Category: School

Embracing the Wiki Loop

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“Wiki loop” is one of those phrases that has popped up to describe a phenomenon we’ve all experienced: getting stuck reading endless Wikipedia articles. If you’re like me, you may wonder why this could ever be considered a bad thing. But I guess some people have better things to do on Friday nights than click through lists about the world’s oldest people.

Part of the fun of getting stuck in these loops is finding out new things, and I think that as writers we should embrace that. I’ve talked about how important research is before, and this is no different. While Wikipedia may not be the first thing you think about when doing research for stories, that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable resource.

At the beginning of each semester, my creative writing professor hands out a list of weird things he’s come across on Wikipedia. Some things are just interesting natural phenomena (like ball lightning), and others are notable people (like this list of inventors killed by their own inventions). I’m currently working on a story that evolved from the page on embryo space colonization, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the narrative evolve from just one Wikipedia page.

So the next time you end up clicking through Wikipedia articles, bookmark the more interesting pages you come across! Embrace the wiki loop and know that your time is not being wasted. Feel free to share any weird pages you think others should know about!

Deciding Not to Settle: A Writer’s Job Search

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A few weeks ago I went to the career fair and left with a bag full of trinkets, a free shirt from a company that told me they didn’t have any jobs for me, and whole lot of questions. Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly fruitful. I would even go so far as to say it was a waste of my time (though I do really like that shirt).

The problem with the career fair is that I did my research, and I knew that there would be very few companies attending that I would ever want to work for. There were plenty with jobs I could have done – corporate and internal communications and marketing, for example. But I talked to them, and I realized that not only did I not want to do those things, I didn’t want to work for their companies.

I only went because everyone told me to.

And I think part of being a writer who is looking for a career is to look for things that you want to do. Don’t listen to everyone else for once. Yes, people settle for jobs all the time, but settle for something you won’t hate doing after three days. Settle for a job that has enough work/life balance for you to write on the side. Settle for a job you won’t feel like you’ve settled for.

As I draw closer to my December graduation date (74 days), I’ve been faced more and more with what I’m going to do with my life. It’s hard not to just apply for every job and hope I get one. But I’ve told myself before that I’m applying for jobs that sound like something I wouldn’t mind spending my life doing, and that’s what I’m going to do.

(Sidenote: It’s not easy to look so far into the future when senioritis has kicked in and I just want to skip class, go get some coffee, and write all day long.)

 

Confidence: A Writer’s BFF

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Sometimes it’s hard to have confidence in words, even when they come from your own brain. We write them down, question them, write them again. Then we stare at them, wondering if they say what we want them too. It’s only second nature, but it’s also damaging when we don’t trust our words.

I’ve been writing a lot this semester, like I do most semesters, but I’ve found myself more confident in my writing. I trust that my words say what I mean when I write them down. If I feel like they don’t, I revise them. But it hasn’t always been this easy.

It’s hard, when writing is so personal, to prepare it for presentation to others. But what good is a masterpiece when there is no one to read it? One of the reasons I’ve been able to gain more confidence in my writing is by remembering that it is personal. Other people may read it, but I don’t have to listen to what they say. As long as I feel like it’s doing what I want it to, I don’t have to change a thing. My writing is mine, and I believe in it.

The reason confidence is important is because it shows through in your writing. The more confident you are, the more likely you’ll be able to make your readers see things the way you do. It comes full circle. So the next time you sit down to write anything, believe in your words. Believe that they mean what you want them to, that you are in control. Be confident in your ability and your stance, and you’ll be confident in your words.

Trusting the Workshop

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We tend to think of writing as a personal, internal experience. Thought to paper, right? And that idea is fine until someone actually reads your work. Then you have to think about what your writing means, its relationship to reality, what people think of it–all the stuff you would rather avoid while just continuing to write.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I wish I could stay in that oblivious stage and just keep thinking, “this is the best thing I’ve ever written.” But this isn’t the life of a writer–at least, not a good writer.

Tomorrow my story is being workshopped in my Advanced Creative Writing class, and I’m nervous. I’ve thought it through, in the agonizingly long week since I’ve turned in my story, and I think the reason I’m nervous is not just because I don’t want them to dislike it. I’m nervous because I really like the story (more than any short story I’ve ever written) and I don’t know how I’ll react to negative comments.

We say criticism isn’t personal. That’s true. But writing is personal, and sometimes it’s hard to separate something that is such a part of you from the words, “I didn’t like…” It can often feel like a stab to the heart.

But workshops are about trust. The readers trust that I am attached to this work, that I have given them my best. I trust that they know this, and that they will be cognizant of it. I trust that they have my (and my story’s) best interests at heart when they offer suggestions or critiques. I trust that they only want me to be better. And if all of these things are true, then I know I’ll be able to make it through workshop (but wish me luck, just in case).

Harry Potter Pilgrimage

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I have to say, there’s no better trip for Harry Potter fan than the one I just took (and I mean this in the most objective way possible). In the past five weeks, I’ve eaten breakfast and dinner in the Great Hall at Christ Church (the Inspiration for the Hogwarts Great Hall), stumbled across rooms and buildings used in the movies, written in the same place J.K. Rowling wrote most of the early books, and taken the Harry Potter Studio Tour. I’ve also spent a few hours a week taking a class where we do nothing but discuss Harry Potter (and sometimes we watch Potter Puppet Pals). 

It’s pretty amazing. As a Harry Potter fan, there’s not much better than getting to experience the things that are shown in the books and movies. And as a writer, it’s inspiring to see where Rowling wrote and where she got some of her ideas. 

Though every day was pretty much full of Harry Potter experiences, I have to say that there are some that stand out.

  
Stumbling Across the Hospital Wing

Normally finding yourself in a hospotal wing wouldn’t be a good thing. But when a few of us made our way inside the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library, we were ecstatic. We knew that some parts of the movie had been filmed in the area, but we had only gone inside to get some warm drinks during the intermission of Much Ado About Nothing and were therefore completely surprised. 

  Visiting Platform 9 3/4

Okay, so it’s no longer located between platforms 9 and 10, but that doesn’t keep the staff at Kings Cross from catering wholeheartedly to Harry Potter fans – including a designated scarf thrower to make your picture look super authentic. 

  Writing in The Elephant House

The Elephant House is one of the cafes where J.K. Rowling spent much of her time. During our visit to Edinburgh, a few of us took a few hours out of our sightseeing to just drink coffee, sit, and write where she wrote. Though it may not sound like it, this was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the entire trip.

  

Visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour

This was definitely the highlight of the trip. I will admit to tearing up a few times as I experienced the magic behind one of the most important literary experiences in my life. The best part was the model of Hogwarts that was used for fly-by shots in the movies. It was huge, at least twice my height, and its sheer grandness along with the music and lighting made for one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. 

  

Appreciating Oxford

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Sometimes, when you’re frantically trying to write papers or study for tests, it’s easy to forget that you’re in another country. It’s something I’ve had to remind myself of many times over the past four weeks, when I’ve realized I’m becoming complacent or am complaining about what I’m doing. 

While I do care about my grades, I have to say that making the most of this fleeting experience is even more important. So instead of holing up in our rooms to work, we’ve been exploring different cafes. Instead of staying inside and reading, we’ve taken our blankets out into the meadow and soaked in the beautiful scenery. 

It’s even harder when we return from amazing weekend trips. The thought of staying in Paris or Edinburgh for the rest of our time is incredibly appealing, but there’s no denying that after all this time, Oxford feels like home. 

Learning to appreciate where you live changes your outlook on life. 

There are plenty of bad things I could say about Oxford, if I thought hard enough. But they are so outweighed by the good that they honestly aren’t even worth mentioning. I could tell you about the annoying hordes of tourists, but then I’d have to say that you can easily escape them by renting a boat and going punting, or by taking a nice long walk along the Thames. 

  I could tell you that all the shops and restaurants close way too early, but that would remind me that this is the only reason you’ll end up running into everyone you know at the same ice cream shop. 

  
No city is perfect, but it only takes a little bit of work to find things that make it feel perfect. This is something I hope that I can bring back with me to Waco, and wherever I end up living after graduation. For now, though, I’ll focus on taking in Oxford.  

  

A Day in Christ Church

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Christ Church's Tom Gate and quad
Christ Church’s Tom Gate and quad

I’ve been in Oxford for about two days now, and I’m still constantly astounded by the beauty of the university and the city. Our train from Wales came in around 4 on Saturday, and the streets were flooded with tourists. It was a shock seeing it so busy, since none of us really thought it would be that way. But now that we’ve spent a lot of time today and yesterday in the city, we’ve gotten a good idea of how everything works.

8 a.m. Breakfast in the Great Hall

Yes, it’s that Great Hall. The Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies is a CGI rendering of the Great Hall in Christ Church. When we walked in yesterday morning for breakfast, we all had to pause at the sheer grandness of the room. That’s where we’re eating breakfast and dinner for the majority of the days these next few weeks. Breakfast is pretty standard (by this I mean standard British breakfast, not American…) – bacon (what we call ham), sausage, eggs (poached or fried), hash browns (always triangular for some reason), toast or croissants, and cereal or porridge.

(Fun fact: they actually filmed a few HP scenes on the steps that lead up to the Great Hall, most notably when first years are being sorted in the Sorcerer’s Stone.)

Christ Church's Great Hall
Christ Church’s Great Hall

9 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Classes

I only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday (and I have a break in between), so I don’t spend a lot of time in class. Usually between classes we’ll either sit in our rooms, the common room, or a cafe and read or do homework. This morning we just wandered around town for a little to get our bearings.

1:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. Free Time

We have all afternoon free (and I have pretty much all day free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) to do whatever we want. We’ve mostly spent our free time walking around, ether to find a specific store or cafe, or just looking at things.

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Dinner in the Great Hall

Dinner is super fancy when we eat in the Great Hall (Monday through Wednesday), and we have to dress up. Our meals are served to us in courses, and it’s a lot of fun! Yesterday instead of dinner in the Great Hall, we had dinner with the Dean of Christ Church. After dinner, he showed us around the Deanery (that’s what they call his apartment/mansion – it has 12 bedrooms!), which is where much of Alice in Wonderland was inspired. (Alice was the daughter of the Dean at the time.)

8:00 p.m. – bedtime. Free Time

We don’t usually have anything scheduled at night, and most stores are closed by the time we’re done with dinner, so we usually just hang out in someone’s room or go to a pub. Pubs here aren’t really what you think of pubs like in America – they’re really casual, and they usually have great food, and just have a really nice atmosphere.

Overall, living in Christ Church is basically a dream. We keep joking that we feel like princesses, since the buildings are really castle-like. We spend most of our time chatting or drinking tea and reading. I don’t think there’s anything better than that!

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Walking: A Thoreau Effort

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(First, let me just say that you’d all better appreciate that pun.)

Since coming to the UK, I’ve walked at least ten thousand more steps than usual. On Wednesday, we decided to walk back to Swansea University (where we’re staying in Wales) because our professor told us it was about a mile. It ended up being 3.5 miles, which made our total for the day 11 miles. 

The great thing about it is that we were never mad that it was so far. We really embraced the adventure of it by stopping for ice cream, enjoying each other’s company, and appreciating the beautiful view of Swansea Bay. It definitely made me think of Thoreau and the way he proposes we live our lives:

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.”  

(Though we weren’t quite that dramatic…)

  Friday was even more of an adventure because it wasn’t just city walking and sightseeing. We went to Rhosili Beach and hiked a mile and a half up to the highest point on the Gower Peninsula. It was the most breathtaking view, and it was immediately obvious why it’s constantly named the UK’s most beautiful beach. I don’t think I’ve seen anything so awe-inspiring in my entire life, and while the pictures are nice, they just don’t do it justice. 

 Like Thoreau, I believe that “an absolutely new prospect is a great happiness.” I jumped at the invitation to go on the hike – while most of the others were walking on the beach or putting their feet in the cold water, the four of us did a little bit of hard work and ended up with a beautiful view and the experience of a lifetime.  

I’m really going to try and embrace my adventurous side on this trip. To me this really comes down to accepting all opportunities to experience something new, even if it seems little. I’ll mostly be in Oxford for the next four weeks, and I know that there are plenty of things to see and do without even leaving the city. As Thoreau says, even “within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk…. It will never become quite familiar to you.”

Why Re-Reading is Worth it

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“Harry had never been to London before.”

One of my study abroad courses is called “Harry Potter and the English Fantasy Tradition.” Most of the people I tell this either don’t believe me, or think that it’s a thinly veiled excuse to read Harry Potter and pretend I’m taking a class.

The truth is, I can’t think of anything more fitting to read before studying abroad in the UK, despite the fact that I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve read Harry Potter – it must be a couple dozen at the least. Yet I decided that, in the midst of packing and moving and working and writing, I was going to read the entire series.

Today, just a week and a half before I leave, I was finally able to sit down with the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had almost gotten to the point of convincing myself that I didn’t need to re-read the series, that I would be able to write and discuss Harry Potter because it’s such an intrinsic part of me. But I was wrong. By thinking that, I overlooked the reason why I’ve read Harry Potter so many times in the first place: the magic of re-reading. I forgot that the reason I love books so much is because you find something new every time.

Go back to the quote at the top of this post. You probably glossed over it, just like I did every time I read this book before. But today, as my eyes scanned down page 67 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that line caught my eye. Like me, “Harry had never been to London before.” And as I read the next few pages of Harry seeing the normal slowly change to the magical, I became excited to experience that myself. And I truly hope that I can enjoy just a little bit of Harry’s childish wonder as my eyes are opened to the newness of the people and culture that will surround me in just two short weeks.

The Art of Helping Others

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I had a sort of epiphany this semester.

In my creative writing class, we spent a lot of time workshopping our short stories. I made a comment about one girl’s work, and she told me after class that I always had the best responses and that I really helped her see the direction of her story.

My professor also told me this in one of our conferences. “You make great comments,” she said. “It’s often hard for students to find the balance between positive and critical, but you have it.”

It was a great feeling. I love writing, and I’ve always enjoyed the process of editing, but I’ve never really thought about how great it is to be able to help other people love writing as well.

We often see art, especially writing, as a solitary activity, and this can be limiting. When you work on writing with a group, or even just a partner, you make a commitment to help them make their writing the best it can be.

Just like it’s nice to share something you love with other – whether it’s a favorite meal, movie, or song – it’s good to be able to share the love of writing, that feeling you get from someone enjoying your work.

I think this is one of the reasons I want to become an editor. I know the feeling of being told my work is great,and it makes my day to be able to tell people the same thing about their work.

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