I am currently a senior at the University of Michigan earning a BBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and a Minor in Writing from the Sweetland Writing Center (by the time you read this portfolio, I will likely have graduated). I chose to pursue the Minor in Writing to both supplement my business education as well as continue developing my passion for prose and literature.
Originally from Northville, MI, I've lived in the Midwest my entire life and look forward to expanding my horizons after graduation. This summer I will move to Chicago, IL, to start my career at a consulting firm. Upon realizing that I would soon have far less time to dedicate to writing, I prioritized my Capstone Project during the second half of my senior year so I could truly test myself on all of the lessons I've learned throughout my time at Michigan.
I invite you to explore the work included in this portfolio and the Capstone Project and welcome feedback. Enjoy your stay.
University of Michigan
Class of 2015
Contact me with questions or for more information about my portfolio and current work.
Sarah M. Spitery
Why I Write
The following writing samples demonstrate my strengths as a writer; they were completed for a variety of course assignments and have stood out as pieces with personal and professional significance. An annotated bibliography is included that discuss additional samples at length.
This collection is a showcase of work competed during my tenure at the University of Michigan. It is an amalgamation of personal stories and essays that reveal why writing is important to me and my attempts at calling myself a "writer". My experience creating these pieces has been one of tremendous growth. My Why I Write and Evolution essays provide context to the other work I have included in this portfolio. My Capstone Project contains material which demonstrates a number of different writing techniques developed during my time at Michigan. I invite you to explore my portfolio to learn about who I am as a writer.
Written Rorschach is a personal essay that explores the purpose writing serves in my academic and private life.
During the construction of this essay, I learned the importance of revision in the writing process. Prior to writing this piece, revision to me was more about fine-tuning structural elements of the essay and grammar. After working closely with my instructor and submitting the piece to my class for workshop, I learned that revision is as important as the initial drafting process, if not more. It presents an opportunity to reconsider the message of the piece, reflect on how the audience will respond upon reading the work, and critically analyze the effectiveness of the argument. At this stage of my development as a writer, I now look forward to the revising more than brainstorming or drafting.
For reference, previous drafts of Written Rorschach are included below.
When a patient walks in to a therapist’s office and sits down on the inviting chaise lounge, I imagine that she is seeking help finding direction in life. Introspection has led her nowhere; she cannot make sense of the various cogitations surrounding her parents’ divorce; her recent breakup; the death of her close friend; her brother’s illness. So, she has sought out professional help. Surely, a seasoned veteran can sort through her tangled neurons.
Therapy. Most are afraid to ask for help when they need it, whether it be from a licensed psychologist or simply a friend. I have become one of those people. While I used to take fears and concerns to friends and family, I quickly became overwhelmed by differing opinions and ignorant advice. When speaking with friends left me more confused and lost than I was before our discussions, I began withholding my thoughts and picking up a pen. A notebook will now suffice for the purpose of getting all of my feelings out of my head and into the open. I write to self-reflect, to synthesize ideas, and to attempt to find some sense of direction.
Throughout college I have witnessed my thoughts gradually evolving with experience and knowledge, yet I have begun to realize that to witness is not to make sense of. It has become evident this year, my junior year, that finding who I am and who I hope to become is the first step I must take before making any more significant life choices. And I’m not talking about choices involving what to do or where to go after my time at the University of Michigan ends. Those choices are easy; I will move to Chicago and join the corporate world for two years, attend graduate school, and return to the corporate world. The significant life choices I am referring to include figuring out how much family time I am comfortable sacrificing in order to achieve my professional goals; how I can be there for my worried mother, demanding father, and lonely brother; and what to do with my long-distance non-committer.
Regardless of the type of writing I am working with, whether it be an academic discourse, an argumentative essay, or creative prose, there are personal thoughts to sift through in order to reach a definitive conclusion by the end of the piece. Furthermore, each of those newly re-examined ideas then becomes part of a bigger picture of myself that I am slowly uncovering. Although my canvas still looks more like a Rorschach than a Rockwell, it is slowly taking shape with each new word that I commit to paper.
As a result of all of this reflection, the writing process becomes somewhat of a self-assessment. Self-healing through writing took on a more prominent role in my life during sophomore year when I wrote a piece entitled Inhale. Inhale chronicled my time spent watching my brother struggle with epilepsy during the previous summer. Without question, observing my little brother, my best friend, lose complete control of his body and grapple to regain it was the most frightening experience I have endured thus far. So, when I returned to school as summer ended, I naturally began to harbor plenty of unsettling feelings. I wrote everything down in an attempt to find some life-raft to cling to.
I normally begin writing by forming an outline of my piece, beginning with a thesis and ending with supporting details. Inhale was no exception. I carefully plotted the organization of the essay and made a list of all the details I was comfortable revealing. Those steps alone are indicative of my affection for control and order. Following the completion of my outline, I commence each essay at the most natural, albeit not the most logical, place to start: the introduction. An anecdote, a quote, or maybe a short history behind the topic I will explore always prefaces the body of the essay. In the case of Inhale, I chose not to follow chronological order. Instead, I placed a peaceful story from the end of the summer at the front of the essay to ease the reader into our situation. Delaying the body of the essay is my way of making small talk with my therapist before really cutting to the topic at hand. Once I have artfully skirted around the issue for an appropriate length, I delve into the subject of the piece. The messy emotions, if you will. I, of course, try and box those as neatly as possible into paragraphs with clean topic sentences and strong supporting details. Before the completion of Inhale, writing had helped me sort through more emotions than any single person could.
As in life, the conclusion is oftentimes the portion of each writing project that I grapple with the most. I have yet to write an academic essay on a topic in which I consider myself an expert. When dealing with creative prose, such as Inhale, I always question whether the arrangement of words I have chosen leaves the reader with the right impression. For me, summarizing my thoughts into one succinct conclusion is never a graceful task. I have never truly finished anything worth writing about, nor written about anything I could truly finish.
When I write, the paper becomes my chaise lounge and the pencil my own personal PhD taking notes on her notepad. An hour spent wrangling my notions into the confines of an eight-and-a-half by eleven piece of paper and then corralling those feelings into commas and periods is equivalent to an hour spend with a therapist. Paragraphs and punctuation harness all of the messiness that is real life, while neatly jotted-down notes fill the role of a therapist, directing me towards the right answers. Writing is the ultimate form of self-controlled therapy. I decide what to talk about. I decide when and what to explore. I make my own diagnosis.
Unfinished charts my development as a writer over the course of my time at the University of Michigan. As indicated by its title, this piece describes how, despite the progress I have made up until this point, I still have immense room for improvement as a writer.
Throughout this piece I discuss samples of writing that show my progression over the last four years. Those samples can be found in the "Other Work" section of this portfolio.
Brainstorming ideas, drafting, and revising this essay afforded me the opportunity to reflect back on the experiences that shaped my voice and attitude towards writing. Thankfully, this is not the first time the Sweetland Program has pushed me to think critically about my evolution as a writer. The meaning of this word, "write," has morphed as a result of my reflection into something much more fluid and dynamic. I intend to carry the reflective mindset developed at Sweetland with me to future endeavors to ensure that I continue to grow as a person, writer, and thinker.
The cursor on the white screen blinks at me, asking if I’m done yet. I’ve packaged an effective argument into the confines of a 5 page persuasive essay, using the perfect combination of 26 letters to make my point. Or is it the perfect combination? That’s the incorrect usage of that word. Does that comma really belong there? Surely it would sound better if I cut out the fourth sentence of the third paragraph and reversed the order of the fourth and fifth argumentative points.
And so begins the revision process. The longer I wait to wrap up the essay, the more the thoughts in my brain begin to shift. Maybe I’m not as right as I thought I was. Maybe this issue isn’t as black and white as the word processing window I’m currently staring at. Wait – am I revising the mechanics of the essay or my thoughts?
Both. As it happens, thoughts and writing are interchangeable. They are completely interdependent, inseparable, impossible to untangle. Without thoughts, writing would have no shape or purpose. And without writing, thoughts would be caged forever in the minds of those who generate them. They would have no outlet, no formulation, and, most tragically, could never be shared.
At the start of freshman year, I was about to make the first of three great realizations about writing in college. I sat idly through an entire semester of English 125 with the same mantra playing through my brain: I’m a “good” writer, always have been, thus I don’t need this class or the revision process.
Even writing those words today makes me cringe, but hey, I was even more unknowing back then than I am today. What I wanted from my writing during that period of time was to create pieces that had relevance and appeal to readers beyond the GSI who graded my essays and my mother. I wanted desperately to say something meaningful, impactful. But something was holding me back. I had yet to learn my first lesson about the craft of writing in college: writing is about reading.
In order to say something that has relevance, meaning, and impact, you first need an audience with interest in the subject in question, a message for that audience, and effective prose to support your claims. The construction of written work should consider the reader before the writer if the goal of said work is to convey a message or story to an audience. Furthermore, a true writer reads with a critical eye and questions the work of others in order to develop a closer level of analysis with which to treat her own work.
During English 325, I constructed the first essay I considered myself proud of due to the first real thought I gave to the reading experience. Inhale was a personal narrative detailing the experiences I endured watching my younger brother struggle through his diagnosis of epilepsy. This choice of focus presented me with a challenge because I wrote from an incredibly personal, vulnerable place, but still knew I needed to keep the audience in mind more than I had in previous work. I treated Inhale as a story, rather than as an assignment. It was such a drastic departure from my experience in English 125 that I wondered how it was possible to find so much more meaning in writing by simply reframing my perspective on the relationship between reading and writing.
I experimented with narrative structure and timeline construction, breaking apart the entire experience into more digestible scenes. To signal to the reader that I was moving to the next scene, I started off each new scene with a sentence following the same format: “We were [insert location], my brother and I, [insert activity and age here].” I guided the reader through the pain that I experienced, emphasizing the lack of control we all have over certain situations. With every word that poured onto paper, I examined its potential meaning to the audience, playing with the architecture of the piece to ensure it made a statement. This essay gave me the ability to write as a reader and taught me my first important lesson about writing in college: writing is about reading.
My inclination towards English and writing led me to apply to the Sweetland Minor in Writing program, which I hoped would turn me into “a more serious writer,” whatever that means. Naturally, we started off the way every other writing course at the University of Michigan begins; we delved into the exciting world of reflective writing. Cue major eye rolls. I was immediately disappointed with our first prompt, which was to explore in an argumentative essay the reasons why we write and the purpose behind our work. I thought to myself, “Great. Another piece that no one wants to read and I certainly don’t want to write.”
Nevertheless, I tried to adopt a less pessimistic outlook on the writing assignment and ultimately surprised myself with the depth of my final essay. [PB5] I wrote my essay about how I use writing as an escape and volunteered my piece to be an example for a peer workshop (which intimidated the hell out of me since I was finally surrounded by fellow aspiring writers). My class identified components of my essay that I thought were too subtle to pick up on and questioned my writing in a productive way that I had never experienced before. My eyes were opening to questions I had never considered. I revised the essay once, handed it in when the due date arrived, and then revised again. And again. The Gateway course led me to my second important conclusion about writing: writing is about revising.
“Regardless of the type of writing I am working with, whether it be an academic discourse, an argumentative essay, or creative prose, there are personal thoughts to sift through in order to reach a definitive conclusion by the end of the piece. Furthermore, each of those newly re-examined ideas then becomes part of a bigger picture of myself that I am slowly uncovering. Although my canvas still looks more like a Rorschach than a Rockwell, it is slowly taking shape with each new word that I commit to paper.”
Written Rorschach, the outcome of this revision process, discussed my use of writing as a form of therapy in which I can synthesize my thoughts and emotions with just a pen and paper. As I’ve grown over the past year since writing this essay, this has become even truer. It’s more clear to me now than ever that I have no idea who I am nor any clue as to how I even define “myself,” but I do know that the writing process has played an integral role in getting me this far.
Navigating the Gateway course led me to my latest lesson about writing: writing is about thought. I explored this idea in my final blog post for the course (the blog being a form of presentation that I also learned to love during the Gateway course) in a post entitled “Future MIW Kids: You’ll Never Really Finish Anything.” In this post, I stated, “I realized [during the Gateway course] I have so much to improve upon and becoming a writing minor was just the first step on my journey to become a better writer and thinker. You can never be done growing as a thinker. So you’ll never be done writing. A writer is never truly finished.” I realized throughout the production of Written Rorschach, my Gateway portfolio, and final project, that the reason the revision process had taken on new meaning for me was because I had finally reached this final conclusion about writing. A writer cannot be finished revising if she isn’t done having new thoughts about the subject matter, and, frankly, I don’t see my thoughts about previous work subsiding any time soon. A project is “complete,” so to speak, when a writer declares that it accomplishes the goals outlined for that project. To draw upon another quote from Written Rorschach that illustrates this point: “I have never truly finished anything worth writing about, nor written about anything I could truly finish.”
These three major aspects of writing – reading, revision, and thought – are inextricably intertwined; it took all three realizations to see how complicated the relationship between these facets of the writing process is. [PB8] Without learning how to read work and consider its use of rhetorical devices and strategies, I never would have developed a more acute knack for revision. In order to revise properly, a writer must be able to consider her work from the perspective of her readers. This skill can only be developed by practicing this evaluation process on the work of other writers. Furthermore, reading like a writer has invoked thought about my own work that I would not have generated were it not for the ability to evaluate other literary projects. Close reading (and listening, in some cases) broadens the scope of my work and opens my eyes to new, innovative ways to present information. Revision and deep thought about writing then feed back into this cycle by giving me a deeper comprehension and appreciation for writing projects when I read them. Understanding the relationship between reading, revising, and thought has allowed me to grow as a writer and a person.
Perhaps this process is so important because there are over one million words in the English language and there is no such thing as the perfect combination. Perhaps this process is so important because as soon as writers are “finished,” they think of something new to say. I don’t believe that a written work can ever be finished in the true sense of the word. To a writer, an ending is just an arbitrary stop. A writer’s simplest goal is to communicate thoughts and messages to her readers. Writing is nothing without thought, and since we can never be finished developing thought, we can never be truly finished writing.
Sitting at the edge of a jetty in front of Brant Point Lighthouse in Nantucket, MA.
During English 325, my class was assigned to construct a narrative non-fiction essay based on a memory we had. The subject I chose to to depict in my essay was an easy choice as I had just spent the previous summer watching my brother struggle with epilepsy. Because the experience was emotionally trying, I returned to school seeking a way to synthesize my thoughts about the experience. I was able to find meaning, and peace, in my thoughts by contemplating the experience and committing that reflection to paper in an entirely new genre.
Future MIW Kids: You'll Never Really Finish Anything
Upon being asked to provide advice to future Sweetland Minor in Writing students, I blogged about one of the most important takeaways I learned during the Gateway course. I realized that a writer can never truly be finished with a piece of work while revising my Why I Write essay. There will always be small tweaks to make and questions to ask about the effectiveness of the prose. This idea was presented in my evolution essay, as well. I chose to feature this blog post in my portfolio because it shows off my more casual writing style and showcases one my biggest lessons from the Gateway.
Work Remidiation and Repurposing: Encouraging Girls to Lead, One Way at a Time
To create a powerful message about female empowerment for my Writing 220 course, I employed multiple forms of media to send a message about equal representation. I repurposed an old assignment about leadership by researching current levels of female representation within governmental leadership around the world and making suggestions based on my findings on how to elevate young women to decision-making roles. This information was presented in a magazine spread intended for publications with predominantly female readerships. Subsequently, I generated a business pitch for my remediation project that featured a product to garner interest among young girls in political careers. After writing a speech and pitch deck, I recorded myself and edited the footage into a short video to showcase the product and pitch. Utilizing a multimodal composition strategy, I effectively made a case for equal representation at our nation's highest levels of leadership.
My annotated bibliography explains other work in detail, which may provide context to some of the other work I have included in this portfolio. For questions about any of the work described in this bibliography, please use the contact box below to contact me.
Screengrab of This Is the End. home page.
This Is the End.
When presented with the opportunity to build a Capstone Project of my choice, I had a few goals in mind to help narrow down my list of ideas. I knew I wanted to create a series of short stories to capture a concept from different angles and explore new forms of writing. Because I am incredibly conscious of endings in my own life and the role they play in shaping my experiences, I chose to study the "endings" that permeate our lives. The result of this project is a website entitled This Is the End. that features seven endings covered in various styles.
This Is the End. allowed me to undertake several new avenues of creative writing. From the production of my first two audio essays to my first attempt at crafting fiction, my Capstone Project contains multiple forms of experimentation. I learned a great deal not only about these different genres of writing, but also about the concept I chose to focus on. I plan to continue building this website after college with the hope of solidifying This Is the End. as a literary source of reflection for readers facing their own endings.