Beating Writer’s Block Tips: Content is King

by Becca Betty

A new semester is here and Spring is right around the corner, prompting thoughts of fresh beginnings and launching us into new aspirations for 2023. However, as students and writers we can sometimes encounter difficulty in facing down these new beginnings, many times coined as the phrase “experiencing writer’s block.” Over the next few weeks, this blog will be posting some tips on getting started and adapting our mental frameworks to overcome common stress-points while writing. The advice that follows is drawn from my own experience as a student and writer and is by no means an exhaustive list but rather a starting point from which you may form your own systems for combatting rhetorical clogs in your critical thinking process.  

To start off with, content is king. A deep understanding of the materials you are working with will form the basis of a strong argument. So, you’ve read, listened to, watched, or otherwise consumed your media of interest and sit down to write out your assignment and …nothing happens. Hurdle number one: the thoughts aren’t coming. My advice is to stand back up and take a step back from the assignment to give your mind time to process the new information it has just consumed. Processing new knowledge takes time, a luxury we don’t often afford ourselves as students with approaching deadlines, but even giving your mind a five-minute break before returning to the task at hand could give you the extra push you need to get started. This is kind of the biological equivalent of the technological standard “have you tried turning it off then turning it back on again?”  

The Millersville’s Writing Center (https://www.millersville.edu/enwl/writing-center/ ) can help you with this and more. Tune in next week as we continue this series and best of luck with your upcoming third week of class! 

Academic Opportunities Outside of the Classroom- An Interview with Bill Artz

Written By: Heather Verani

Welcome back everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the long break and are ready for the second half of the academic year. In this initial blog post for the Spring semester, I would like to highlight one of our graduate student’s new achievement.

Bill Artz has been involved in higher education since 1991, with his first degree obtained in General Studies in Classical Languages from Wichita State University. Since this achievement, he has furthered his studies by receiving a BA in both French and Philosophy, also from Wichita State University. While a student at Millersville, Artz has received both his Master’s in English and Graduate Certificate in Writing in 2021. Currently, he is working on his M.E.d. in English, which connects to his philosophical roots due to a rediscovered interest in Simone de Beauvoir.

This renewed interest in Beauvoir is due to Katie Kirkpatrick, the chair of philosophy at Oxford who wrote Becoming Beauvoir: A Life. “Well established scholars are working on Beauvoir again, and that led to my re-found interest in Beauvoir and the reason my MEd thesis has taken a turn toward philosophy” Artz states. This newfound exploration of Beauvoir is one of the reasons for his discovery of the International Simone de Beauvoir Society. This organization, founded in 1981 by Yolanda Patterson, provides a forum for members all across the globe to discuss Beauvoir’s philosophical, literary, and political works. One unique element to the society is that is Beauvoir is looked at and studied as herself, and is not chained to her infamous relationship with Sartre. As Artz states, “she was a better philosopher and writer than he was, her character development was better, and she was able to paint a picture with words that no one in francophone literature has been able replicate.”

With such a passion for Beauvoir, it is understandable why Artz would be a perfect fit for the society. Over the break, he was accepted into the organization as a new board member of the steering committee. As Artz describes it, this committee “does the grunt work” by “getting people to become interested in the society and join.” Other duties include having voting rights and writing articles for the upcoming sets of studies that are coming out. We congratulate Bill for this wonderful achievement and wish him all the best in this endeavor.

Internship Experience

Written by Mandy Flickinger

Through studying English at Millersville University, English majors learn about the world, its history, and the hopes and dreams of all kinds of people through literature. Most importantly, studying English encompasses learning how to become a writer through reading the works of other writers. Since interning with the Dauphin County Library System, I have experienced becoming a writer of my own.

As you might expect from an English major, I have loved libraries since childhood, so interning with the Dauphin County Library System, or “The Library,” as they are known by the community, was a dream come true. As their Online Content Intern, I am responsible for posting to their social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get these posts scheduled and on social media, including coordinating with the marketing team, finding important internal and external events, searching for relevant photos, and updating their social media calendar. Most importantly, I spend much of my time maintaining The Library’s brand by writing in their voice, as well as representing them accurately in the photos and language I use. While I’ve learned a lot from the day-to-day routine of creating content and posting it online, my experience at my internship has a basis in the things I’ve learned while pursuing my English degree and minor in Strategic Public Relations.

Both my major and minor have stressed the importance of writing for your target audience, and subsequently changing your tone, style, and voice to fit those needs. Through taking courses like The Craft of Writing with Dr. Mando, I was forced to push the limits of my writing. Not only did I have to write about topics I was unfamiliar with and had little interest in, but I also had to write in a style, tone, and voice I had never used before. While at the time these new forms of my writing felt uncomfortable to produce, that experience has served me well in taking on the voice of The Library.

Despite my English degree supporting me through altering my writing style for my internship, writing for social media establishes a whole new set of challenges. Creating posts that are meaningful and interesting to your target audience is not an easy feat on social media, especially if you only have 280 characters to do so. Content for social media must be concise, informative, and punchy in a way that other forms of writing do not. You have to find a way to not only get your audience to care about what you’re posting, but to also interact with it, even when they’re bombarded by hundreds of posts and notifications daily.

While I’m still in the process of truly discovering how to do this in the endlessly changing space that is social media, studying public relations in conjunction with English has broadened my knowledge and understanding of writing in every format, style, and voice. Like my courses at Millersville, interning with the Dauphin County Library System has given me a chance to experience a new kind of writing in a different format and voice than I normally use. While my English degree has prepared me for a social media internship, it also prepares students for many other ventures. Writing is useful in almost any and every profession, so it is imperative to push past your discomfort and write about things you may never have before. Take courses at Millersville that focus on a subsect of writing that you wouldn’t try on your own. Through these things, you can broaden your skills as a writer. You never know what opportunities may open up to you when you learn how to become an adaptable and evolving writer.

 

Movie Recommendations for Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving break has finally arrived at Millersville, and the shift in temperature tells us that winter break is just around the corner. With the week of Thanksgiving being the last before the Christmas season goes into full effect, I would like to dedicate this blog post to movie recommendations for the last unofficial week of Fall. Thanksgiving break is the perfect time to curl up under a warm blanket and relax and recharge before the stress of finals week, so I hope you enjoy these recommendations and possibly discover a new favorite movie.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

I remember this film being described as “the personification of whimsy” and I can’t think of a better way to summarize this movie. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delightful adventure that is told entirely through stop motion animation. The comedy, based on the novel by Roald Dahl, follows the main character Mr. Fox as his series of thefts results in his family and community being hunted down by three farmers. Directed by Wes Anderson, the colors, characters, and dialogue within this film is nothing short of brilliant, leaving a colorful feeling of wonder after watching this vibrant film.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

There are many films that people say, “you have to see,” but Dead Poets Society is genuinely one of those must-see films. This classic follows the lives of students attending the prestigious Welton Academy located in New England. When their new English teacher allows them to question both their education and themselves through his teaching of poetry, it inspires them to challenge themselves, and provides a means to cope through the changes and challenges that come with growing up. This summary truly does not do the film justice, as it is hard to encapsulate how truly wonderful and impactful this incredible movie is.

The Princess Bride (1987)

I had to include this film in my list of recommendations because it is my favorite movie of all time, as there are a few films I would regard as perfect, but this is definitely one if a “perfect move” exists. This fantasy film follows the love story between Princes Buttercup and her love Westly as told by a grandfather reading a story to his grandson on his day off from school. As the grandfather states in the beginning of the movie, it is much more than a “kissing book.” It’s a fantastical adventure that features the themes of friendship, love, corruption, murder, and, a happily ever after.

           

Why You Should Consider Majoring in English

It is hard to believe that the end of the semester is quickly approaching. The conclusion of this academic period provides a time to reflect on different aspects of your semester, such as your major. If you feel that your current major is not the best fit for you, I encourage you to consider majoring English, as it teaches and enhances many skills and values that are applicable to any career field.

Majoring in English presents an opportunity to develop and strengthen one’s confidence as a writer, speaker, and creator. The variety of courses that are offered within the major here at Millersville present an opportunity to practice and master necessary skills such as writing, analysis, critical thinking, and intensive reading. The lessons, skills, and values that are presented within each course are a jumping-off point for a career in a variety of disciplines, such as teaching, law, or public relations. Communication and collaboration are two skills that are interwoven within almost every career field. English majors are sought out after graduation as new hires because of their understanding of these skills. A study reported by CBS found that English majors are more wanted by employers than business majors. The study states “students in these majors (like business) may not be learning communication and critical thinking skills, which means they may lack the writing and reasoning abilities that employers want in new hires” (Picchi). This statement shows how valuable the skills learned within the major are in post-graduate career options, and how majoring in English provides the same, if not more, employment opportunities.

If you have an interest in pursuing a major in English, know that your involvement within the major allows for a strengthening of collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills, all of which and many more can be applied to any career you choose after college.

The Benefits of Journaling

In most of the courses offered here at Millersville, writing is almost always an important component of the class. Whether it be an English course or not, students are usually expected to write a paper, essay, or discussion post on a semi-frequent basis. Associating writing with these academic assignments can deter one from wanting to write for fun, as it has now become work rather than an activity. Although there are many options to channel writing in a more creative way, one of my favorites is journaling. Journaling comes in a variety of forms, and can be as personal or as organizational as you would like it to be.

There are many mental health benefits to journaling, which can be helpful to cope with the stress that comes with the end of the semester. It has been scientifically proven that journaling can reduce anxiety with continued use. Along with this benefit, it can also help with awareness, regulation of emotions, and encourages one to open up, which can help with emotional healing.

Now that you know the benefits to journaling, here are a few tips on how to get started. The first is to keep it simple- try journaling for a few minutes each day, and add on more time if you enjoy it. Pick a day or time in the week that works best for you, such as right before you go to sleep. The most important tip for journaling is that there is no set structure or rules. Do whatever you want to express yourself, write as much or as little you like, and customize your journal to fit your needs.

There are many different types of journaling that you could try to see which is the best fit for you. One of the most popular is reflective journaling, which is what probably comes to mind when you think about this type of writing. This type allows your journal to become a private place to reflect on your life and process emotions and experiences. Reflective journaling can seem overwhelming when you have a lot to write about, so it may be helpful to find some online prompts to help guide your journey. However, if you want a space where you can freely transfer the thoughts in your mind onto the page, stream of consciousness journaling may be a better option for you. If you’re looking for a more organized approach, bullet journaling is a great option. Using a grid pattern rather than a blank page as base, bullet journaling uses creative and organized layouts that combine several uses of journaling is a systematic way. It can be used as a daily dairy, a calendar, mood tracker, task manager, and place to reflect all at the same time. Having a specific intention for your journaling is something that is gaining in popularity, as seen in the rise of gratitude journaling. This type of journaling allows for a space to document everything you are grateful for, which is a great place to go back to when you are feeling down.

There are many more types of journaling other than the few I have highlighted here. If this blog piqued any interest for you, I encourage you to try as many as you like to find the best fit for you!

English Classes to Take Next Semester

Registration for the Spring semester is right around the corner, and deciding which classes to take may be more frustrating than waking up at 6am to sign up for them. This upcoming Spring, the English department is offering four upper level English classes. Keep reading to see if any of these interesting courses would be a perfect fit for your schedule next semester. 

English 483- Politics, Film, and Media 

This film course taught by Dr. Craven is to take place on Mondays from 6 to 9pm. Politics, Film, and Media explores how power and privilege intersect in the political realms through the lens of film. Some of the films that will be viewed and discussed within this course include On the Waterfront, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, I am not your Negro, Isla das Flores, and Casablanca. This course also fills the Perspectives requirement. 

English 430- Ethnic American Lit Since 1954 

This online literature course fulfills the perspectives requirement, as it examines the ways in which prose writers, playwrights, and poets from the so-called “ethnic minority” groups question viewpoints that traditionally define American culture and history. Taught by Dr. Jakubiak, this course will  analyze how these writers use literature to acknowledge difficult historical experiences of American minorities and to show that these experiences contrast with traditional and celebratory views of American culture, condensed in the idea of the “American dream.” This approach will help students understand  what the “American dream” looks like from the perspective of Native Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans etc. Some readings featured in the course include  Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Luis Valdes’s Zoot Suit, and John Okada’s No-no Boy. 

English 411- Romanticism 

This literary course taught by Dr. Mondello will be offered each Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 4:15pm. The Romantic era of poetry and literature is identifiable with its themes of nature, emotion, and individuality. These themes and more will be explored and discussed through reading works by poetic greats such as Wordworth, Coolridge, Shelley, Blake, and many more. 

English 336- New Dimensions to World Literature 

This course, taught by Dr. Jakubiak each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11-11:50, will explore the issues of representation and power in selected works of non-Western literature written in the 20th and 21st centuries. The leading theme of the  course is the call from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s well-known TED talk lecture “The Danger of a Single Story.” Through novels, short stories, and plays coming from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, students  will consider the “dangers” of interpreting cultures, traditions, spiritual beliefs, and political systems using a single lens, and  will discuss the value as well as limitations of seeking multiple perspectives. For example, the novel I, Tituba, the Black Witch of Salem  by the Guadeloupian writer Maryse Condé will allow students to imagine the unbiased story of Tituba from the Salem witch trials, while Home Fire by the Pakistani-British writer Kamila Shamsie will be an introduction  to the dilemmas of young Muslims in contemporary London.

Attending A Book-Talk Event

On Wednesday, October 12th two professors within the English department here at Millersville hosted a book-talk event centered around the graphic novel Everything is an Emergency by Jason Adam Katzenstein. These book-talk events are a series that occur each semester and are based upon the concepts of bibliotherapy, which is an expressive arts modality. Although it is not therapy, it is also not a typical book club, as it draws from the book and incorporates messages and themes in discussions centered around personal, professional, and developmental growth.

Although I’m a graduate student at Millersville, this was my first time going to a book-talk event, and I deeply regret not going to more in my undergrad years. At this particular book-talk, the author of the graphic novel was in attendance, and was so inviting of any and all questions we had about his novel. Katzenstein’s book Everything is an Emergency is centered around his journey with OCD, as he recounts different events and moments in his life that have both positively and negatively impacted his mental health. Both the book’s content and the presence of the author allowed for some interesting questions and discussions, such as “what was it like to write about your mental health” and “how much control did you have over the editing a publishing process.” The most unique and unexpected aspect of the book-talk was the sense of community and understanding that was built within the two-hour zoom call. Everyone who was in attendance, including professors, graduate students, and undergrad students all seemed to connect through the discussions which made for a lively event.

There is one more opportunity to participate in the book-talk event for Everything is an Emergency on November 2nd, from 5-7pm on zoom. For more information, follow the link below to register for the event: https://www.millersville.edu/learninginstitute/book-talk-series.php.

Fall Break Reflection

Fall break has finally arrived here at Millersville,  giving students and faculty some well-deserved time off. Before these few days of relaxation begin, I encourage you to reflect on your semester so far. This break provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge the halfway point in the term. Looking back on the last seven weeks can help enhance the rest of your semester, as understanding what is creating a positive or negative impact can help alter the remainder of year for the better.

Within your reflection, there are no certain aspects that you must consider, as this should be tailored personally for you. It can be overwhelming thinking of everything at once, so some areas I would recommend include academics, social life, and your emotions. College can be filled with stress, drama, and anxiety that can become incredibly overwhelming when not addressed. Reflecting on these different aspects of collegiate life provides a safe space to understand how each of these areas positively or negatively effects your life. There are many different mediums to complete your reflection, such as using a journal, using the notes app in your phone, or creating a digital diary in google docs or word. If you have not done a reflection before, one of the most challenging aspects is thinking of different questions to ask yourself. To help start your potential reflection, I have created some questions in each of the areas previously mentioned that you could potentially consider.

Academics

  1. Do you like your grade in each of your classes? If not, how could you improve it?
  2. Are you enjoying the classes specifically for your major?
  3. What is your favorite class this semester?

Social Life

  1. Do you enjoy living with your roommates?
  2. How do you feel about your relationships with the people closest to you?
  3. Are there any clubs you would like join next semester?

Emotions

  1. What about college stresses you out the most?
  2. On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel on average each day?
  3. What are some healthy ways to process and cope with your feelings?

How to Study for Your English Classes

It’s hard to believe that it is already week 6 in the semester, and with midterms just around the corner, its good to have a refresher on how to study for certain classes. English courses can be difficult to study for, as they are structured around discussion and text rather than PowerPoints and lectures. However, one you identify the type of assignment and its requirements, it is easy to create study guides, reading guides, and drafts that can make midterms week less stressful.

Literature

If your class includes a novel or some type of literature, such as poems and short stories, it is beneficial to create a reading guide that you can reference. In this reading guide, I would recommend including a list of the characters names, major plot points, different themes, symbols, and other notable aspects. One such notable aspect includes different quotations from the text, as these can be used as evidence to support your claims in an essay or a paper. In addition to these aspects featured exclusively in the text, you should add your class notes that discuss more topics in-depth, as these can strengthen your writing and display your knowledge on the topic.

If your course is centered around a specific type of literature, such as American or World, a study guide may be more helpful than a reading guide. These courses usually feature short stories and poems that can encompass a range of writers and themes that are easy to mix up. I recommend organizing the study guide in chronological order of when you learned this information in class. Include the writers name at the top in bold and write a small blurb about their biography under their name, as it will help you remember who they are by their distinct achievements. Then, write out all the titles by this author that you have covered in class in bold. Underneath each, include your class notes that cover different notable aspects of the text, including themes, symbols, and important quotes. Differentiating each author will create less confusion while studying and allow for you to review the information in a more organized manner.

Writing

If you are taking a writing course this semester, you most likely won’t be taking a test, but rather writing a paper instead for your midterm grade. Below I have included some tips on how to organize and pace your writing as to avoid stress while crafting your paper.

  1. Brainstorm different topics or ideas that can be further expanded upon in the body of your paper. This can be done by creating a web, with your main topic in the center and smaller branches with sub-topics coming off of it.
  2. Once you have decided what you want to write about, start researching for the information you will need. Most classes require academic sources, so I would suggest going to the library’s English resources page https://library.millersville.edu/literature to find some sources and information.
  3. Once you have gathered and read through all the information, it is time to draft. Your first draft does not need to perfect at all, so write anything you want just to get it on the page.
  4. After you draft, let it sit for a few days and then look at it again with fresh eyes. Start to revise anything you feel is necessary, and make sure to keep an eye on grammatical, spelling, and structural errors. Also focus on the flow of the paper, as smooth transitions throughout will greatly enhance the readers experience.
  5. Once you have your final draft, ask a peer or classmate to look over it for you. Their eyes may pick up something that you did not notice.
  6. When you feel you paper is the best it can be, submit it and treat yourself to something for all of your hard work!

 

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