Bailey Stein


Various works for U-M's Minor in Writing Gateway Course

Projects


Why I Write


As a concept, writing doesn’t seem all the special. It’s just another medium used to convey information. And nowadays, writing competes with other, increasingly accessible mediums like film and music. It would be foolish to think that the desire to produce, to prune, and to publish do not extend outside of the domain of writing and into these other mediums. So, why would I spend my time writing? After all, it is the “old way” of conveying ideas, right?

Put simply, I write because I enjoy the challenges introduced by the format’s inherent incompleteness. Regardless of what I do as a writer, my audience will almost certainly fail at coming up with a single, convergent interpretation. I think this is what steers most people away from writing and towards other, “richer” mediums where there’s less potential that an audience deviates from a set focal point. My goal is not to bash those alternative mediums. They have their place. However, the demanding—perhaps bossy—nature of writing for both the reader and myself, unlocks a special kind of depth of expression.

Undoubtedly, being a writer requires more than just placing words onto a page. It requires consideration for how they might be understood, how their arrangement can push both their material and emotional responses in different directions, and their value within the larger piece. Educated guesses have to be made on how each tiny change would affect a general audience. As a writer, I constantly force myself to go back and re-think; I race towards perfection, sometimes thinking that I’m almost there, even though I’m well aware that perfection is merely a fantasy and not an achievable goal.

For the reader, it requires more than just watching the words as they are strung together onto a page. It requires concentration, interpretation, and extrapolation. If reading for keeps, the reader has to constantly be on guard for any tricks I might be attempting to pull. They might even convince themselves that writing in the margins or highlighting words is enough to stay ahead of the writer, but determined writers like myself know this to be like taking a set of knives to a gunfight.

I suppose this (tweaked) idiom best represents how I approach writing; I recognize the power of the position I’m in and I carefully assert that position. Whether I’m marking up revision ideas on drafts at 10am in the library or struggling to finish an assignment at 4am on my sofa, I’m consciously engaged in a balancing act of embracing ambiguity while being sure not to completely lose my reader. When I embrace the incomplete nature of writing as a medium, my goal is to look ahead, recognize the doors of interpretation I might be opening, and ensure that my writing won’t be written off as monolithic.

Of course, a reasonable degree of concreteness is quite often appropriate, but I like to think of it as secondary; I’d much rather start with something too raw and chisel down than start with something too undemanding and have to reshape from there.

Similarly, the reader appreciation I might evoke with my writing are secondary to my own personal enjoyment of writing with the goal of shaping interpretations. These ideas might seem linked; the reaction is the logical byproduct of my approach to writing, after all. However, the distinction is important. If I were to only focus on the result for the reader and not on having fun and gaining deeper understandings by experimenting with my writing, I don’t think I would find much enjoyment in the task. Even though I often aim to please the reader anyway, I think writing for that sole purpose would make me burnout pretty quickly.

At a deeper level, I write because I appreciate how different each and every one of my readers is. I write because it lets me exploit how these different people interpret subtly abstract ideas differently. I write because I enjoy addressing the arduous challenge of shaping this type of writing. I write because no other medium lets me avoid shaping towards a single outcome quite like writing does.

About


Hi there! This site is intended to serve as a portfolio for the work I completed during my time in the University of Michigan's "Introduction to the Minor in Writing" / WRITING 220 course. In this gateway course, I completed three individual "experiments," where I transposed an origin piece onto a different genre. I decided to use one of my essays about the philosophical implications of the coin toss. While it was no small feat to take the richness of the original piece and end up with a final project, the three seperate experiments gave me space to explore different ideas. Ultimately, I decided to make my final project (a completed piece) as an extension of the blueprint I laid out in my third experiment.

As a Computer Science major, I can understand why it might first seem somewhat odd for me to pursure a Minor in Writing. However, I feel that the opportunity to gain experiences and skills within the Sweetland Center for Writing's Minor in Writing program is one that cannot simply be ignored for someone like myself.

Thanks to my pre-existing technical skillset, I was able to design and develop an online game, Project Emerald, as my final project. This part of the site was built entirely from scratch, using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and JQuery. I spent quite a bit of time refining the design of Project Emerald so that it could best match my conceptual visions. The design wasn't the only thing I revisited as I worked to complete my final project, however. The game's logic and behavior also evolved, mostly based on feedback I received from my peers (thanks you all!).

Reflecting upon my experience, it is clear to me that my final project would not have come to light if it weren't for constructive peer feedback, the beautiful timing of simultaneously taking two web development courses with WRITING 220, and the positive, encouraging environment from the Minor in Writing community as a whole.

As I proceed onward, I would like to revisit this project and tweak it further. Regardless of what happens, however, I will be sure to mantain a level of eccentricity as I proceed onward with my studies within the Minor in Writing.

If you're interested, you can also check out my posts on the community Minor in Writing blog.

Experiment 1


Proposal


For my first experiment, I’d like to take ideas from my Coins essay to create a video essay. This is a pretty broad term, so I’ve made sure to think through the details. Conceptually, I know what I want to do–essentially, I would like to emulate the style of some of my favorite, most inspiring YouTube videos that focus on a film or a particular idea. Videos that checks both of those boxes are difficult to find, but it’s territory that I’m excited to charter. In a final form, this would be about a five minute video (plus or minus a minute or two because it’s really difficult to estimate these things).

As I started working, I realized producing an actual video would be overly ambitious for this sample. While it would’ve been possible to create one, the length of the video would have been limited enough where it wouldn’t serve much of a foundation if I decide to work with their experiment further. Thus, I decided to instead write out parts of the script for a final video. While this may not be as exciting as an actual video essay, my decision is an inevitable compromise; I know based on past experiences that producing a better script before making the video would serve me far better if I choose to proceed with this experiment.

I’m excited about this experiment in particular because, historically, I’ve found making a video about a topic I’m interested in to be very rewarding. I have the knowledge and toolset to see this experiment through, and generate what is likely to be some fresh thoughts and intriguing questions for my audience. I think the medium of video–where I have the opportunity to control not only my voice but also what my audience sees and with what timing–is perfect for this kind of philosophical discussion fused with a film analysis.

Realizing my full vision for their experiment would not be trivial, but I’m looking forward to reflecting upon my experience with the sample to get a better idea of whether it’s something I want to continue with or whether I should look towards some of my other ideas.

Experiment 2


Proposal


For this experiment, I plan on crafting an opinion editorial, or “op-ed,” that focuses in on my personal take of No Country for Old Men and how the film’s thought provoking nature made me decisive on whether I think we have free will. I think it might be expected that I name a potential publication one might find a piece like this in. However, I would like to think of it being successful on its own without the need for any additional context. This is consistent with my publishing abilities, as I’ve explored different options and think either a Medium post or personal blog (.. yet to be set up, sigh) would be sufficient for what I’m trying to accomplish.

As with any good article, and especially with opinion pieces, the headline will be extremely important. Although it might seem like I’m getting ahead of myself here, I feel like discussing the general ideas I had will be helpful to better visualize the nature and tone of the piece. In order to draw an audience, I’d like my headline to be “clickbaity.” Some examples might include “No Country for Old Men Made Me Realize Nothing Matters,” “I Didn’t Choose to Write This Article” (maybe with a sub-heading for immediate context signaling), or “How a Coin Flip in No Country for Old Men Extinguished My Belief in Free Will.” These examples should sound dramatic, as they would be setting the stage for a level of argumentation and subjectivity traditionally reserved for a narrow set of circumstances.

I’m excited to engage with this experiment as I feel like I have a good, reliably accessible source: my own stream of consciousness. Unlike the original academic essay, I have the opportunity to express how I really feel. This piece should feel relevant to everyone, as it would argue that none of us have free will. And the means of getting to that point should feel especially engaging and perhaps angering–after all, I will be basing my thoughts off of a two minute clip from a movie. Without a complete disregard to feeling whether we’re in control as individuals, I don’t think it would possible for this piece to stale or unimpactful.

Experiment 3


Proposal


For my final experiment, I will develop an interactive online game that tells a story about pseudorandomness, determinism, and other themes from my source material (ie, an essay about how the coin flip probably isn’t actually be random, if everything is deterministic). This game will accessible via a website, linked within my EPortfolio.

For the game, I will present questions with no objective answer and provide a single or multiple answer choices. For example, a question might be “Which color is better?” and its options might be “Maize” or “Blue.” Whether the user’s choice for each question is “correct” will not be based on the option, but rather preset “correctness” probabilities with pseudorandom adjustments. With this method, I will ensure that the user wouldn’t miss a minimum number of statements from the story nor would the user proceed too far (the user cannot “win” the game). For example, any answer to the first 1-4 question(s) will always be “correct,” regardless of what the user chooses.

The objective of the game is to answer as many questions “correctly” in a sequence. When the streak of “correct” answers is broken (ie, once a question is answered “incorrectly”), the game will end. When the game restarts, the order of the questions will be pseudorandomly shuffled so the user is presented with a new, different sequence of questions. Additionally, the same options that were “correct” before may no longer be “correct.”

I would like to take the opportunity to tightly control what and how much information the user gets as they proceed with the game. My goal is to not only make this fun to play as a game, but also to tell a story based on what’s happening within the game. I will have a bank of statements, a few of which are instructions or hints for the game and others which tie back to my origin piece.

As for the questions, I will have another predefined bank of around 20 different questions. Since I can modify the probability of “correctness,” I can make sure that a user gets some minimum of the game without exceeding some maximum. In other words, I want to make sure the user hears the important bits of the story, but I also don’t want the game to be “winnable.”

My biggest concern going into this experiment is how much of my essay’s original “richness” might get lost by moving into this medium. I suppose, however, that I have the opportunity to apply an entirely different type of style here. I intend to take advantage of that to the best of my ability.

Project Emerald


Works Cited


“CSS Tutorial.” W3Schools Online Web Tutorials, W3Schools, www.w3schools.com/css/default.asp/.
“HTML Tutorial.” W3Schools Online Web Tutorials, W3Schools, www.w3schools.com/html/.
“JavaScript Tutorial.” W3Schools Online Web Tutorials, W3Schools, www.w3schools.com/js/.
“JQuery Tutorial.” W3Schools Online Web Tutorials, W3Schools, www.w3schools.com/jquery/.
Lasecki, Walter. “User Interface Development.” EECS 493. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 21 Mar. 2019.
Olsen, Dan R. Building Interactive Systems Principles for Human-Computer Interaction. Course Technology, 2010.
Sketch. Computer software. Vers. 53.2. Sketch - The digital design toolkit. 21 Feb. 2019. 07 Apr. 2019 www.sketch.com/.
Stribley, Mary. “Website Color Schemes: 50 Color Palettes to Inspire.” Canva, Canva, 4 Apr. 2019, www.canva.com/learn/website-color-schemes/.