Columns, Student Scribe

Short Breaks

The last week of class is always one for reflection and finishing up coursework. As I finish up my last semester of the 2015-2016 school year. It feels weird that the class is ending a couple of months after the 2016-2017 school year started for most college students but that is just how our semesters fell.

It’s been a good year, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. My grades are good, I have a good plan for the coming school year in place, I am ready to keep plugging away at my Junior Year. I am technically a Junior now but I still need a few more classes before I will be able to start on my next round of classes for either Major. The next big class in my Majors that I need to take is The English Language. I need 60 or more Credit Hours from the school to qualify to take it as an online student. I’m hoping that by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year I will have completed my General Education Requirements and my Core Classes for both majors. From then on out I can plug away at my Fiction Concentration workshops and my remaining electives. I’m probably 30 classes away from being done.

As I reflect on this particular course, Intro to Critical Thinking, I find myself… unfulfilled? I guess that’s the best way to put it. The beginning of the course was helpful and engaging. Right up to the midway point I was super engaged in the class, even with how crazy life was. The second half of class has been, well… boring. Lots of technical talk, lots of dry and often redundant discussions, and, overall, it was a disappointing finish.

Right now my grade is going to depend on my final discussion. I will either receive a low B or a high B, which, considering how the semester started, I’m comfortable with. I’ll get my final grades soon, so I will be able to update everyone in next week’s column.

The past year has been nuts. Even the last few months have be literally life altering. Looking back there is very little I’d change about the past few semesters. Life is a lot different having a Foster Child at home. Definitely a lot busier, but it’s just one more layer of life.

Next week there is no class so I’ll be talking all about the coming semester, what the layout is going to be, and my NaNoWriMo project. The US elections are fast approaching, as well, so there will be much to discuss. Until then, have a great week.  

Student Scribe

Reflections

The last week of class is always one for reflection and finishing up coursework. As I finish up my last semester of the 2015-2016 school year. It feels weird that the class is ending a couple of months after the 2016-2017 school year started for most college students but that is just how our semesters fell.

It’s been a good year, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. My grades are good, I have a good plan for the coming school year in place, I am ready to keep plugging away at my Junior Year. I am technically a Junior now but I still need a few more classes before I will be able to start on my next round of classes for either Major. The next big class in my Majors that I need to take is The English Language. I need 60 or more Credit Hours from the school to qualify to take it as an online student. I’m hoping that by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year I will have completed my General Education Requirements and my Core Classes for both majors. From then on out I can plug away at my Fiction Concentration workshops and my remaining electives. I’m probably 30 classes away from being done.

As I reflect on this particular course, Intro to Critical Thinking, I find myself… unfulfilled? I guess that’s the best way to put it. The beginning of the course was helpful and engaging. Right up to the midway point I was super engaged in the class, even with how crazy life was. The second half of class has been, well… boring. Lots of technical talk, lots of dry and often redundant discussions, and, overall, it was a disappointing finish.

Right now my grade is going to depend on my final discussion. I will either receive a low B or a high B, which, considering how the semester started, I’m comfortable with. I’ll get my final grades soon, so I will be able to update everyone in next week’s column.

The past year has been nuts. Even the last few months have be literally life altering. Looking back there is very little I’d change about the past few semesters. Life is a lot different having a Foster Child at home. Definitely a lot busier, but it’s just one more layer of life.

Next week there is no class so I’ll be talking all about the coming semester, what the layout is going to be, and my NaNoWriMo project. The US elections are fast approaching, as well, so there will be much to discuss. Until then, have a great week.  

Student Scribe

Looking Ahead

It seems like the entirety of the second half of this class has been all technical stuff so my apologies for being slightly off-topic again. This week I want to discuss the planning part of college. Planning ahead is a huge portion of school, especially online. To get your degree there are minimum standards that must be met and certain classes you have to take. The key is to know what you are trying to accomplish and what your minimums are so you can make the most out of your education.

Currently I have a Double Major. My main focus is a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing with a Fiction Concentration and my second Major is English Language and Literature. Part of the decision to Dual Major is that there is a lot of overlap in the programs. The three core classes for English Language and Literature are all part of the five core classes for Creative Writing. The elective credits from English Language and Literature also count toward the electives of Creative Writing. There is a ton of crossover and I only need an additional nine credit hours to complete the second Major. Knowing that there is a lot of overlap and A LOT of free electives gives me quite a bit of flexibility in my class choices.

So whats coming up? Right now I am trying to finish out my core classes that all students need to take. Thankfully those classes are also pretty flexible and offer me a chance to take elective that interest me and will aid my growth as a writer. I’ve talked a lot these past few weeks about Intro to Critical Thinking and how it is going to benefit me as a writer (and hopefully my faithful readers as well). This coming Semester I will be taking The Human Experience: Introductions to Anthropology.

It may seem like an odd class to some but to me it makes perfect sense for a few reasons. A huge one being the worldbuilding that comes with fiction. Having at least a basic understanding of how cultures develop can be a huge boon. The other main reason… I have a bit of an ‘in’, so-to-speak, with this class. My younger sister is in the middle of her Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology and may or may not have taught this class (hint… she totally helped teach this class at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte). The class is far less daunting when I have someone that can read over my papers and give me instant feedback if I feel like I need some help. I don’t think I’ll need her assistance with this class because her entire world is Anthropology. I may have picked up a thing or fifty just talking to her over the last few years.

Part of me is really excited for this class. Part of me is TERRIFIED at the work load. There is a lot of writing involved in this course and all that writing will be in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short). NaNo takes place in November and I am planning to put between 50,000 and 75,000 words on my current novel on top of all the writing I’ll need to do for school (which will consist of lengthy discussions every week and two relatively long papers). The end of this course will take me to the holiday season and my next class(es) will start after the new year.

For 2017 my goal is to finish up the core classes I need a quickly as possible. If possible I am going to attempt to take two classes at a time rather than one, that is all of course dependent on my financial aid package and what we (my husbeast and I) can afford. Yes, he is called The Husbeast and we live on his income and the small stipend we get from DCFS for our Foster Daughter, my schooling revolves around them. Hopefully my goals for this school year can come to fruition; I seriously want to dig into the coursework for my Majors.

Student Scribe

Tools of the Trade

This week in class there is a lot of technical talk. Boring doesn’t even begin to describe it. All we’re getting this week are definitions and explanations of the different types of arguments. So rather than bore everyone to tears with all the technical stuff that doesn’t really apply to writing as much as some other aspects of the course, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the tools of the trade.

Which trade you ask? Well writing and online college. Surprisingly enough, the two use almost identical tools. There are a few big ones that truly matter and then some others that are optional but can definitely help.

The first thing you need is a computer of some sort. I write on a 13” MacBook Air that is my exclusive computer for school and writing. You absolutely do not NEED a $1700 computer. Any laptop or desktop you feel comfortable with and can afford works. I chose to go with Apple because most of my peripherals are Apple products. (I had an iPhone and an iPad already when the time came to purchase a new laptop.) There are great options out there now from Microsoft, Acer, Asus, and Google if you are looking for a laptop or tablet for portability and a traditional desktop PC set-up is another great, inexpensive option.

Notebooks are the next thing you’ll need. It’s been proven many times over that writing down your notes as opposed to typing them out will help you retain information better. There are millions of options out there so it’s best to figure out what will work for you. My current note taking set up for school consists of a 3” three ring binder with looseleaf paper and plenty of dividers. All of my dividers have pockets so anything I print out for class can be stored with my notes and contained accordingly. For writing, I like to keep a separate portable notebook, usually A5 sized, for each project. Story ideas that just randomly come to me have their own notes file on my iPhone using an app called Tick.

With the need for something to write in, comes the need for something to write with. Pens and pencils are a deeply personal choice but there are a few things to keep in mind. You will want writing utensils that don’t cause hand fatigue, so find something you can write with for long periods of time that won’t cause hand cramps. Pencils are pretty basic so I won’t go into huge detail on those. Gel pens are great if you need or want to write incredibly fast. The new Papermate InkJoy gels are lightning quick to write with and dry quickly. The same goes for the Zebra Sarasa gel pens. Both are excellent choices for lefties as well do to the fast ink drying time. If you prefer to write slower and at a more measured pace, felt tips are the way to go. Pigma Micron pens, Papermate Flairs, and Sharpie pens, are all great choices for felt tips. Of course, there are your traditional ball point pens (not my favorite option by any means but definitely usable if it’s your preference). Then, of course, there are fountain pens and dip pens but I don’t recommend either for full-time note-taking or writing; if that’s your thing though, go for it. You’ll forever have my unwavering respect for having that kind of patience.

So, those are your three main tools: a computer of some sort, writing utensils, and a place to take notes. There are some other useful things to have as well that aren’t necessities. One huge thing that I highly recommend everyone have is a secondary place to back up your work. Cloud storage, flash drives, external hard-drives, servers, etc. All are useful. The more places you can save your work the better. A planner is another great tool. If you are a regular reader of my column you know that I live and die by my planner. I cannot begin to explain how important it is. I would also like to recommend a comfortable space to work distraction-free, but that is unfortunately not feasible for everyone. The only way I get any quiet to write is if I work through the night when everyone is asleep and no one is waking past my house. (My dogs get very excited if they hear a butterfly flapping its wings 20 miles away, so you can imagine the noise level if a living, breathing entity is with in their line of sight.) 

The tools you use are incredibly important as a student and as a writer. Try lots of stuff and find a system that works for you.

Student Scribe

Analyzing Opinions

As I mentioned in last week’s column, last week’s huge assignment was to analyze an editorial piece objectively. It ended up being surprisingly easy given the right tools and I got an A on the paper/project which was much needed.

I chose to analyze the following editorial from the Los Angeles Times and written by their Editorial Board: “Hillary Clinton would make a sober, smart and pragmatic president. Donald Trump would be a catastrophe.”

You can read the article in full here for reference. 

The argument is pretty straightforward and while I won’t get into personal beliefs or tell you who to vote for, this article makes an excellent exercise in objective analyzing. To analyze an obvious opinion piece the main things you need to look out for are premises and the conclusion. The conclusion is all about figuring out what the piece is trying to tell you or get you to believe. In the case of the article mentioned above, the Editorial Board at the LA Times is telling you that while she may not be perfect, Hillary Clinton is the only viable candidate for president, especially over Donald Trump, who would be a nightmare.

The premises are the reasonings behind the conclusion. The article above has probably thirty or so premises listed. Some of them include Clinton’s qualifications and experience, her pragmatism, and her long-overdue female perspective. It also touches on Trump’s inadequacies and temperament as well as how the third-party candidates are more for show than a real option.

It’s really easy to look at an assignment like this and wonder how this kind of stuff is beneficial to a writer. This type of exercise can apply to all sorts of stuff in the writing world. A huge way it can help is in reading over reviews. As writers we will always be emotionally attached to our work. Naturally that means it’s very easy to to have an emotional, rather than an objective, reaction to any kind of criticism of our writing. This is even regardless of if it is good or bad criticism.

Growing as a writer takes more than just practice (though practice is still rather important). One great way to grow as a writer is to objectively look at your reviews. When you go to read your reviews it’s normal to have a gut reaction. The best thing you can do is take time to process the emotional side of your response. Once that has subsided it’s important to read all the details and really listen to the reviewer and what they are telling your about your work. Good reviewers will often point out strengths and weaknesses in a piece regardless of if they liked it or not. It is all really useful information that can help you grow as a writer.

This kind of critical thinking doesn’t only apply to reviews. These are skills you can use with query responses, rejection or acceptance letters, and even your own work. You can even use skills like this in reverse to write great arguments.

As a student I can honestly say that Critical Thinking courses are absolutely worth taking if they are available. You can learn a lot and the skills you obtain are easily transferable to a writer’s world.

Student Scribe

Back on Track

My grades are (kinda) back on track. YAY! I wasn’t kidding when I told you that picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after a pitfall was absolutely doable. I’m back to an 81.87% in class and while that may scale higher, the likelihood is that I will finish with a B average in the course. That’s a huge comeback from the F I had earlier in the semester.

Right now in my Intro to Critical Thinking class, we are just finishing up with our Devil’s Advocate paper. We were assigned to objectively argue a controversial topic. We had the option of writing about whether or not God exists(in the Jewish / Christian / Muslim God, not other worshiped deities), or we could argue for or against Affirmative Action. I chose to prove that God exists and, apparently, I chose wrong. I feel like the Affirmative Action paper would have been much easier to write.

Now, before you get to rolling your eye or arguing religion… This is not going to be a proselytizing column. My belief is that faith in a higher power (or a lack thereof) is a highly personal matter so I am not here to preach.

I thought I had turned in a great paper. Thought being the operative word. I got a 77.5% on it. The paper needed to be structured where you present your personal argument, then present a rebuttal to your argument, and then a rebuttal to the rebuttal. It’s not a format I love to write in, especially when the arguments get repetitive because the major arguments all seem to surround the Big Bang. Now, there are only so many sources out there and our rubric for the paper very clearly states we can just use our text. I went above and beyond at the suggestion of my teacher, finding multiple sources to cite and/or quote, and it wasn’t enough. I think it ultimately boils down to a difference of opinion in writing styles. Ultimately he is the teacher and he is going to grade things how he wants. I am sure it doesn’t help that I was really behind and doing really poorly at the start of the semester either.

This week, we have another paper due. We will be taking a critical look at a few editorial pieces and then picking one to analyze. It is definitely going to be a very interesting look at current events. The school suggests using Bloomberg Editorials or editorials from the Los Angeles Times, but we can use any editorial from a major news outlet. Current articles on both sites are talking about lots of different topics that we can choose from:

  • The current condition of Detroit’s public schools 
  • Why legalizing marijuana needs to happen in California
  • How driverless cars are going to cost millions of jobs
  • Why Edward Snowden shouldn’t be pardoned
  • How the EU should be handling Brexit at this point
  • Economic challenges in China
  • Why videos of Cops shooting civilians need to be made public
  • How government transparency can improve race relations

The lists go on for days. I’m going to struggle to pick just one topic because there are so many that interest me. I will let you know what I ultimately settle on next week. In the meantime if you have any ideas, drop a comment below and let me know what YOU think I should write about.

Student Scribe

Picking Yourself Up

 

I wanted to apologize for my lack of an article last week. We all hit bumps in the road from time to time. This semester I seem to have hit a bump and fallen face first into a truck full of fertilizer. I have a… brace yourselves… 45% in my current class. I know, I know. I can hear you all clutching your pearls from here. It is not my normal work ethic and I am certainly not proud of that number, BUT I can and will move past it. I am back on track.

So what kind of things can cause life hiccups that large? Everything. Anything.

Student Scribe

Kill Your Darlings

This week starts the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year for Online/Distance Learning students at SNHU. For this term, I am taking Intro to Critical Thinking. It’s considered a philosophy course and comes highly recommended for writing students.

Why Critical Thinking? Well the easiest explanation is it helps in editing. It is the essential skill when you edit your first draft that will help you “kill your darlings.” It’s a term that, as writers, we hear over and over and over and over again. It’s beat into us our entire careers. William Faulkner said it first, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Stephen King followed in his book On Writing, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Student Scribe

Constructive Breaks

 

Having nearly two full weeks off from school is great. There are fewer time crunches and far fewer stressors that weigh on you when you get a little time off. It is so easy during these lower stress times to fall into a pattern of laziness and relaxation. Lord knows I am guilty of it myself. The problem with falling into that relaxed rut comes when classes start up again. Often times, it will lead to a sluggish start.

Luckily, there are ways to combat the slump. The best way is to find something to fill the void school leaves. For creative writing majors, a great way to do this is read. Take the 15+ hours a week you would normally use for studying and coursework and devote it to tearing through your reading list. Depending on how fast you read, there is a potential to put a huge dent in your list. If you don’t have a reading list, break time is a wonderful time to create one.

Student Scribe

Balancing Act

 

With the summer semester over I finally have a chance to breathe a bit. I finished my Social Media class with a 98.65%, one of my highest scores to-date. I’m really happy with it, but grades like that don’t come easy. So this week I’d like to discuss the great balancing act that comes with attending classes online.

Attending classes online has many pros and cons but the largest of them can be summed up in one statement. You can attend class when you have time but you have to make time for class. It seems like a simple enough concept but in reality there is a lot that can affect your schedule and ability to handle the coursework. Things like work, your family, your hobbies, really just life in general can all toss a figurative wrench in the works.

So how do you balance it all? That answer can be really complex and the solutions are different for everyone, but there are some universal things that can help.