For many of us, thinking back to when we first started learning to read and write seems like a huge mystery. When did I learn to pronounce the word “lazy” and do I still say “açaí” wrong in my head? The answer is probably yes. In elementary school, I was always at the lowest reading level, struggling hard with reading comprehension. When I read books, my goal was to finish them as soon as possible. If you asked me who the main character was, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. In college, my essays received average grades and I dreaded writing assignments at all.
So you might be wondering how I became a columnist for The Michigan Daily? When did I start loving writing?
My difficult writing journey began during my freshman year of high school. I had just graduated from using generic essay templates to writing specially structured argumentative essays. In my ninth grade English class, we wrote essays on literary works ranging from epics like “The Odyssey” to novels like “The Catcher in the Rye.” We often had assignments that were only one page long but required us to make an argument in SPA format – statement, proof, and analysis – about the reading. I remember enjoying challenging myself to create bold statements, but struggling to explain the evidence to support that argument. Every assignment returned to me included blue ink in the analysis section with the phrases “Explain more” and “Why?” Explain.”
This problem continued into my second year. Despite a change of teachers, I still received comments about the need to broaden my analysis, particularly by looking closely at the connotations of each word in the sentence. (Perhaps it was because my second-grade English teacher was on track to become a lawyer, but decided he liked teaching more.) In his class, I had a downward streak in my grades and I was missing that “wow” factor. in my writing.
I often met with this teacher one-on-one to discuss how I could improve my writing. I asked him what I was missing in my writing and why my analysis section always seemed to be lacking. For the first time, I received detailed feedback and we had very productive conversations about how to put what I want to say on paper. In the past, I only received comments like “How? and why?” which didn’t help me understand exactly what needed to be changed. I was frustrated with these one-word questions and felt like a teacher was picky for no reason. However, this teacher went into great detail about what he expected and gave examples of how I could improve and expand on the sentences he had commented on. Instead of completely deleting the sentence in question, he supported it by adding another sentence that deepened my analysis.Because of his encouragement and clarity, I felt more confident and excited to write.
While I had well-formulated ideas for my analysis, I had forgotten that people couldn’t read my mind, so I needed to write down my thoughts explicitly. While explaining my thought process to my teacher, I noticed that I was not including my ideas in the document. These additional points would have strengthened my argument. To solve this problem, I started to drill down into blocks of text and organize everything that came to mind into bullet points. Then I mold all my points together into an argument and eventually a paper. Before, I wouldn’t even describe my argument and tried to be as conservative as possible in my writing. Often this bad habit would lead to clumsy and disorganized work. But after the meeting, I constantly thought of his advice and applied it to my writing. Eventually, I received a book award from my teacher because of my dedication and improvement in her class. During my junior and senior years, I continued to work with my teachers to refine my essays. Having not even been nominated, I ended up receiving an honorable mention in my school’s Prize Papers book – an anthology of essays by outstanding students – at the end of senior year. I also began to enjoy homework more, anticipating the next opportunity to showcase my new analytical writing skills.
Somehow, this class also led me to join and get involved in my school’s press club during my sophomore year. (My teacher was the faculty editor for the journal.) I was admittedly flaccid when I attended the first year, signing up for the schedule section but quitting halfway because I didn’t. wasn’t funny enough to come up with puns for school events. I joined because of my sophomore teacher and contributed extensively to the student news section for the rest of my high school career, eventually becoming the section’s editor before graduating.
The first article I wrote with the club was about Senior May, a three-week program for seniors to complete internships and explore their professional interests. I was very excited and determined to go through with this article, unlike my first attempt. However, my dreams were immediately shattered when my original draft came back with a seemingly endless number of comments. Almost every sentence contained a suggestion or comment that needed to be addressed. I suddenly felt like a little minnow in an ocean of sharks.
Learning to accept criticism is a difficult but ultimately necessary step for a writer. I worked with a faculty member to respond to these comments. Simultaneously, he explained the basics of journal article writing and how it differs from writing an academic article. I discovered “ledes”, the starting sections of articles that entice readers to want to know more. After publishing my article, I was ready to start working on the next one. As a personal editor, I devoted myself to the student news section while exploring the opinion and arts sections. I’ve written articles with topics ranging from cancel culture to Logic’s album, Confessions of a Dangerous Spirit. These diverse experiences have made me a writer who has developed her own distinct writing style.
When I became editor, I taught new contributors the same things I had learned. I worked overtime in the newsroom, clicking Adobe InDesign and connecting with other editors over pizza. Even over the Thanksgiving holiday in California, I sat in a hotel room with my computer working on a draft with a new contributor to help respond to his comments. I enjoyed editing and helping others improve their writing because I found my journey so rewarding and I hoped others would go through a similar journey with my help. Hoping to continue my career in the press, I wrote in my college application that I wanted to join The Michigan Daily.
Fast forward to one of my first classes at University. I first took Classic Civilizations 101: Ancient Greek Civilizations to fulfill the freshman writing requirement, but ended up falling in love with the subject and the essays. Just like in high school, I also worked closely with my GSI and my teacher to improve my writing. But now it wasn’t for the grade; I really enjoyed learning more. When the application for the Sweetland Minor in Writing arrived, I decided to apply with an essay on gender stereotypes in “The Iliad.”
Now I’ve taken two courses – Writing 220 and English 225 – as part of the writing program, and they’ve been the most wonderful courses I’ve taken since starting college. The teachers are very genuine and their enthusiasm is very contagious. In both courses, I explored my interest in STEM and humanities and wrote an article in each but in different styles. For one, I used Wix to create an infographic teaching students to create their own statistical surveys. In the other class, I conducted an interview study asking people what their majors were.
In college, I’m free to experiment with my writing and take on new challenges. I also created a Wix Wallet which compiles all my essays and projects throughout my college career. Where I used to cower at comments, now I accept them with open arms because I know they are meant to help.
Here at the Michigan Daily, I also found a cohort of people who share a similar interest in writing. When I first worked with the staff at MiC, I felt like my writing was in demand here. During the editing process, the editors are very passionate and hardworking; these are the people I want to work with to continually develop my skills. I also had the opportunity to write about myself after years of academic analysis. I want to continue to explore my identity and be able to express loud and clear my feelings that I have kept buried in my heart.
MiC columnist Daisey Yu can be reached at [email protected]