This past Wednesday, I did a big thing: I completed my master’s project for grad school. What a feat!
I wrote a 7,500 word story—the longest piece of writing I’ve ever done—on scoliosis and body image.
Would it surprise you to learn that I’ve never actually written about the two together before? True story.
I mulled over the idea for the past year and decided this was the ideal project for tackling it. The length of the story (we were told these average between 4,000-6,000 words) allowed me to dive into deep details about scoliosis and how it impacts self-image and body confidence, not just as teenagers when many of us are diagnosed, but even now as adults.
Four brave women shared their scoliosis and spinal fusion stories with me and it makes me so proud to have been able to tell them alongside my own.
Working on a writing project this large was daunting at the start and challenging to do over the summer months. But at the same time, it taught me a lot about writing process and discovering what works best for me. For most of August I set aside 8-10pm to write. Some nights after an early morning run and long day at work, the last thing I wanted to do was sit at our iMac trying to put a cohesive story together. But I’d turn on a neon light of Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge that’s above our desk and a lamp reminiscent of the Pixar mascot Luxo, Jr (the ultimate mood lighting for writing!) and tinker around with words. Occasionally it’d amount to a full page, oftentimes just a few paragraphs or edited thoughts from the previous day.
Sometimes my expert-level procrastination (Pinterest browsing, excessive water consumption, you know—the usual) led to only an hour or so of work, but even a little was better than nothing; small progress was still progress.
One trepidation I had with this project was if I’d be able to incorporate my personal writing style and voice into it. I was encouraged not only to do just that, but also weave in my own scoliosis journey since it played a big part in why I chose the topic in the first place. And given my history with the condition, it would behoove me to disclose my firsthand knowledge to whoever may potentially read it. (Which, at the moment, is still up for debate with me, myself, and I.)
I’m fortunate to have been able to navigate grad school in my own way and really carve a path that works for me. In many of my classes, if I’m not the oldest person, I’ve got a good 10 years on everyone else. I hesitate to call myself nontraditional, but even as an undergrad, and now as a grad student, I’m accustomed to blazing my own trial in pursuit of what I want to do and how I choose to get there. There are so many avenues one can use to pursue higher education—no particular way is better than another. I’m lucky to have found ones that work well for me.
I wanted to write a lot of this right after walking over to Pulitzer Hall where I handed in the 33-page behemoth (double-spaced!); so many thoughts and emotions flooded my mind as I strolled through campus, headed back to work. I all but forced myself to put my phone down on the train home that night to give my brain and writing muscles a break. They’ve both been in overdrive lately and since a majority of my full time job is writing, editing, and content creation…let’s just say words and ideas are often flying through my head at any given time of any given day.
I can honestly say that my writing has greatly improved over the past year, along with my storytelling and interviewing skills. As an introvert, talking to people you don’t know can be intimidating, no matter the subject. I’m getting better at it—that’s not to say that it’s easy. It still can make me nervous, but it’s all part of the learning process. And the more you do it, the easier it often gets.
Even though my master’s project is completed, this isn’t the end. Because of the Journalism School’s part time program structure (and my tuition benefits as a Columbia staff member) I still have a year of coursework left.
And new alongside it this fall: marathon training. The hustle continues!