“Writing in the margins…a passion to communicate”

So I just listened to the podcast of Sweetland’s Writer to Writer session, and I have to say, I’m so bummed I didn’t get to go to live event! It seemed like there was so much energy in the room, so kudos to anyone who contributed to it. Maria Cotera seems like a really amazing person and professor—her voice came off as calm, yet powerful in a way. I could almost feel her passion and commitment to her work through the recording (as weird as that sounds).

Before I started to listen to the podcast, I didn’t really know what Maria was going to speak about. I knew the purpose of the session, but I didn’t know any specifics. So when she started talking, I was so shocked that her story was so relatable. She starts the conversation by speaking about her mother, and thus her exposure to writing through he mom’s social action and plea for justice. As she was speaking about her mom, I started to think about who my writing guru was—the person that inspired me to start writing. Maria’s story sounded so familiar to me, because that’s really how I got into writing (and I didn’t even realize it until after she mentioned her story). It hit me; Maria’s relationship with her mom reminds me a lot of my relationship with my dad. I guess more specifically, Maria’s mom reminds me a lot of my dad.

I should give a little background first: I am the youngest of five redheads who grew up in a house that strived on organized chaos. We were all the products of two passionate, energetic, silly, and loving parents who strived (and still strive) to make the world a better place. I didn’t grow up like the other kids in my neighborhood. Instead of family meals (which rarely occurred because everyone had such crazy schedules), family time consisted of stuffing envelopes for various philanthropic causes (which include, but are not limited to, foster care reform, LGBQT issues, or donating money to help refugees in Israel) every Sunday evening around the dining room table. The envelopes consisted of eloquent and powerful writing that was supposed to motivate recipients into action. Essentially, my dad would spam his contact list and use as a human assembly line. But somehow, I didn’t see to mind this tradition. My dad’s passion was contagious, and as I grew up, I started to realize that he was using his writing to make the world a better place. I was inspired and motivated to do the same.

In high school, I joined our nationally ranked newspaper, The Lightning Strike, and quickly worked my way up to Editorial Editor. As the head of the Editorial section, I was in charge of layout and design of the pages, oversaw all of the content being written, and wrote the unsigned editorial, on behalf of our the staff. My pieces were unconventional, as I geared toward topics like human rights, the importance of voting, community action, and social justice. I hoped to use my writing to motivate readers into action, and thus developed a passion for writing about social change. Like Maria, I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.

However, Maria and I differ in the definition of “the voiceless.” During the podcast, Maria spoke about “writing as a communicative art; avenues for telling stories that haven’t been told. [She has] an impulse to tell stories about the people have been ignored because time has passed.” However, Maria argues that she only gives a voice to people who are dead, because it’s impossible for them to speak up. But she won’t speak for those who are alive because “everyone has the power to speak for him or herself.” Frankly, I don’t agree with that. To me, speaking out seems to be a privilege—one that not everyone has access to. My father and I do a lot of work with children in Foster Care for this reason alone. People who do not have support systems, who are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, who don’t have the proper outlet, who are silenced by authority or the system at large. All of these people are very much alive and don’t have the power to say anything, for the consequence is way too risky. These people are living examples of “the voiceless” and their stories desire to be heard and spread, so the world can do something about it.

Therefore, I use my power of words for those who are not granted that privilege. In essence, that’s why I write.

And that’s also why I wish I were at the live recording of this event—so I could bring this up and ask Maria her opinion. In the meantime, I’m curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts, so feel free to comment below! If you (like me) missed the show, here’s a link to the recording. Enjoy!

McDonalds? More like McWriting! #rayray

I’m joining the chorus of Minors blogging about Professor Maria Cotera’s Writer to Writer presentation at the Literati book store in downtown Ann Arbor. The first thing I want to say is that I am really happy I went for the sole reason that I got to experience a venue and an event that I will probably never visit again. By that I mean that if I weren’t in the Minor in Writing program, I would have had no interest, motivation, or idea that event like this was happening at a bookstore on a random Thursday night. Not only does the Minor give you the opportunity to explore yourself through our class assignments, but also to seek out new ways to widen your scope of the local writing community. I went to a reading for Ray’s book during the Gateway Course ([PIKA!]) at the Vault of Midnight comic book store, so the Minor has exposed me to events and places I had no idea even existed. So, thanks Sweetland and the MIW program!

Now to Professor Cotera’s presentation. Everybody else on the blog has talked about Professor Cotera’s message on being passionate about what you’re writing about. I couldn’t agree more with what she and everybody else has said–being passionate about what you are doing, whether it is your writing, your career, your hobby, or your social life, is of the utmost importance. How can you expect people to read your writing when you wouldn’t want to read it yourself?

However, I want to blog about something different. She talked a lot about her mother and how she learned to love the writing process by watching her mother write at McDonald’s on scratch paper. She then proceeded to talk about how some of the best writing nowadays is happening on blogs–more blogging=more writing, and as she said, writing a lot is the best way to become a good writer. Ray then asked the question about whether Professor Cotera missed anything about the era where people were writing on scratch paper and napkins instead of blogs and the Internet. I’ve thought about the same question myself before because I constantly find myself distracted when I type on my computer. With ESPN, Buzzfeed, and Twitter just a click away, I often find myself procrastinating when my writing stalls or the going gets tough. These moments are crucial to a writer; as Professor Cotera says, when things aren’t making sense, when you feel like you are stuck, that is when you will really start figuring out the direction your writing is going. Sometimes I think it would be simpler just to have you, a pen, paper, some light, and your thoughts (yes, I know I can do this nowadays too. But with endless distractions and the craziness that is college life, as well as the fact that most assignments are due online/via electronic word processors, I often find it challenging to find self-restraint when I work on a computer).

So, I’m wondering if anybody else has these same thoughts. Do you think writing would be better or worse if you could just write all of your assignments with pen and paper? Like Professor Cotera’s mom, do you have a  “McDonalds” that you consider your personal safe haven for writing? How do you deal with the inevitable distractions of working on a laptop, computer, iPad, etc? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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In case ya missed it: 5 take aways from Maria Cotera’s talk #rayray

Hey all! For anyone who didn’t capitalize on the 100 point opportunity this Thursday at Literati (shame on you…JK. Kinda.), here are a few of her take aways about writing that I found potentially helpful:

1. Form affects tone. When you are writing for a blog, you adapt your “bloggy” voice. When you are writing academic research, cue the distance passive (i.e. “The following dissertation will argue that X…”). Secret  is: no one likes the latter of those two. It feels distant and, frankly, boring. (HINT: our evolution essays should probably avoid that academicky passive voice.)

2. Boring to write, then boring to read. This plays into point 1 a bit.

3. Don’t “invisiblize” yourself as the writer. (This also plays into point 1 about the passive voice. Why should I care about what your “dissertation” is arguing? I’d rather see YOU and your passion about the topic. Read: it’s OK to use “I”.)

4. Start with a structure you know (i.e. classic essay structure)…it’s a safe jumping off point. Then, once you have the structure a little, nuance it. (Could help when drafting this weekend…).

5. There is strength in taking risky challenges and making them the focus of your work. Ask questions. Provoke. Push a little.

…That’s it! See you in class.

Amy