So That I Stop Obsessively Editing It…

I had to consciously stop myself from switching the layout, editing the fine print, and making sure page transitions were just right (for the 100th time), but here we are. This blog post marks the end of my time in the Minor in Writing at The University of Michigan, and it is definitely a bittersweet feeling. When I first applied to the Minor I don’t think I fully grasped what I was getting myself into. Sure, I had been told in middle school and high school that I was a “good” writer, and I seemed to like writing enough. But I what I didn’t know was how much I could love writing, and how much my writing both reveals and helps me discover who I am.

My project focuses on the millennial perspective when it comes to turning points: moments in our lives that are significant, whether we recognize them at the time or not. My portfolio follows a similar theme, and as the image of my homepage below depicts, growing up is never easy. Just as I use my writing to discover things that are unknown–both about myself and the world around me–I used this portfolio to give my audience a glimpse into how I’ve attempted to figure things out.

So, (if you’re still reading this) feel free to click this image and venture to my Capstone Portfolio. I’ll try not to change anything too drastic in the meantime.

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Sometimes The Words You Need Aren’t Your Own

Way back in my Gateway Portfolio I mentioned that I love inspirational quotes and hope that some day my words will inspires others. Fast forward to now and I still feel this way, and I even included a place for my favorite quotes in my Capstone Portfolio. For a long time I never stopped to think about why I love quotes so much, but lately I’ve had some realizations that might lead me to an answer.

While doing research for a job interview I cam across this Huffington Post article that includes an interview with Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. In the interview Strayed explains why people love a good quote, and I think she puts it perfectly:

“We’re hungry for consolation, we’re hungry for inspiration, truth. And what a quotes does is it delivers in a very concise, powerful form; that little jolt of that thing you needed to hear, that thing you forgot, the thing you knew, the thing you didn’t quite understand that’s now been articulated.”

To take this one step further, what I’ve found myself doing lately is turning to other people’s words when I cannot come up with my own. This semester, when I have struggled finishing that last paragraph of an essay or even just coming up with the perfect the first sentence, I have turned to Thought Catalog for inspirationBut not inspiration for the actual content of my work, just the type of inspiration that you feel from reading a really amazing or touching piece of writing. So, sometimes it helps to take a step back and let other people’s words inspire your own. I strongly recommend it!

Because Writing Is Learning, Right?

They always tell you that when you write, you are inevitably learning–about the specific topic you are exploring, about the world around you, or maybe even about yourself. Well, I’m not quite sure who “they” are, but I’ve recently realized that they are 100% correct. I can’t say that this moment of clarity came while I was physically working on a paper or writing project, but I think it was always in the back of my mind. If I have learned one thing this semester, during which I took both the Writing Capstone course and English 325: Art of the Essay, I can confidently say it is that I do my best writing when I’m in the mood to do it.

This might sound extremely obvious, or maybe even a little silly, but I can’t help but feel relieved to have discovered this about myself. My essays for English 325 were all works of creative nonfiction, aka pieces of writing about my own personal experiences, thoughts, and opinions. You can’t sit down and bust out an eight-page essay about your childhood–at least, I can’t. When it comes to writing about myself, I need to be inspired, excited, passionate, or (ideally) all of the above. In addition to this, the writing I did for the Capstone was also often very reflective, therefore hard to force out the night before an assignment was due. I think there are a couple of reasons for this type of mentality when it comes to my writing:

  1. I actually care about these pieces of writing, most likely because they are not about arbitrary topics.
  2. I want my writing to be organic and not feel or sound forced.
  3. I’m a second-semester senior and thus a little lazy when it comes to school work.

I threw that third reason in for fun–but I can’t say it isn’t at least a little bit true. Although my need to feel inspired in order to write can often prevent me from working efficiently, I am appreciative for this mindset. It pushes me to produce the best possible writing that I can, and to me there is truly nothing better than creating a piece of writing that is meaningful to me.

If Projects Could Talk

My project has the potential to say a lot about me–but it’ll definitely depend on where I go with it and specifically, where my research takes me. In general, I think the fact that I chose to focus on turning points as my topic reveals my curiosity about how we reflect and make meaning from experiences in our lives. I have also always loved non-fiction books with psychological or sociological foundations (for example, Freakonomics and Outliers) so I think using The Tipping Point as a core source for my project will reveal that specific interest of mine. And finally, this semester I’m taking English 325, which is a class about creative non-fiction, and I have already realized how much I enjoy this type of writing. I want to include some personal essays and creative nonfiction pieces in my project, which I think will reveal a lot about my personality, opinions, and feelings towards how I think about my life in terms of turning points.

In terms of my portfolio as a whole, I want it to showcase more than just my academic or professional interests. My ultimate goal is to seamlessly intertwine my personal thoughts and opinions (about life, writing, and myself as a writer) with the more structured elements such as my MIW projects and works from other classes. I also want my overall persona to be professional, not necessarily in the sense that employers will look to my portfolio during the hiring process, but more that I want my work and beliefs to be taken seriously and feel like they do not only exist because of a class project.

After looking at my annotated bibliography and various social media accounts, my Instagram caught my eye immediately. First, because I think photos are a very effective way of thinking about our lives since they immediately take us to a specific place or moment in time. I also started thinking about the nature of Instagram as a whole. Users curate their lives and choose which photos they want to share with the rest of the social media platform–which is usually photos that are the most visually appealing or hold the most meaning. Since my project focuses on turning points and important moments in our lives, I think Instagram makes for an interesting parallel to this. People decide what is important enough to share via Instagram and can also use it to reflect back on their memories. I plan to look back through my Instagram posts and see if there is any correlation between the photos I posted and the moments I think of as significant in my life so far. Who knows where this will take me, but I think it will be an eye-opening experience regardless, and hopefully contribute to the beginning stages of my project in a meaningful way.

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Back for Round 2

Hi again!

My name is Sara Estes and I’m a senior in my last semester here at Michigan (still in denial about that). I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio but have loved calling Ann Arbor home for the last three and a half years — especially because of all of the amazing restaurants throughout the city.

Speaking of food, one of my writing communities is an online food publication called Spoon University. I used to be a writer but now spend most of my time editing and managing the editorial operations. Spoon is geared toward a college-aged audience, and includes everything from recipes and restaurant reviews to opinion pieces and articles about news in the food industry. That being said, Spoon prides itself on not having a specific “voice” because we can each write in a casual way as if we’re talking to our peers. Even though writers are not very restricted in our style of writing, we definitely follow some unofficial rules in the way we write. Most articles have a light-hearted tone with colloquial language, humor, and sarcasm.

Switching gears a bit, my other writing community exists within a class I took last semester. It was an upper level writing Economics course, which was a little hard for me to wrap my head around in the beginning. It turned out economics requires a very specific style of writing, and our professor even made us buy a whole book dedicated to economical writing. As I wrote my 2-page assignments each week and eventually my research paper, I quickly learned that my lengthy and descriptive style of writing was not going to cut it. I received my assignments back with words, phrases, and even entire sentences crossed out. Introductory words and phrases like “this,” “these,” “in addition,” and “finally,” are frowned upon and adverbs are an economical writer’s biggest enemy. Writing about economics means writing in a very straightforward way with no “fluff” added in between.

At first it seemed like these two communities of mine had nothing in common. But with some more thought I realized that they share a similarity in their styles of short and straightforward sentences. For Spoon, these short sentences come with the creative freedom that writers can use as they include a mix of short and long sentences for various desired effects. With the economics writing, these short sentences are necessary, if not required, in order to have an effective piece of work. I think this similarity also highlights a huge difference between the two: with Spoon there are virtually no rules, but with economics writing the rules are key.

It wasn’t until after joining Spoon that I realized my love and passion for writing, and it was a main reason why I applied to the Writing Minor. I loved being able to write about topics I liked in a very informal yet creative way. After taking this upper level writing Econ class, I have found yet another reason to love writing. There are so many different types of writing, and I really enjoyed exploring a new style and broadening my skills and knowledge, though it was definitely a challenge. I now find myself looking into new forms of writing all the time, so I guess I have Econ 491 to thank for this newfound curiosity within writing. I can’t wait to see what this semester in the Capstone has in store for me!

 

The final touch

After many theme changes, switching around of sentences, creation of buttons with embedded links, and countless doses of caffeine to keep me going, my EPortfolio is finally complete. Although stressful at times I really did enjoy this project. It’s a really cool feeling to see all of my work from the semester exist in one place that I believe represents myself as a writer.

But I still can’t believe the semester is already coming to an end—and I know that my Monday and Wednesday mornings will feel like they’re missing something in the weeks to come. This Gateway class has given me the opportunity to learn so much about life, writing, and how my life as a writer will continue. Our class was filled with some of the best writers I know, and I already can’t wait for the Capstone and to be surrounded by this kind of passion and drive.

 So, here it is: my EPortfolio. I believe it is still a work-in-progress in the sense that I want to continue adding to it and developing my identity as a writer. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to view it and I hope you get some value out of the writing I have done!

http://saraestes.wix.com/gateway-eportfolio

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!!!!!!!! (for once I have no words to describe my emotions)

A “Success Guide” to the MIW Gateway

To all of the future MIW students out there: welcome!

You are about to embark on one of the most rewarding adventures of your life. I know that’s a pretty vast statement, but believe me, it’s true. Some of you may be nervous, some excited, some curious, some determined; and that is perfectly normal.

I’ve compiled a list of some things to keep in mind as you begin this course. Which, by the way is actually more of a book club, but about writing. You will learn by thinking, by asking questions, by doing. It’s definitely not your average class setting at Michigan, and I think that’s the reason it has become one of my favorite classes I’ve taken in my two years here.

So, here I give you—in no particular order with no numbers because they’re all important—my “Success Guide” (because who just wants a survival guide?) for the Minor in Writing Gateway Course. Enjoy!

Keep an open mind.

In this course you may be asked to write and think in ways in which you haven’t done before. Be open to writing in new styles, about new topics, and maybe even with a different production process. Change can be good, I promise!

Utilize your resources.

In addition to asking your professor for his or her opinion on your work, ask your peers as well. I know the words “peer review” or “in-class workshop” can easily make you cringe, but in the gateway course these experiences are some of the most valuable. Your fellow minors are probably some of the best writers you know…take advantage of this opportunity.

Ask questions.

If there’s something on your mind, say it! Don’t be afraid to question a discussion topic or ask someone about something they said or wrote. You’ll be amazed at how much you can gain just by asking the simple question, “why?”.

Don’t worry about making mistakes.

If being a college student has trained our brains to do anything, it is to worry about getting things correct and receiving a “good” grade. News flash: you will make mistakes in your writing, and this is a great thing. The whole point of first and second drafts is to recognize what you need to change, and the process of editing your work helps you learn about yourself as a writer.

Just write. 

Coming from someone who used to try to plan out every single aspect of her essay ahead of time, I cannot stress enough how important it is to just sit down and write. You will do a lot of writing in this course, and some of your best work will come when you least expect it. Your scribbled down notes can turn into an amazing project; it’s all just a matter of getting started.

creation
Yes, great writing can come from something besides a Microsoft Word document.

 

What Makes a Writer?

Ever since beginning the Minor in Writing I’ve suddenly become a writer. It’s not that I never considered myself to be a writer before, it’s more the fact that I never thought to categorize myself in that way. All of this casual use of the title “writer” got me thinking about what truly makes someone a writer. And like any logical person, I decided to Google the definition.

And the wonderful world of the Internet gave me three definitions. That’s helpful. Not.

Writer Definition
You’ve gotta love ambiguity sometimes.

“A person who has written a particular text”

So this pretty much means that every time my mom writes a grocery list, she is a writer. Although I like that this definition is very broad and therefore very inclusive, I can’t help but still think that declaring oneself as a writer means you have a greater purpose than just “writing a text.”

“A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation”

I’m not a huge fan of this definition either. Who says we need to get paid in order to be writers? Or that I need to write on a regular basis–as far as I know there isn’t quota I need to meet in order to be a writer. And there is definitely more to write than just books, stories and articles.

“A person who writes in a specified way”

I happen to love this definition of a writer. Yes, a writer is pretty much just someone who writes. But to me, being a writer means everything I write is with a purpose. Whether it is my word choice, tone, or organization, my writing is just that: mine. Every decision I make will alter the final product, and writing gives me the ultimate freedom to say what I want, in the way that I want.

Bravo, Google.

I Miss You, Fall

As I sit in my living room looking out into the mid-November blizzard that is upon us (I’m still in a little bit of shock), I can’t help but miss warmer temperatures. I’m not even dreaming of 75 degrees and sunny, because all I want is some more fall weather. Fall has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember; I could never get tired of it.

From cozy sweaters, hot apple cider and football season to bonfires, Thanksgiving and the leaves changing colors, the list of why I love this season so much seems endless. Even when compared to the others, fall always prevails in my mind. The hot and humid feeling of summer gets old, spring more often than not just brings rain, and if you think your favorite season is winter, try trudging through piles of snow with the below-freezing wind blowing in your face and then get back to me. Fall is the perfect happy medium.

I think it’s safe to say that weather can impact people’s mood, and clearly the sight of crisp red and orange leaves surrounded by blue skies is my happy place. I’ve never felt the need to be thankful for a season before, but looking back I am very grateful for being able to grow up experiencing all four seasons, even if one does stand out from the rest.

I am also currently very grateful for fuzzy snow boots and warm blankets. Burrr.

 

 

Can I live here?
Can I live here?

 

Project III: It’s Coming Along

For my third project I am remediating my mock article for The New Yorker into an informative Pinterest board. Even though Pinterest is commonly known as a way for people to browse and explore their interests–for example recipes, home decor, and fashion–I still think it will be a great platform to showcase elements of my Project II. My true inspiration came from a common occurrence I recognized among a few pinners who I follow. In particular, two of my older cousins are teachers and they are constantly pinning ideas, tips, and examples of how to improve/innovate their teaching. These pins about things like name tag designs, games that foster learning, and printable worksheets gave me the inspiration I needed to create a Pinterest board that offers useful information about cover letters. Although my cousins’ boards are more for their own use, I still think it is possible for my board to act as a reference for my followers to utilize as well.

I decided to title my board “Cover Letters 101,” in order to convey a light yet informative tone and make it clear to my audience that it includes a wide range of information about cover letters, just like an introductory course that has “101” in the title. I have begun creating pins of links to sources I used in Project II, as well as a pin that links to the actual project itself. I plan on making pins for all my sources from my second project, and then doing some more research to find any and all relatable websites/images to pin. My one concern at this stage of the project is whether or not I will have enough content for my board. One beauty of Pinterest is that each user has the creative freedom to make their boards how they want. But, I still want my board to look and feel as real and natural as any other board I have created in my own time. Additionally, I want this board to be useful and relatable to my audience, and I think it will be interesting to see if any of my current followers “re-pin” elements from this project!

 

See...Pinterest can be educational, too!
Learning doesn’t need to be boring…