For many of us, thinking back to when we first started to learn how to read and write seems like a huge mystery. When did I learn to pronounce the word “nonchalant,” and am I still saying “açaí” wrong in my head? The answer is probably yes. In elementary school, I was always in the lowest reading level, heavily struggling 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 middle school, my essays received average grades, and I dreaded any writing assignments at all.
So, you may be wondering, how did I become a columnist for The Michigan Daily? When did I start to enjoy writing?
My rocky writing journey started 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 proof to defend that argument. Each assignment returned to me would include blue ink in the analysis section with the phrases “Explain more” and “Why? Explain.”
This issue continued into my sophomore year. Despite a change in teachers, I still received comments about needing to expand my analysis, specifically with closely examining the connotations of each word in the sentence. (Maybe it was because my sophomore English teacher had been on the track to become a lawyer but decided he liked teaching more.) In his class, I had a downward trend in my grades, and I seemed to be missing this “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 about 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’d only received comments like “How?” and “Why?” which didn’t help me to understand what exactly needed to be changed. I would get frustrated by these one-word questions, and I felt that a teacher was being picky for no reason. However, this teacher thoroughly explained what he was expecting and offered examples of how I could improve and expand on sentences he made comments on. Instead of completely taking out the sentence in question, he would build onto them by adding another sentence that delved deeper into my analysis. Because of his encouragement and clarity, I felt more confident and excited about writing.
While I had well formulated ideas for my analysis, I forgot that people couldn’t read my mind, so I needed to explicitly jot my thoughts down. When explaining my thought process to my teacher, I noticed that I wasn’t including my ideas in the paper. Those additional points would’ve made my argument stronger. To fix this problem, I started thoroughly analyzing blocks of text and organizing everything that went through my mind into bullet points. Then, I would mold together all my points into an argument and eventually a paper. Before, I wouldn’t even outline my argument and tried to be as conservative as possible in my writing. Oftentimes, that bad habit would lead to clunky and disorganized work. But after the meeting, I constantly thought about his advice and applied it to my writing. Eventually, I received a book award from my teacher due to my dedication and improvement in his class. In my junior and senior years, I kept working with my teachers to hone my essays. From not even being nominated, I ended up receiving an honorable mention in my school’s Prize Papers book — an anthology of exceptional student essays — at the end of senior year. I also started to enjoy assignments more, anticipating the next opportunity to showcase my new analytical writing skills.
Somehow, this class also led me to join and commit to my school’s newspaper club in my sophomore year. (My teacher was the head faculty editor for the paper.) I was admittedly flaky when I participated in freshman year, signing up for the calendar section but quitting midway because I wasn’t funny enough to come up with puns for school events. I rejoined because of my sophomore year teacher and contributed heavily to the student news section for the rest of my high school career, eventually becoming a senior section editor before I graduated.
The first paper I wrote with the club was about Senior May, a three-week program for seniors to take on internships and explore their career interests. I was very excited and determined to go through with this article, unlike my first try. However, my dreams were immediately crushed when my initial draft came back with a seemingly infinite number of comments. Almost every sentence had a suggestion or comment that needed to be addressed. I suddenly felt like a small minnow in an ocean of sharks.
Learning to accept criticism is a hard step for a writer but ultimately a necessary one. I worked with a faculty member to address those comments. Simultaneously, he explained the basics in writing newspaper articles and how it’s different from writing an academic paper. I learned about “ledes,” the starting sections of articles that entice readers into wanting to read more. After I published my article, I was ready to start working on the next one. As a staff writer, I dedicated myself to the student news section while also exploring the opinion and arts sections. I wrote articles with topics ranging from cancel culture to Logic’s album, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. These diverse experiences have shaped me into a writer that has developed her own distinct writing style.
When I became a senior editor, I taught new contributors the same things I had learned. I worked overtime in the newsroom, clicking away on Adobe InDesign and bonding with other editors over pizza. Even during Thanksgiving break in California, I sat in a hotel room with my computer working on a draft with a new contributor to help her address her comments. I enjoyed editing and helping others improve their writing because I found my journey so fulfilling, and I hoped others would go through a similar one with my aid. Hoping to continue my newspaper career, I wrote in my application to the University that I wanted to join The Michigan Daily.
Fast forward to one of my first classes at the University. I initially took Classic Civilizations 101: Ancient Greek Civilizations to fulfill the First Year Writing Requirement, but I ended up falling in love with the subject and the essays. Just like in high school, I also worked closely with my GSI and professor to improve my writing. But now it wasn’t for the grade; I genuinely enjoyed learning more. When the application for the Sweetland Minor in Writing came around, I decided to apply with an essay about gender stereotypes in “The Iliad.”
Now, I’ve taken two classes — Writing 220 and English 225 — through the writing program, and they are the most wonderful classes I’ve taken since starting college. The professors are very genuine, and their enthusiasm is highly infectious. In both classes, I explored my interest in STEM and humanities and wrote a paper in each but in different styles. For one of them, 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 about their majors.
In college, I’m free to experiment with my writing and take up new challenges. I’ve also created a Wix portfolio that compiles all my essays and projects throughout my college career. While I used to cower at comments, now I accept them with open arms because I know that they’re meant to help.
Here, at The Michigan Daily, I’ve also found a cohort of people who share a similar interest in writing. The first time I worked with the staff in MiC, I felt like my writing was wanted here. During the editing process, editors are very passionate and hardworking; these are the people who I want to work with to continually grow my skills. I also had the opportunity to write about myself after years of academic analysis papers. I want to continue exploring my identity and be able to loudly express my feelings that I have kept stored away in my heart.
MiC Columnist Daisey Yu can be reached at email@example.com