Next Year, Next Year, Next Year.

When it comes to doing serious writing, I have often felt as though “it’s not time yet.” I’m still a student, so I’ll grind it out, do my work here and start really writing when I graduate. But the more that I think of it lately, the more I want to get after it. There have been so many times when I think that I’m too bogged down with schoolwork during the year to do any writing, and that I’ll just do it when I have time. But I’ve had time before. Last summer. The summer before that. The summer before that. Three, four months when I could have been doing serious work. But I didn’t, because for some reason I felt as though I had to get to a certain point in my writing education before I could start dabbling in real work.

I’m going to be a senior next year. I’ve got one more summer, one more year before I am completely done with school. That’s not a lot of time, especially considering the investment needed for a serious writing project. I really don’t have time to waste, and the sooner I get on this, the better. If I want to write for my career, I’m going to have to get started right away. I can’t go back to living with my parents for another few years before things get rolling, I have to hit the ground running. That means I need to have something to get me going by the time I graduate, that first complete project that will show me than I can do it.

Writing is not some magical, unique talent that you’re either born with or without. While it’s true that some people are more naturally gifted than others, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to produce good writing. So, if I want to be a good writer, a great writer, then I’m going to have to write. This summer, this upcoming year, have to be different. This summer I’m planning on doing my first real, major project. I’ve had a few ideas kicking around in my head, a few documents with ideas and details that I want to write about “but didn’t have the time for.” Well I’m going to make time for them, and have something to show for it.

But I’m sure that I’m not alone in this position. Everyone has those ideas, those plans, those ambitions. It’s tough to get yourself started, and easy to think that you have plenty of time. But, as many people will tell you, the time flies by incredibly quickly. You can’t be afraid to get going, you have to go after your goals if you want to be successful.

The Modern Writer, The Modern Market

I have wanted to be a write novels for a long time. I have wanted to do what I enjoy for a living – to never have a boss, to work at my own pace and in my own style. I want to be excited for work every day, and never have to drag myself out of bed for it. I never want to settle into the grind, or to be unfulfilled in my work. However, I have also always wanted to be able to afford a house, raise a family, and be able to eat. For a lot of people, they are stuck between choosing what they want to do and what they should do in order to make money.

For a long time, and for most people, a potential career in writing forced them to make a decision between the two. Writing has always been romanticized, and many of our favorite writers seem like geniuses who couldn’t possibly be emulated. “How could I ever be a writer? Fitzgerald was a writer. Hemingway was a writer. I’m not like those guys, I can’t just do it.” If you want to be a writer, you’d really have to be talented.

It used to be a huge risk (and it still is), and it used to be a big investment. And if you couldn’t get your book traditionally published, you’d have to use…the “s-word.” Self-publishing conjures up images of failed writers with ten thousand books sitting in their garage and dashed dreams of fame and success. But these days, self-publishing is a very viable, and in many cases more profitable way to sell your book because of the growth of ebooks. A successful, well-marketed eBook can bring in substantial income, and gives the author a much bigger share of the profits. Royalties are closer to 70% for eBooks, compared to the 10% offered by most publishing companies for a writer’s first book. Publishing companies take care of marketing, which is a huge part of a book’s success. But a knowledgable person who looks in the right places can make a killing without having to get bogged down by the kind of contracts offered by publishing companies. If you’re concerned with seeing your book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, however, traditional publishing is what you want.

The lower risk involved with ebooks is complemented by the increased exposure made available online, which makes people much less dependent on publishing companies. Since marketing your own book is now actually feasible, people can more easily make a living, even if their books have more moderate success. Of course, we all dream about hitting it big, and aim to do so, but there are more and more people who make a decent living off of writing. I am very grateful for the shift, the break away from the more all-or-nothing attitude which writing had been famous for. People used to think (and some still do) of writers as either major successes like J.K. Rowling or as dirt-poor, writing-obsessed sob stories. I am most definitely not a tortured-soul, emotional, “writing-is-why-I-was-put-on-this-earth” kind of person. I just greatly enjoy writing, and I think that in time I can be really good at it.

Gameification

Gameification was an unexpected part of Writing 220, and a kind of grading system which I’d never used before. For the first time, I was starting out with a zero and building towards a 100%, instead of the typical system of starting out with a 100% and trying to stay as close as possible to it. I actually rather like the switch, and I think it’s a more encouraging and productive fashion of assigning work to students. With most classes, I check the schedule for exams and papers, see what the minimum amount of homework I have to do is, and skip everything that’s unnecessary. Classes are about getting the best grade with the minimum amount of work, so students are constantly thinking how to get out of doing things, which turns the class into a chore. With gameification, however, the mindset was completely different. Looking at the grid and the possible assignments, the objective was completely the opposite: we had to figure out how we could do more in order to get more points, which was very motivating and got me thinking about the class on a more involved level.

Making the switch was definitely a struggle at first, trying to figure out how to get these points while learning about new kinds of creative platforms at the same time. Probably the hardest part  for me was trying to juggle all of these different parts of the class, which for awhile were seemingly-unrelated. Class exercises, blog posts, ePortfolios, annotated bibliographies, reflections – they all came together at the end, but it took a little bit for it to all to make sense. The freedom we had in the course could either be a gift or a curse, depending on how organized you were and how willing you were to seek help (something I didn’t do often enough).

Depending on what kind of person you are and how your school year is going, Gameification can either be a gift or a curse. I found it kind of amusing that my perception of the system would change based on my mood, how I would subconsciously word the requirements differently if they were working for or against me. At the beginning of the semester I often thought, “Great! I get to spread only five blog streams over the semester? I can knock those out no problem!” As things fell behind and got more crunched, it more closely resembled, “Crap! I have to squeeze in five of them? How the hell am I gonna get these done on time??”

Despite my own difficulties, I feel as though gameification is a good system for ensuring that students get involved with the large variety of projects necessary for an intro course. With the blog, the exercises, the annotated bibliographies, the major projects, and the different platforms for sharing work, I feel much more prepared to handle these different assignments in the future.

 

I was wondering how other people handled gameification, and what kind of problems they had. Any unexpected difficulties, or major successes? Do you prefer the usual system, or did you enjoy this shift from the norm?

 

Applied Efficiency

As I take class after class in college, my writing habits don’t really change (though not for lack of trying). Despite promising myself every semester that “next time I won’t procrastinate,” I somehow almost always find myself with an entire paper to write the night before it is due. To top it off, I’m usually so stressed about having that much work to do in one night that I will put it off even further! As a result, I have enjoyed many many nights where I get to start my paper at midnight and hand it in at noon. I know that’s not the sort of thing that teachers want to hear, but it’s the unfortunate truth.

However, I somehow always finish my papers on time (*knock on wood*). They’re not all prize-worthy, but they’re turned in on time. This path to completion is always quite nerve-wracking and uncertain, and I’ve handed in papers at 11:59  on quite a few occasions. But that got me to thinking, how does the timing work so often? I’ve stretched four-page papers over 12 hours, and I’ve ripped through ten-page papers in six hours, both situations bringing me to the dropbox with seconds to spare. In some cases, the amount of time I need depends on what type of paper I’m writing, but the habit is too common, the timing too exact to be a fluke.  It’s as though my brain recognizes the timeframe and doles out calculated amounts of creativity and inspiration in order to custom fit the paper to the session. If I were given an essay to write and 16 hours to do it in, I would finish it in about fifteen hours and fifty-five minutes. If I were given the same essay to write, but only four hours to do it in, I would finish it in about three hours and fifty-five minutes.

Like many other writers, I go back and forth between periods of just staring at the cursor as if I could will it to write, and periods where I tear through two pages in fifteen minutes. When time is crunched, I cycle through more quickly, and have fewer periods of writer’s block. I think it probably has to do with rising stress levels as the deadline gets closer, and how my mind responds to it. I realize that this is not exactly the most responsible way to get my work done, but somehow I convince myself every time that I don’t need to start that paper quite yet, I can do it a bit later. After I eat, after I shower, after one game of pool, after one more episode of South Park. It’s incredibly frustrating, because despite not being organized and punctual, I am very conscientious about getting things done on time. As a result, I pull a ridiculous amount of all-nighters, and sometimes my work suffers.

 

Any other sufferers of chronic LMS (Last Minute Syndrome)? If not, what does your writing timeframe look like? Do you spread it out over a few days or do you knock it out in one go? Ever missed a deadline?

 

Writing Anxiety

Like many unfortunate others, I possess what is possible the very worst trait there is for a writer: I am self-conscious about it. I hate sharing my work, particularly when I feel as though I haven’t had time to properly refine it or if it’s based on a prompt that I am not that comfortable with. I have very few insecurities, but when my writing gets personal (which it often does), it’s tough for me to let people see it.

Because writing is so variable, it’s possible that I could turn out something brilliant, or I could turn out something awful, based on what my mind is like at the time. Even when I’m done, I often don’t know if what I have is good or if it’s garbage. And when I do think I have something good, that adds another kind of pressure: if I know something I’ve written is bad, I’m not too concerned about what the feedback is going to be. But if I have something I’m proud of, I’m much more nervous about being told that my “good” writing is actually terrible. Of course, this never actually happens, because a lot of writers are in a similar position and understand that everybody has their good and bad days with writing.

This hesitation is much worse when sharing my work with people who are not consistent writers. When someone wants to see a piece that I’ve written, there’s a certain expectation that comes along with the label of being a “writer” (whatever that definition may entail). When people hear that I’m in the writing minor, they want to read my work and compare it to theirs. People want to see how your writing is special, what makes your work better than theirs. Of course, they don’t actually care that much, but I still feel as though my work reflects on me more as a person when it’s being read by someone who’s not just assigned to critique it.

I am well aware that the best way to gain experience and skill as a writer is to have your work critiqued, so I do try very hard to get over my fears of sharing. I remind myself at this point in my life and my career as a writer, I am still very much a novice. I know for a fact that 90% of what I produce will be pretty bad, so it’s not a big deal. Also, when I worry about what other people might think of my work, I tell myself to think about other people’s work that I’ve read in the past. I can’t think of a single one – despite my bashfulness when sharing, in the back of my head I know that people are too concerned with their own work to bother dwelling on mine.

 

Do you get nervous when you’re sharing your work? How do you get over it?

 

 

Graduation

The end of the school year is bittersweet for many reasons, and seeing senior friends graduate to move on with their lives definitely falls on the “bitter” end of the scale. Knowing that you’ll be without 20+ people who you’ve gotten to know over the years is really sad, and definitely brings my own inevitable (?) graduation to the front of my mind.

Four years of college seems like a lifetime to an incoming freshman, more than a fifth of your 18-year-old life. But, cliché though the statement may be, time really does fly. I remember my orientation like it was yesterday, and now suddenly I’ll be next on the chopping block. One more year. It’s funny how final graduation seems right now; I’m not on my deathbed, I’m just preparing to leave this particular university. I’ll probably even be in Ann Arbor for awhile. But still, it’s a terrifying prospect.

The difference between 18 and 20 seems like a lifetime, as I look at all these fresh-faced young kids (who are in reality basically the same age as me), and I feel so envious. Every year, graduation reminds me of how quickly things move, how short a time I have at college. These really have been the best years of my life, and most other people would feel the same. It’s scary to think that a year from now I’m going to be thrust into “the real world,” and have to have a real job (career??). As quickly as these years have gone, I have a feeling that next year will last only an instant.

April Sucks

April is supposed to be a happy time – warm weather, summer on the horizon, girls in sundresses. Things are wrapping up, and people are getting ready to go on vacation. But the last gasp of school is the absolute worst. Organized, responsible people might not be able to sympathize, but for me April is my least favorite month of the year. The weather IS nice, but I have to look at it through the window as I pore over textbooks, write huge papers, and scattered notes. Unlike midterms, all the exams and paper due dates are clumped together, and there’s no room for error. Once finals are done, that’s it. If you screw up, there’s no going back.

Also, for some reason my body thinks that April is a fantastic time to get sick. Every year, November through February is a breeze, but then remembers its yearly quota of miserable coughing and achiness, so it desperately tries to make up for lost time. There’s nothing better than sitting at a desk cluttered with notebooks, Dayquil packets, tissues, and Red Bull, only to look outside and see your friends headed to play football.

I have a ton of plans for an awesome summer, and I’m done in less than two weeks, but it seems a lifetime away. I think that April is designed to get people in the mood for summer to make sure that they appreciate it. Just in case anyone is thinking of cruising through the last couple of weeks, April is right there to knock them off their feet and remind them exactly what they’ll be free of for four months.

So screw you, April – eight more days and I’ll be rid of you!

Masters > Schoolwork

It’s almost April, and that means it’s that glorious time once more: The Masters. For some reason I grew up without ever really watching professional sports, even if I played them. Basketball, baseball, soccer, football could never really hold my attention, but I could watch golf for hours. The main attraction, of course, was Tiger Woods. Personal indiscretions aside, he has always been my favorite athlete, and by far the most interesting person to watch. However, the Masters’ allure certainly comes with a price.

Whether by simple chance, the timing, or the cruel spite of some higher power, the Masters always falls right in the middle of exams or when I have a ton of papers due. Every year I tell myself that I’ll make sure to get everything done before then, and I don’t. Every year I tell myself I can just check in occasionally, and do my homework for most of it. I don’t. Every year, I tell myself I’ll just do it Sunday when Tiger’s not on. I don’t. As a result, I find myself with hours of homework and studying to do when the Master’s finally ends on Sunday night. And it’s not exactly easy to focus at that point….the Masters requires some pretty serious emotional investment, and even Tiger can’t win every single one (especially of late).

Yet I soldier on, with my subpar work and my addiction to what has been widely touted as one of the least exciting sports other than curling. However, its often worth it for moments like these.