or how there was too much detail, or how this passage really could have benefited from some more character development because it was just so good. Mr. Verghese is not even a career writer, he is a doctor who writes. Someone with that level of writing capability probably never loses their innate talent, but can the rest of us ever hope to achieve that level of writing through the collective efforts of editors and drafts? Maybe you’re born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline…is kind of how I see it. The original thoughts, ideas, and concepts are all the authors, but as the writer it is often so easy to get totally caught up in your own head and your own work and the job of the editor is then to make sure the author’s ideas are communicable to the audience. At any rate, editing is an important, albeit overlooked part of the writing process, because it is the checkpoint that allows you to bridge the gap from your own thoughts to other people…it’s also one of the parts of writing I can’t wait to get back to in the winter term!

Procrastinators Anonymous: Will Meet Tomorrow

You know how it’s a lot harder to write about things you don’t care about? That might be a generalization, but for me, at least, it’s true. I just recently had the pleasure of completing the worst writing I have ever put out in public in the history of mankind. I don’t want to throw out too many details on what/who it was for, for fear that it will actually be read by persons other than the instructor it was meant for. Just how bad are we talking? It went a little something  like this.

I went to the Philippines this summer through a program at the University for a month. It was a great experience and I wrote in a journal about my great experiences, then I talked to people about my great experiences, then I had to attend several workshops to parse out my great experiences, then I had to complete a series of assignments related to my great experiences,  and then I had to create a portfolio about my great experiences…plus my entire life up to that point with all of my significant learning experiences.

I think I had something like three months to complete the portfolio for my said “great experiences,” but there I was on the night before it was due, unable to stop my fingers from typing out endless strings of garbled, incoherent, half thought out, truncated bits of the English language.

I was supposed to be answering a whole lot of questions that all sounded the same to me and honestly, were a bit too esoteric for my comprehension. I was so far behind that I started to just type in my one or two sentence response to the question, delete the question, answer the next one, and then mash them all together into a paragraph. It goes without saying that I am definitely not proud of my work, but for some reason, that particular assignment at that particular time got about 1/87th of my attention. I have definitely had to write papers or study subjects that are not my first choice and that I do not find particularly interesting and I have definitely waited until the last minute before. There was just something about that one assignment and it was definitely reflected in the quality of my work…and unfortunately, it is out there in the interwebs world able to be read by unsuspecting strangers.

It’s weird because after my rambling, this post actually ties into a greater discussion I have been having with a good friend for a while about the future: if you should work for money or for passion. I told her that I wasn’t cynical enough yet to give up trying to be what I wanted, but that there may come a day when I just have to suck it up and do something I don’t want to do. In a more crucial setting, such as the workplace, I’m sure I could make work I am apathetic towards presentable. Yet, I think there is something to be said about the quality and depth of work you do when you are engaged and enlivened by a subject and that some day, some of us will be lucky enough to get up and go to work for more than just bread and bills.

 

Random Thoughts + Tazo Passion Tea

It’s weird having a semester where I literally have no papers to write. I’m trying to do some journaling, but the reality is it’s been pretty sparse. I am fairly worried that my writing skills are going to be more than a little rusty by the time I get back into classes that are going to require me to actually write. With that, I got to thinking about what makes “good” writing. I was prompted after I did the entrance MIW research interview thing. Why is it that we can pretty much universally agree on good writing? What is the X factor that elevates truly great writing above all of the other stuff out there? Can it be quantified? More than that, can it be taught?

There are many factors that coalesce to make a final piece of writing: grammar, syntax, structure, organization, flow, word choice, content, argument, rhetoric, thesis, voice, tone, style, creativity, novelty of idea, the list goes on. I think at this point we can all recognize the subtleties and nuances that make all of the above listed factors slightly different from one another. Many of these things can be taught in school, some of them cannot, at least in my opinion.

Is Usain Bolt the fastest because he works the hardest, or has the best training regimen? You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue against a genetic component that makes him the fastest of the fast. Sure, practice is an undeniable component to elevating his performance above and beyond the rest, but he was born with some of that.

I took a sociology of sport class a few years ago and there was one concept in particular that stood out to me. It was the concept that in hockey specifically, most pro players are born in the first three months of the year. It goes on to say that because of the timing of the season and school starting and whatnot that kids born at the beginning of the year will be a little bigger because they are older. This in turn draws coaches to the bigger players and they give them more attention. This gives these kids more skills and they go onto be the better hockey players.

I think the same line of thinking can be applied to writing, or any skill really. If it’s noticed that at a young age, a person has a slight advantage or talent for a certain skill, they are more likely to get more personalized attention and tutoring so they become better. Furthermore, if a person gets that attention and outside reinforcement that they  are good at something, they will continue to cultivate that skill as well. I think this goes for writing. What makes excellent writing is an innate X factor, something about a particular writer’s “voice” that really appeals to people.

Semester Drop-In from a F’11-er

Last semester, I was in English 325 and Writing 200. Papers/writing assignments were due every week or so.

This semester, I have ONE paper due…all term. It’s a weird feeling to not have a  paper to work on. I hate writing, but I love it with an equal passion. It’s just a different kind of “studying.” That being said, writing may be out in a formal, academic way for me, but it is ever present in many other realms: lab reports, personal statements, applications, e-mails, etc. I find myself actually relieved when I see that an application requires an essay of some sort because I know that will be the place that I can really set myself apart.

On a different note, I drop in on the blog every once in a while while I”m procrastinating work and I’m in disbelief (in a good way!). I have been truly AMAZED at the parallels that the new cohort is experiencing that we experienced in the fall with the “Why I Write” paper. Even though it’s a new teacher/different people, the thought processes have been surprisingly relatable. One of the biggest things I struggled with in that assignment was trying to make it meaningful; I realized that I write to learn and writing about myself seemed to, in itself, defy my purpose for writing. What I found out was that learning, even if it is about yourself, opens up a wealth of things to write about. I was able to finish what I would say is my best piece of writing to date,  in my English 325 class because I decided to engage in a little introspective writing.

One last note on writing (even though this post has been a random string of “writing-related thoughts” from the beginning). My Eng 325 guy said that writers have a morbid way of envying people who have had something terrible happen to them because it gives them something to write about. Today, I stumbled (yes, that kind) upon this:

INTERVIEWER

What would you consider the best intellectual training for the would-be writer?

HEMINGWAY

Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.

Happy Thursday 🙂

dddDDDoooOOOnnnNNNeeeEEE!

One of the things that I really love about writing is that you get to have a completed, finished product. Sometimes the process can be cruel and grueling, but man, when you’re done, it’s awesome.

I am actually pretty darn happy with my finished ePortfolio. I didn’t really add that many outside extra pieces, but the tabs are there for when I do get around to archiving them (probably over break).  Despite the constraints of a template on WordPress, I was able to make it my own and do most of everything I wanted. I was especially happy with the headers that I was able to customize and add in my own photos. It was really important to me to have some of my own photos in there and with the help of the Knowledge Navigation Center, I was able to do that!

Some things that I still want to work on would be primarily aesthetics-focused. I really wanted to be able to change the font, which I couldn’t do without paying for. I also would like to play around with some other ways to present my work. I realize that this is still an online workspace and that super long posts aren’t exactly conducive to surfing the web, so I would probably eventually make more tabs and do shorter posts? I’m not really entirely sure yet.

I tried to make the theme of my Why I Write paper pretty much be the theme of my ePortfolio because it really is representative of where I am as a writer. Hopefully you will see the same arc across both of the pieces. I wanted to kind of make the theme the idea that we are all lifelong learners and students in our own ways. That’s what I’m going to take with me as I leave the gateway minor course. I’m going to be thinking about all of the things I could be archiving and remember to save my drafts as separate files every time. 🙂

I’ve liked everyone’s portfolios so far that I’ve seen and best of luck to everyone through our next couple of semesters! See you all in the blogosphere.

Oh, and a link to my e-portfolio: http://katiebrownportfolio.wordpress.com/

 

One More Re-Med Project

Hey everyone,

So below is the link to my re-med project. I’m just going to warn you…my voice is not NPR material.  So a little bit of context:

My source piece was a lit review I did about the the effects physical activity on age-related cognitive decline, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. My re-purposed piece was an article for TIME. For the re-mediation, I made a Prezi (which I completely just remade after getting some feedback) with a Jing voiceover. It’s only 2.5 minutes long and very simple, but it keeps to my audience which is older, sedentary adults who are beginning to present with Alzheimer’s disease. The presentation is meant to be a short overview of an intervention program for the aforementioned population. You will notice there are not a lot of “wowing” transitions and this was done intentionally for the purpose of my audience (lots of zooming for older adults=not good). I also cut most of the really detailed stuff about Alzheimer’s disease onset and progression for the sake of clarity and telling my audience what they need to know to have a general idea. Let me know any feedback you guys have! Thanks!

http://www.screencast.com/t/kOzmKjwD

{Looking [inside] from the Outside}

You all know that feeling. When you’ve been working on a project or a paper alone for a long time and you’ve edited it and re-edited it and you think you’re done. Then you have a peer review or go to get some feedback. Suddenly, you realize there are a lot more issues there than you previously thought. I’m not bashing the feedback, by an means. It’s a lifesaver, in fact. I’m just really fascinated by how right it is when I finally take a step back, put myself on the outside. It’s so easy to get so wrapped up inside your own head when you’re working on writing pieces, especially I feel.

This was the case for my re-mediation project. I think I had just been working on it so long with the re-purposing paper and this project that I forgot to explain things or make logical transitions because it made sense in my head. It’s funny, really, how you lose your sense of reality or the ability to put yourself in other people’s minds when you get really wrapped up in a project. I’m definitely grateful for the feedback because they are easy fixes. Sometimes, I just need somebody to hit me over the head with the obvious. Which obviously reminds me of this scene in the Lion King.

The Lion King!

Off-topic, but 3 things from that link:

1. Rafiki is a boss.

2. I wish I could laugh like Rafiki.

3. I really wish it was socially acceptable to whack people on the head with a walking stick to knock some sense into them.

Thinking about writing about writing

So. I have halfheartedly started my eportfolio and I am very excited about the possibilities for it. However, I am equally frustrated by the constraints of a template. I do not know enough about html/css/whatever to do anything without a template, but I think that because I spent so much time just thinking about the portfolio and not making it, I was able to get these delusions of grandeur about what it could look like when realistically, it is far out of my skill set.

That being said, I was thinking about all of the technology I have been exposed to and used in this class and it is quite a fair amount. I have started blogging, begun to build a website, made a prezi, recorded a voice over with Jing, viewed my work on screencast.com, peer conferenced with voicethread, and edited photos with picnik. I’d say that’s pretty neat. I have decided for my website I am just going to use all of my own photos to avoid copyright infringement stuff. I edited the photo I took in picnik and it is currently the header picture on my website. I’m pretty proud of it. 🙂 Even though it’s only one tiny step in a very long process.

From here, I’m going to jump into the in-class writing we are doing on Tuesday. I think the biggest difference that I have found for me personally as I write, is the element of design. Aspects like font, color, layout all take precedence over content. Last week, I went to a tradeshow for a class a couple of my friends were in. The class was called Integrated Product Design and each team of students (2 business students, 2 engineers, 1 art and design student) had to create, from scratch, an entire product, including pricing, marketing, business model, advertising, everything and then present it at this trade show. A lot of work went into each product, but when it came down to it, what mattered were the aesthetics. How the product was presented, what the team members were wearing, how the product looked and felt. Things like cost, sustainability, and materials were drowned by how good, or bad, the actual product looked. I feel like the same concept applies to our website building/e-portfolios and is also for me, the biggest difference between normal writing and technology writing.

 

Yikes! The semester is ending!

Today, I finally sat down to put into my planner for the week all of the dates and meetings I had been putting off for some time.

This made me realize 2 things:

1. There are not a lot of days left in this semester.

2. There is a ton of work left in this semester.

I’m not going to bog this down with everything that I have due coming up because I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Let’s face it, we all have a lot of work to do and we will all deal with it however we do.  However, I couldn’t help but start thinking about this summer and how I ended up in the Minor in Writing. So, it’s kind of writing-related and will put me at post number 15 : )

My teachers through elementary school usually complimented me on my writing, but it was a compliment I didn’t pay much mind to. I figured most of what I knew was just from reading a lot. My mom had always read to us as kids, it was just something everyone picked up on. Fast-forward to last summer. I am at a total loss for what to do with my life. I wasn’t pre-med or anything like that and I was really trying to objectively evaluate my strengths and figure out what I was good at. Writing reluctantly came to mind. I pushed it out of my head though because I thought there was surely nothing I could do with that, or moreover, that it would be an impossible field to make it in. Successful writers are few and far between. At any rate, I read this book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Have you heard of it? It’s a great read. The author, Rebecca Skloot, was a “science writer.” I Googled it, I was curious to see if that was a legitimate career. IT IS. I was blown away. In fact, there is a whole National Association of Science Writers! I couldn’t believe it.

Also that summer, I had enrolled late into an English 325 class that had 1 seat left open in it. The title of the class was Art of the Essay, the topic was creative nonfiction. I wasn’t sure if creative nonfiction was an actual genre or a teacher-created one. Apparently, it is a legit one because when I was looking at magazines at the Borders clearance sale (RIP Borders), there was an entire magazine called Creative Nonfiction. I bought it and was reading it at work one day when the real magic happened. The last article in the magazine was by the editor of the magazine, one Phillip Lopate. Phillip Lopate was also the author of my textbook for my English 325 class. Then, Mr. Lopate mentioned one of his former students in his article, Rebecca Skloot. Yes, THE Rebecca Skloot from the book I had read earlier in the summer.

I’m a big believer in signs from the universe and that my friends, I thought was my sign for what to do with my life. I was pretty wrapped up in the moment then, excited, inspired, ready to conquer the world. Since then, my mind has started to wander again and I don’t really know what I want to do. I just wish I could regain that assuredness (might not be a word…), that enthusiasm, that passion for something. But, it alludes me. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep taking different classes, trying new things, meeting new people, and someday I’ll figure out what I want to do.

I also like quotes. So here’s another one from David Brooks in his article in the New York Times on May 31.

Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Something Writing Related : )

I am from a small town: Hillsdale, MI. Population about 8-9,000. Home of Hillsdale College, named the Most Conservative College in the country by Newsweek. Most people drive pick up trucks. There are a few confederate flags still in people’s yards. My high school graduation took place in our gym. My junior prom was at the local senior center. A kid once drove a lawn mower to school. It’s home to a pretty expansive fairgrounds that hosts the annual “Most Popular Fair on Earth” according to what’s painted on our grandstands.

I used to hate Hillsdale, now I love it. I cannot wait to go home for breaks. There are a lot of things about rural culture and small town life that I do not like/disagree with and I’ve always had a hard time reconciling my feelings towards Hillsdale. When trying to explain my Hillsdale sentiments to others, I was afraid of coming off condescending, like I was too good for my hometown, which is not at all the case. I also hate when people who are not from small towns rip on rural culture as being ignorant or backwoods or “hick.” The irony: I, myself, frequently say these things. But it’s sort of like a little brother complex. I can pick on him because he’s my little brother, it’s our dynamic. The next guy can’t say anything because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Same thing with Hillsdale.

And then I read “Getting away from pretty much already being away from it all” by David Foster Wallace.

David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace

I had to read this essay for my English 325 class and my lecturer (who is actually from one of the small towns around me) is quite the supporter of David Foster Wallace (DFW). Apparently, his dad was a philosophy professor at Indiana University and DFW as an undergrad was a double major in English and Philosophy. His undergraduate work was so good that other philosophy professors would read his papers and were actually all set to name him the first true American philosopher.

And then he decided to pursue creative writing, which upset a lot of people in the philosophy world. DFW was the recipient of the 1997 MacArthur Foundation Grant, the so-called “Genius Grant.” This particular essay he wrote absolutely struck a cord with me. He was describing the Illinois State Fair and it was like he perfectly articulated observations, feelings, sentiments that I had ever had about where I grew up. The Illinois State Fair could have easily been my Hillsdale County Fair. Even things that I didn’t consciously observe, he had down there, in print, beautifully written. It was a really great piece of writing and inspired me to look into more of his works.

The last thing I learned about him was that he committed suicide in 2008.