Eng101: Visual Writing and Thinking

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Emory University- Spring 2018- David Morgen

Portfolio Cover Letter

This website is meant to serve as an archive of the work done in the freshman writing seminar “Visual Writing and Thinking” taught by David Morgen at Emory University in Spring of 2018. This introduction to my work is addressed to the members of the committee of the Writing Program who will review it.

At the beginning of this semester, I had reservations about this class. My intended major was creative writing. I liked writing already and I felt like I turn out a decent essay fairly consistently. More importantly, though, the scope seemed so small for a class that was supposed to teach such a large skill set. Comic books and graphic novels seemed like such a specific type of writing to focus on in order to teach students a skill set that was supposed to be so broadly applicable. What could graphic novels teach me that was supposed to apply to collegiate writing as a whole?

Rhetorical writing, writing to be understood by a large audience and constructing an argument that is cohesive and clear, is a huge topic to even begin to broach. I had always been told that thorough research, strict formatting and clear arguments were the skillsets that I had to develop for college. It was stressed that without these skills I would be unprepared for college, and that professors would expect their students to know these things already. However, in the first week of this class it became clear that, while most of the students had learned to cite properly and indent in all the right places, many of us had not learned some of the most basic things about rhetorical writing. Going back to these building blocks, back to the idea that words are tools, that they are meant to be used to communicate thoughts and feelings that matter and that they are not just puzzle pieces meant to be stacked into a standard five paragraph format in the right way was something that I had not been told to expect from a college class.

This form that most of us are taught is only one kind of rhetorical device, and as we went on to create work outside of this form my idea of what “correct” collegiate writing looked like was deconstructed. Through blackout poetry and three panel comic sequences I saw classmates tell stories and communicate thoughts and feelings that could not have been stated any other way.

By creating new guidelines and parameters within which we had to work, it was easier to see what remained the same. There were things about pattern recognition and analysis that remained the same in the process of creating much of the work for this class. This was especially clear to me when we did our data mapping of Spinning by Tillie Walden. The process was familiar to me, and as I went through the steps I recognized them as more broadly applicable to many essays that I had turned in. Choosing a repeating image from a piece of text, finding patterns around this image, and explaining the significance were all familiar motions that I recognized as I went through them. The result was the only thing that differed, because when I had finished mapping Spinning I had something visual and digital. My project still reflected the kinds of though processes and argument that an essay would have, but it was represented differently.

In terms of being presented differently the writing we did in this class was always at least somewhat affected by our intended audience, as well. Whereas many of us learn from the beginnings of our writing experiences that we are supposed to write for our teacher or peers, our writing in this class was shared via blog. This affected the work that I chose to create. In one of our first classes we discussed how rhetorical writing can (and should) be affected by the audience for whom it is intended. As I say in my literacy narrative, I have learned that ultimately we all write “to be heard”. Writing and posting to an online platform takes the need to communicate, present in all writing, a step further. Given that these blogs are public and potentially able to be accessed by strangers, the tone of the work presented and the organization of some of these pieces was shifted. The goal of writing to be understood felt more vital and immediate when even the organization of our site was dependent on the interaction of our readers. Not only did we have to write compellingly and logically, we had to make sure that our site was structured in such a way that our writing was accessible. Initially this was intimidating, but as I built up a body of work on my free WordPress site it was gratifying to know that this work was able to be viewed. Seeing interactions from people other than classmates or professors (however few) makes this kind of writing different than most that I have been trained to do in an academic setting. So often when we write it is with the knowledge that it will be read, at most, by a professor and maybe a TA, but the work done in this class has the potential to reach eyes other than my own, and there is something rewarding in that.

Despite my initial hesitation, the assignments in this class were some of the most enjoyable ones I turned in this semester. I looked forward to doing the weekly sketch assignments, they all felt like problems that needed to be solved, and none of them could be solved within a structure that I had been taught. I enjoyed the challenge that each one presented, and even when I look at the final results and can tell where some aspects of my project may not have been within what was intended for the prompt, it does not diminish the fact that I think each one bears some of my own original thought and creative process. In drafting and finalizing these projects I found new aspects of the work to appreciate in each draft. Posting and reflecting on each stage in drafting the literary narrative forced me to slow down and appreciate what was new in each draft, as well as allowing peer feedback at multiple stages.

I can honestly say that the body of work represented in this blog is indicative of a newfound appreciation for and knowledge of my own writing process. I think that I can proudly present each of these pieces as both uniquely mine and as pieces of work that I would not have created outside of this class or without the guidance and prompts that we received throughout the semester. Creating a literacy narrative, as text or as comic, was not something that had ever occurred to me. But my comic and essay are both pieces that I am incredibly proud of and that I feel lucky to have been given the time to create.