Dear Prospective Minor in Writing Applicants,

I was hesitant to apply to the Minor in Writing because, well, I didn’t really know what it was. It was introduced to me with an email forwarded from an older friend without any real explanation. As I searched the Sweetland Center’s website I understood the structure of the program, but I still had unanswered questions. How much freedom do I have to write what I want? Am I just going to be studying grammar and punctuation all day? What will the classes be like?

I wished I could have seen students’ work, their progression, their struggles. I wished that there was a glimpse into the program other than the descriptions of courses and historical syllabi.

Over the course my time in the Minor in Writing Gateway, I’ve developed an understanding for all of these questions. And so, I wanted to share my experiences to show you, the prospective applicants, my struggles and progression, my missteps and successes.

An accumulation of my experimentation can be found here, in my Gateway ePortfolio.

You’ll see a discovery of my writing process, how I learned to think again. You’ll see the progression of my voice and how I learned to highlight it throughout various genres. You’ll see how I developed a strong sense of different audiences, and how they might react to assorted techniques.

And hopefully, you’ll see how I plan on continuing to experiment and question my ideas from now, until my final Capstone course, and beyond.

Happy reading, prospective students. Send in that application; you won’t regret it.

Best,

Ashley

The Happy Medium Between Science and Personality

For my past experimentation, I took a more scientific approach on a personal experience. While, the insight gained from this process was extremely useful, something was missing when the information was presented in a purely scientific format. The voice and personal experience that was cultivated through the series of diary entires was lost. So, for this next experiment, I plan on combining the personal experience of the diary entries and scientific basis of the literary review paper into a comic. I think this will be a great platform, because in cartoons and comics, authors convey current events, controversies, or historical events in a comedic or personal manner, which amplifies a reader’s reaction to the piece.

Traditional comics have relatively the same overarching characteristics of creating an argument or claim, usually through humor. They are usually published in online or print magazines and newspapers, and therefore lend themselves to an intended audience of people who are interested in the subject, so scientists, professors, and students for scientific comics. However, I think comics are so powerful because their audience invoked is so large. Anyone who reads the magazine or newspaper where the comic is located is exposed to it, whether they are originally interested in it or not. In fact, some people skip straight to the comic section in the Sunday news.

Here are some traditional comics that caught my eye:

After researching some examples for formatting a comic, I found that there are a few variations in the genre:

  • Color vs. black and white
  • Multi-strip vs. single strip
  • Comment blurb vs. words throughout

This helped me narrow down what I want to do for my piece. Looking at different examples, I find the color comics more eye-catching and will use that technique in my own piece. I believe that my message will be better suited for a single strip, rather than multi, comic. Also, having words throughout my comic will flow better than containing them to blurbs.

While many comics use humor to further their claims, I feel like this might be inappropriate to talk about such an impactful disorder like depression. Therefore, for my experiment I am choosing to go against this norm of the comic genre, and instead attempt to draw deeper and more emotional reaction from the readers, while still keeping the same formatting structure.

I think what I hope to emulate is more along the lines of a project that my friend, Kathryn Rossi, a student at FIT, created for her math class which she shared via her Instagram @kathryn_rossi:

 

Analyzing Modes of Communication in Everyday Texts

While reading the Writer/Designer textbook I was challenged to pay particular attention to the unique ways in which information is been presented to me, in order to compare and contrast how different texts use modes to communicate ideas. Sitting in class, I looked at the different ways in which teachers display their lessons. Scrolling through Facebook, I looked at the different mediums in which I learned about the latest news from friends, family members, and even businesses. I even spent more time analyzing videos, fliers, and stickers on computers.

The first text that I noticed was chapter from my Writer/Designer that I had just finished reading. It is formatted as a textbook, with visual aids throughout the paragraphs. Throughout the chapter I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Visual

I’ve attached an example of a visual aid used within the chapter to describe the topic of multimodality. The spatial mode accounts for how the authors arranged the text, using a circular visual aid on the right, with accompanying text on the left. This decision makes me believe that the authors wanted to describe the aid first, giving insight on what it is depicting since a reader usually looks from the left to the right. The linguistic mode accounts for the author’s word choice that is relatively basic and informal, which is indicative of the broad audience of those attempting to better their writing skills in an educational manner. The visual mode accounts for the images chosen to represent information, which in this case is bright and colorful, looking to draw and retain the reader’s attention.

I continued to look at texts other than my textbook in the same manner. On a Facebook page called Jewlish, a media source for both modern and traditional Jewish recipes and food-related news, I watched a video on how to make Apple Challah because of the recent High Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. While watching the video, found at https://www.facebook.com/sojewlish/videos/856792114478285/ , I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Gestural

The spatial mode accounts for how the bowls, spoons, and ingredients are arranged throughout the video, in a visually appealing and neat manner. The visual mode accounts for the black background, gray table, and clear bowls that are used in order to not distract the viewer from the actual food. The linguistic mode is less prevalent with this medium and is only used to allow the viewer to read the ingredients and amount being used for the recipe. The aural mode accounts for the background music that is light and fun, as well as the exclusion of sounds that would be made if someone were actually cooking. The gestural mode, in this case, is the hand motions of the actor making the food uses throughout his cooking, that are precise and professional.

In an online flier for the Mass Meeting for an entrepreneurial club on campus, called InnovateUM, I noticed several modes being used, despite its simplicity:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The spatial mode is seen with the arrangement of the words in order to draw attention to the club name and the reason for the flier, the mass meeting. I think this decision of arrangement is used because if the reader is interested in the club and going to the mass meeting, then they will read on to see the date, time, and place of the event. The visual mode accounts for the color choice, using maize and blue as a homage to the University of Michigan, and the choice of using a gear and lightbulb in order to represent innovation, the basis of the club. Although there are only a few words on the online flier, they fit into the linguistic mode and show a precise use of language.

Over the weekend I read a review article for a product, called SafeSound Personal Alarm, I was looking into buying. The alarm acts as a substitution for pepper spray in states that it is illegal to carry. The article gives a personal account from a user as well as facts on the product and can be read here. I noticed these modes throughout the reading:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The author of the article, in my opinion, had little consideration for the spatial arrangement of the information. Text and pictures, as well as hyperlinks to other pages were crowded throughout the webpage, making it hard to read as there were many distractions. This was a problem for me with the visuals on the page too, which were important to include because they showed the product, but too large which also distracted me from other information. The linguistic aspect was a series of choices that led to a more informal tone, even when presenting facts, which I thought was important in order to appeal to the audience of mostly women looking to purchase a product to put their minds at ease from attackers.

While scrolling through Facebook and stalking friends of friends this weekend, I came across my a picture my sister’s friend from high school posted. It was of her and her husband on their wedding day. In the picture I noticed these modes at work:

  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural
  • Linguistic

As a picture, the visual mode is indicative of most of the information being presented. Even though she did not write, “I just got married,” that is the news that is brought to light. From a spatial and gestural perspectives, the arrangement of them as a couple and how they are interacting with each other, shows their love for each other. At first glance, I didn’t notice a linguistic aspect to the picture, but after further examination, I realized that the signage in the background gives key information of the place, Buffalo. In addition, the watermark in the bottom right corner shows the viewer who the photographer is.

Looking comparatively at each mode used to convey information, I noticed that there was much crossover between what the perceived genres are and the modes used. For example, every text includes visual, spatial, and linguistic modes regardless if it is a video, photograph, textbook, article, or flier. It was just the extent of the use of the mode that differed. The only modes that were unique were aural, that was only included in the video from Jewlish, and gestural, that was seen whenever people were physically involved such as the cook from Jewlish and the man and woman in their wedding photos. However often each mode appeared, they all gave further insight on the subject they were attempting to explain.

Core, Anti-, and Proximal Audience

Minor Item 4: Capstone Project Audience

At first, I struggled with the following questions: How does the topic of your capstone project relate to people other than yourself? How will you make your project interesting and relevant to the larger public? In choosing a topic as specialized as magazine journalism- print magazine journalism for that matter- the answers to these very questions were initially hard to come by. It is evident that journalism, or content production/ consumption, is a specialized topic in it of itself, let alone the print side of the industry.

Core Audience:

People in my core target audience are those involved or interested in print journalism, specifically feature/magazine writing. They understand that print journalism is at risk, however, value it as an influential and significant source of information. Furthermore, people in my target audience are those who also prefer digital journalism over print journalism, and are unaware of the value of the latter. I hope to change these people’s beliefs, or even simply further their knowledge on the matter. Lastly, I hope to target those generally interested in journalism, information, or news, and those whose consume or interact with such content on a daily basis.

Proximal Audience:

When I tell people I want to pursue print journalism as a profession, they often and automatically respond with disappointment and doubt. It is clear that print journalism is a dying market, as today’s content is predominantly produced and distributed through digital means. Even still, print journalism does not stand alone: there are other markets and industries experiencing similar situations. Consider the book publishing industry, or even the record industry, both of which have been overtaken by either technology or digital media.

In this way, my proximal audience will consist of people not in my immediate target audience, rather, just to the left or right. These people are the “book publishers” or those in the record industry, who are experiencing vulnerability, just as I am, when it comes to their professions and passions. Though they may not be interested in feature writing or print journalism directly, they have an interest in a field of study or profession that is either undervalued or losing value overtime.

Anti-Audience:

People that I will rule out of my audience are those who do not care for information consumption, news, or journalism in any matter. I will not be able to reach people who have no interest whatsoever in the industry, let alone those who are interested in print feature writing. I am aware that my project will not reach/make an impact on everyone, however, I will do my best to reach the audience members I know I am capable of reaching.

Keith Grant-Davie’s Piece on Rhetoric

If you’ve glanced at all at the other posts about Keith Grant-Davie, you’ll know that not unlike his name, the article is heavy. It felt almost like a tongue twister and a mind melter trying to sift through everything he was trying to say. I think it was mostly confusing because he kept quoting and name dropping while also adding in his own arguments.

Nonetheless, here are the top 3 key points I think are important about his analysis of the rhetor and rhetoric:

1. “Writers who know how to analyze these situations have a better method of examining causality. They have a stronger basis for making composing decisions and are better able, as readers, to understand the decisions other writers have made.”

– Here I think it’s great that he summarizes exactly why you should even care about rhetoric analysis. If you know more about rhetoric, and in turn causality, you will basically be a better writer. He says it in a lot more words, but you should keep reading his article if you want to be a better writer and reader. He also wraps up the conclusion by saying that teaching student readers and writers to analyze rhetorical situations helps them to find their style and their role in the writing world.

2. “the four constituents I see in rhetorical situations: exigence, rhetors, audiences, and constraints”

– Keith Grant-Davie believes there are four rhetorical situations and while he goes deeper into all of them for the rest of the paper, what is key is that these are the ones that exist to him. You should know that these four are what he believes create the situation or add to the situation of a piece of writing. (I’m not sure if it was just me, but I had to Google what exigence meant…) Either way, he makes a pretty compelling argument for why he believes each constituent is important and convinces me at least.

3. “The rhetor’s sense of exigence, when communicated successfully to the audience, can become a positive constraint, a factor that helps move the audience toward the rhetor’s position.”

– This one’s the kicker. He just threw all four constituents into one sentence. It doesn’t get more clear than this. Through all of his jumbled jargon and quotes and analysis, this is the one sentence that combines it all. He wants us to care because the point of (most) writing is to get someone else to care about something you care about or to convey some sort of feeling, message, policy, etc. When it comes to being a convincing writer, he displays, quite literally with this sentence, that all four constituents matter.

—Sorry this was so long.

Grant-Davie’s Position on Rhetoric

Though somewhat dense in content, Grant-Davie’s piece about rhetorical situations and what defines them does leave much to contemplate. At first it seems slightly ironic that in his analysis of rhetoric, Grant-Davie uses large amounts of rhetoric to arrive at his point. Reading his writing is like sifting through a gold mine of idea; the problem being that there’s so much gold that it all blurs together and feels meaningless.

The points that I drew from this heavy piece were first of all his emphasis on the organization of rhetorical analysis. He states that one must first understand what the discourse is about, then why it is needed, and finally what it should accomplish. I feel that this process of definition, cause and effect, and evaluation of values is key to understanding ones own writing and the writing of others. Especially when it is done in this order can it be particularly useful for analysis. Moreso in one’s own writing would this technique be helpful, because if this three-step process is congruent and makes sense, then you know that your writing is going to work well with the audience.

Something that I would say that I disagree with is the idea that one should write for any competent man and not restrict one’s audience to a certain set of people. I think that this restricts the author in their ability to write his or her own subjective views on a topic, which is what writing is about in my opinion. When I write, I have a specific set of people in mind who would enjoy my writing, and certain people whom I know it would enrage, and this is my goal. Making it accessible to as many people as possible would lessen its power in this way.

Finally, the idea of writing constraints is very appealing to me and my own writing. He cites that in a campaign speech one must be aware of the political context and current issues, and these will limit what a politician may speak about. Particularly the idea that “the challenge for the rhetor is to decide which parts of the context bear on the situation enough to be considered constraints” is intriguing to me. Maybe this is something I should consider more in my own writing instead of just looking back upon what has been written in this light.

Weaponized Writing

I have a busy week ahead of me so I’m doing this blog post early (this is meant to be the one for Wednesday the 22; yes my schedule is that crazy). Also I saw something that inspired me. That something was this:

Now, some of you might wonder why museums are relevant to writing and might even (rightly) accuse me of trying to combine coursework for two classes to create less work. The least charitable among you might think “WTF, cartoon cats?” To this imaginary quarrelsome audience, I would respond that it is not about the “what” but the “how.” I’ve written at least forty pages on museums yet somehow in a five minute space of time, two cartoon cats have upstaged me. This is the power of satire. Saying things without saying them.  Subversion through imitation. Using that which is cute and soft to portray some hard and sharp insights. Professors often talk about how form should match content but in this case, by creating a juxtaposition between form and content, the content becomes more powerful in some ways. A kitten criticizing public institutions somehow exposes the ridiculousness of these institutions, which like to portray themselves as august and authoritative, yet the criticisms are not ridiculous. They are enough to make many museum professionals sweat, bluster or go silent.

This brings me to an aspect of writing which we touched on a bit with Orwell but never fully developed. Writing as a means of social change and satire as a means of social change. Orwell has been perfectly serious and for the most part, in our writing for this class, although humor has doubtlessly been employed, satire has been left in the dugout. Writing as social change brings about awareness and is best when it uses the kind of persuasion we find in other kinds of writing; appeals to reason as in Malcolm Gladwell’s work, and appeals to emotion like that of Thomas Paine (the guy who wrote “Common Sense”).  Satire in my mind can be potent as a tool for social change in that it makes you aware by exposing how unaware you were before. It takes societal notions like “museums house valuable objects”, which many buy into and flips them on their head, “museums make their objects valuable.”  I make it sound boring by talking about it this way. The key aspect to satire is what makes it not boring; it’s wit. The way it turns things on their heads. For example, these lines are some of the wittiest, though they are probably only funny to me as a Museum Studies Minor:

“Chances are the museum people who decide what gets to be put in a museum probably don’t have anything in common with you.”

“Inside the objects are usually lined up against blank walls; blank walls are good so that the visitors won’t have to deal with so much context or history .”

“Actually, at first I though that there must be some kind of law against having poor people on a museum’s Board of Trustees.  But then later, I found out that actually there isn’t any law like this. This is just the way they like to do it.”

“It’s like that because no matter how much museum people try to copy reality it’s never going to come out right but then all the museum visitors say this is the actual Pinky [an object on exhibition]. This is very educational.”

A hallmark of satire is using wit as a weapon. When I first read this phrase, most likely in a high school lit book, I didn’t question it. But now I have to wonder who this weapon is aimed at. In the case of this video, which is obviously scripted and perhaps based off of some academic paper, the weapon of wit seems to be aimed not only at museums but at the viewer who buys into them without thinking. People often write to persuade people of something, and this is persuasive, at least to me, but this showed me that people also write to challenge the reader, to challenge society. The relationship between reader and writer can intentionally not be a friendly, chummy one or an authoritative relationship. It can be deliberately advesarial.  instead of appealing to someone’s world view to persuade them (as is often what seems to be meant when we say we’re “writing for an audience”), satire like this video rocks people’s world view.

Here is a link to their website FAQ if you’re interested: http://www.pinkyshow.org/faqs

Write Like Nobody’s Reading?

First of all, I thought both writers were really engaging and I enjoyed listening to them to speak about writing. It made me want to go home and write. Instead, I went out to dinner and returned to my room to write this essay, fat and happy without a single memory of what I originally intended to write about in this blog post. So I’ll let the words flow. See what happens.  Hopefully not this:

One of the most notable parts of the night for me was hearing Melanie Pugh talk about how she had to stop thinking about herself as a writer in order to start writing. The word “writer” carried connotations of being published, and of serving an audience. Moreover, it implied a certain quality of writing. Only by putting aside thoughts of an audience and of achieving excellence, could she begin to write; or at least that’s how I interpreted her words. I have to heartily agree with everything she said. Who has ever sat down to write, thought “I am going to be so amazing and write the most amazing thing,” and actually managed to write? For me, in order to write, I have to let go of the medium, of writing itself. At least at first, I have to focus on my topic, arguments and my evidence. Once those are down, I can take a step back and look at how my ideas are packaged

Thinking of yourself as a writer carries another preconception, which I think hinders writing.  This kind of thinking: “I am a writer; therefore I am published. I am published; I become a writer) .” I find it problematic.  It makes one focus too much on an audience. You’re probably thinking “What? There is such a thing as focusing too much on an audience? Isn’t one of the main things we’re focusing on in this class how to shape our writing to appeal/target an audience?” Or maybe not. You might be thinking about what you had for lunch. Anyways, writing for an audience is all well in good. Professional writers have to keep in mind their audience.  Yet blatant appeals to an audience without the substance of a strong mind and a strong topic can lead to superficial, crowd-pandering articles, that don’t have a vision of their own.  The kind of writing I imagine this person to create:

Essentially the kind of person who sees writing as a vehicle, not for ideas but for their own ego; they’re the kind of people who don’t understand that most writers don’t actually make that much money.

Another peril is that focusing to much on getting published and getting an audience is that it can lead to writers being unable to write as they lose sight of their own ideas in favor of what they think an imaginary body of people will like.  Yet sometimes writing to a specific audience can be useful; many books have  been made up for letters, not intended for the public  but to a sibling, spouse or close friend. For that reason they have a certain intimacy. But I digress.  I think of writing as this deeply personal thing, even if I’m writing something that is not necessarily focused on me and my life.  The writer’s hand cannot be strained or filtered out of a piece like dirty water out of a dish rag, it’s intrinsic to how the piece was created, even if its merely choices about structure rather than opinion. Sometimes it’s more than that though:

So can you know someone by reading their writing? Would it have to be a particular genre of writing such as journal or poetry? Or is it a particular kind of writing; it is said that bad writing says more about the writer than the subject. Do writers come off differently in their writing than they do in real life? Why might that be? Is it impossible to know someone through writing because the writing can’t talk back? Or is it that complete lack of direct action between the reader and the writer, that exposes the writer’s true essence because s/he can’t shape their writing for an individual stranger? Can you get a sense of a writer from their readers?

 

 

ePortfolio Proposal

I want my audience to have a fun and engaging reading experience. I plan to create my ePortfolio on WordPress because it is a user-friendly, professional looking platform. My goal is to design a purposeful layout and create different tabs in order to provide my readers with easy navigation. Although each writing piece will be different in terms of content and design, I want my portfolio to appear as a cohesive piece reflecting who I am as a writer. I want my readers to view each artifact and gain a full understanding of my purpose and tone. In order to do this, I want to display each writing example neatly and creatively by including visuals such as photos and videos. When appropriate, I will attempt to redesign my various writing examples to further emphasize the thesis of each essay and give my readers another avenue of entry into my writing.

I want my portfolio to be somewhat interactive, but I don’t want the interactivity to distract from my writing examples. I will incorporate links to the various blogs/websites I write for. I also might incorporate my own personal blog and Twitter feed. I’ve considered creating a new Twitter account specifically for this portfolio, but I think my personal account will work just fine because I usually use it to promote my articles anyways. I will probably also include a link to my LinkedIn account in order to connect the two. I haven’t decided if I want to allow comments, but I do plan to include a function that allows readers to contact me if they are seeking a freelance writer or if they want to discuss my writing experience and techniques.  I think this will help me to network with other writers in my field.

I definitely want my portfolio to be organized around a guiding theme because I like when things fit together as a whole. I want my reader to get a real sense of who I am as a writer by reading my portfolio. Every subsection should fit nicely with the overall theme and add something new to the mix. For example, my academic writing will be separated from my fashion/lifestyle writing. I want my theme to be apparent but at the same time I want my readers to make their own interpretations of my portfolio.

As I stated above, I want to include photos and possibly videos in my portfolio because I think they will enhance my original messages and compliment my writing examples. I also might want to include sound, but I’d have to try out different songs and see if they fit well with my guiding theme. I’m very excited to start working on my portfolio and can’t wait to see how the final product turns out.

Sitting in a Library with Demi Lovato, Wondering Where It All Went Wrong

Here I sit, writing this blog entry from the Grad Library, listening to Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” for the umpteenmillionith time. Oh yes, I’m at that level of hopeless.  I think I’m starting to lose my mind…I just paid $3.75 for a bottle of juice. That’s ridiculous. But the bottle says it’s natural, and will help me think better. Lucky for the Naked juice company, I’m a desperate sucker, and it seems to be working.  I predict more over priced juice smoothie beverages to come in the near future.

Naked Juice bottle.
I wish I knew how to quit you. Source: my phone.

Honestly, this paper is bummin’ me out.  I can’t seem to get it right.  When I start, I hate what I’ve written, and I do the worst thing you can do – delete everything on the page. I have little fragments that look like they’re starting to come together, but I’m underwhelmed with my progress, and overburdened by the task at hand (which is totally my fault…writing on zombies? seriously?).  It’s funny, I had the exact same problem with the first iteration of this paper; it was the most difficult writing assignment I had done in college up until now.  I was hoping to know how to navigate my way around it better a second time, but here I am, struggling just as much as I remember. I’m satisfied with my idea, the audience I have in mind, and the sources I’ve got to back up what I want to say. So why can’t I seem to write this damn thing? Why is writing about something interesting always so much harder than it should be?

Fall break is less than a week a way. I’m not a religious person, but hallelujahs are in order. Those two blessed, completely free days are just the thing I’m going to need to get this paper to the level it needs to be, and where I want it to be.  Some extra, uninterrupted time to sit down and write is going to be a vacation. Had I had more time for the paper I’m adapting from for this assignment, I think I’d have felt way better about how it turned out. I feel like I failed this paper the first time I wrote it, even though it got an A.  Somehow, that actually made me feel worse about not having the paper up to my standard.  Here I’d written something I felt completely ashamed of, and somehow managed to get rewarded for it.  And I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a case of the creator being overly critical of his or her own work…the paper was bad. Bad enough to warrant italics and bolding (look at all the emphasis in these last few sentences – I must be tired).

I really don’t want to end up feeling the same way about this paper (though I severely doubt I’d get an A for such a deplorable piece).  I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed myself again, and then have to pick up the remnants of a project that crashed and burned to build something new again. I don’t think I can handle the disappointment in myself again. I know it sounds narcissistic, but I really couldn’t care less right now. I know I don’t want to mess this up again, and the fact that I feel like I am is upsetting me. I hung a poster in my room for just this type of situation this year, and I’ll end on its wisdom, for both the sake of inspiring myself and as a gift to you, fellow writing minor 2011 cohorts. If you spend as disgusting an amount of time on the Interwebz as I do, you’ll propbably recognize the meme as Courage Wolf.

Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.
Apparently, the quote is from a woman named Ella Williams. I'm disappointed that she was in fact, not a wolf. Source: http://www.memedr.com/images/43-courage-wolf-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew-then-chew-it.jpg

Happy writing.