Most students coming to Hope College are required to take a semester of English. Like me, they may have thought, “I thought this was the time to study what I’m interested in and get as far away from writing lengthy papers on material that means next to nothing for me.”
This thought turned out to be quite the opposite, as taking English 113 allowed me to fully understand how to utilize the VanWylen Library, learn how to navigate through their databases, and most importantly, learn to write successful college-level papers.
With the VanWylen Library having four floors and a basement containing a plethora of books, articles, and journals, incoming students may find themselves confused and discouraged in finding the material they need to write a paper for a certain class. Every English 113 class has multiple library information sessions that show students how to use their website to find the appropriate and necessary books needed to find what type of document one may need. Another great resource that students learn how to use is the Klooster Center for Excellence In Writing. This department of the library helps students with writing projects of all kinds, and you can learn much more about the Centerhere.
Yet another tricky thing in college is trying to navigate through databases. Without proper instructions on how to do so efficiently and effectively, this can be a headache. Hope College allows its students to have access to a myriad of databases. Again, in every English 113 class, they teach the benefits one can have by using this resource. At the end of the semester these skills are then put into action by writing a research paper.
Every professor has high expectations for their student’s papers and projects. But English 113 is designed to help you succeed. There are various workshops throughout the semester such as sentence style, word choice, revising, and properly citing. These concepts may sound mundane and repetitive, but these aspects of writing are crucial to understand.
Hope College is fortunate enough to have a wide range of English 113 classes that cover an array of topics. There is not an English class alike. Students are able to choose what sounds interesting to them, whether that be spirituality, American presidency, and even Jurassic Park. While the core of all of these classes all teach students about the things mentioned previously, they all have their own overarching theme.
English 113 allows students to clearly understand the writing resources available on campus, lets you explore different writing techniques, and makes sure every student is comfortable writing college-level papers. All of these things are beneficial in the short and long run. So, despite the initial dread that you may have felt about have to take another English class, it will help in many other areas of college writing and researching.
As a writer, there is often nothing more terrifying than sharing my work with others. Whether I’m in a formal class workshop or in a relaxed setting with fellow writer friends, my anxiety always finds a way to tag along for the ride. The critique process has a way of making me feel exposed, so exposed that I want to sink through the floor when I hear someone say that the main character in my story seems one-dimensional or that the ending that I worked on for eons comes off as trite. Having to critique another’s piece can be daunting too. There’s an internal pressure to be insightful, and I struggle at times to articulate why I think something is or isn’t working. On more than occasion I have thrown out lame comments that make me wince when I think about them hours later.
As nerve-wracking as being part of a writing community can be, I have learned over the years, as a creative writing major at Hope and as part of a MFA cohort at Boston University, how vital it is in both bettering my work and forming a network of people who challenge me.
To ward off bouts of shame-spiraling, I try to keep in mind the benefits of workshopping, one of the most essential being that there are more minds than just my own at my disposal. When I am at my wits’ end because my plot has evaporated into the ether, it’s a comfort to have the resources of others’ imaginations to come up with potential solutions for the problematic.
Once I’ve been working on a piece for a while things tend to become muddled, and it can be difficult to put my finger on what doesn’t feel right. It’s good to have people who aren’t also trapped in the mire of my self-doubt. And while I may not want to act on every suggestion I receive, I am comforted by having pages of notes about possible next steps after a critique session.
Being in different writing groups has also improved my ability not only to constructively critique another’s work but also to be a better critic of my own. Once I get past the thought of workshop as something to dread, it becomes an opportunity to immerse myself in different ways of thinking. While it may not seem I have anything more to go on than a feeling when it comes to someone’s story at first, often hearing another’s opinion causes me to make sense of my own.
Workshopping becomes a team sport rather than an individual event. And by helping others hone their writing, certain truths about my own can be revealed if I’m open to it. I may find that another writer’s language is clearer and livelier than mine, encouraging me to declutter my pieces of ungainly metaphors, which wrap their sea monster tentacles around the vessel that is my story. Making these types of observations keeps me mindful about what I am trying to achieve and how I want to get there.
Most importantly, I believe being in community is the best way to stay humble and striving as a writer.
It’s a system of checks and balances on the ego. While I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I enjoy having workshops where I feel like I’ve won all the gold stars, the story a hit, I don’t learn as much from them as the ones that are, in my mind, total train wrecks. When done right, critiques move writers toward development and growth. Though it might be humiliating, a “bad” workshop pushes me to rally and be resilient when facing rejection—something that happens to writers on a regular basis. Though I’d rather isolate myself and wallow after these experiences, my writing communities have always been there to bolster my confidence.
As a Hope professor once said, we need our fellow writers to be both our cheerleaders and coaches. We are there to help each other get up when we stumble and then to move on. So in those moments I feel exposed when workshopping, I try to remember all the good that can come from it. Anxiety, be gone.
If you’re anything like me, your first month or so of summer probably included the following: sleeping, eating, Netflix, then back again to sleeping. After spending the last two semesters constantly producing new material, you deserve a break; however, sometimes that break seems to last until the end of August. For Creative Writing majors and minors, it’s important to stay disciplined during the summer. This post aims to provide my fellow writers out there with some solid advice on how to stay motivated during the summer:
1. Get out of Your Room
As tempting as the comfort of your room may seem, inspiration comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and discovering new places. To keep writing during the summer, you have to find new ideas. If you’re living somewhere new for the summer, talk to locals about the must-see attractions but also the “hidden gems.” If you’re living in a familiar area, check out a place you always wanted to visit but never did. Art museums, libraries, quirky restaurants, or that statue downtown that reminds you of French fries all make good writing destinations. Because if you stay in your room all summer, all your poems will end up being about that pile of clothes you still haven’t washed since May
2. Attend Writing-Related Events
While I do not support copious amounts of internet time during the summer, I recommend Google for this one. Search for poetry slams, open mic nights, book signings, and writing workshops in your area. Nothing gets you more motivated than hearing and meeting with others who share your talents and passions.
3. Have a Writing Partner(s)
In most Creative Writing classes, you workshop your pieces with your classmates. Without classmates readily available, it can be tricky finding others to read your work. By having a Writing Partner, you can share your work and stay on a schedule. For example, if you say you will exchange work on the second and fourth Friday of every month, you have to uphold that. A Writing Partner keeps you accountable for your writing (shout out to Liz Ensink and Nathaniel Nelson for being my Writing Partners).
4. Give Yourself Deadlines AND Rewards
During the school year, adhering to deadlines means you won’t receive a lower grade simply for turning in the assignment late. Without an incentive during the summer, it becomes difficult to produce work in a timely and consistent manner. What I recommend is a deadline-reward system: set yourself deadlines, but then reward yourself when you accomplish your goals. For example, one completed poem could equal one episode of The Office.
5. When in Doubt, Read
My final piece of advice might sound cliché, but I honestly believe that reading is one of the most crucial ways to stay motivated. By reading consistently, we gain more knowledge, inspiration, and motivation to produce work equally as good. If you don’t feel motivated to read, check out a Summer Reading Program at your local library. These usually include prizes as an incentive to keep you reading. And if you can’t find the perfect book, check out a nonfiction book on something you know nothing about. For all you know, novelty architecture could be your hidden obsession.
While I recognize that these five steps cannot physically lift your fingers to the computer or notebook to begin writing, I hope they encourage you to stay motivated for the next few months. And for those of you who are not Creative Writing majors or minors but are working on a research project or textbook, I believe you can apply these in your own way as well. Modify these steps to fit you and your writing schedule. So let’s log off Facebook, get comfortable, and start writing!
I am 40,000 feet above the Atlantic as I write this—aboard American Airlines flight #55 from Manchester, England, to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Professor Tony Donk and I are returning from a June Term in Liverpool with the Education Department. Our twelve students and the two of us are exhausted but elated with a very successful June Term experience.
While in Liverpool, Professor Donk taught a class on literacy to Hope elementary education students, while I taught a secondary methods and principles class to Hope students who would like to teach in a middle school or high school some day. We were housed on the campus of Liverpool Hope University, but we also traveled to London and Edinburgh for long three-day weekends. Our group also took a northern Wales day trip, spent two weeks in either Northway Primary School or in King David High School classrooms to observe and teach, and had multiple opportunities to visit the town center of Liverpool itself.
Once back home from such an experience, friends, family, and colleagues will invariably ask me, “What were the highlights, Moreau?” Here is what I will say in response:
From a group perspective, the absolute best part was getting to know our twelve Hope College students. We had lots of “together time” as one would imagine: traveling, sharing meals, planning, learning, and playing were all part of that togetherness. And this group was amazing when in close proximity to each other. When the fourteen of us were seated family-style at Childwall Abbey pub or in Five Ways Hotel pub or in the small pub that shared space with our Edinburgh hostel or in the London pub where we watched England’s first Euro Cup soccer match against Russia, we shared food, drink, conversation, and therapeutic laughter. These gatherings have bonded us for the remainder of our time left together at Hope College. And for that, I am grateful.
Another highlight was the way our students mastered their school placements. Although everyone’s experience was unique, all loved their students and supervising teachers. While at King David High School, I had the honor of observing our Hope students teach lessons based on analyzing slave poetry, reading informational text explaining the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, writing creatively about a selected region of the US, creating Prohibition propaganda, and reviewing math facts using a form of the Jeopardy game. It was a pleasure to observe their quality work and take pride in the fact that our college and respective departments have prepared them well for their future as teachers.
I must also mention that group togetherness included an hour climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. This nearly thousand-foot climb was on an inactive (rather fortunately) volcano near the royal palace in Holyrood Park. We were also able to spend some time climbing with the sheep in Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales on our last full day together.
I also had several personal highlights that I was afforded on this trip. One of those involved our venture to London for a long weekend. I visited Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street. This is a pub that was destroyed by the Great London Fire in 1666, but was rebuilt a year later and has remained in its present place since that date. One of my favorite authors, Mr. Charles Dickens, considered this pub his favorite. There is even a small plaque that denotes the very seat where Mr. Dickens usually sat. On a very quiet Saturday afternoon, I sat in his spot and enjoyed a pint of ale—much as Charles Dickens would have done over 150 years ago! As a bonus, one of my favorite books is Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. A first edition copy of this novel is encased in glass and hangs on the wall near Dickens’ seat. It is open to the page that describes a tavern that is undoubtedly Dickens’ favorite, the Cheshire Cheese. What a great afternoon for an English teacher!
So, thank you to Hope College, to my twelve new student best friends, to Professors Donk and Pardo who asked me to join their team, and to the English and Education Departments for allowing me to participate in this June Term adventure. It was truly life altering.
Though I am not really an expert at anything, I have general knowledge about many things. Sometimes I like to give advice. Take it or leave it.
Start saving for retirement immediately. Experts estimate that you’ll double your investment return if you start saving at 25 instead of 35. Most companies offer a 401k or similar retirement investment plan. Sign up for it. Immediately. Even if you think you’re setting aside a dinky amount of money each pay period, it’s still worth it in the long run. Don’t trust me? John Green agrees.
Get rid of debt (if you have any). The average grad has about $35,000 in debt when they finish college. If you have student loans, credit card debt, or you owe your buddy twenty bucks, start paying them off now and pay more than the minimum monthly payment. You’ll end up saving money in the end.
Make a budget (and do your best to stick to it). This will help you pay off your debt and it will help you realize that spending five dollars on coffee every day might not help with that process.
Thank the people who helped you. Teachers, family, friends. The next step of your life will be all that much richer if you say thank you to the people who supported you. And it feels good, too.
Develop a non-digital hobby. This one sounds a bit silly, but I realized how much time I’ve been spending with my face in my computer. Then I had lunch with a friend, spent the afternoon reading a book (a real, live book, not an ebook on my Kindle or computer), and took a walk outside. Going electronics-free for a day (or an afternoon if you can’t handle a whole day) is good for the soul.
Build community. To be honest, I wasn’t great at staying in touch with high school or even college friends. When I started working, I found a group of like-minded women who supported and encouraged each other. It made all the difference. Sometimes it takes a while to find people who click. But it will happen, and it will be awesome. Be ready for it.
7. Have fun. You’re only young once. And while saving for retirement and getting rid of debt are important and will help you live a fuller life, don’t forget to pay attention to the now. It’s fabulous.
This past January, on an icy Sunday afternoon, I took my husband on a hot date. I know, perhaps not a typical first sentence for the English Department blog. Stay with me.
Somehow I’d snagged front-row tickets to see Ira Glass—yes, THE Ira Glass—at WMU’s Snow Auditorium. If you’re not familiar, Ira Glass is host and executive producer of the long-running, highly-lauded podcast, “This American Life.” Josh and I also happen to think he’s one of the most precocious, on-point, and winsome public figures we’ll encounter in our lifetime, and we’re pretty picky about our public figures.
Though we’ve been podcast fans of all sorts for years, it’s become a ritual to listen to “This American Life” while we do the evening dishes, clean up the day’s mess, set out the next day’s lunch. We find the episodes entertaining, certainly, but they also provide us with a type of news we’re hungry for—truly, sometimes even infuriatingly, complex—good journalism, funky journalism, raw and real, stories and people and scenarios that make us question, and curse, and laugh, and cry. We regularly do all four of those things as we bend over the dishwasher or spread a bagel with peanut butter and jelly because these well-crafted episodes include such a gamut of the human experience, from the retelling of a hilariously chaotic Peter Pan production to an up-close exploration of the devastating state of segregation within our public school system. “This American Life” is not messing around.
I’d already decided I wanted to do a class podcast with 358, Intermediate Creative Nonfiction, in the spring semester, since literary essay-writing and this kind of journalism—sometimes called immersive or literary journalism—have much in common. I knew that we’d model our episode after “This American Life,” and I’d been brainstorming with Josh which episodes were the best to assign and enjoy/analyze/steal from as a class. But for whatever reason, when I bought the tickets last fall to see Ira Glass, I thought I was going on a really great date that kind of sort of happened to tie into this thing I was going to try in one of my classes. Front row tickets, man. With my man, man. My kids’ favorite sitter lined up and a trip out of town, man. HOT, right? (No joke, I’m living large here, folks.)
But then we arrive and take our seats and the lights go down and from the minute Ira Glass steps on that stage, it’s as if he knew there was a gal on the front row teaching a creative nonfiction class and planning to incorporate a podcast assignment. It was as if he had designed his talk to teach me how to teach this assignment. His whole talk—riveting from the first word to the last, not only because the guy is wryly comedic but also intelligent, kind, self-aware, and convicted—encompassed why they saw a need for “This American Life” in broadcast journalism, what they hope each episode is doing to fulfill that need, what they look for, where the material comes from, how they craft an episode, how that process has evolved, and why the narratives in “This American Life” are so important—even necessary—in our lives. He talks semiotics and storytelling. He speaks at length about his own undergraduate education. He shares highs and lows of his time in broadcast journalism as well as thoughts on the recent boom in and popularity of podcasts.
By and large, Ira Glass gives an enormous craft talk. He teaches me how to teach what a podcast of this sort is, what to aim for, and how to hit it.
Of course I’d come without paper and pen (who brings that stuff on a date?) so there I was, on the front row, madly tapping out notes on my phone, which galled the women next to me into several sidelong glares and a couple tornadic sighs. Did she think I was texting? I wanted to lean over and say, “This is bugging me, too. You have no idea. I need a whole notebook and my best ballpoint right now, not two ridiculous thumbs!” but I was too busy typing out what I could summarize, key points and main ideas, juicy bits and stunning bits, to commiserate. His talk went nearly two hours, what with excerpts from several episodes and a Q&A with the packed auditorium. Josh and I both said we could have—would have gladly, with bonus overtime for the sitter—listened to him for several more hours.
We didn’t want to leave. (Now that’s a hot date. Am I right?)
The next “podcast” class session with my creative nonfiction folks, I was bursting. I stammered over myself in excitement. I mean, I’d sat at the feet (yes, literally) of the Master Podcaster Himself!
And my dear, beguiled students—all eight of them—were game.
They took it in stride (…that their professor was coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, so to speak). They invested themselves. They made it their own. On their own. (I cut the kite strings early so it could truly be something of their own making.) They rose to the occasion. They took risks. None of them had done this kind of podcast, which requires a very specific sort of writing that’s a hybrid of the journalistic and literary. Where they collaborated and had to rely and build on the work of their classmates. Where their voices were on display in a digital format. For all to hear.
These 358 students worked together to create a 35-minute podcast with several “acts” (segments that fit together and build around a theme). They each had something to contribute. And, as far as I can tell, they walked away with a greater understanding of (and deep appreciation for) the exact kind of creativity, endurance, patience, thoughtfulness, teamwork, and tech-savvy it takes to pull off every single episode of a podcast like “This American Life.”
We all learned a lot this semester, not least of which is how easily a hot date can turn into a “craft” moment you didn’t even know you needed…which sometimes can turn into teaching-and- learning moments you did nothing—minus the happen-chance to be in the right place at the right time—to deserve. (Maybe we should all go on more dates?)
Please enjoy the following 10-minute excerpt of the podcast, whose theme is “Growth,” from the spring semester’s 358 class. This act begins with a portion of an interview with Hope biology professor Dr. Greg Murray by Elizabeth Ensink and then proceeds to writing and interview by Madison Veverka (with her grandmother) with folded interview questions by Josue Guitron; final editing and production was done by Katie McMorris and Elizabeth Ensink.
Hope College has a plethora of awards given out to students on a regular basis. The English Department alone has the honor of awarding students over ten different types of honors and prizes for showing exemplary skills in literature and creative writing.
One of the awards we recently gave was the “Stephenson First-Year Writing Prize.” Each semester, a committee of faculty judges selects a student author as having submitted the best paper in Hope’s first-year writing course, English 113. Its purpose is to encourage and recognize standout writers. The winner receives recognition at the English Department’s Award Ceremony and a gift certificate to the Hope-Geneva Bookstore.
Professor Regan Postma-Montano introduced this year’s winner, and some insight as to how the winner was selected:
“On behalf of the English Department and the Stephenson Prize Selection Committee, it is my honor to present this year’s award.
The Stephenson prize goes to an outstanding research paper written in English 113, which is selected for its originality, clarity, logic, and quality of research, in addition to its format and style.
This year’s winning paper, ‘Bowing to No One: Black Feminism in Frances E. W. Harper’s “Vashti” and Janelle Monáe’s “Q.U.E.E.N”’, written for Dr. Kendra Parker’s English 113, highlights the use of poetry and song as a tactic for black women to free themselves from social expectations.
The committee was impressed by the articulate writing, thoughtful research, and engaging, unique argument demonstrated in this paper. One member commented on the paper’s ‘strong voice’ that showed ‘a lot of conviction’ and another on the writer’s enthusiasm. Please join me in congratulating Nina Kay for her outstanding paper.”
A copy of Nina Kay’s paper can be found here. Congratulations, Nina!
First of all I want to wish you all luck on your college searches. Having been through it myself, I understand the time and effort that goes into finding the perfect college. That being said, there is no question that on the next level—the collegiate level—the stakes are higher. In this post, I wanted to talk about some of the expectations, the “do’s and don’ts” if you will, of college writing.
One of the biggest misconceptions about writing that they teach in high school is that there is a standard way to write a paper: intro, body, conclusion repeat. This may not be the best way to write papers in college. In fact, the English department at Hope College encourages its students to use varying sentence structures, phrases, sources, and even to be creative.
You may be thinking, “How can I be creative in a research paper?” well, there are many options you can use to get out of the habit of boring yourself and your professors. One effective way to make your research paper creative is to add a sense of voice to the paper itself. This will make sure that the paper is (A) not plagiarized—which isn’t taken lightly at Hope College—and (B) does not sound like the other 20 or so papers the professor will be reading. Being an English education major, I understand the value of trying something outside the box.
Another way to spice up your papers is to choose topics that are interesting to you. Most professors that I have had in the English department are very willing to tweak their prompt in order to accommodate your needs and wants; use this to your advantage. Unlike other colleges—where you could have up to 300 students in your intro to English class—Hope College classes are between 15-30 students, which means you will know your professors and they will know you. So don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice. This is one thing that I find very valuable, especially in an English setting.
Also, use the writing center on campus. If you’re like me—stubborn—you’ll say things like, “My writing is good enough, I don’t need someone else to proof it” but I hate to break it to you: it’s not. I came in with the same understanding of my own writing and while I held my own, I never could quite get over the hump of mediocrity. However, The Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing will not only proof your papers, but they will give you tips. Did I also mention that many professors award extra points on papers for attending the writing center? (A helpful hint I was unaware of when I first stepped on campus.)
I hope this post gave you a sneak peak into the world you’re about to enter, college. I again wish you all luck and I “Hope” to be seeing you soon. Thanks. Logan Klepac, Senior; English Education
A friend recently posted a screenshot of a text debate she had regarding the morality of Severus Snape, a character from the wildly popular Harry Potter series. (I feel weird explaining this, but who knows? Maybe not everyone is as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am.)
Of course, I jumped in: “Snape is one of the best characters in the series precisely because he is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ He’s not a hero and he’s not a villain. He is all of us.”
Several years ago I took a class here at Hope called “wicked,” taught by Jesus Montaño. It specifically looked at “anti-heroes” in literature. We discussed a number of titles, from The Lord of the Rings to Lolita, from Harry Potter to Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
The class looked at character development, context and historical literary connections. Our discussions often turned a bit personal, since everything we experience filters through our own individual lenses. It taught me a lot about myself.
Wicked taught me that more often than not, our decisions are not either good or bad, but rather they are both good and bad. That life experiences usually contain both pleasure and pain.
My husband and I have been processing a possible job change for him. We’ve listed pros and cons to both job opportunities. We’ve discussed how we might adjust our schedules and responsibilities depending on what decision he makes.
But at the end of the day, neither of us feels any closer to knowing what the “right” answer is. My thoughts turned to the debate about Severus Snape and I realized that in this situation, there probably isn’t a right or wrong decision. Both choices will be both right and wrong, for various reasons.
How, then, do we deal with this ambiguity in life? How do we “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” as Isaiah 1:17 asks us to do?*
For me, it comes down to that third word in the verse, the tiny one, just two letters: do. It doesn’t tell me to be right, just to do right. Seek justice. Learn.
Sometimes we learn by achieving. Sometimes we learn by failing. Sometimes we find justice. Sometimes we endlessly seek. But perhaps it’s the seeking that makes it all worthwhile.
*I’m not a biblical scholar, nor do I particularly believe in taking one Bible verse out of context to prove a point. And yet here I am kinda sorta doing it nonetheless. So what. I contain multitudes.
Floating around somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that a good teacher has to be young, hip, and in touch with teenage slang and references to Justin Bieber songs. You know, to relate and stuff.
And then I enrolled in British Literature. All it took was a semester with Professors Bill Reynolds and Peter Schakel to transform my idea of what an effective educator looks like. These guys came to class every day brimming over with excitement to talk about books I didn’t think people read anymore. Professor Reynolds donned a special St. George necktie the day we discussed his battle with the dragon (St. George’s battle with the dragon, not Professor Reynolds. Though if it ever came to it, my money would be on Reynolds). Professor Schakel waved his hands to the rhythm of Sir Gawain and the Green Night, reciting the fourteenth century poem excitedly as though he just wrote it before coming to class and couldn’t wait to share. Both teachers respectfully interrupted each other with animated interjections and exclamations about long dead authors that apparently couldn’t wait.
These professors love literature in a wonderful, nerdy, delightful, riotous, intriguing kind of way. And you know what, after a semester with these two gems, I actually came to love British Literature, too. Not because they spent all their time stressing over how to make it come alive for us, but by simply letting it come alive in them and then just being themselves. This, after all, is the key.
Not only did I leave their class passionate about stories like Paradise Lost, but I also learned what it means to be a good teacher. I learned how to love learning, how to model learning as play, how to care about something so deeply and sincerely that others can’t help but start to care a little, too.
If you would like to read more of Bryant Russ’ writings, visit his personal blog here.