Monday, May 21, 2012

Kiara Huertas ’14 on making ink trails between post-it notes

Kiara Huertas ‘14
Major: Creative Writing
Minor: Religion
Hometown:  Waterbury, CT

To an Ex-lover

We are not bombs waiting to explode beneath each other’s feet,
scattering limbs until I cannot tell where my frame ends and yours begins.

Neither are we paintings waiting to be finished by the next artist that passes.
And while I may be like a fruit spoiled by sun on a windowsill,

I hear my own cry beginning to rise from rubble,
baby girl, no one can ever steal your shine.

I still look upward as if the sky could exonerate me.


Imagine this: every time you come across something in life that you want to remember, you pull out a post-it note and scribble down details about it. You might scribble down a nice thing that someone said about you. Maybe you record a sentence or two about that one moment, when the sun shined on water so perfectly, you couldn’t help but think of the most recent conversation with your schizophrenic mother—when she didn’t sound crazy. Maybe you scribble about the first time you realized your best friend was no longer your friend, but you don’t write on the post-it that your friend isn’t your friend anymore because you haven’t learned that yet.
Instead, you describe the quick flicker in her eyes that you might have missed but didn’t. You don’t write anything more about the flicker either, you just write that it was there, and what it looked like, but not what it meant. You’re not ready to discuss such things yet.
            Eventually you start to color code your post-it notes. You scribble down the things that you remember fondly on the pink post-it notes. On the blue ones, anything that feels like tears, or anger, or all the times that a white person responded to the rolled r in your last name with: I have a good friend that’s Mexican. On the yellow ones, you write the things you haven’t quite decided how to feel about, like prep school, which ultimately equipped you with more words and more ways to use them to depict all of these moments, but also inspired more than a few of the blue post-it notes.
            Imagine now that your room is overflowing with post-it notes. They are on the walls and the bed post. They are on your desk and computer, and covering the whole window so that you can’t see sun, or rain, or people walking by. There are so many post-it notes that you’ve even filled your underwear drawer, so you resolve that you have to do something with them. You have to be able to open the window without fearing that some of your post-it notes will fly away before you can make them something beautiful. So you sit Indian-legged in the center of your room and start peeling away at the post-it notes that you can reach first. They aren’t necessarily the most compelling post-it notes, but they are the ones that you can grab without rising. You don’t know exactly what to do with these post-it notes, but you know you’re not ready to rise again and you don’t.
            Now that you’ve started to read the post-it notes, you begin to cry over them, making ink trails between them. Suddenly it hits you: you’re not crying over any single post-it note but at the joy of having them…to remember. The thing is, as you remember, you don’t look at the post-it notes the same way. You decide that they don’t do enough for the memories, and you need to record them in a way that surpasses scribbled, abrupt words. So you begin to string post-it notes together on a page. The page is longer and wider, so you weigh it down with words too heavy for post-it notes. You use words in a way that makes you ache so thoroughly that it doesn’t feel like pain; it feels like metaphors spilling from rooftops because the clouds got too heavy to hold them (that’s the best way you can describe it anyway). This is the joy of writing: deliberately placing post-it note memories onto a page so that those words don’t just sit where you stuck them. They fly now from mind, to mouth, to ear, to soul, and back again, and the movement is so great, so unsettling, and grounding, that you stay right there, on the middle of your floor, Indian-legged, and you breathe the breath of someone just trying to take it all in.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Prof. Roger Rothman on Fluxus, the creative excitement of starting a new project, and the need to rewrite.

Roger Rothman, Associate Professor of Art History

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?

I am writing a book on Fluxus. Fluxus was (and still is) a loose group of artists (Yoko Ono is perhaps the most famous) from around the globe (most from the US, Germany, France, and Japan) who sought to blur the boundary between art and life. Much of what they did was simple and silly, and I’m especially interested in exploring the complex and serious ideas that were hidden underneath. The book will focus on the American artists in the group and will examine the connections between their work and the ideas that drove the various social and cultural upheavals of the sixties. My argument is that the political dimension of Fluxus is far more significant than people have thought. At this point, I am still early in the writing process. I have been on sabbatical this year and have been collecting information on different artists as well as historical accounts of the sixties. I’ve also taken a few trips into New York to look through the archives at MOMA and meet with individuals who were (and still are) involved in Fluxus.

What do you love about it?

My favorite part of the writing process is the beginning, when new ideas hit me and the shape of things changes suddenly. As I take notes and concoct arguments and theories, the writing I do causes the various artists, artworks, and movements to rearrange themselves in my mind. Obscure events and concepts move into focus while other things and ideas that I had taken as central move to the periphery. It’s a period of creativity in which it feels like I am both the one who is moving the different parts and, at the same time, a passive witness to parts moving themselves. It’s very exciting and I think it’s this that keeps me hooked to writing because I have to admit that almost all of the rest of it is hard and painful and unpleasant.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?

Indeed much of it drives me nuts. The first frustration comes when my words hit the page; they almost always lack the eloquence and clarity and conviction that they (seem to) have in my mind. As a result, it takes a long time for me to turn the mess of the first draft into something I can say I’m happy with. It’s also the case that my revision process is far from linear. My second draft is never a simply refinement of the first. It’s almost always a complete rewrite (and often that’s the case with the third and fourth drafts). In light of the messiness and non-linearity of my process, I’ve gradually come to recognize that I need to have huge chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on writing  (anything less than three hours is too short): it takes me at least an hour to clear my head and get to a place where the words will come out in anything resembling a coherent fashion. I suppose it’s a consequence of my monomaniacal personality. Doing more than one thing at a time is almost impossible.

How would you describe your writing process?

I begin by taking tons of notes—both data that I’ve collected and ideas I’ve come up with. Over time, I watch as the ideas shift and expand and contract and mutate. When I feel that the process has slowed down to a point where things seem settled and my time yields diminishing returns, I make a very simple outline. In fact, it’s really just a list. Each idea that I think is needed gets a single line. I’ll then move the individual idea-lines up or down the list so that they fall into an order that seems to make sense. Sometimes I’ll make a powerpoint to arrange the works of art that I plan to discuss so that I get a sense of how the text might flow. Then I start turning these idea-lines into paragraphs. Sometimes a few idea-lines will be clustered to make a single paragraph; sometimes a single one will grow into a handful of paragraphs. This part can be fun because it often yields up some interesting surprises. I’ll usually need to go back to do more research and will find that some of the ideas I thought were central should really be pushed to the background while others should be moved to the fore. As each idea-line is replaced by full paragraphs the writing mutates bit by bit into full draft. Then the rewriting begins. Things will be taken apart and new paragraphs added. New research will be done to supplement an idea that hadn’t occurred to me earlier. When it seems like everything that needs to be there has found its proper place, I play around with the sentences and individual words. I try not to over-polish, partly because I’ve seen how easily the shine of vibrant sentence can be scrubbed out of existence, but also because I just get tired and want to stop. The process ends when I can’t stand to look at it anymore. Then I send it to friend and hope I get a positive response. If I don’t get a positive response I usually cry a little, wait a little, and then start tearing it apart yet again.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?

The most helpful feedback I get on my writing comes in the early stages: I like to hear how a reader responds to the main argument and evidence. Often I learn that I’ve incorrectly predicted some key suppositions that a reader brings to the text or the sorts of questions that the reader is most interested in having me answer. Feedback at this point has a huge effect on how the draft develops. Since the text is still in its infancy, hearing that I should cut it up and move stuff around is not nearly as frustrating as it is after I’ve worked to get it into what I think is its final shape.

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?

I am not a natural writer. When I was a kid I was a poor and disengaged writer (and reader, too). It’s only after many years that I have become comfortable with a keyboard beneath my fingers; so I suppose I am a good example of how it’s possible to become an effective writer through nothing more than persistence.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Prof. Logan Connors on managing multiple writing projects and how “writing makes you a better writer.”

Logan Connors, Assistant Professor of French

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
Right now, I'm writing an index as well as publicity materials for my upcoming book, Dramatic battles in eighteenth-century France: philosophes, anti-philosophes and polemical theatre. I'm under the gun--the book is set to be released this summer by Oxford University's Voltaire Foundation! I'm also working on an outline for my next book, a critical edition of France's first patriotic tragedy, Pierre De Belloy's Le Siège de Calais. Besides those two big projects, I've got some conferences in Europe this fall (I'll be on leave in Paris next academic year) that I am starting to brainstorm. I also have an article on eighteenth-century prisons that is due in the early fall--it's in the very early stages. Busy times, I guess!

What do you love about it?
I love the fact that my first book project is finally coming to an end. Dramatic battles has been in the works for five years and it feels great to see it come into fruition. I also love the brainstorming process for new projects. I feel that all ideas are on the table and anything is better than nothing at this point!

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
I'm pretty sure that indexing is one of the most excruciating jobs in the world! A big thanks to Sarah Schaefer ('14), my research assistant, who is helping me tremendously with that! Another tough thing is the moment when loosely organized ideas need to become concrete sentences and paragraphs. Funny how this is always a time when it seems incredibly important to clean my desk or check baseball scores online. 

How would you describe your writing process?
Before coming to Bucknell, I had the opportunity to work with Simon Harrison ( Simon was my housemate and co-worker at the Ecole normale supérieure in Lyon, France; he was also my writing partner (highly recommended for anyone who needs to be held accountable for his/her writing!). Back in 2007, Simon and I were both struggling with our dissertations so we read a bunch of books about how to be more productive writers. The suggestions for how to write more (or better) can be all over the place but there is one piece of advice in most of the literature on writing: you have to write often to achieve desired results. I think there are these myths like "you should wait for inspiration" or "you need a huge chunk of time to get anything done." This may be true for some people (although I doubt it) but not for me; I try to carve out at least 30 minutes - 1 hour each day and write. It may sound bizarre but you'd be surprised what you can get done in just 30 minutes. I guess it took me about a decade to learn that you need to actually write to achieve good writing results. Duh!

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
I think my favorite type of feedback is what I would call "optimistic honesty." Optimistic because the reader knows that you can do better but honest enough to really let you know if an idea (or paragraph, or sentence) is solid. My dissertation director at LSU was, and remains, a fantastic model of "optimistic honesty" (Kate Jensen:$Content/Jensen?OpenDocument). 

I write in English and in French and I really appreciate when my French readers whip out the red pen and go to town on me. I have to say, they usually tack more towards honesty than optimism. 

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?
I think that my students appreciate how open I am about the writing process. I'm always harping on them to "start early" but I share my own weaknesses and fears about the whole process (and the fact that I need to set artificial deadlines for myself because I don't just naturally start early!). I guess the number one thing that I would like them to know is that I was a very unsuccessful writer in college. I started projects too late, I didn't take the time to read the directions, I didn't revise, and I certainly didn't proofread. I struggled for years and I struggle now. But I want them to know that writing makes you a better writer. It sounds very basic but it's true. Talent is great but anyone can learn to write better if they write more often.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Prof. Mike Malusis on the four Cs of high-quality technical writing and the painful but necessary process of writing

Mike Malusis, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of Bucknell’s Writing Across the Curriculum Program (2012-15)

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I am working on several writing projects that are at various stages of completion, including three journal papers (one in press, one in review, and one in preparation) and two papers (in preparation) for upcoming conferences in Paris (2013) and Melbourne (2014).  I also have begun work on my first book project, a textbook on ground improvement (i.e., principles and practices for improving the engineering properties of poor or problematic soils), in collaboration with my Bucknell colleague, Professor Jeff Evans.  We are hoping to complete the book in two years, but we shall see.

What do you love about it?
The most rewarding aspect of writing, from my perspective, is the learning that accompanies the writing process.  I love to learn, and there is no better way to enhance my knowledge or crystallize my understanding of a particular subject than to write about it. 

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
Just about everything, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll list my top three frustrations: (1) writer’s block (which happens far too often for my liking); (2) the seemingly endless process of revision; and (3) finding errors in my published papers (if you find one, please, do not tell me about it). 

How would you describe your writing process?
An oft-followed adage in engineering is, “plan the work, work the plan.”  This is exactly the way I approach all of my writing projects.  The planning stage is particularly important, as this is the stage in which I answer the key questions that ultimately guide (and constrain) the design of the writing piece.  For example: Who is my audience?  Why am I writing?  What are my objectives?  What are the requirements (e.g., length, format, etc.)?  What information must I include?  How do I organize and present that information?  Typically, my planning effort culminates in a detailed outline that includes a draft title, the basic structure of the piece (i.e., all sections and subsections, organized hierarchically), bulleted lists of key information to be included in each section/subsection (including illustrations such as figures, tables, and drawings), and a draft list of references that I anticipate citing in the work. 

After my outline is prepared, I begin “working the plan.”   I create the illustrations first, since much of what I convey in the text will be my interpretation of these illustrations.  Then I compose the text, starting with the sections that are easiest to write.  I try to articulate my ideas as best I can while fighting back an instinctual urge to create a masterpiece in the first draft.   Unfortunately, I am not always successful at preventing my perfectionist nature from getting in the way of progress (and writer’s block ensues).  In any case, once I have flesh on the bones, I embark on the revision process.   Revision is no small task and goes well beyond proofreading.  I critically evaluate the entire piece --- every section, every sentence, every word --- with focus on organization, economy, clarity, completeness, precision, and accuracy.  This process, for me, often requires several iterations.  Painful, but necessary.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
While I appreciate feedback of all kinds, the most helpful feedback generally relates to one of the four C’s of high-quality technical writing: Clear; Concise; Complete; Correct.  Clarity problems, in particular, are difficult for me to detect in my own work.  My explanations always make sense to me!    

What would you like your students to know about you as a writer?
Good writing does not just happen for me.  I usually spend at least twice as much time revising a paper as I spend creating the initial draft.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bucknell alumna Juliana Brafa ’05 on writing to shape--and reshape--our culture through film.

Juliana Brafa ’05 is a filmmaker currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Her award-winning film All is Normal, which she co-wrote, co-directed and produced with filmmaker Todd Bieber and starred in alongside actress Linda Blair, will be screening at the Campus Theatre on Sunday April 29th at 1pm, and is also available online. She is currently in post-production of her newest film, a documentary called Turtle Derby.

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I'm currently writing the outlines for several feature scripts for new narrative films.

What do you love about it?
I love that writing allows for pure exploration and creativity, especially in the initial stages when really anything goes. When writing for film, it can be challenging because I also have to consider what's realistic for production or what would be within a certain budget. But in the initial brainstorming stages, I try not to let myself think about the practicalities and just let the creative sparks fly. It's great fun.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
If I let myself think too much about the audience or "will this sell tickets" as I'm writing, it can become stifling. Those considerations are important, but it's also important to not shoot down my own ideas right off the bat before they've had time to develop. When I think of some of my favorite films, I find that the parts I love most are often those quirkier moments that could have easily been second-guessed and cut early in the writing process, but those are the bits that really make the movie special.

How would you describe your writing process?
My instinct when writing is to collect what I lovingly refer to as "scraps" - ideas that float in while I'm not consciously trying to write. These are often the best material. Then I need to balance that type of writing with a more consistent, disciplined practice, which works best when I do it for a small amount of time every day or two. During that time, I will start to look at the "scraps" I've collected and start piecing them together like a puzzle and create more of a structure.
What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
In the early stages of a piece, I generally benefit from just plain encouragement. As I start to craft the idea further and feel more confident, then honest, one-on- one feedback and discussion from a variety of perspectives is most helpful for me.

What would you like others to know about you as a writer?
I love that writing, and especially film writing, has the power to reach so many people and either support or subvert our current cultural messages. That's why it's so important that there is diversity among those who are creating the content (yet, unfortunately so few of Hollywood writers and directors are women or people of color). So I see being a woman writer as a huge opportunity to get my own voice heard and try to break through some of that.

For any writer, not just women writers, even small choices can be powerful - by writing the doctor in a story as a woman for example rather than going with your first thought of making the character a man - it can all make a difference in shaping our culture, and all it takes is just simply reminding ourselves to be aware that what we're writing has an impact. There is a very funny, simple test you can give (that unfortunately most films fail) called the Bechdel Test: 1. It has at least 2 (named) women in it, 2. who talk to each other, 3. about something besides a man. As a consumer, I try to support films that pass this test, and as a writer, I strive to pass this test myself. I find this responsibility very exciting and empowering! 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Poet Diana Park on the complexities of womanhood and the search for a whole self

Diana Park, Stadler Fellow 2010-12, talks with us about imaginary spaces, mugwort and garlic, and the frustrating devotion that writing requires.

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I’m still working on my first book of poetry, More Snow than Rice. It’s a lyric narrative of a heroine’s journey through an imaginary country scarred by war.

During the Stadler fellowship, certain themes have come to the forefront of this manuscript. The original form of the book was a long poem following the heroine through villages, forests, and mountains as she invented an identity apart from a dutiful daughter. Now the book is a collection of poems organized into two sections, a depiction of a lonely girlhood preceding an adventure through a snowy landscape. The search for a whole self and a home poses a greater challenge than survival. The cruelty of women, especially between mothers and daughters, heightens tension more than the brutality of war. While drafting and revising poems, I find myself asking how women shape and embody spaces—interior selves, familial roles, kitchens, trees, and on the page. I explore how a woman is defined.

What do you love about it?
I’ve always loved storytelling. I’m drawn to myths, folktales, and fairy tales for various reasons. One, these tales contain surprises. Two, they can preserve or convey cultural values.

I’ll illustrate my points with a very short version of a Korean myth. Thousands of years ago, a bear and a tiger living in the same cave prayed to Hwanung, a holy god, wanting to become human. Hwanung appeared and gave them a challenge. Handing them some mugwort and garlic, he said, “If you can stay in the cave for 100 days and eat only these foods, you can be human.” The tiger ended up running away and remained a tiger. The bear endured and became a woman. Later, she gave birth to a son, Tangun, the first king of Korea.

Why mugwort and garlic? I find this detail so curious. I wonder what the cave smelled like, how time seemed in such darkness and isolation.

There’s a Korean notion that a good mother is like this bear: devoted and able to endure hardship. Well, can a good mother possess different qualities? Other questions and images begin to form.

Tales trigger my imagination. They give me a lens to approach, understand, and write about certain issues. They influence many of my poems.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
What isn’t driving me nuts? Whatever it is changes all the time. For one draft of a poem, I spend a lot of time and energy on commas. Is a comma needed here? No. Yes. Yes? For another draft, I’m not happy with the last two lines, so I write many different ends of a poem. I also try moving those two lines somewhere else in the poem, as though they’re puzzle pieces. What’s driving me nuts can depend on the draft, the day or time of day, the subject matter in the poem, the amount of vitamin D in my bones, the occurrence of solar flares, the fact that I’ve never seen a shooting star or cut open a durian.

What drives me crazy is really me. I can edit or doubt myself so much that I stop writing, which is the worst thing that can happen. My ego gets in the way of my work.

When it happens, my healthiest response is to stand up, walk away from my desk, and drink some water or tea. I often recall something my MFA thesis advisor, the poet Norman Dubie, would say at the end of each workshop. “Don’t be boring! Have fun!” His commands were once daunting but are now comforting. I return to my desk and think: OK, Diana, let’s try something, anything!

How would you describe your writing process?
I’m honestly not sure what my writing process is. But I know more and more that writing is indeed a process. It involves many drafts and stages—including stages of self-loathing and self-acceptance at times.

I’ve begun to consider a general cycle of creation: nourishment, digestion or incubation, germination, fruition, rest. Revision seems to happen during fruition or rest. And reading is an essential part of nourishment. Each cycle represents a poem, from seed to completion.

The length of time for each cycle varies, and I can never predict it. I wrote one long poem in three drafts, in two sittings within a month. But I also have a short poem that required many drafts over a four-year span. Perhaps an oak tree is just not the same as a stalk of corn.

I do know what my favorite writing conditions are. I’m happiest writing late at night, in complete silence, wearing pajamas and having a mug of tea nearby.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
I’ve received the most help in the following three circumstances.

One. I’ve been working on a poem for some time but see little growth. I’ll show the draft to a trusted reader and ask, “Keep going?” He/she recognizes potential in a detail I overlooked or confirms the suspicion that I’m just spinning my wheels.

Two. A poem has been revised and feels nearly done. I’ll give the poem to someone with two questions. “What’s boring? What’s confusing?” The response will help me refine and polish the poem.

Now. It’s been awhile since I’ve really wanted any feedback on my poetry. I’m still working through many poems and drafts, finding connections within them and between them. Figuring things out on my own and learning to trust myself has been nice. The quiet has been a comfort.

Receiving a response to the manuscript rather than individual poems would be more helpful. But I’m not ready right now to hand over my manuscript to someone.

What would you like your students to know about you as a writer?
Maybe a good poet is like that bear: devoted and able to endure hardship. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poet G.C. Waldrep on prompting students to write outside their comfort zones

How does one teach poetry, and what should a student of poetry hope to learn?
A: One way to teach poetry is to give students good models. Usually, I start with famous poets such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, from which a lot of contemporary poetry takes its cue. The key question I ask is not so much "How does it work?" or "What does it mean?" as "
How does it mean?" I use writing prompts to draw students out of their initial comfort zones. It takes some work to draw out the human experience and craft it into an original work of art.
One prompt I often use in this way is to have each student write a character type and an action on a sheet of paper. Then, I have them rip the paper in half and hand the character to the left and the action to the right. What each student gets is his or her prompt — and they have to write from that. One of the best poems I received from a Bucknell student was from this prompt. The student received "Harry Potter" as the character type and "...cries" as the action. The poem she wrote was in the voice of Harry Potter, talking back to his creator, J.K. Rowling, asking why she never let him cry in her novels.
Read the entire interview:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matt Mizuhara ’12 writes on nearly-inner automorphisms and the mysteries of mathematics

Matt Mizuhara ‘12
Mathematics Major
Hometown:  Allentown, PA

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?

I have been spending the past academic year completing an honors thesis in the Mathematics Department.  I spent parts of the summer and the majority of the fall semester conducting research on a problem in an area called group theory.  A group is a fundamental object in mathematics that captures the essential properties of symmetry.  Groups arise naturally in the physical sciences: chemists study the symmetries of crystal structures and physicists verify conservation laws by observing symmetries of space-time.  Groups themselves contain symmetry in the form of special functions called automorphisms.  Many mathematicians have conducted research in order to understand the structure of these automorphisms in order to more fully understand the underlying groups themselves.  The project on which I have been focusing deals with a special class of automorphisms, called nearly-inner automorphisms, in order to understand how common an occurrence they are.

After discovering some interesting results, my thesis adviser and I have been writing a formal report to the Honors Council so as to share our work with the greater mathematical community.  This report is theoretically self-contained, requiring minimal formal mathematical knowledge, however quickly builds the requisite tools to state and prove our main result.

What do you love about it?

I love the feeling of conducting independent research, which, very fortunately, leads to new results.  It's an incredibly unique and rewarding sense of accomplishment.  This has been the most demanding and frustrating venture I have attempted in academia; however, the end result is something of which I am very proud.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?

Accepted language and syntax is very distinct in mathematics, and is something I am still developing.  I owe a lot to my adviser, Professor Pete Brooksbank, for his patience and support. As the thesis reports were due April 1st, we had several busy weeks of intensive writing and editing.  My inability to succinctly and accurately describe certain aspects of our mathematics was quite frustrating.  However, Professor Brooksbank's advice and mentorship guided our project from imprecise writing to a properly formatted report.

How would you describe your writing process?

For me, it is most important to understand the organization of the mathematics.  Writing general ideas and broad schemes is most important so that I introduce all relevant information in the most succinct and natural manner possible.  Once a first draft is written, my edits serve several purposes.  I aim to streamline the exposition as well as rewrite the mathematics in the most "balanced" way possible.  It is important to find a balance between writing too many and too few details.  In the former case, the reader can be bogged down by trivialities which can cause him/her to lose track of the overall ideas.  In the latter case, the reader could be left confused and uninspired.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?

Generally, it is easy for me to lose track of those aspects that need explanation.  After a year of study, many concepts become natural to a researcher while they remain esoteric to even their most qualified peers. As such, it is often requisite to develop mathematical intuition and ideas slowly in one's writing.  The most useful feedback to me is when people simply explain at which points of a paper they become less comfortable with the information or they feel I have explained a concept too quickly (or perhaps too slowly).  In that sense, the most useful feedback is more global, rather than local.  The overarching flow and rhythm of my writing is more difficult to judge and write, while the specific details are much easier to modify independently.

What would you like your peers to know about you as a writer?

Mathematics is hardly as exotic and inaccessible as popular culture or
perceptions imply.  The same thought process which allows a computer scientist to write a program, a philosopher to conjecture a new idea, or a Spanish major to learn a new language is precisely that which allows mathematicians to discover new and exciting results.  Math research is as alive and varied as any other science, and the results are, in some instances, more groundbreaking and beautiful than any physical experiment or art form.  Problems can go unsolved for hundreds of years, only to be cracked by an enlightened new approach by a fresh mind, and once a result is proved, it will remain so forever.  As Hardy said, mathematical results are, in some sense, the closest form of immortality that we mortals can attain. Further, Times magazine once wrote of a mathematical novel that "to read it is to realize that there is a world of beauty and intellectual challenge that is denied to 99.9 percent of us who are not high-level mathematicians." In my mind, it is unfair that not everyone can share this same passion and understanding of mathematics. It takes some time to understand the language of mathematics, but I only ask that everyone at least devote some patience to unravel its mysteries and to give it a try before turning up their noses at a rewarding and beautiful art.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jenni Whalen ’12 on how writing allows her to hear herself. And to be heard.

Jenni Whalen
Psychology Major, Creative Writing & Italian Studies minors
Hometown: Seattle, WA

When talking about her writing, Sharon O’Brien (an author who works at Dickinson) says, “Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.”

I believe that this is why I write. I write because when I am putting words on a page, I suddenly realize what I could not say out loud, what I didn’t even know was in my head to begin with.

I am a senior Psychology major with Creative Writing and Italian Studies minors. When I applied to college at the age of 18, I thought that I might want to do something related to journalism or communications. I applied mostly to universities with journalism programs, but when I visited Bucknell, I fell in love and decided that I could overlook the fact that there was no journalism program. My poor parents were a bit worried by my choice to attend Bucknell (about a 12 hour travel day from Seattle), but to their credit, they remained supportive every step of the way.

As I began to take classes at Bucknell, I gradually let my dreams of journalism fade into the background as I fell in love with other subjects. At the time, I figured I’d get my master’s in Clinical Psychology. During my junior year, however, I rediscovered my love of writing for a couple of reasons. First, I took UNIV 239, the class that is required in order to be hired as a peer writing consultant in Bucknell’s Writing Center. As I spent three hours each week learning about the writing process (and writing multiple papers about the Amish community), I began to remember why I loved writing so much. That same semester, I enrolled in a Creative Writing: Non-Fiction class with Professor Camuto. He took a liking to me and to my writing, and began to coach me about how to shape my prose, and I became hooked on the idea of writing as an art form. Those two courses were my favorite – they didn’t even feel like classes! – so I realized that I might have caught onto something.

During the spring of my junior year, I studied in Florence, Italy. While there, I was a study abroad blogger for Bucknell’s website (yes, that was my face on the home page…) and I also worked for a student travel website and wrote for a student newspaper in Florence. I think this was the point where I suddenly realized that my love 
of writing and journalism wasn’t just a high school dream – it was something that I needed to pursue. When I returned to Bucknell for my senior year, I continued working for a few online publications, continued working in the Writing Center on campus and began to write for the Bucknellian again.

This year, as a senior, I’ve struggled with what to choose as a career path. Taking the steps that will allow you to pursue your dream is terrifying, because if it doesn’t work out for some reason, then you are losing the thing you are most passionate about. Because of this, I vacillated back and forth about career options. I knew that I could get a job in consulting, or teaching English in Italy, or doing some sort of writing work for a big company. I also knew that I could try to dig my elbows in and break into the very difficult and competitive magazine industry. As a third option, I applied to a couple of schools to get my master’s in journalism. And then I sat around feeling extremely confused.

Thankfully, Bucknell is full of very wise people, and I ended up with some wonderful job and graduate school options in front of me by the end of last month. Last week, I decided to accept a position at Boston University to get my master’s in Journalism with a focus on either magazine or investigative journalism. I will be working with Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and spending the next year of my life in Boston. I will actually be doing the thing I’ve always dreamed of doing, and that feels pretty incredible!

So, in answer to the questions that were posed to me when writing this blog, writing is important to my life and studies because I could not live and study without it. Writing helps me sort through my personal life, and it calms me down when I’m stressed out. Writing gives me a way to express my knowledge in class. It allows me to share information with thousands of college women across the nation through the website that I intern and write for ( Writing is something that I get to discuss in the Writing Center and experiment with in my poetry class. Writing is not just important in my life; writing is my life. The words don’t have to be right, or complicated, or pretty, but they allow me to express myself in a way that I can’t vocalize, and they allow me to be heard in a way that I’d never imagine was possible.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

T. Joel Wade, Professor of Psychology, writes about mate attraction, effective flirtation, and factors that affect people’s decisions to end relationships

Prof. Wade tells us about his process in writing about research conducted with Bucknell students.

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I am presently working on two manuscripts based on research projects I conducted with Bucknell students. One manuscript deals with mate attraction techniques, specifically, an investigation of which flirtation techniques are perceived as most effective by men and women. The other manuscript deals with male and female differences in mate expulsion decisions.  This manuscript examines how differing amounts of sexual and emotional access from a partner affect men and women’s decisions to terminate a relationship.

What do you love about it?
With these two writing projects I love that I am learning new information since the manuscripts focus on areas of inquiry that are relatively uncharted in my field. Also, because the areas are uncharted I also love that I have to/get to sometimes develop explanations for findings that may not have been predicted based on the sparse literature available on the particular topic and cannot be accounted for by other theories in social psychology. 

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
One frustration is having to do the writing in short bursts rather than being able to devote a significant sustained amount of time to the writing. But, that is something we all must deal with at an Institution like Bucknell, and I like teaching and working in this type of academic environment.

How would you describe your writing process?
Often, the first thing for me is to sort of rehearse things in my head, i.e., how will I open the manuscript, what type of picture do I want to paint with my introduction and with the research findings in general. Basically, I create a type of outline in my head. Then I begin to start writing. There are numerous times during my writing where I walk away from the manuscript/s also.  I find that that can be very helpful since sometimes when I walk away from the process, but still think about the particular piece, I hit upon language or a structure/format that seems to work very well for what I am trying to convey.   

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
The feedback that I find most helpful is feedback regarding the clarity, cohesiveness, flow of my writing, and the level of detail, i.e., is it clear, is it disjointed, is there a smooth progression from idea to idea and point to point, and is enough detail provided.

What would you like your students to know about you as a writer? 
That I enjoy writing. That it is a fundamental part of my identity as a professor, and that I do not view it as a chore.  Also, that the more you write the better you write, i.e., one can improve and grow as a writer.  I hope to continue to grow and develop.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some good advice from GradHacker...

"Since writing is a major part of graduate school, its important that we start developing this skill. That way when we get to the dissertation we're not paralyzed by the writing. Here are some tips:
1. Write almost every day: My suggestion is not that everyone start writing a blog, but try writing more often. Try sitting down every other day and just writing for an hour or even a half hour. Emails and facebook messages don't count. Writing isn't a big deal if you're doing it all the time.
2. Break it down: Writing a ten page paper isn't daunting, but writing a 200 page dissertation is. Don't think about the ultimate goal, think about the proximate ones. Instead of listing 'finish thesis' on your to do list, write down each chapter, or even sections within the chapter. If you're practice writing a thousand words a week, getting out a section won't seem so scary.
3. Strive for progress, not perfection: The writing doesn't have to be perfect. We've got computers so we can write really rough drafts and edit them later. Don't worry about getting it right the first time, just get it out! I think of it as doing a 'mind vomit'. Just get the ideas down on the screen and make them pretty later.
4. Take a break: After you've finished your brain dump at the computer, and the words are roughly strewn across your screen, walk away. Take a breather, go for a run, maybe even close the document down for a few days. When you come back to it you'll be refreshed and ready to make those rough ideas into a document you'll be happy with.
So just do it. Sit down. And Write, Damnit! I promise it'll hurt less the more you do it."