I’ve reached the end. Now what?

This post is not going to be about a writing problem, per se. It is, however, going to be about an issue I have that is intimately related to the writing that I produce. That is: What do I do with it when it’s finished?

 

For the last four years I”ve been trained to treat a piece of my own writing in a very particular way. Shape it to the audience (usually a professor or GSI), finish it on time, include content relevant to studies, receive grade, and the cycle is done. There’s an understanding between everyone involved that a piece of writing will be generated, change hands, be evaluated, and then be more or less forgotten about. How do I treat my own writing when this presupposed understanding no longer exists?

Let’s say I’m applying for a job. All sorts of jobs desire candidates with strong verbal and written communication skills. At what point in the interview process am I supposed to bring up the fact that I’ve got an e-portfolio that I put together in college specifically to show off my ability to write? Should I even bother to mention that fact? I would think so, but I’m not well-experienced with interviewing just yet.

 

I’ve come to really like the direction in which this Capstone project is going, and I don’t want all the effort I’ve put in to end up without purpose. I also understand that my project in particular, because of the grim subject matter, may not be suited for all types of opportunities, but it does have merit as an example of good writing, I think. How do I make sure that this, and all other writing I compose, remains useful to me in a professional sense, and how, when, and to whom do I present this back-catalog? Is it normal to keep a portfolio of quality writing to sample when applying to professions outside the English Language Arts field?

What if…?

I’ve got the ball rolling. I know what I’m writing about. When I sit down to write, I find it easy to accomplish a significant amount of work in a reasonable amount of time. But what if…

These what-if questions won’t leave me alone. What if I can’t stand my final draft? What if my website looks terrible? What if I’ve spent the whole semester on a project that I don’t feel attached to in any way, shape, or form at the end of this process? What if I don’t get anything out of this project after putting so much into it?

I didn’t have this problem back in Gateway. Whether I was working on a literary review podcast or a historical fiction short story, the end product always felt disposable. It didn’t have to represent me as a creator because I always had the option to fail. Somehow, I can’t find a similar sort of comfort with the Capstone process.

I think I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to create a piece of writing that will represent the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired as a student here at Michigan. It certainly would be nice if I had something to show for my time here, to prove to interviewers and potential employers that I am smart and I do know how to do some things competently. This pressure is taking a lot of the joy that I almost always otherwise experience when writing.

In searching for solace, I came across a quote from Carl Sandburg: “A book is never a masterpiece; it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man.” This quote seems to imply that writing can mature to reach “greatness,” but that must certainly not be the case when the author is examining their own work over time. If my Capstone project ends up like almost anything else I’ve written, I’ll probably only hate it more as time goes on. I better knock it out fast before I’m too disgusted to continue.

 

When I picture myself reading my Capstone project in the future.

Guilt & Truth; I can’t separate you two.

I’m writing about the process my family underwent in dealing with my grandma’s terminal cancer diagnosis. My project is going to end up with a policy-change orientation, advocating for the legalization (or at least decriminalization) of physician-assisted suicide for patients with no other options, but will mostly take the form of a personal essay from my perspective as a seven-year-old. My worries with this are twofold: I’m not sure how many of the “memories” that I have of this period are real and I don’t want to whore out my grandmother in some heartless politically motivated sob story.

Naturally this was an unpleasant time during which I and my family did unpleasant things, but I’m running into an issue concerning a fear of gossip. I feel out of place revealing the lowest of the lows which my family (my mother in particular) reached. I feel like I’m instrumentalizing something which should be kept private. My fear keeps taking the form of the following question:

“WHAT IF MY FAMILY READS THIS SHIT?”

Would they approve of my decision not only to share the ugly details of my grandmother’s slow and miserable death, but also to use that as a means to push an agenda? I feel dirty just using the word agenda.

This is a somewhat familiar issue. Last year I took a 325 personal essay class aiming to use it as a written therapy session. I think every essay (with the exception of one) I wrote was about a spectacularly failed relationship. (The other one was about a house where drugs were sold.) I never felt nearly as uncomfortable airing my dirty laundry in those essays as I do with this one. Maybe it was because I was entirely without a chance of redemption with the women whom I wrote about. I knew they would never read what I wrote anyway. I can’t quite get over that hump this time. How do I do what I want to do? At the very least, how can I rationalize exploiting the death of a person I loved?

Fuck.

 

How to begin: rituals for writing success

Over the years I’ve tried many rituals to kick off productive and profound writing sessions. Some of them have been effective, others not so much. All of my writing rituals have been incredibly mundane, but I don’t think such things need to be exciting. They’re simply meant to put me into a mindset that is conducive for focused production of text.

 

I solidified the best and current version of my set of rituals in the Fall semester of 2016. My “final exam” for an upper-level political science class covering the political history of modern (1945-present) day Germany required a total of 20 pages of essays to be completed in approximately five days. As you can imagine, I needed a way to kick myself in the ass and get going.

 

Firstly, I cannot write anywhere other than at my own desk, typing on my own personalized keyboard. There are LEDs underneath the keys set to a brilliant purple color, and the light travels in waves across the keys, bouncing from side to side at a steady pace. Purple is my favorite color, and the wave pattern gives me something pleasant on which to focus. The keys themselves are set on mechanical switches, rather than rubber domes, which gives them that late 1990s clickety-clack, IBM type sound.

 

Secondly, it is important for me to be totally comfortable. In the warmer months, this means wearing basketball shorts and an undershirt. In the cold months, sweatpants and hoodies. I can’t work in jeans; I don’t know why.

 

Thirdly, a beverage is important. Coffee, an energy drink, water, you name it. I need something to sip on.

 

With these tools, I’m usually able to produce some sort of useful writing. However, as I’ve written these steps out, I notice that while I practice many preparatory rituals, I have no finish line, no congratulatory obligations. Perhaps I would feel more motivated to reach the end of whatever segment I’m working on if I knew there was a mini-reward waiting for me. Should it be a favorite snack? An episode of whatever I’m currently binging on Netflix? A smoke break? I’ll be trying out some of these ideas over the next few days; I’m almost always working on something. Maybe I’ll post a followup about how each ritual felt. Let me know if you have any suggestions, please.

Did I Do That? Voice in Regards to “Why I Write”

Reviewing my tentative response to the question “Why do you write?” has only reinforced my belief that the voice of the piece is authentically mine. I think this is due in part to the fact that I have never attempted to tackle this question before. Because I don’t have a concrete answer to this question as of yet, I’m not only answering it for an audience, but also for myself. I have no motivation to use anything other than my own voice when I’m exploring my own thoughts.

 

Is this a good thing? In this case, I would say yes. There are some places where using one’s own voice is inappropriate and/or ineffective. Academic writing, which perhaps makes up the bulk of my textual output, is one such instance. However, when answering a personal question, I can think of no better tone to use than my own. In fact, I would argue that using a tone other than my own would be dishonest. To answer a question by adopting a persona other than my default would tinge my answer with influences uncharacteristic of me.

 

Utilizing my own voice invites one major fault into my writing: overpersonalization. Or at least I would have thought so. Today’s class convinced me otherwise. The concept of overpersonalization is something that no longer worries me because of the idea that specific experiences can be generalized. When someone relays an experience of theirs which I have not endured, I immediately draw parallels to experiences of my own. I don’t need to have had the same experience as someone else because I can identify with elements of anyone’s experience.

 

Experiential identification, whether partial or perfect, is the essence of a piece on the subject “Why do I write?” The bits and pieces with which one can identify are enough for a reader to extract meaning from the essay; the rest can be an exercise of memory or pleasure for the author. The identifiable pieces can be extracted to form meaning, inspiration, entertainment, or any combination of the three. In order to lend the essay as many of these pieces as possible, it is imperative that one utilize their own voice. Without it, an essay on the reason for writing becomes fictitious and meaningless.

On Enjoyable Reading

For reading to be enjoyable, there are only three conditions which need to be met. I cannot have any sort of looming deadlines; I’m far too nervous to focus on a book when I have tasks which need to be done. Secondly, a beverage is a must. Before, it was coffee, but now I mostly drink water. It’s nice to have a bottle to fiddle with while I hold a book with my other hand; I’m a very antsy person. Finally, I cannot tolerate absolute silence. Some background noise must be present, or I’ll get too far into my own head about how quiet it is. With those conditions met, I enjoy almost any sort of book. I think there’s something to be gained, whether it be vocabulary or style from any text.

 

 

 

Zeno’s Paradox of Dichotomy

As I understand this paradox, the distance between a person and their objective can be infinitely halved, thereby preventing the person from moving towards the objective at all. However, this seems not to be the case if you consider the fact that people can in fact take that first step.

 

The possibility of infinite division of distance does not prevent one from moving and dividing the distance simultaneously, meaning that one will eventually reach their goal as long as they don’t mind walking and thinking at the same time. Maybe I’m looking at this too simplistically, but the demonstrable fact that motion occurs prevents this paradox from holding much water in my mind.

Questions Concerning Repurposing

10 questions I can pose about my topic

  1. What was the effect of Soviet Russia’s constricted social policy and expansionist military policy on the average citizen?

    2. Did the historical context of Russia allow for events to occur which otherwise would not have; are Gorbachev’s objectives rooted in past insecurity?

    3. Why would the Soviet military absorb so much capital away from the consumer sector of society?

    4. If Gorbachev had initiated liberalization reforms more urgently, would they have been more effective?

    5. What were the underlying causes of the fall of the Soviet Union?

    6. Were the rest of the Great Powers anticipating a Soviet collapse?

    7. How did Russia present itself to the rest of the world during the Soviet period? Did the projected image match (or belie) internal conditions?

    8. Was the Soviet system doomed to fail from the beginning? If so, what could have saved it?

    9. What were the specific costs and losses associated with the Soviet military expenditure?

    10. Does Russia today mirror any of the aspects of imminent collapse that the Soviet Union portrayed?

Questions 1, 3, 9, and 10 are the most attractive to me as a writer.

 

Me & Them

In order to fully flesh out this paper, I need to give historical context and numerical figures to present an image of the Soviet Union before collapse, combined with a replication of such information for the present day. Then I need to show how these figures applied to the people of the Soviet Union to help the reader understand the cause of unrest and eventual dissolution.

Readers probably have tangential knowledge — at the very least — of Russian history. They know that the Soviet Union fell in the early 90s. They also have the internet at their disposal, which means that anything I include in my paper which they would not consider common knowledge can be researched independently. References to names make good places to start independent research, but I don’t need to give a mini-biography every time I mention a new person.

The Good, Bad, and Laughable. News sources for all kinds.

I am a news junkie. I love being informed, being the one who can hold a conversation concerning current events. Therefore, I didn’t have to do too much research to find three targets for this blog post. I don’t even feel that I’ve gone after the lowest-hanging fruits on the journalistic tree, either.

 

I’d like to start with a news source that is rampantly popular on Facebook: Huffington Post. I can’t tell if being a popular outlet with the Facebook demographic is a symptom of its quality, or if the relationship works the other way around. I can’t tell if HuffPo aims below me, or if they’re aiming high and riding the journalistic short bus in ignorant bliss. For the purpose of this post, I’m choosing to perceive the former rather than the latter.

First and foremost in my litany of complaints to lodge against Huffington Post is that the presented narrative is unabashedly biased. I challenge you to find a conservative commentator who writes for HuffPo. I don’t believe that you can. Not only is this an insult to the service of public discourse that journalism is supposed to provide, but the lack of opposing narratives leaves HuffPo’s front page running in circles around itself. There is no topic (lately, a man with a particularly bad hairpiece comes to mind) that can’t be and hasn’t been done to death by the team of aces writing for the Post. Speaking of…

The Huffington Post functions more as a widely circulated blogging platform than a respectable news source. Are you aware of the credentials one needs to write for HuffPo? There are none. Anyone, including your aunt-who-overshares-politically-charged-opinions-on-Facebook can write whatever they please and submit it for publication. The lack of professional writers is painfully apparent, considering how many grammatical incongruities and spelling errors litter the articles.

I think I’ve said enough.

 

Reuters is a huge step up from the Huffington Post — not that that requires a lot of effort — and is also a publication that I feel is aimed right at passionate, but casual consumers like myself.

Fear not; I don’t have nearly as much to say about Reuters as I did concerning HuffPo. Vitriol fuels lengthy works.

It’s plain to see that Reuters knows their audience. The articles are apolitical, succinct, and well sourced. The headlines avoid sensationalism, while at the same time drawing the reader to the articles. In an online environment which is filled with journalistic detritus, the relatively minimal and balanced approach that Reuters takes is a welcome respite. The articles themselves do not contain much technical language, meaning that they are available for consumption by members of all societal strata. I adore Reuters. End of (love) story.

 

For the pure intellectual, I think Bloomberg Businessweek is a wonderful source of current events. While I read Bloomberg occasionally, it’s clear to me that the articles are written with greater care and more integrity than my fleeting attention span can focus on. Bloomberg benefits (as far as I can tell) from having wonderful editors. While the articles are lengthy and nuanced, they are never cluttered, disjointed, or otherwise unenjoyable to consume. Bloomberg’s writers aren’t afraid of some lexical flexing, which can be off-putting to those who would view such a thing as “highbrow snob behavior.” Somehow, I doubt the publishers at Bloomberg are worried about this demographic, as they’ve been pumping out quality content with astounding consistency for quite some time. Bloomberg covers each subject it tackles with depth and well-researched understanding, which is imperative for the critical reader. While I am often not that reader, there are plenty of them out there. I still enjoy a Bloomberg article from time to time.