My Senior Letter of Reflection

Last semester (roughly five months ago) I had to present my senior portfolio to my committee. Since I did pass my defense, I’d like to think that I achieved the purpose of showing my growth through the portfolio. Because this portfolio is the best representation of my growth as a writer throughout college, I’ve decided that I’d like to share at least some of it here.

I’m starting with my letter of reflection, the first document in the portfolio. The professors on my committee told me that I was too hard on myself in this letter, but I think having to re-read all your freshman papers will put anyone in that mindset. Whether I was too hard on myself or not (or whether I’d write this letter differently just several months later), this is that letter as it appeared in my portfolio.

In grade school, I was always considered a strong writer, but regardless of any real writing skills I may or may not have possessed, what the term actually meant was that I was the student that other students came for to receive input on the grammar and mechanics of their papers. I began to focus on those areas of writing far more than anything else as well because I came to believe that that alone was what qualified my papers as “good.”

As I went through high school, the situation stayed more or less the same. My love of both reading and writing was the same as it had been as a kid, and I was drawn to the honors English classes and, eventually, AP English. Even though my writing was always treated as “good,” I still felt self-conscious about my writing. I was scared of having any mistakes in my writing, but I was more worried about my classmates seeing those mistakes than my teacher. In my mind, my classmates finding my mistakes meant that my supposed writing skills would be seen as a sham.

I was still very much in that mindset when I started college at Marian. The idea of others reading what I wrote felt like a necessary evil in the classroom. I did not doubt it being necessary either. I knew it was an important part of growing as a writer, and I wanted that. There was a strong desire to better my writing skills through listening and learning from others. It was just that allowing people to actually read my writing was stressful, especially if I had to be anywhere near them while they did so. I always had this worry that my writing was worse than everyone else’s in the class, and although I knew it was an illogical fear, I struggled to shake it. That fear has been alleviated quite a bit over my years at Marian. The idea of others reading my writing can still make me a bit nervous, but it is nothing like I felt as a freshmen.

Now that I look back over my older papers, I think about how I felt while writing them.  I know there were so many times where I censored myself or did not take risks specifically because I worried how what I wrote would be perceived by anyone else who happened to read it. No doubt many of those things I could have done would have been a bad idea anyway, but some of them could have been good ones. I am always trying to not let my fear of writing something keep me from actually writing it. That is something that I am better at on certain occasions than I am at others.

Of course, I would like to think that my writing has grown in a number of ways while at Marian. Looking back at my papers, there are a number of things I wish I could change, but making each of the mistakes I have has helped me learn. That act of learning and growing many different ways as a writer is part of what has led to me being more comfortable with people reading my writing. I am not comfortable because I think my writing is so wonderful that the people who read it will not find mistakes. I am just more comfortable making those mistakes because I have internalized even more than in high school that writing is a process for everyone. I am never going to write something that would not face any criticism. Nothing I ever write will be incapable of being improved. I think that is the biggest lesson I have received as a writer from my time at Marian.

I chose to re-write the critical essay that I did because I was not satisfied with the way it was before. It was more than just the grade it got on it. I felt like there was something there that I could explore more than I already had, and I wanted to revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream and try it. Over the course of re-writing the paper, I changed my thesis and kept almost nothing of the original paper. It was very challenging for me, but I am glad I did it even though I am still frustrated knowing that the paper could be better. I am not sure that I would have gone the route I did as a freshmen. The path of scrapping almost an entire paper for something like this would have felt too intimidating. Back then, I looked at papers that had been graded as finished projects, and even if I was going to revise one, going as far as to almost start over again felt next to impossible. My time here at Marian helped give me the drive to do things like that and challenge myself more in my writing.

Inspiration

I have this document that’s a list of story ideas. When I look at it, it’s hard not to feel intimidated. The thing is, I don’t add to it that often. My inspiration for a new stories comes rarely. Primarily because I become too consumed with the stories I’m currently working on to think much about new ones.

When I do have ideas for new stories, though, I’ve realized that they tend to come in groups. Over the course of two days, I’ll add a handful of ideas to that document. This is typically the same time when I’m preparing to write a new story, so it’s to be expected that I would be coming up with story ideas at those times more than any other.

However, my tendency to add several ideas at once isn’t helping how long the list is. I highly doubt I will ever manage to write everything on that list. (I mean, maybe I’ll manage to accomplish what’s currently on there, but I’m sure that by then I’ll have only added more.) I don’t really need new ideas when I add them, and there are times where I just wish the inspiration would stop and give me some time (or a lot of time) to accomplish the ideas I already have.

Now, I don’t want you walking away from this post thinking I’m an abundant spring of ideas. Like I mentioned, these inspired moments are few and far between, and I do have to stress that not all of them stay on the list until written. (I have this habit of adding to the list late at night. After doing that, I always need to go through it the next day to see what I can make sense of.)

I’m never sure how to feel when I look at the list. On one hand, I just want to have more and more ideas. On the other, I want to write about every idea I have, which is something I know that I’ll never manage. Like so many things, I guess it’s both a curse and a blessing.

Character Death: When Do You Use It?

How do you know when it’s right to kill off a character and when it’s unnecessary?

That’s something I’ve asked myself countless times. I’ve been working on a story for years, and it’s one of those stories where, if I were the one reading it, I would expect some sort of death. But when you’re the writer, you have to be the one to make that decision, and I’ve never been quite sure how to do that.

Despite accusations that writers like to kill off characters for fun or to upset readers, I don’t think that’s the case. I know death should have a purpose within the story, but over the years, it’s also something I’ve come to believe should happen within any genre fiction story. Over the years, I’ve been influenced to believe that it’s necessary.

At the same time, I don’t feel like I know how to actually use character death as a writer. I don’t know when it’s the right thing for the story. It baffles me no matter how much I think about it or how much I try to figure it out.

It’s become one of my biggest issues while working on this particular project. If I write a death, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or if I’m just adding it in because I think I need death. If I don’t write a death, I wonder if it makes the story too unrealistic or if I’m giving in to my own desire for all the characters to make it out alive.

I just can’t figure it out.

The Society and Titles

I started writing The Society years ago, and I’ve been calling it The Society for almost as long. I’ve always considered myself to be terrible at naming things, and titling anything I write (whether it’s a novel or a blog post) takes almost as much time for me as writing it.

The Society as a title is straightforward. It almost felt too straightforward to me in the beginning, too simple. Is it appealing?

I still can’t answer that. Personally, I like simple titles such as The Society, but I know others are drawn to longer titles. I know there’s not a right or wrong answer to which is better as it’s an issue of preference. There might be an answer to which is more marketable, but I’ll admit that I don’t know. At some point, I do plan on attempting to get this story published. Then I would worry more about finding a title that’s marketable.

I haven’t done that yet. Instead, I’ve stayed half happy with the current title and half not. I don’t know if it is a good indicator of the book as a whole. I don’t know if it makes the book look boring and formal. (The society the book is about is boring and formal, but I would like to think the story isn’t.)

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a secret to naming things that I have yet to learn.

Seasons of Writing

The idea of books having a season attached to them is strange to me unless we’re talking about holiday books. If a book revolves around Christmas, I get it being labelled a Christmas book. When people start talking about summer books or winter books, I’ve never quite gotten it. I get it logically, of course. I know people tend to describe books that take place in the summer or are light-hearted as “summer books.”

It’s just that I’ve never understood the concept of reading books based on season. I don’t tend to choose books based on season. Even when it comes to Christmas books, I don’t feel the need to re-read them just because it’s the holiday. The thought doesn’t enter my mind because I’m too busy reading books irregardless of season.

I’m not sure how much of a minority I’m in on that. Maybe I’m the majority and it just seems like more people read by season than they do. I’m not sure.

What I’ve begun wondering about is how much that influences the writing of others. When it comes to a book that would be labelled as “summer,” is that on the author’s mind when they’re writing. How common is it to write a book with a season in mind for it? Since I’ve never given so much as a second of thought to it, I can’t say anything about that. I’m curious though.

What interests me even more is how important season might be for a book. Despite not paying much attention to season when choosing what to read, I do recognize the effect season can have on the story, but I don’t think I pay as much attention as I should in my writing. I’ve begun to more. I’m a stickler for having clear cut timelines in my writing. I have what’s happening planned out to the exact day. I’ve always been much more caught up in making sure events are realistically planned out that what season fits best as been secondary.

I do wonder what paying attention to season could add to my stories, and I want it to be something I pay more attention to in the future.

Friendship in The Society

There are many things you learn about friendship as you get older. One of those things is that the exact nature of any particular friendship is changing every day. That doesn’t mean it’s getting worse, just that how you relate to another person is always in flux.

The extreme of that is friendships ending or drifting, but at the same time, new ones are starting. People go from casual friends to close friends and close friends to casual friends. None of your relationships are static. How close you feel to any one person can change depending on many different factors.

My story The Society takes place over a span of years, and since writing it has also spanned years, this one aspect of friendship was on my mind.

I love friendship. I think it’s highly discounted in favor of romantic relationships. Romance is great, but I love when friendship gets recognized as being just as, if not more, important. I cherish the thought of writing strong friendships for my characters, ones that are celebrated.

Yet at the same time, I couldn’t stay blind to the idea that friends drift from each other and make new friends over time. It always happens. Your high school friendships can remain important, but they’ll feel different after a few years than they did when you were in high school. You’re different people, and despite loving each other a lot, you’ll relate to each other in new ways.

I felt I would be doing my story a disservice if I didn’t explore that. I want Ledia, my main character, to have strong friendships, but I also want her to have the full range of how friendships change over time. Plus, she needs the ability to make new friendships along the way. Because all that is important. Embracing ways you and your friends change over time and welcoming new friends into your life is perhaps the most important aspect of friendship.

How Much Romance is Too Much Romance?

I’m facing an interesting conundrum with my story: I’m not sure what I want to do with the story’s romance. It’s not a romance story, so any romance that happens will be a side plot. Even with that decided, I’m uncertain what I’m doing with it.

There are two characters (and I’m going to keep this vague) who I know  I want to develop a relationship between. There’s another couple that’s a done deal, and there’s an asexual and aromantic character who is not going to have a romance. That much is basically set.

But those two relationships I mentioned are between characters that are of lesser importance. When it comes to my main characters, aside from Greta, I’m unsure what to do with them romantically.

I want friendship to be a heavier focus in the story. I’m always going on about how important I find friendship and how much I appreciate books that focus on it. I would like for friendship to come first in this story as well.

But I’m not against some level of romance. I just can’t decide what feels best for the characters and what feels right when fit into the larger story. I’ll just have to keep playing around with it to see.