Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Epiphany of sorts...

Today I was sitting at work, listening to the drone of fingers typing and voices on speakerphone, thinking of a central theme for my multi-genre piece, when it all of a sudden dawned on me: I should write a piece about myself! Now, to most authors that probably seems a little obvious to be classified as an epiphany, but I had been so focused on that graphic designer snippet that I wrote and so when the idea came to me I could literally see the brightness from the lightbulb above my head. I'm in the process of switching careers. And let me tell you, this isn't a minor switch, like for example from a banker to a financial planner. Nope. This switch is from a credit analyst with a finance degree and seven years of banking experience on the fast-track to being the company's first female CEO to a high school English teacher. It's a complete 180! In Blending Genre, Altering Style, Romano shows an example of another young woman making the switch out of a science major into a teaching major. Yesterday, when I read that, I thought it was interesting and creative. However, I didn't realize the genius behind it until this afternoon when I started thinking of my own piece. In my previous post, I listed genres and stated that I didn't know how a credit proposal would fit into my multi genre writing, but I've figured it out! My whole piece will be modeled after the credit proposals that I write on a daily basis. I can incorporate different genres into the different sections that focus on specific aspects of the loans I underwrite: Request, Purpose, Sources and Uses, Collateral Analysis, Officer Comments, Credit Comments... I'm really liking the possibilities that are floating around in my lil head! I'm even brainstorming ways to tie in financial statements...

Stay tuned as I share bits and pieces of firsts and final drafts as I begin writing my first multi-genre piece!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Multi-Genre Papers

I'm now reading Tom Romano's Blending Genre, Altering Style and I'm feeling inspired after only 40 pages. The entire second chapter, devoted to an example of a multi-genre piece, captivated my attention and I found myself not wanting it to end. I'm sure part of that feeling was because it dealt with cosmetics and department stores, two things with which I am very familiar, but I also think it appealed to me because of the variety of genres and the underlying tone conveyed throughout the entire piece. Each piece was interesting on its own, but when put together, the result blew my mind. This was the first multi-genre piece that I've read and it definitely won't be the last. I'm hoping to write my own by the end of this class, and I'm toying with the idea of expanding the short characterization I wrote in a previous post into something more complex and well-rounded.

One of the elements I liked best in Jennifer Sorensen's "Cosmetic Clips" was her imaginative use of unexpected genres such as a help wanted ad, excerpts from a training manual, a letter from an employee to a customer, and a script for a P. A. announcement. She took the genre and molded it to show what she wanted to say; altered it so it was a tongue-in-cheek representation of what actually happens behind a cosmetics counter.

She inspired me to brainstorm some unexpected genres I could use in my own piece. My head is swimming with ideas of what I could write about. I like the idea of including my graphic design character and showing the contrast and tension between she and a more "normal" girl in her school. I'm thinking the two characters are paired up for a project and realize they are actually more alike than they thought. Right now that sounds kind of cheesy and over done, but I guess it's a starting point. I'm envisioning going back and forth between the girls' minds and showing their own personal insecurities through descriptions of one another, samples of their work, excerpts from things in their daily lives, and have the piece culminate with a sample of the project on which they were assigned. Some of the genres I've thought about that are a little more interesting to me are:
  • Party Invitation
  • Excerpt from a daily planner
  • Lesson Plan
  • Morning Announcements
  • Credit Proposal (this probably wouldn't fit within the scenario I've created, but this is the type of writing I do at my banking job and I think it would be interesting to see how I could modify it to fit into a multi-genre piece)
  • Photography
  • Sales Slip
  • Shopping List
  • Recipes
  • A two person poem like the one by Brienne Cummings on page 6 of a multi-genre piece about Laurie Halse Andersen's Speak
  • Yearbook signatures/notes

I'm a little petrified of taking on the task of writing a piece like this. It seems overwhelming with all of the options. But I'm excited at the same time. I think this is a good chance for me to use some of the methods I've previously read about and really challenge myself to think about how all genres of writing can be used to convey meaning.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Peter Elbow and my Blue Post-Its

In my previous post I mentioned my new method of reading and my color coding sytem for my thoughts. As I glanced at the blue Post-it dominated first half of Writing Without Teachers, I decided I should post about some of the memorable quotes I've come across. Some of these jumped out at me because I saw myself in what he was saying, and others are passages that spoke to me in one way or another.

Pg 15: “Writing is, in fact, a transaction with words whereby you free yourself from what you presently think, feel, and perceive. You make available to yourself something better than what you’d be stuck with if you’d actually succeeded in making your meaning clear at the start.” This struck me because of the word free. It is an interesting concept that the words and thoughts are actually holding me captive until I can get them out of my head and down onto paper. Once they’re out, I can see them more clearly and better understand what they mean than if I tried to write fully formed thoughts from the beginning.

Pg 25: “’Trying to write well’ for most people means constantly stopping, pondering, and searching for better words. If this is true of you, then stop ‘trying to write well.’ Otherwise you will never write well.” I felt like he said, “Ashley Marie Leak, listen up right now!” because that’s exactly what I do. I am constantly looking for the most articulate way to say something as I write and I often lose the next thought I wanted to write about because I’m too worried about writing the current thought in the most effective way. I’m actually hurting my articulation because I’m forgetting and overshadowing some of the words and thoughts I want to write about in my attempt to make other thoughts more powerful the first time through(and only time through, usually).

Pg. 34: “You can encourage richness and chaos by encouraging digressions.” I think this quote should be on the wall of every writing/English teacher’s classroom. I digress so often, sometimes I lose my original train of thought and continue by making my digression my main point. I thought this meant that I have an unorganized mind (which is true) and that it is a bad thing, but Elbow has made me feel like I’m actually doing something right in my writing process. Now, if I can just train myself to continue writing about the digression and then reshaping my writing with a second draft instead of trying to change the entire first draft I'll be in good shape!

Pg 36: “If you refrain from doing it [writing] badly, you will never learn to do it at all.” It seems somewhat paradoxical, but it’s true. It’s difficult for me to write something when I know it’s crap. I feel like I’m wasting my time! But, what this book and Bird by Bird have make me realize is that even if only 1% of your first draft makes it to your final polished piece, it was necessary to write the crap in order to clear your head, get the thoughts out, and figure out what you want to say.

A Quick Reflection on my First Week

I've developed a new way of reading, which is something I probably should have done a long time ago. I'm not the type of person to take notes as I read because I find it distracting. However, as I began my independent study course in writing, I knew I had to change some of my habits if I wanted to effectively convey the thoughts I had while reading the required texts. So, I dug through my desk drawers and pulled out my 4-pack of neon Post-its (with dispensers) and a category for each color: blue for interesting quotes, orange for questions I had, green for "musings" or passages that I wanted to comment on, and pink for anything else (which has developed into flagging a theory or process that I want to try). Armed with my pen and post-its I set out to read in a completely new way.

So far, I've found that it's not as distracting as I thought. I prefer writing my thoughts on post-its and then typing them into my journal at a later time. I've found that it's not the note taking that distracts me, it's switching back and forth from book to laptop (which usually means a quick check of Facebook and Google Reader) that takes me away from my intended task. I like the color coding system I developed because it's a quick visual way for me to see what parts have made an impression, and in what way. I've found that I'm thinking on a higher level as I read. I've switched from reading for pleasure or information and started reading from a more critical perspective.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In addition to Bird by Bird I’ve also been reading Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow. Elbow is a gifted writer as he demonstrates in the introduction. He is funny in a self-deprecating way, but never seems as if he’s trying too hard to get a laugh from the reader. He also has some great ideas for helping uncover the writer within. One of these ideas is by doing three freewrites a week. Freewriting is when a writer (or anyone, actually) writes constantly for about 10 or 15 minutes. Elbow advises to keep writing no matter what, even if all that comes out is the same word repeated over and over. This exercise is to try and get all of the garbage out of the mind with expectations of finding something usable in all of the rambling. Similar to Lamott’s idea of “shitty first drafts,” this is another way for writers to write with no daunting expectations and then go back and see if anything interesting emerged.

I tried my first freewrite today, and I found it unexpectedly liberating. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 10 minutes and ended up writing for about a minute after the beeping interrupted me. The main problem I had was fighting my urge to go back and correct my mistakes. Before I attempt my next freewrite, I’ve decided I need to turn off the option that gives me the red and green squiggle marks under spelling and grammar mistakes. It was almost an obsessive-compulsive drive that made me want me to eliminate all the little reminders of my errors. As I reread through my freewrite, I didn’t really see anything substantial that jumped out at me as something to write more about, but it was very therapeutic to get the thoughts out of my head and down on paper. The freewrite was a lot of rambling about my plans for the weekend and being able to see my friends. At the end, I felt like my head was clearer which I wasn’t really expecting even though Elbow said it would happen. I want to try and do three a week, just for ten minutes before I start writing a blog entry or short assignment or revising something I’ve previously written. I’m looking forward to other tips from Elbow as I read more.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A little more development

I reread through my post from last night, and that little graphic designer just jumped out at me, screaming to be written about! I was thinking about how I wanted to write about her, and I was reminded of Julie Anne Peters as she wrote Luna. She has explained that she wrote the story from the perspective of the sister, not the title character, in order to show details about Luna that can only be told from an outsider's perspective. Had Luna told the story from a first-person perspective, the reader would not be privvy to some of the mannerisms that make Luna unique. I attempted this with my "shitty first draft" of my characterization of the graphic designer. I thought writing it from the perspective of a peer who is very different would allow me to highlight some of the quirkiness that sets her apart. Even though I haven't tackled the physical description of my graphic designer, I think this look into her room and workspace speaks volumes about the type of person she is.

She led me down a flight of stairs into a finished basement. I looked to my left and saw an antique piano flanked by a pool table and an air hockey table. As we walked a little further I noticed a foosball game and what I thought was a tanning bed. Wow, I thought to myself, these people must get bored easily. Why else would they need all of this… this stuff.
We had reached our destination, and we both paused in front of an unassuming honey colored wooden door with a brass knob. She turned the knob, and I saw that the front of that door was the only unassuming thing I would be encountering for the next few minutes. It took me a moment to take in the whole scene. First, my eyes were struck by the wall color. Or, colors, I guess is the more appropriate description. The wall facing me looked like a study in color theory by Kandinsky with concentric circles of different sizes brushed across it. Odd color combinations, too. Mustard yellow with pale gray and bright pink next to a sphere of cobalt blue with a dot of lemon yellow surrounded with brown. The other walls in the room were painted a solid color, at least from what I could tell. They were papered with photographs, large reproductions of words typed in different fonts, and sometimes just lonely letters held up by thumbtacks. Her walls were like life-sized cork boards. Anything that caught her eye must have made it onto her wall.
She must have noticed me surveying the room because she semi-apologized and semi-explained, “Yeah… I like to put stuff that looks cool all over my walls. Sometimes I look at it the next day and wonder what I was thinking, but most of the time…” she trailed off. “Most of the time… I dunno. I just like to look at cool stuff like that. It makes me think about what I want to create.”
I didn’t know what to say. My room was the complete opposite of this. I like order. A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. My walls had been a pale pink for as long as I could remember, and my desk was pristine white, with all of my office supply accessories sitting unused, neatly organized into a matching white holder.
Her desk was a mess. A chaotic, cluttered mess. Magazine pages ripped from their home covered the top. A newspaper was spread out with a half finished painting or art project of some sort drying on top. I could see a half-full package of 72 colored pencils about to fall off the edge. I noticed the other half of the pencils were strewn about the floor under the desk. Was 72 colors really necessary? I didn’t even know the boxes went up that high, I thought to myself. The last box of colored pencils my mother bought held 16 or 18 I think. But that was way back in 3rd grade. I don’t even think I’ve used colored pencils since then.
Her closet doors were half open, exposing a multitude of colors and fabrics and more mess. To her credit, she had a shoe organizer hanging off of the back of one of the doors. Of course, it held only 3 pairs of shoes. The remaining pairs, all seemingly 875 of them, sat in a pile at the end of her bed. No wonder she couldn’t find a matching pair this morning! There was also a slender metal hanger that I recognized as a tie holder. My dad had a few hanging in his closet. But she didn’t have ties hanging from hers. Instead, necklaces made of all sorts of chunky beads, some plastic, some wooden, some shells hung from the small hooks. I noticed a few bracelets too, and even some large hoop earrings. I don’t think there was anything delicate about her choice of accessories.
She cleared off a pile of clothes from her bed and motioned for me to sit down. I delicately stepped over the laptop sitting on the floor, and stumbled a little as I tried to maneuver around the dirty clothes, fashion magazines, and paint tubes strewn about in front of her bed. I positioned myself next to her, on top of a white, down filled comforter with lots of paint stains. I wonder if they were done on purpose or put there during one of her artistic frenzies. She opened her binder and placed it next to her textbook.
“Ok, let’s get started on this,” she said energetically.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who is in me?

I read a few chapters in Bird by Bird again tonight, and one of them dealt with characters. Anne Lamott said to look within onesself to find inspiration based on a facet of ones personality. She said, “You may find a con man, an orphan, a nurse, a king, a hooker, a preacher, a loser, a child, a crone. Go into each of these people and try to capture how each one feels, thinks, talks, survives.” I tried a little exercise where I wrote just a few sentences about the different "people" living within my personality. Some of the people were easy to write, but some were difficult. It only makes sense that the easy people were the parts about myself that I like, making the difficult people parts of my personality that I wish would remain hidden. So far, here is what I've come up with. I really like the idea of developing one or more of these snippets into characterizations. I think there are a lot more characters within my personality just waiting to get out, so maybe I'll post more snippets later. For now, here are my inner-persons:

A graphic designer who loves to find patterns and uniqueness in her surroundings. A person who loves type and finds beauty in written words. A girl who loves color in everything, clothing, jewelry, post-its, book covers. Someone who buys a 72 pack of colored pencils just for the fun of it because she likes looking at the range of different colors and experimenting with combinations. Someone who arranges her bookshelf by color, not by title or author, because it's more visually appealing.

A slacker who will do the bare minimum to get by. Someone who can spend all day on the internet and not accomplish one lick of work. A person who waits until the last possible minute to begin a task and then has to send emails of apology when she can't meet a deadline she's set for herself. A person who spends more time figuring out a short cut to a problem than it takes to actually solve the problem.

An absent minded flake who sets the TV remote down in the refrigerator as she's looking for a nighttime snack. Someone who asks whether instant mashed potatoes are white, like the real thing. A girl who leaves candles burning unattended and forgets to put the milk away after she's done covering her Special K. A person who forgets to return voicemails her friends have left days ago.

A sentimental genealogist who gets misty-eyed thumbing through black and white photographs of relatives she's never met. Someone who tries to think of what life must have been like for her ancestors and what they went through to give her the life she has today. A girl who cannot throw away any small piece of nostalgia. Someone who keeps movie stubs and concert tickets from dates even though she's sworn off ever talking to that guy again. A girl who has looked through every album and shoe box full of photos at her grandmas house and has memorized the stories behind the pictures so she can tell her cousins and children and grandchildren someday.

A mother hen who loves her family and would do anything for them. A girl, the oldest cousin in a family of criers, who gets nostalgic thinking about how well her smaller cousins are growing up. A devoted and loving family member who encourages her younger family members, takes them out to dinner, buys them gifts, and makes them feel special, because they are special to her.

A hopeless romantic who pictures the perfect family life of 3 kids and a black lab living in an impeccably designed home with the man of her dreams. A daydreamer who thinks of the perfect wedding, even though she's not even close to being engaged. Someone who enacts scenes in her head between herself and her boyfriend, thinking of all types of sweet and loving things for him to say to her.

An insecure teenager with an independent front who still wonders if people actually mean the compliments they give her. Someone who does not like to take handouts or ask for help for fear of seeming weak and needy. A girl who puts up a strong front but questions decisions she's made and looks for constant reassurance from her mother. A girl who uses her sense of humor to deflect hurtful remarks and pretends not to care when something does not pan out the way she had hoped.

So far the "sentimental genealogist" has really jumped out at me. I also like the graphic designer because I think she's more quirky than most people would realize. I hope to post later on this week or next week with a more developed character.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My new motto!

Let me just preface this post with one little fact: I don't mind writing. I actually think I could grow to like, maybe even love it if I spend more time actually sitting in front of my computer and typing away. However, I find it daunting, overwhelming, and frightening. That's why I am loving the book I'm currently reading, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She has broken down the process of writing into manageable steps! Who knew! I'm still overwhelmed with the amount of things I can write about, but at least I know where to start. Throughout the next few weeks I'll be sharing thoughts on my readings and samples of my writing. Comments and criticisms (be nice) are always appreciated, so fire away!

One thing that jumped out at me as I read, was this quote in the chapter entitled Perfectionism: "Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground." This will be my new motto! Now, I'll admit that I like this quote out of context because I tend to be slightly on the messy side... Ok, I practically rule the messy side. But I like my life that way! And Lamott has made me feel proud of my messiness! Even if the clutter she references probably isn't the same type of clutter that clogs my nightstand, computer desk, closet, and bookshelf, I think both ideas are distant cousins. I know I'm a cluttered writer. Although I rarely save drafts of pieces I've written, I know that they tend to branch off in multiple directions, often losing focus and purpose until I go back through and weed through the bits and pieces that suffocate the really good parts.

Lamott also instructs writers to write small assignments. She encourages writers to get through the inevitable writer's block by just writing one paragraph, one paragraph of dialogue, or one setting description, for example. I'm going to try this daily. Knowing me, I'll probably end up with more than one paragraph on most days. Even if what I write will probably end up as a "shitty first draft" as Lamott calls it, I'm ok with that.

So from now on, I'm going to live by my new motto and embrace my clutter! I'm going to get all of my thoughts out and weed through them later. Chances are, somewhere within all of the junk, there will be a small gem waiting to be polished.