Reflective Letter: Aftermath of a Fire

This year has marked a number of very major writing accomplishments and growth, more so than any other year. My writing style has developed and I have become much more accustomed to creative writing. There are a number of specific writing goals this year set by both the class and by myself. I have definitely been challenged at a number of points this year. I have been pushed to successfully write pieces that I would otherwise never attempted to write. Just as a forest after a fire that looks as though it was destroyed, yet it is more fertile than it has ever been, so have I been beaten down by this year, yet I now posses more creative and academic writing abilities than I posses at the beginning of the year. Looking back on writing from the beginning of the year, I can see my growth, though it’s hard to tell without digging into all of my past writing where the most growth took place. I will reflect on my past writings to better understand my growth as a writer.

As one might expect out of an English class, this year we developed a number of writing skills. Being a strong academic writer, one of the more difficult goals for me was becoming better at writing in the creative genre. One piece that I am particularly proud of in this genre was what I originally called Utopian Dystopian Universe but have since changed to Diptopian Universe, which I wrote during first semester. It was very challenging to come up with an original idea for this genre, and many of my ideas weren’t so fit for a stage. Once I figured that my idea didn’t necessarily have to be original though and that I could write more of a satire/parody piece, I became much more excited about writing. Considering what would be going on for actions and props was another challenge, but was easy to face when I just pull out the dialogue and place the details around it. It turned into a fun challenge. While I still need to work more on coming up with original ideas and more realistic dialogue, I am proud that this piece was able to accomplish what I set out for it to accomplish and stimulated my creativity early in the year. During second semester I wrote a flash fiction piece called Dear Clueless American. Flash fiction is a genre that I have  come back to often during the year and have found myself enjoying because of how freeing the style is. This one in particular I enjoyed though because of the memories associated with this piece and how silly it was to write. It allowed me to take on a very informal tone in a traditionally formal setting, which I discovered in this past year is quite fun.

In addition to growing creatively, I have worked to grow in critical analysis. A work that I think shows this well and that I really enjoyed writing is Saved by Ideas: A Concept of Heroism. In this essay there are a number of different examples of heroism that I tied together and analyzed so that I could interpret the results that I did. Like I said earlier, academic essays have always been more my style so they haven’t worried me too much, but this one stretched my imagination a bit more and forced me to think about bigger ideas that would tie together the three stories that I did. As the year progressed, I became increasingly critical as a writer by taking information and drawing conclusions that maybe aren’t so obvious, something that I’ve always struggled a little bit to do.

In order to be a more critical writer, I need to take more time in thought and writing out ideas before I start the paper. One thing that I did a lot a formative work before we actually started to write the paper was The Importance of a Personal Story. Much of the formative work I have no good way to even display on this blog because we did a sheet where we brainstormed words and synonyms that helped us research more thoroughly. We did a sheet that encouraged the use of a number of different websites to find scholarly articles. We had to find many articles before the writing of the paper. We had to write along, very detailed outline of the paper. It was tedious to say the least. Then we finally got to drafting and did many peer reviews. I’d rarely put so much work into a paper before, but the outcome I would say reflects the hard work that was put into beforehand. It really helped me to understand that, especially with long research papers, it is most effective to go in with a plan, something I’ve felt less of a need of for previous papers.

Despite all the tedious work, it was also this essay that aided me in honing in my surprising enjoyment of research papers. Academic papers I have found I enjoy in general because analysis in figuring out a problem, or just making a point, is an interesting process that allows me to develop many thoughts and to consider the subject seriously. I also like that writing helps me to be more informed about the world, others, and myself. This paper specifically though allowed me to meet one of my community goals, which is to notice the issues in a community and work to address the cause rather than just the symptom. The research that I found to support my thesis wasn’t so cut and dry, so I really had to dig to find what the issue was within my community that caused such an apathy for personal histories. Such researched allowed me to more precisely hone in on what my problem was and the most effective way for me to face it was.

Some personal challenges of mine have been to improve my revising speed and skill, to prepare for college level essays, and to use dead verbs and other overused words less, all of which were accomplished, again, in the essay The Importance of a Personal Story. With a new draft due each class period for a while, I was forced to be very quick about what I edited in my paper. I utilized my peers to make the process of me writing faster and then also was very thorough on my own in finding dead verbs. While a number of my pieces could still use fewer dead verbs, this piece, being very large and me being thorough, has a particularly low concentration of dead verbs. Then obviously, with the length and prior preparation, this paper prepared me for the sorts of papers I will write in college, where the professor won’t go over how to properly research or the best way to write an outline of transitions.

Additional personal challenges were not so easily gauged in class assignments. One of my goals was to write more, which I did while writing my senior class play. After being inspired to expand upon the short play Dystopian Utopian World so that after over a month of work it turned into Diptopian Universe, an over 60 page piece of which I am very proud. It was difficult at times to try and fit all this writing in and to constantly try to come up with ideas to fill the story with, but after carrying around an idea notebook with me and watching some dystopian movies for inspiration, I was able to keep a flow of ideas running through my mind. This is a process that I know I can use for future creative works of mine.

Another challenge was to ask more questions. This goal is particularly hard to gauge, but if you read my Final Thoughts Letter, you can see that one of my lessons learned was asking more questions, an increase that did not except this class. Whenever I missed a day I would ask a classmate or the teacher what happened and what I would need to do. I wouldn’t let myself be confused in class and made sure that all instructions were clear to me before I started any serious writing.

For reading for this semester there were also a number of reading challenges. One that I made for myself was to read 3 books outside of class. I nearly made this one outside of the reading challenges and book assignments. I read Joan and Peter and the Country of the Blind, The Child Buyer, and part of Cutting for Stone. During high school the number of books I have been reading outside of class has been dwindling, so it has been very nice to try and get back into the swing of reading, a past time that took up much of my childhood. With this increase I have also been able to increase my reading pace and solidify my personal tastes in writing. I found myself flying through books in this last reading challenge, especially sic-fy ones. I have always loved a bit of fantasy and sic-fy, but with the books like The War of the Worlds and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I have reminded myself why I love this genre. I have also been reading more dystopian novels, like Child Buyer and Brave New World and long story books like Joan and Peter and the Country of the Blind and Cutting for Stone. That genre is probably the most surprising one I found myself enjoying. They are stories that start from a person’s birth (even before their birth) and then covers much of the rest of their life, at least to an important point. They have been very long and slightly more difficult to get through (especially Joan and Peter) but it has been fascinating to see the entire life of a person unfold.

I have also grown in my ability to understand literary devices and critically analyze a text. These are both best seen in my book reflection for The War of the Worlds. By taking a post colonial view of the book, I was able to understand what H.G. Wells was trying to express in this story and allowed me to view it as more than just a story about Martians. I had to do a little bit of research to find that it was during the time period this book was written that Europe was colonizing Africa. This research I then used to help me critically analyze the text. Before this school year I often read stories as just surface level stories. In previous classes we learned this stuff, but I never really applied myself to applying the knowledge. This year though I have been having a harder time not digging deeply into the text of a book, even when we don’t have to do a review of it. It has enhanced my reading ability and my personal gain from books.

Another book that I was able to analyze was Brave New World. I reviewed this one multiple times and wrote a paper on it, but I would like to talk about the first review of the beginning chapters as being one of the first reviews that I was able to seriously analyze the style of writing that the author was using. The beginning of the book was particularly unique, so it was easy for me to pick out the different styles that he used and what he was trying to accomplish with each style. Despite being done so early in the year, it was the most effective way that I was able to analyze why the book was written in such a way. I believe this reflection helped me to comprehend the book better and enjoy much more than I might have otherwise. Now I would list it among my favorite books.

This year my class has also spent a good chuck of time working and aiming to become more active in our communities. One way that I did this was by visiting a local coffee shop and listening to a local band, the experience which is documented in the short story A Time To Rest. In this story I reflected on what local places had on the community. I did some revision on this piece to reflect more on the mood of the shop itself and what it had to offer, specifically the cabin style and art gallery feel. In this I reflect on the importance of shops like this to give people a sense of peace and a relaxing, homey feel. It wasn’t so difficult to write this one since it was a reflection of what I was feeling at the time. I also think this piece helps to develop an understanding of what the community has to offer by allowing the reader to feel what it has to offer through my writing, rather than attempting to explain it to them explicitly. I think there is still more description that I could probably add, but none more for what I set out it’s purpose to be. As a writer now I am able to use words to appropriately convey my thoughts and feelings to the reader.

To finish up my reflections of the year I will address some of the reflections I have written as the year has gone on in my “tips to take with me about writing”. The first point I made was that I needed to work on my grammar, which still holds true as I am not a perfect writer, but I would like to say that I have at least improved over the year considering how many papers and stories I have had to write. My comma usage has had the most positive change. I have also left myself some advice on how to inspire my writing. It can come from peers and peer reviews, but if I can’t come up with any idea, I should write down some things that I have done in my life then read some random genres. I can watch a movie or read a book. I also reminded myself that sometimes that you draft to discover what you don’t want to write rather than what you plan on working with. I shouldn’t be afraid to scrap an entire piece, which I have done this year more than most other years which I think has helped me produce the highest quality and most thoughtful pieces of writing I have ever written. The biggest example of this was when I wrote an entire play then decided that I wanted to change many of the characters. Out of 60 pages I kept about 20 of them, but this was the best decision I made. This means that I should start early so that I can make plenty of mistakes and have time to start over if I need to.

Overall, this year has marked much growth for me as a writer, reader, and participant in my community. It has been tough at points and fun in others, but in general has forced me to try new styles of writing and expand my skills that I have already acquired over the past few years. I feel like a freshly burnt down forest; ready to use the nutrients that have been given and prepared in me so that I can use them to enhance my abilities in the future.

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