Challenge Journal 1

My biggest concern in beginning this project is finding a balance between academic writing and giving myself a voice. The purpose of my project is to find some way to try to explain the Israel-Palestine conflict so as to undo the oversimplification that currently exists. I am trying to communicate to my readers that the conflict is not one of religious nature, but instead a territorial dispute that is categorized by religion and that no one should be taking a side based on belief alone, which is something I have noticed occurs among my peers. Most of my writing is academic, obviously seeing that I’m a student, but I want this to be more than just a boring research paper. I want people to be interested and I want to offer clarification. I want people to come away from project with an informed opinion, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with my claims.

I think it’s going to be particularly difficult to give myself a voice in this project because I don’t want my writing to be looked at as overwhelmingly biased. Has anyone else had trouble attempting to make a neutral piece of writing while also not getting lost in it? I need to find a way to mix academic with personal and make it entertaining so that my project isn’t just another informational paper on an already widely discussed conflict.  I know a lot of what I want to do with my project, but I’m just not sure how to do it.

I’m re-visiting this post to offer some academic writing I’ve produced in the past that is an example of what I am trying to stay away from. Here is an excerpt from a research design project from last semester:

“After reviewing many of the existing studies there seems to be a threshold of educational attainment at which conflict is less likely to occur, which is completing secondary education. In Barakat and Urdal’s 2009 study on youth bulges and political violence their “empirical analysis finds evidence that large, young male population bulges are more likely to increase the risk of conflict in societies where male secondary education is low.” Further along in their study they find that as higher levels of education is attained the effect does not change regarding conflict risk. This particular study focuses on youth bulges, educational level, and conflict. Barakat and Urdal theorize that often times youth bulges lead to larger participation in rebel groups, but having more educated individuals offers a high opportunity cost on the lives of young men, thus making them less likely to join a rebel group.”

I think my biggest issue with this is that since I’m using information from scholarly articles I tend to write as if I were writing a scholarly article myself. And scholarly articles are boring. I need to find a way to combine some personal anecdotes or individuality to a lot of history. I think one of the main ways to stay away from the type of writing above is to not reference specific studies or random names, but to take the information and present it in a way that makes it a journey for both the reader and myself.

Challenge Journal 1: Finding the Focus

The hardest part of the writing process for me lies between the time the assignment is given, and the time I actually start composing my piece. I have trouble thinking of an idea that I am proud enough of, inspired by enough and confident about. I usually have a general idea about what concept I want to explore more and write about, but its the specific angle that often trips me up.

As I worked on writing my proposal and determining the exact angle I wanted to explore my topic from, I worried that I was either missing an important element or focusing on something that I wouldn’t be able to effectively develop. This reminded me of an experience I had in English 225 when I was working on a research paper that was assigned. I immediately knew that I wanted to explore film music and its effects as this is something I have always been intrigued by. However, sharpening that idea was challenging, and it took a while until I was able to decide on the direction I wanted to take.

In my abstract I stated, “This essay aims to investigate these various effects and how the addition of music to visuals and other technical elements of movies alter the audience’s experience.” However, if my essay was going to be purposeful and further contribute to the conversation that revolved around film music, I needed to decide on a lens to view “the audience’s experience” from. After I began researching and writing and reaching many decisions and continuously changing my mind, I finally settled on looking at “the various functions film music has in supplementing dialogue, narrative, cinematography, and other components” rather than focusing only on the psychological effect of music in general.

I am excited to explore fear for my Capstone project from a generational angle– looking at the differences between my generation’s experience with fear and our parents’. As we were reminded in class though, I am prepared for a shift during the writing process if necessary.

Challenge Journal 1: Consistency

When I try and picture what my Project is going to look like at the end of all of this, 5 or 6 possibilities pop into my head. I’m writing about dance, and I’m reaching a point where I’ve enjoyed the research I’ve done thus far and I’m excited to continue doing more, but I’m nervous about deciding which direction to go in. I want to talk about dance as a sport, I want to talk about dance as an art, I want to talk about the history of dance, I want to talk about the role of the dancer vs the role of the choreographer, I want to talk about my personal dance experience… The list is endless. What I DONT want is for the project to feel like 10 different ideas poorly woven together. I’m afraid because doing research is starting to make me think that might happen, as it feels like I’m researching several different topics instead of just one.

I also wonder what will happen when I try to weave these concepts together, because I have a history of struggling to keep my voice and tone consistent. I am sarcastic by nature, but I often don’t write in a sarcastic tone. I write in a more thoughtful and curious manner, yet in the past I’ve tried to incorporate sarcasm and wit and while I think it turns out okay at the time, looking back it reads choppy and disjointed, because it is unlike the tone of the rest of the piece.

For instance, in my Gateway essay about Why I Write I share a story about my first daycare. The reason I included this was to highlight how noisy and babbly I was as a child, but I tried to have a very present voice by being sarcastic about the woman who ran the daycare:

“I discovered my own voice and liked the sound of it, so I cooed and screeched constantly at different volumes and tones, which was too much for Poor Daycare Lady. Poor Daycare Lady was seemingly unaware that babies make noise, and it shocked her so much that she had to throw me out. She must not have thought my childish charm was enough to outweigh the ruckus that accompanied it.”

While it was fun using this tone to talk about the daycare lady, reading it now makes me realize how out of place it seems in the whole essay. Never again do I use that tone, and it doesn’t fit with the purpose of the story. I think the reason I did it was because I was writing separate stories and combining them together, and I didn’t pay enough attention to the importance of writing in a similar voice throughout the entire essay, not just for each story. I’m going to try to find a balance in the capstone project with how much of my own voice I want to include, and make sure it carries through for each topic I’m discussing.

Challenge Journal 1

// Personal Essays Feeling Too Personal //


In my capstone project and in previous assignments, I’ve used personal essays to illustrate an idea/point/claim about the world.  I really enjoy writing personal essays and I feel that it is the form through which I’ve produced my best work.  However, a common issue I’ve run into is feeling self conscious about the idea of people I know (particularly those eluded to in my writing or who know those eluded to in my writing) reading and judging my interpretations and descriptions.  This is an interesting issue because I do not feel any sort of anxieties about strangers reading my personal stories, or even about people I know who are removed from the specific scenario reading them.

For example, in English 325 I wrote an essay about the irrationality of fear.  In this essay, I described my childhood memories of 911 and how I felt when I realized my dad was supposed to be in the building that morning and (by some wild stroke of luck) took a later train into the city and came home safe.  When crafting the essay, I was extremely anxious to write about that event purely out of concern over the idea of my parents ever reading it.  I suppose this in of itself supports the idea of irrational fears, but it is a concern I worry will hold me back in writing personally in my capstone project.  I do not want these specific worries to prevent me from “digging deep” and writing truthfully and openly.  For instance, in this paragraph of the essay I referenced my memories from 911:


This Tuesday morning, we did not go to work with my dad.  We also did not go to school. My mom got a call from our Montessori school a few minutes before we were supposed to be buckling up in our car seats to head to school.  Typically a call from school meant a snow day or a power outage, both of which freed us to stay home and play all day. “There was an accident,” she told us, “so school is cancelled today.”  The three of us rejoiced and set off to play. But in the same living room where we fiddled with our dolls and wore plastic tiaras, my mom stood in horror with her eyes glued to the TV. It was September 11, 2001 and as my dad rode the NJ Transit to his destination in the upper floors of the World Trade Center, a plane struck the first tower.  


Since I was little when it happened, I don’t remember much and I don’t remember well.  I know my parents both remember the day so vividly, so I was anxious to write about what I remembered when I didn’t trust my own memories to be accurate in comparison.  I had to let this anxiety go and just accept that my 5 year-old memories are what they are, and that the factual accuracy of them is of lesser importance than the role they play in the overarching narrative.

Challenge Journal 1: Chris Crowder

I think the toughest thing about looking back at previous writing is the shame or embarrassment of looking back at some of it, not being satisfied with my work. I always want to use things and to have it be as perfect as I thought it was at the time I initially wrote it. But that’s part of being a writer and an editor — some works must be left behind. It was helpful for me to hear from Ray that the writing that is left behind isn’t wasted time or effort. It’s just a foundation and a learning process for better writing later.

In constructing my project for Capstone, I was going to include a poem I did two summers ago about police brutality. It was about a dream of mine in which I witnessed someone being unlawfully shot by a cop. Here’s an exerpt:

“Hello, Officer, I just saw that you shot a man of my same skin tone/My hands won’t go near the wallet in my pocket/So leave your holster alone.” I really liked it at the time, but now realize that it doesn’t necessarily fit into the message of my project. Its relevance isn’t as strong as it was when I wrote it. And other things I have written lately haven’t either. My new project is about examining complexities and empathy and raw emotion in this racially-tensioned time. I think I don’t like some of the things I’ve written because I’m trying to make my poems rhyme and that doesn’t really fit my style. Rhyming feels like a limiting poetic device for me at the time. There’s good in getting out of my comfort zone but it’s also good to stick to my strengths and what I know.

I’m learning that there’s a time and a place for certain things that we write. And that what make work one time, may not fit with new material. I’m finding comfort in the fact that I can make mistakes and these mistakes and attempts can be used in an abstract way to produce more refined material. Squished lemons can still make lemonade.

Challenge Journal 1: Political Research

Having interned at the DOJ as a speechwriting intern, one of my biggest tasks was to conduct research for upcoming speeches. It was my job to organize all of that research so it was readily accessible and citable. I face a similar problem now, with my topic being limited to trade, I can use any research methods I want. There is no limitation as to what data I want to use.

In my first week interning the internship, I also had to go through the previous 3 months worth of speeches and had to organize stats/data that was already written about. It was my job to organize that and to research/cite that data (which I compiled into an over 50-page research document searchable by terms and statistics, already cited in the proper format – DOJ document so I couldn’t take it with me). It included in-depth numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, statistics from academic journals, stories about those murdered in violent crimes.

It was good data – but data that was hard to organize and find.

This presented a relatively new problem for me in my writing: finding/organizing research that was meant to advance a predisposed argument, and not using the research to develop my argument.

I realized that this is the basis for all political writing. You search for the numbers that support what you already think. You look for emotional stories to give it weight and meaning. In academics, it’s flipped.

This was relatively new for me. How was I supposed to know what type of number or story would fit in a speech? How did I know if it would give the “weight” that we needed it to or if it fit the broader narrative?

I am again faced with this problem in the early stages of my project as I begin to search for data to base my speeches off of. But now, I have the underlying experience – the “gut feeling” – to tell if a statistic will work, or if it will help advance the message. I often struggle when there is no specific direction; with my project I can take the speeches on trade to any argument I want, but what data do I want to use?

Challenge Post One: When I can’t use my own voice, I don’t know who’s writing.

Have you ever been in a class where a teacher gives you an assignment, but the teacher has such a strict criteria for what he/she wants that you do not have any freedom to think? I had that happen to me in my English 225 class, which ended up being an unpleasant course for myself. For each assignment, the teacher wanted it her way or the highway. Here is an excerpt from one of my essays:

The Big House, State Street, Zingerman’s delicatessen: all aspect of Ann Arbor that make it a small, up-and-coming city. In Jane Jacobs’ acclaimed piece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the urbanist outlines the rigid criteria for a city to be considered “great” and “progressive.” Jacobs mentions diversity, concentration, and sidewalk population as just a few of her specific eligibilities of what makes a city note-worthy. Although Jane Jacobs has a strict qualification of what a great city is, Ann Arbor would be categorized as a thriving city based on the multicultural and security aspects of the community that coincide with Jane Jacobs’ arguments.

When I read that paragraph, it sounds nice, concise, and academic. But, who is writing it? It definitely does not sound like my voice; it sounds cookie-cutter and boring. Sometimes, I am so concerned with achieving the desired level of content on a paper that I completely lose my voice. And without voice, who is speaking?

I’m moderately nervous about this problem for my capstone project. My project is about Beyoncé’s rise to becoming an icon, which gives me quite a bit of liberty for my tone (I prefer to write how I speak– sarcastic and to the point). However, there is so much content needed that I do not want to get in a monotonous routine of writing just to get information down.

An annoying, yet necessary, task I will need to perform is reading my work out loud. Reading out loud sometimes helps me get creative with my writing, and I can notice more readily where I’m writing to formally. I want my piece to be understood by an average reader, and I do not want this to become a research paper.

My voice is important, and it is a critical part of my capstone project. Comment if you have any techniques when you realize that  you are deviating from your desired tone of your piece.

Is this a dead end?

Hi everyone,

Maybe you can all help me to see how my own interests can be better translated into a substantial argument that is appealing to the largest audience I could get to meet me halfway.

I’m considering (among other things) writing about sub-cultures/lifestyle branding. This is a broad way to phrase it, but what I mean is that the phenomena of multiple categories of seemingly trivial, preference-based life choices, such as decisions of food and clothing, have been lumped together to form sub-cultures in society. For example, the American brand, Tory Burch, includes a list of restaurant recommendations on the official website. When I looked at this while trying to “make the familiar strange,” it was intriguing to me. However, I am worried that this may just be an argument that people who enjoy one thing are likely to enjoy another.

I am particularly interested in the classic American (preppy, as many name it) style and lifestyle, but I’m not sure how to write about this with more novelty. Maybe I can incorporate talk of lifestyle branding? What would that look like?

How can I take this topic beyond the stage of observing what a lot of people have in common?

Thanks for your help!