Reflection: Nonfiction Writing

My ability to write in the nonfiction genre–whether it’s a creative flash piece, a commentary, or a fieldwork project–has improved greatly in the past few months. Studying how both famous authors (such as George Orwell and Tom Wolfe) and lesser known authors (such as Lillian Ross and Michael Winerip), use literary techniques to heighten their observations and research has allowed me to experiment and develop my own creative voice.

Using these literary techniques and writing nonfiction outside of an academic tone and purpose–especially during my senior year–has been both refreshing and useful. I’ve enjoyed writing for purposes that weren’t tied to proving a clever–but ultimately useless and distorted–thesis or being tethered to the tangential ideas or biases of a GSI in order to obtain a good grade. Instead, focusing on writing in a meaningful and effective manner–along with the readings, exercises, and assignments demonstrating this–has allowed me to further practice writing that has greater longevity and usefulness (for both creative and non-creative purposes): communicating in an accessible manner, eschewing jargon and obscurity, and using literary techniques to emphasize the truth of experiences or details.

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Reflection: Fieldwork and Investigative Writing

Fieldworking and investigative writing was a new experience for me. Although I had never written anything like this, I thought my previous experience in writing news articles for a student newspaper (mainly covering school or community events) would help with this form of writing. Specifically, I thought my previous experience in interviewing strangers for articles might make it slightly easier for me to walk up and question random people — but this wasn’t the case.

The end of a career panel on jobs in the field of Human Resources in the Blue & Gold Room of the CareerCenter.

The end of a career panel where attendees get to talk with the guest speakers, as well as each other.

It wasn’t just the common experience of finding people unwilling to talk on record (a regular bump in these forums that will hold public quotes and sources accountable for any statement). But what I hadn’t realized was that I was simply rusty. It had been more than two years since I had officially interviewed someone to be used as a source and most of my recent writing has been limited to academic essays, with audiences enclosed to the limited circle of professors, graduate student instructors (GSIs), and classmates. In addition the time-heavy requirements of my classes and assignments had made me overly used to solitude. So, when I wanted or tried to talk to new people for the purpose of having them as a source, I would become hesitant and fearful of the interaction — a reaction I thought I had conquered years ago. But it came back. As I approached potential sources, I stuttered and and my mind blanked. It was as if I had lost the interviewing skills I previously had.

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Fieldwork: Exploratory Writing

The end of the first chapter of Fieldworking, a research and writing guide by Bonnie Sunstein and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, provides a few steps to think, choose, and write about a potential field topic or site. In particular, steps three and four on page 54 (which focus on thinking about problems and drawbacks of picking a topic), was something I found useful in thinking about my field site.

After listing the subcultures and groups that I belonged too, I wasn’t sure about what I really wanted to explore or spend the last few weeks of the semester researching. But after getting to the third and fourth steps–questions focusing on practical issues of doing research (drawbacks, objections by people within the group, benefits to its members and yourself, and the possibility of giving back to a group)–I realized that the topic I wanted to write about and would be the most useful for these last few weeks of the semester was something I didn’t think of listing at all: job-seeking seniors (who are about to graduate). Continue reading

Mission Statement for Cultural Commentary

When I started writing my critical essay analyzing Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s forty-third poem in Sonnets from the Portuguese, it was largely an effort to try to use one work to fulfill two different assignments for two different classes. But in the end I still ended up writing two slightly different essays that explored the same poem. Although they ended up being slightly different, both essays seemed to have a common desire: to write academic papers that didn’t sound academic (at least not in the usual sense of being overly distant in tone or staking its analysis on obscure or tangential facts). Continue reading

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