My finished E-portfolio (Generic title, but it fits with this blog post’s theme, I promise)

As I hit the button making my e-portfolio public, I sighed a deep sigh of relief. As I examined my page’s introductory area, I felt a sense of pride in what I accomplished.

I made my portfolio what I wanted it to be. My site, relative to others, isn’t very flashy. I have a gray background surrounding a white and black center. There isn’t much aesthetically, but that’s exactly what I wanted.

Writing is what I’m interested in pursuing, so when I thought about my blog, I made it for potential employers. I don’t think my employers will want to sift through pages of colorful displays. They want to examine my writing. Therefore, I gave them what they wanted. Everything in my portfolio efficiently directs my audience towards my writing.

I included all of my columns for the Michigan Daily, my blog posts, an about me, an about this blog, a resume, and all of my Minor in Writing projects. (I’m waiting on including my academic writing until I’m a junior or senior and my papers are stronger.) Everything either ties back to the fact that I’m a writer or includes a piece of my writing.

To be completely honest, I’m struggling to describe the blog in any more detail because there really isn’t much more to describe. I wanted the writing to speak for itself instead of any aesthetic framework, so reading my work honestly explains my portfolio more than this explanation. If you’re really interested in my writing, I’d advise for you to take a look at the writing that I placed on the portfolio.

In the spirit of my blog’s straightforwardness, I’m going to end this post. I hope you all (and Shelley) understand why it makes sense that this blog remain at three-hundred words haha.

The fiction writing struggle is real

Fiction writing is rough. For my re-purposing assignment, I decided to write a short story, changing my previous eight-hundred word essay about male eating disorders into a story about males suffering from these issues. When I began the project, I believed that I would write the story rather quickly. I had an outline of the six main scenes in the story and a few sentences of description about each character. I thought that would be enough information to allow me to write my story.

Little did I know that was wrong.

In an argumentative essay, I can outline my ideas by merely jotting down a few words about each point. I have an idea about where the argument will go because it’s small enough that I can keep it in my head. In a story, though, it doesn’t work this way. The scenes are oftentimes two pages long, so you can’t know everything that will happen next. Oftentimes, I would sit down at my computer ready to write a few pages only to realize thirty minutes later that I had no direction and therefore hadn’t written anything. This causes a problematic  cycle. The less I know what to do, the less I want to think about the story. The less I think about the story, the more stressed I get. The more stressed and less focused I am, the worse my writing is. This is bad by itself, but considering this story required three to four times the length of an average piece of writing I make, I was feeling the stress to finish the story.

So I didn’t have control of what I wanted to say. More frustrating, though, is that I realized that I didn’t have control of what my characters said. One of my biggest goals was to make this story actually sound like a creative story, and one of a story’s most crucial components is its characters. They can make or break a good story. So I knew that my characters had to have distinct personalities and make decisions based on how these personalities. This created more frustration. I soon realized that I didn’t always know what they’d say, and sometimes, when I wanted one to say something to progress the story, I realized that it’d be out of character for them to say that. So not only am I juggling the fact that I don’t know what to do, I’m also attempting to listen to the two or three characters in every scene that are telling me what they would and wouldn’t say.

Needless to say, I feel like this assignment was harder than I imagine. Luckily, I finished a (shitty) first draft. However, this writing felt less intuitive to me than the other pieces that I write. I’ve gained serious respect for people who do this as a job; I can’t even wrap my head around an author who writes a three-hundred page book. I’ve learned a lot about creative fiction, but what I’ve learned the most is that I’m not meant to be a creative fiction writer.

E-(professional)Portfolio

Many  in Sweetland’s program intend on using the minor as a supplement to their major. Writing is an important skill for any career, so having a certification proves valuable. However, writing isn’t a supplement to my career; it is my career. After a year and a half of stumbling through majors, I faced the realization that writing is what I love, and regardless of the small job field, I wanted to be a columnist. So when I came across the e-portfolio project, I immediately knew my audience: perspective employers. I want to make a blog that would impress employers enough to help me get hired.

I have a grip on my audience, but, this leads to a question: how do I most effectively appeal to my audience? In other words, how do I get my reader’s experience to most effectively portray myself and my work?

I asked this question to myself as I played with wordpress tonight. Sifting through the themes, I stumbled upon a theme literally titled “the columnist.” I can only express my excitement through a series of gifs. It’s exactly what I need. It provides the perfect setup, having a layout with pages center format. There’s even space beneath the pages where the reader can see a short synopsis of the post. In essence, using the page  layout, the reader can quickly assess my writings and read the ones they find interesting.

That wasn’t so hard. Essentially, I stumbled upon my answer to how I want my audience to see my work. However, with picking a theme already designed for columnists, I started questioning how my individuality would shine through. I don’t want to just show my writing abilities; I want to stand out.

First off, within each page set up is a place for images. Therefore, when I group columns together under a page layout, I can display them with an associated image. That’s a creative start. I can also add some impressive, aesthetically-pleasing background. But in thinking about using images solely to display my individuality, I still felt like I wasn’t being very creative.

But then I thought about how this blog functions for me as opposed to a typical blog. When I imagine a blog, I think of an extremely artsy, semi-hipster page where the reader has a cool color format and an interesting bio–always stating they’re a “lover” of something, whether it’s chocolate, coffee, or sweaters. This isn’t what I need for this blog. I need something professional, grounded in its writing components. I need my writing to represent my personality. The non-column pieces need to show my personality. It’s the “Why I write” and the re-purposing projects that show my interests outside of journalism. And though these and unique pieces I write aren’t immediately what I’d imagine as showing of my personality, they’re what will give my employer a better sense of who I am.

Revealing reality with fiction

For our re-purposing assignment, we were asked to bring in 2-3 pieces. I brought this quota in, but I already knew what I wanted to use. At the time, I was writing a column I was writing for the Michigan Daily on male eating disorders and body image issues. The writing–set in an essay format–draws attention to the male population suffering. If you wanna understand why this is such a huge problem, feel free to read the article. But all you need to know is that it’s a really big problem that we’re not talking about.

So I had no problems in choosing a piece. The issues came from how to repurpose the piece.

Going into discussion, I’d played with a few ideas. My favorite idea was making a poster that would be placed in male locker rooms and bathrooms that would include signs of eating disorders. But as discussion continued, I realized that a poster would function rather impractically. Males having eating disorders is complicated, and simplifying these complex issues would be rather difficult. Discussion continued, and sometime during the discussion, I heard creative fiction as a writing medium.

Outside basic elementary assignments, I’ve never written a fiction piece, and perhaps this unknown factor drove me into making this choice. Regardless, as I started thinking about fiction writing, everything began falling together.

First off, this would make re-purposing for a different audience more feasible. I didn’t realize my audience for the original piece, but when I considered who it’d be, I discovered it was for people unaware the severity of male eating disorders and body image issues. This is a large audience, and in re-purposing, I knew I’d have to zone in on a more specific population. This was where fiction writing came in. My immediate new audience idea is males who don’t realize they have these issues. In using these males as main characters, I could give them the characteristics of male eating disorders, not allowing them to self-realize they have an issue until the end of the story.

And while on the topic of male characters, having numerous characters helps me address the variety of issues males can have. These people can suffer from abusing supplements, overeating, overexercising, and even common eating disorders–anorexia and bulimia. By having multiple characters, I can give each of them specific traits that would show the variety of disorders males can suffer from. Coupling this with body image issues can really show how these males are suffering.

I have the method, and I have the basis for characters. Now, all I need are specifics in how the story will run. These intricacies will probably get hashed out in our peer reviews, but I think that I have a few ideas. First, a college campus seems like a good setting since fitness starts becoming more important when students begin reaching adulthood. I also think there will be a lot of scenes at the gym. I want the story’s men not to realize they have serious body image issues until later in the story. Okay, so maybe I don’t have a very concrete idea of how the story will play out, but that’s what workshops are for, right? I’m sure that outlining a little more tonight and discussing in group tomorrow will help solidify my plot.

Anyways, I found group discussion to be really helpful. I felt like the ideas presented were ones I could incorporate into what I wanted my piece to be instead of being suggestions pushing me away from my ideas.

 

Re-purposing Research: Taking the Black and White into Grey

Like any grade schooler, writing was quintessential to my education. I wrote short stories and the occasional (simplistic) essay, but as I approached middle school, I began writing the research “essay.”

I place essay in quotation marks because these essays aren’t really writing. Essentially, the assignments consisted of taking research and channeling information into a simplified paper that involved almost no creativity, innovation, or analytical reasoning.

So, when I realized “Reading and Writing Without Authority” centered on research, I was immediately disappointed. I was taken back to the days of copying information into my brain only to paste it into a word document. I kept reading, though, and I immediately realized that my conception of writing a research piece was flawed.

Though she’s not the ideal researcher, I immediately identified with Janet’s style. I learned–whether it was my own fault or my previous education–that my research ideas contained serious faults. Like her, I didn’t have the authority to push the boundaries of data gathering. I simply took facts and put them on paper. This definition, however, failed at spotlighting research’s true purpose.

At my problem’s core was the idea that I wasn’t allowed to make my own decisions regarding research. I didn’t even realize that I needed to make decisions. However, Penrose and Geisler highlight an important reality: research does not provide definitive answers. In fact, research ideas can conflict.

When faced with this idea, Janet–and me if placed in the situation–faced controversy with an overly simplistic viewpoint. Instead of synthesizing her research into her personal opinion, “Janet set out to align herself with one of the positions already available.”

Now, I understand where she’s coming from. When researching a topic, I empathize with her situation. Though I don’t know why Janet picks a side, I stay in the black or white because I feel inadequate in providing opinion. I see research, and I immediately imagine the author possessing qualifications I couldn’t imagine.

But this isn’t accurate. If I’ve learned anything from this class, it’s that we really are writers. We’re not in middle school anymore, and we don’t have to follow the rules anymore. Like Shelley told us in class, we learn the rules in writing so we can learn to break them. And now that we’ve crossed the boundary into purposeful, (semi)professional writers, we have the right and authority to state opinions on topics.

Needless to say, my definition of research has drastically changed, and with it, the way I approach writing. Research isn’t the end-all-be-all on a topic. It’s like a key. With its content, we’re metaphorically allowed to open the door to a boardroom containing members discussing a topic. Not everyone agrees, and that’s why these people are sitting in the conference room: they have something to say. In fact, stated in describing Roger’s techniques, he “recognized these controversies as critical areas for his own work.” He wrote with authority, and through this, his essay proved more interesting. After all, anyone can write an article from a purely black or white standpoints; the arguments used in these essays stem merely from information anyone can acquire. The better writing, though, comes from exploring the grey areas that no one has discussed. Bringing these grey shades to the surface are the essence of writing in that they explore ideas. I don’t know the next time I’ll write a research essay, after reading this essay, I’m questing to reach the grey area.

Re-audiencing: the challenge of re-purposing

Today in class we began discussing essay number two, our repurposing essay. Everyone brought in two-to-three previously written essays, and, splitting into groups, we all provided feedback for others’ topics.

Generally, most people were able to figure out a re-purposing medium. The options are pretty straightforward. Switching a creative piece, personal narrative, or academic essay into another of the three was the overall group response. But lurking underneath the change in presentation hid a more difficult challenge: a change in audience.

When most of us write a piece, we our argument and audience are intertwined, like a packaged deal. When we’re writing an academic paper, we tailor our writing directly to what we believe our professor wants. We choose our argument based on what we believe our professor will want. If someone’s writing a persuasive essay, our ideas are probably linked to persuade a certain audience.

And that’s how I feel about my current re-purposing project. Going into group meetings, I already knew what I wanted to re-purpose. Although it’s not getting published until Thursday, I write a column for The Michigan Daily, and I chose male eating disorders and body image issues for this week For reasons that I get into with the column–which you should totally read this Thursday–guys suffer from male eating disorders and body image issues in equal proportions as women. But here’s the problem; because men in society are pressed to “be tough,” it’s a topic that many times goes unnoticed.

So I wrote the column with the purpose of revealing this topic. But, when I really analyze my piece, I feel like my audience was everyone.

Now, in class today, Shelly told us that citing “the general audience” was rather unhelpful for this assignment. It doesn’t help you get the ball rolling in terms of processing who your new audience should be given your old audience. But I really was writing for everyone. I was writing for the people unaware of this problem and people who were suffering.

So when I’m told that I have to pick a different, specified audience, I get confused. Mostly because I feel like choosing an audience means that I’m forced to exclude some of my information.

I’ll give you an example. Thanks to one of my peers in group discussion, someone suggested I write a creative piece. If I choose the audience to be people unaware of male ED and Body issues, I feel like I’m cutting out some information. I’d have to write the story from the perspective of someone who was unaware of how dangerous their eating disorder was, and, throughout the piece, move them towards an understanding of how they have an unhealthy body image. That’s great, but I also think that would take a lot of time to set up, and I really want to focus time on exploring the variety of issues that men go through with eating disorders. I also don’t know if my audience has really changed from my original piece either.

However, if I choose the audience of men suffering from these disorders, I lose some of the shock value that I want to achieve with the piece. Since so many people reading this would be people unaware of male eating disorders, I’d really want them to be astounded at how many guys are suffering. But if I’m focusing on the guys suffering, it would have to center more on getting help, and I think that would undermine the biggest issue of male eating disorders: no one is talking about them. If a guy in the story starts talking about his problems to a therapist, the reader could easily assume that this is a standard practice for guys suffering.

I hope this complaining doesn’t sound whiny, but I feel like a lot of people were feeling the same way that I was. I just really wanted a place to express why I was frustrated. I knew it would help me think my issues out a little more (and it did) and hopefully my problems somehow helped you guys. Although I’m moving closer, I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to structure my piece, and that’s a major difficult of re-audiencing.

Shitty First Prewrite

I’d previously come along Lamont’s “Shitty First Drafts,” in my English 325 class last semester. To be honest, I didn’t pay it much attention. I found it interesting, and I got the main idea that writers can have really terrible first drafts.

Then, I realized that we were reading Shitty First Drafts again. Professor Mantis (or do you like to be called Shelley? I’m not sure) asked us if we’d previously read Shitty First Drafts. I raised my hand, and enthusiastically, she asked me what I thought of it. My response was pretty lackluster, summing up to saying “Eh, it was alright.”

Mantis’s response was quite different than mine. She said how much that she enjoyed the essay, even saying that it changed her life. It got me thinking, and I decided to really pay attention this time.

As I re-read the essay, I realized what I missed the first time through. Lamont’s essay is a piece of undeniable comfort to anyone who has written anything.I tend to imagine authors as grandiose figures who sit down after a cup of tea and a scone to write fifty perfect pages. I imagine these people having skills, techniques, and tricks far superior to my own. This isn’t the case.

Step 1: Try to write but fail

You can see in the details of Lamont’s essay the stress-induced panic that is writing. She has the initial, irrational fear that she won’t be able to write a review, even though she’s probably written half a dozen. She has the typing, writing,  crossing-out  ex’ing out of unnecessary words, and inability to write a good sentence. I’ve spent literally twenty minutes trying to make a sentence sound acceptable only to realize that I’m not making any progress.

Step 2: Procrastinate

She then follows this up with the procrastination. My Twitter checkins is her making phone calls, eating, or studying her teeth in the mirror. It’s so true that after not being able to write anything, all I want to do is find any possible way to avoid writing. In this stage, I’ll go to any length to avoid writing because, even though I’ve written over fifty essays in my life, I somehow believe.

Step 3: Your inner Intervention

There comes a point in my procrastination when I really realize “Michael, wait, you HAVE to write this essay. Like, seriously, you have to do this.” It’s a step that can barely be seen on the outside, and Lamont nails it perfectly with sitting in a chair, sighing for ten minutes. Okay, maybe ten minutes is a little overdramatic, but I’ve definitely spent a few minutes giving myself a mental pep talk. My rational starts kicking in and trying to help me. “Michael, you’re not making any progress. Just write something down. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try your best, but just write something down.”

Step 4: Write the Shitty First Draft

And then, like Lamont says, it follows. Although I occasionally write a good draft, most of my first drafts are shitty. They’re uncomfortably wordy, unclear, too long (or short), and barely understandable. But I keep writing because I know that there’s no other option. Even if I can’t find the right word, I have to keep going because I’ll never make the essay better if I don’t write the first draft.

So I go through the steps and arrive at the first draft, which inadvertently turns into a final, better piece of work. Thinking about this process makes me wonder why I go through this on every difficult writing assignment. Maybe it simply is because I get too scared to write, but maybe there’s a logical explanation for the irrational. Maybe, even when we’re not procrastinating, we need some type of push to get our ideas on the table. Maybe it takes until I’ve wasted so much time that I feel the need to create something. I guess I’ll never know, but for whatever reason, it always seems to work out. So I guess I shouldn’t complain, right?

Gaming: The best thing for writing since computers

I’m sitting in Writing 220, and it’s the first day. I’m hearing Shelley Mantis layout the course, and I’m liking everything that I’ve heard. She (and the writing minor department) understand that we want to be in the class, so we’re respected. We’re treated with a more laid-back, informal respect as the instructors know that we actually want to do the work.

And then I hear a phrase that immediately relieves any and all pressure.

“This course is gamified. Do any of you know what that means?”

My mind immediately #TBTs (It actually was Thursday) to fall semester of freshman year. I took Polsci 101 with Mike Lavaque-Manty (We actually read an article by his wife the other day in class.) That class was also gamefied, and it really made the material more interesting.

The specifics of each course’s gamefied system are a little different, but they all serve the same purpose: giving students more variety and control in a classroom. Instead of being confined to a specific set of assignments, students  have the option of choosing what they find more useful. Now, of course, many classes do this to an extent. Sometimes you can choose between a presentation or a paper. However, gamified classes extend past very minimal options and provide a wide variety of choices. In our class, for instance, we can get a lot of points if we choose to blog more than the required amount. We can get a lot of points for commenting past the requirements. If we find precis relevant, we can write those for points. If we enjoy asking our professors questions, we can go to office hours.

More than just giving us options, the gamified system also gives us the option of choosing our grade. At any time, we can calculate our potential grade by going through possible point options. Being Michigan students, I can almost gurantee that all of us stress about our grades. Since, unless we fail an assignment (which you could still get points for through revising), we’re guaranteed full points, there’s minimal to no stress about grades. We know what we have to do to succeed, and that’s all we have to do to get points.

In many classrooms, this system could prove inhibiting. Students could get by with doing just the bare minimum to get the grade that they wanted. In this class, however, a gamified system makes total sense.

First, our professors know that we want to be here. We had to apply to get into this minor, so this isn’t just a class that we’re taking to fulfill a requirement. Our goal in this class isn’t just to get the highest grade while doing the minimal amount of work. We actually want to improve our writing, so we’re going to take the class seriously. In fact, knowing the we can already have the grade that we want helps to push us further. Instead of fulfilling an assignment to get a good grade, we’ll want to actually do the assignment to the best of our abilities, reaching further than we otherwise would.

Second, since writing can fall under so many categories, giving us options allows us as students to get what we want out of the course. We’re all in this class to improve as writers, but we come from such different academic concentrations that providing each of us what we specifically needed would prove very difficult. However, we’re more able to do what we want in this course. For instance, I’m really interested in being a columnist. Therefore, I can tailor the course to fit my needs by doing more blogging assignments. In the same sense, someone looking for a more technical experience with writing could focus on writing precis.

I’m really excited to use the gameified system again. Not only do I think that it fits the needs of a writing class, it fits the needs of students. Instead of stressing out about grades, we’re given a system and a direct route to the grade that we want. Plus, we’re forced to go above and beyond the class’s requirements to do well. And if we’re doing more than the basic requirements, aren’t we achieving more than we would in a regular classroom?

Does blogging’s informality drive its formality?

I enjoyed each of the three articles we read. However, the only one I vividly remembered was Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” Perhaps it was his laid-back tone–a way of representing blogging’s essence– that drew me into the piece. Although I’ve had minimal experience with blogging, I agreed with Sullivan’s description of what defines a blog.

It’s informal.

It’s written quickly.

It incorporates links and images.

As I read through the article, I found myself agreeing to these concepts without a second thought. They’re all pretty basic blogging concepts. I’m pretty we can all agree that blogging’s a tad more informal and can incorporate more technology.

But as I neared the article’s end, I reached one of Sullivan’s points that got me thinking. The haste with which blogs are written creates some interesting (if that’s the right word) effects. Since bloggers must immediately write posts, they don’t have time to become experts in every topic they write about. Sullivan verifies this, saying “A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does.”

This creates quite a difficult position. Being a writer, a blogger’s job is to convey an idea accurately and effectively. However, to really succeed in the blogging world, these writers must publish their content immediately, running the risk of providing incorrect content for their readers.

Bloggers must be under serious pressure. I mean you’re going out of your way to write something, and someone writes to you saying how much your article sucks.

But as I continued reading the sentence, Sullivan explained the benefits stemming from a blogger with a lack of subject knowledge. “They [people more knowledgable in a field than a blogger] will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity.” Sure, it sucks to hear that your argument is logically less superior to another, but at the end of the day, this caused you to learn something. More likely than not (as I’m sure you’ll correct your readers) you can make a new post clarifying whatever you learned.

If you held a misconception on an issue, I’m sure that someone else reading your blog did too. In fact, more likely than not, I’m sure a lot of people reading your blog held the same opinion. Herein lies blogging’s strengths: its ability to self-correct. A post leads to a conversation, and a conversation leads to sharing and revising ideas. It’s almost as if a blog post’s “final draft” occurs outside the confines of its words. It’s the sparked conversation that leads to a more thorough understanding of a topic.

And if blogging truly revolves around this self-correcting tendency, doesn’t this informality drive blogging closer to a definition of writing? Since writing intends to express and explain ideas, simply writing a post on a topic opens the door to a vast community that can build and clarify ideas.

As I conclude my first blog post, I won’t lie; I don’t think much of what I’ve said applies to this post. I doubt Sullivan will find this blog, and even if he did, I can’t imagine him needing to clarify my ideas. The point, however, is that he could. Any of you could for that matter. Blogs don’t necessarily need to be corrected. They could, after all, state an all-encompassing, accurate opinion. What’s important is they can be, and knowing that perfection and blogger aren’t the same will help me take more risks throughout the semester.