I have always described myself as a person who “loves” writing. For as long as I can remember, I have categorized myself as the “reading and writing” girl instead of the “math and science” one. I’m not exactly sure why I made this decision at such a young age, but I do know why I enjoy writing so much now. As I discuss in my “Why I Write” essay from my Writing 220 course, I write to express myself. Since I tend to be a more quiet and reserved individual, it is often difficult for me to express my true feelings in spoken words. I have found that the right words come much more easily to me when I write them down on paper. There is something about the written word that empowers me and enables me to say what I truly mean more boldly than I ever could out loud. It is ironic, though, that I did not find my true writing voice until I came to the University of Michigan. I have been using writing as an expressive means for my whole life, but it was not until my exposure to the wide variety of writing styles and possibilities in college that I was able to discover my own real voice as a writer.
When I began my writing career as a freshman at the University of Michigan, I failed to view writing as a personal activity. Instead, I associated writing solely with academics. In my mind, it was an objective academic exercise, one that always had to be stylistically correct and formal in nature. My writing was missing my own personal voice to carry my message to the reader. It was not until I began writing about more personal topics that my writing voice was able to emerge. As I began writing about topics that interested me and that I was passionate about, I found that I was able to be much more expressive, creative, and raw with my writing. I put more of my self and my personality into it, and this resulted in more effortless and fluid prose through which my readers could actually hear my own voice shine through.
Exhibit A: The Voice-less Era
Now, you may be wondering how writing could ever be “voice-less.” Doesn’t writing always have a voice? That may be true, but my writing has not always possessed my true voice.
The second essay that I wrote for my English 125 course during freshman year was certainly not my finest piece of work (although I did somehow manage to earn an A). The purpose of this assignment was to choose a word or a phrase and define, contextualize, and reflect on it in ways that will make the readers see the word differently. For my essay, I chose the word “fierce.” I hoped to show that this word has developed a wide variety of meanings over time that many people are unaware of. I structured the essay using both research and facts about the word and its history to frame the narrative, as well as with my own personal experiences with the word and opinions about it.
“The evolution of “fierce” proves that although fierce may not have one concrete definition, we are all “fiercely” passionate about our own identities and how others perceive us.
For an essay about the word “fierce,” my writing was not very fierce at all. Although this was an essay in which I was free to share my own opinion and express myself freely, my own personal writing voice failed to emerge. There is no fire, no passion. My voice seems underdeveloped and empty with no personality behind it. I failed to find interesting and compelling ways to engage my audience in the subject matter, because I was struggling to engage with it myself. I don’t associate myself with this word, so it was difficult for me to find any personal or emotional connection to it through my writing. This made the essay hard to write. And not just hard, but boring. The essay became a burden rather than an exciting opportunity to express myself. All I kept thinking was, “Should I tamper with the margins to make it longer?” or “Maybe if I make the period size bigger it will hit the six page requirement faster.” My writing felt forced and tacky. Instead of using my personal voice to express the word and its meanings, I wrote the essay with purely academic and research-based prose. There is no aspect of my writing that sets me apart from any other student who could have written the same thing.
Exhibit B: The Voice Emerges
Of course all writing has to have some form of “voice.” But as you can tell, it took a while for my “true” voice to emerge through my writing. By this, I simply mean a potent, expressive voice that has a consistent presence throughout the piece and reflects my own personality through writing. It is essentially impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when this “true” writing voice of mine finally came through, but I can see a clear transition through the work I have done from freshman year through senior year.
The first essay I wrote for my English 325 course during the first semester of my senior year was a “change essay.” I was asked to choose an experience or moment that changed me as a person. I chose to write about an experience that I had in the food market during my semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I used a seemingly small experience waiting impatiently at an orange juice stand in the market. I used this instance to spiral into several other experiences I had that ultimately taught me that I was moving through my life way too quickly.
“Whatever they were saying, it clearly had nothing to do with serving the growing line of thirsty customers. The Italians just don’t seem to understand the concept of customer service. I mean, if I were back in New York I could have gotten a grande, decaf, non-fat latte from Starbucks, taken the subway half-way across the city, and finished the New York times crossword puzzle in half the time that this is taking.”
Notice any difference from freshman year? Well, this one certainly has a more “fierce” attitude. And hopefully it didn’t make you fall asleep. This is an essay about a very personal experience that I had. It is something that I am very passionate about and emotionally attached to. I was actually excited to be writing it. I wanted to share my experiences and the lessons I had learned from them with others. This made the process of writing it fun! What a concept, right? Fun while writing. This writing didn’t feel like a burden to finish before the deadline. This time, I felt as though the eight-page maximum was actually a constraint as opposed to a daunting and unattainable requirement. Since I was writing about something so important to me, my voice really shone through. When I read the piece aloud, it sounds like me. My teacher and peers who reviewed the essay consistently told me, “I can hear you saying this” or “I can picture you doing this.” This is when I realized the true power of my writing voice.
Exhibit C: The Academic Voice Dilemma
The problem is that I haven’t quite figured out how to use this power the right way yet. How can I possibly use this personal, expressive voice in my academic writing? I have gotten pretty good at using the power of my writing voice when I write about topics that I care about. Food, for example, is a topic where my voice comes out completely naturally with almost no effort. Just look at the writing I did for the blog I kept during my semester abroad in Italy:
“Today I tried this fantastic hole-in-the-wall Panini shop for lunch called I Fratellini. This is a local Italian spot that is always packed. I mean, this place is straight out of a movie, all the Italians jut stand on the sidewalk eating their delicious paninis and sipping on their wine (even if it is 11 am…). I tried a prosciutto, goat cheese, and arugula panini (I’m still salivating just thinking about it) and it was by far my favorite sandwich that I have eaten so far.”
Yeah, I dare you not to salivate from that picture.
However, my writing voice does not emerge as easily when I write about topics that I am uninterested in or that are strictly academic. My writing career at the University of Michigan has challenged me to find a balance between this personal voice and the structural restrictions that many of my courses enforce. My voice cannot simply be casual or colloquial all of the time. I must find a way to exhibit some formal structure and academic tone, while also expressing my personality in a stylistically pleasing and engaging form to a wide variety of readers. My greatest challenge as a writer today is to learn to harness the power of my voice. I must find a way to refine and filter it to meet these goals in every piece of writing I do.
So how can I find a balance between my personal voice and my academic voice? To be honest, I am still working on the answer to that question. How am I supposed to make my personal voice shine through when I am completely uninterested in the topic I am writing about? Take the research paper that I wrote for my Communications 102 course during my freshman year, for example. This was a research paper regarding the effect of bias in the news and media:
“The evidently substantial amount of bias in news reports may have significant detrimental effects on the viewers and the public. The media is the main vehicle through which information reaches the public. If the media is biased, especially the news reports, then the public will be receiving prejudiced information regarding extremely events.”
Did you even read that? I barely can, so I apologize for making you suffer. But, you see what I mean? There is no life to it. No passion, no enthusiasm, no voice. The writing feels forced and dry. It is noticeably evident that I do not care about the matter of bias in the news, and that is impossible to ignore as a reader. When I received this assignment prompt, I was immediately dreading it. I am not at all interested in the topic, so it was not easy to force myself to research for hours and write a ten-page paper about it. Instead of hearing my voice in the writing, the reader hears a bored and frustrated voice that only cares about meeting the minimum page requirement as soon as humanly possible so she can go finish watching the new episode of Modern Family.
That was an essay written during my freshman year, though. So technically, I hadn’t even “found” my true writing voice yet. As I discussed earlier, the analysis of my writing progression throughout my time at the University of Michigan indicates that I “found” my voice at some point during the end of my sophomore year and beginning of junior year. Since I have been developing my voice for a while now and strengthening it through writing about topics that I am passionate about, I have definitely improved my ability to adapt this voice and carry it over when I am writing about topics that I am uninterested in.
Take this research paper that I wrote for my media economics course during the first semester of my junior year. I was asked to write a research paper about an economic issue within the technological media industry. Have I mentioned how much I hate economics? The only reason I took this course was in the hopes of better preparing myself for a career in the media industry where economics is of course prevalent. I was completely dreading writing this paper because I simply do not care about economic issues in the industry (no matter how hard I try to make myself care). However, this time I was able to find a way to break through the formal academic wall and bring my voice out. At least a little bit, anyway:
“It is hard for most of us today to even to imagine what the world was like before Google. How would we even begin to tackle the most basic life tasks without it? Want to find the cheapest airline tickets? Google it. Want to find out how tall the Empire State Building is? Google it. Want to learn how to make French toast? Google it. There doesn’t seem to be any problem that Google can’t solve. Even now, as I begin to write this paper, I already have used Google to find some piece of information over ten times.”
A little more bearable than the last one, right? I hope so. Of course my voice is not as dominant as it was in the personal orange juice essay discussed earlier, but it is certainly present and tangible. Since I had the freedom to choose my own topic within the assignment, I chose to write about Google. This topic allowed me to incorporate personal experiences from my own use that would also be relatable to essentially all of my readers. Although I still had to incorporate the formal structure of literature reviews and analysis, I found a way to take the material and my research and create an academic essay that also incorporated my own voice and personality. I attempted to put my own unique perspective on the matter. I wrote with a bold tone, taking my stance proudly on the issue and making sure my own voice was heard through the words on the page. I’m not saying this essay was a perfect execution of this method. My voice was not consistent throughout the entire piece, and it still had its inevitable dry, academic passages. But I do think I did a far better job of striking of striking a balance between academic and personal in this essay than I have done in any previous work.
So Now What?
Don’t get your hopes up too much yet. This method is definitely not foolproof. My ability to adapt and adjust my writing voice into an academic essay format has certainly improved, but it is not quite there yet. I have been able to successfully adjust my voice for several of my previous essays, but not all of them. The essays that I still struggle with are the ones that I have no control over the choice of topic. I have been able to develop my writing voice through stylistic choices over the past few years, but does my voice also depend on my ability to choose what to write about? Maybe this freedom of inquiry to decide what I write about plays a big role in my ability to express my true writing voice in an academic setting.
When I look back at my oldest writing that I can find from middle school and high school, I don’t hear my voice. Although it may have been my voice at the time, it is certainly not my voice anymore. My standards for what constitutes my voice and the truth have been raised gradually over time as I have acquired more knowledge and more skills. My standards are a lot more complicated than they used to be.
My goal is to find a way to showcase my developed writing voice in a way that combines my passions and my high critical writing standards. The capstone project is the perfect platform for this. I want to create a project where my highest personal standards (meaning I will choose what I write about, and I will really care about it) are matched by the high critical standards I have acquired over time. I have chosen to make food a major theme for this project (shocker, huh?), but this time I am not stopping there. Five years ago, I probably would have just written a one-dimensional piece about my love for food. But my standards are much higher now. I need to create something that includes my love for food while also challenging me and pushing me out of my writing comfort zone. This is why I have decided to write about food in both a personal context and a professional context. I will challenge myself to apply a variety of different formats, both casual and formal, to the subject matter in order to practicing adapting my writing voice to different settings.
In order to do this, I have decided to create a website for a new television show. I have written the website from the perspective of a producer at a television production company called Rock Shrimp Productions. I interned at this production company last summer, and I was exposed to the process of developing, pitching, and actually creating new television shows. Conveniently enough, Rock Shrimp Productions creates primarily food-related shows for The Food Network. So I decided to use what I have learned through my experience at Rock Shrimp, at local Ann Arbor restaurants, and through my writing courses to create the structure for my own television show. I have created the website as if the television show already exists, so I would like you to imagine that you are visiting the website of this show that is already on television. I have done my best to incorporate a variety of different types of writing, both personal and professional, as well as different types of media in order to highlight the breadth of skills I have developed. My goal is to create a project that will push me past my highest personal and critical standards, and hopefully be interesting enough for you not to fall asleep while reading it.
*If you wish to view my Annotated Bibliography, please hover over the “Writer’s Evolution Tab” on the main menu bar and click the tab that drops down.