Reclaiming YA Novels

When I picked up a young adult novel from the library a few weeks ago, I thought I knew what to expect. It seemed like what my sister and I call “YA fluff”; a typical teen romance story. But as I started reading the book, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, I realized that there were some more complex themes underlying the story. First of all there’s nothing wrong with just a classic teen romance story. But I think it’s worth noting that so many YA stories are more than that.

This book, for example, dealt not only with love, but loss (spoiler alert coming up). As the story goes on, we learn that the main character Louna’s previous boyfriend was killed in a school shooting. This alone made the book so much more than a fluffy romance story.

Two other YA books I’ve read recently, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, are also about more than romance. The former is the story of a teen boy who wins an enormous lottery; it asks thought-provoking questions about luck, money and philanthropy. The latter is a layered story of family, the bond of sisters and high school. These are no small themes; and they are ones which are, in my opinion, fascinating to readers of any age.

That young adult books are intricate, woven stories about much more than romance is nothing new to most YA readers. I have noticed, though, a tendency in older teenagers to wrinkle their noses at the idea of reading YA books. Why is this some people’s reaction? It may have something to do with the fact that our society seems to deem anything that teenagers, teen girls in particular, enjoy to be frivolous and trivial. YA books centred around romance are just one example of this; but of course, the books are about more than romance because (another spoiler alert) teenagers care about other things as well.

My high school librarian used to say that people enjoy reading books with characters a few years older than they are. I definitely feel strange at times reading YA, when characters are entering high school for the first time and I’m in university; I think this is why, at one point, I stopped reading a lot of YA books. I started reading more adult books, like thrillers, non-fiction and everything by Jodi Picoult. I don’t remember exactly what made me pick up another YA book, but I’m so glad that I did. My overall reading is so much more diverse now, and I have learned a lot from the YA books I’ve read. In this way, I think I have “reclaimed” YA books; I love reading them now.

There’s a quote by P.J. O’Rourke that says, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” This idea, that we should read what we think makes us look good in the eyes of other people, is one that I think we as a society should retire, fast. We should read what interests us, not what “looks good.” Don’t let other people’s perceptions stop you from reading YA novels; and if you think you’ve outgrown the genre, consider giving it another chance. You might be surprised!


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Why Journalism?

It’s been almost exactly a year since I started studying journalism at university. As I’ve written before, I love journalism. However, had I known all of the things I would be doing in my classes beforehand, I may have thought twice about it. It’s lucky I didn’t know, though, because I ended up jumping in headfirst, fears and all. I love so many things about journalism: the process of piecing interviews into a story, the ethical discussions and debates and the actual act of writing, to name a few.

When people ask me why I decided to study journalism, I never really know what to say. I’ve always enjoyed English and writing and I have hilarious short drafts in old notebooks to prove it. I had my first article published in a local newspaper when I was in grade six and then I continued writing regular articles. Some of my teachers and friends started assuming that I would study journalism. I guess I eventually decided that I would study it, too. I can’t recall what I wanted to do before journalism; I think I considered creative writing, teaching and, at one point, marine biology (out of the blue, I know, but I really love sharks and the ocean).

On a basic level, I think I chose to study journalism because it involves writing. Although I enjoy all of the parts of the article writing process, from brainstorming and pitching story topics to interviewing sources, my favourite part is always looking at my list of transcriptions with highlighted quotes and starting to write. At a certain point, the quotes and ideas come together and the words just start to flow. It’s a different kind of writing than fiction or blog post writing; but it’s incredibly fun, and rewarding, nonetheless.

I think another reason I chose to study journalism had to do with the fact that it requires a sense of curiosity. In the essay portion of my application to journalism school, I wrote about how there is an endless supply of stories in the world around us. Anything can be a story—from neighbours rescuing baby bunnies in their backyard to citizens across a town mobilizing for a fundraiser for the local hospital. We can capture all of these stories and tell them to the world; but only if we are curious enough to discover them in the first place.

Being curious means asking questions. It means wondering about why things are the way they are, questioning the seemingly obvious and the evidently obscure. Being curious makes for great journalism. When a journalist wonders why something is the way it is, they ask questions; and then they write about their findings for the rest of us to learn. This applies to investigative journalism especially, but curiosity is key across all types of journalism. After all, if you don’t want to learn more about the world and the people, systems and places in it, then why would you want to write about those things?

While I may not know all of my reasons for choosing journalism, after studying it for one year I can definitely list all of the reasons why I’m now happy that I chose it. Something I didn’t expect was the growing importance of journalists in democracies; as we’re seeing in the States, journalists are incredibly valuable in holding politicians and leaders to account. I’ve loved leaving my comfort zone in doing interviews with strangers, and learning new things like multimedia. Journalism also allows me to draw on my other interests, like politics and law, which makes it even more fun for me.

As I head into another year of journalism, I’m both thankful for my decision to study it and excited for what lays ahead. I’ll definitely be writing more blog posts about my experiences studying journalism in the future, so if you have any questions about my studies, feel free to ask in the comments!


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Spring Nostalgia

There is a certain nostalgia, I think, in the way the seasons turn. We revel in the autumn trees, red, orange and yellow like a campfire captured in leaves; then one day the leaves are brown and falling to the ground, leaving us with the memory of the fiery forests that stood what seems like only yesterday. We sometimes forget the true beauty of the season around us—fall leaves, freshly blanketed snow, flowers beginning to blossom or the feverish heat of the summer sun—until the weather shifts and we are left with memories.

This spring I was struck by the simple elegance of the flowers that sprouted around my house. My wonder is nicely summarized in this passage from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: “There is something subversive about this garden… a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently.” I love those words because they paint flowers as more than delicate pink petals on green flesh. Flowers are a subtle sign of nature’s strength; that a seed can be buried and then grow bravely, deliberately, through the soil and towards the sky.

Back in April, I published a post of photos on a whim; I had just arrived home to find a colourful sky and flowers still with raindrops from a storm. I loved photographing the flowers so much that I continued throughout the spring. Now, although I am enjoying the warm summer weather I find myself missing the bright yellows and painted pinks. In case you, like me, are having a nostalgic moment for the beauty of spring, here are some of my favourite photos of flowers; bursting up, wordlessly, to show themselves to the world, if only until the seasons inevitably turn.


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Finding the Write Time

For the past week or so, I’ve woken up at 7 a.m. to the opening chords of Hamilton (no surprise there, if you’ve read some of my other blog posts recently). My new morning routine goes something like this: dance along to Hamilton before turning off the alarm and turning on my laptop to write. I gather my binders and notebooks and set a goal for the morningedit something, write something, problem solve a solution to a plot hole in the novel I’m working on. Then, for the next 30 minutes, I put on my “Writing” playlist and set off towards accomplishing whatever goals I wrote down.

This is a relatively new routine for me, and, despite not being a zealous morning person, I have to say that I’m loving it so far. I saw a quote yesterday that read, “Set a goal that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning” and I realized that my writing goals make me want to do just that. No matter how tired I am, I’m always excited to get up, walk over to my desk and crack open my writing notebook.

As I’ve written before, this summer I am working full-time hours in a communications role. By carving out this half hour in the morning to write, I arrive at work at 9 a.m. already feeling like I’ve accomplished something for the day. Before I set this routine, I was trying to find time to write at nightand while I wrote blog posts after work, I never ended up working on writing fiction. Now, I am certain that I am making more progress than I otherwise would have been had I continued writing solely at night. I find it amazing that I can make significant progress towards my goals just by waking up 30 minutes earlier.

It can be tempting to only write when motivation strikes, but most creative people know that motivation is fleeting. What is not fleeting, however, is routine. I am the type of person who falls into a routine easily. To be honest, I did doubt my ability to wake up half an hour before I usually do; but I motivated myself by writing “a.m. editing” in my planner every day. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my ability to use this morning time productively. One day last week I woke up at 7 a.m., only to realize that, for some reason, my laptop wouldn’t open Microsoft Word. I couldn’t work on the project I wanted to edit, but I didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, I used the time to readsomething else I don’t make enough time for in my life.

Although this morning writing routine is new to me, making time to write is not. In the winter, I made it my goal to write 1,000 words every day. I didn’t set aside a specific time because my school schedule was different every day. I still ended up fulfilling my goal, thoughI wrote 1,000 words every day, without fail, until I reached my goal of 80,000 words. Even on days when I was exhausted from school, I still managed to sit down and write. Once I got started, I couldn’t break the routine; and the daily sessions of writing fiction were a welcome break from my schoolwork.

Knowing who you are goes a long way in finding ways to motivate yourself to write. I know, for example, that I am motivated by visually seeing my progress; so I like to track my progress through charts where I can write down what I accomplish every day. Making charts is a small thing, but I honestly think that the charts where I wrote down my word count every day were one of the main reasons why I was able to continue writing 1,000 words every day back in the winter. I hope that the goal-setting charts I am using now will make my current morning writing sessions successful, too.

I had a comment recently asking about what my writing schedule is, and I guess this is it. As of last week, I write and edit for half an hour in the morning and I also spend extra time at night writing blog posts. It’s a schedule that is still evolving, but one that is based on what I know works for me. In the end, it’s a schedule that allows me to wake up in the morning and spend time doing what I love while making progress towards my goals. What could be better than that?


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19 Things I Learned By 19

This weekend I turned 19—yay! Among the celebrations and cake, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past year of my life. It’s been an interesting one: from moving away to university to beginning my studies in journalism to trying to make sense of these crazy political times. I’ve blogged throughout it all, of course, but I haven’t been blogging for my entire life (could you imagine?). I’ve learned a lot this year, both about myself and about life. I’ve also learned a lot in other years—so I decided that, to commemorate my 19th birthday, I would share 19 things that I have learned thus far in my life.

1. I am happiest when I am writing. I love getting into the rhythm of writing every day—be it fiction, blog posts or even just journal entries. I could be super busy with schoolwork and studying, but if I can make time to write then I am happy. Writing doesn’t feel like work—and that’s how I know it’s what I truly love to do.

2. Hard work pays off, even if you don’t see the results right away.

3. On a similar vein—what seems like a failure is often an opportunity to be redirected to something better. I can’t count the amount of times that this has proven true in my life. When one door closes, another one opens; you just have to be willing to move past the closed door to explore the new opportunity that lies ahead.

4. Yes, you will make friends. This was my primary concern going to a university where I could count the number of people I knew on the fingers on my right hand. My worries haunted me for the first few days after I moved into residence—and then, at journalism orientation, I met my now best friends. I think my worries actually propelled me into being more social, though. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change anything.

5. Being kind, compassionate and optimistic are strengths—and don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you differently.

6. Set big goals and then break them into bite-sized chunks. I love Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s quote, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” If you can balance big dreams with achievable mini-goals along the way, you can work towards achieving amazing things!

7. Never underestimate the power of honesty. Whether it’s being honest with a friend, or even being honest with yourself in your own thoughts, there is power in telling the truth.

8. Both inside and outside of school, life is full of learning opportunities.

9. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. And sometimes it does. Life is weird—but, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

10. It is going to be OK. It sounds like such a cliché, but it’s really true. At the beginning of this year when I was moving away to university I wish I would have known how happy I am now. My year was more than OK—it was fantastic. And knowing that that experience, which I was worried about, turned out to be fantastic reminds me that other things that I am concerned about now can, and quite probably will, turn out to be great, too.

11. Leaving your comfort zone is the best way to grow. It’s challenging, but it can really pay off to jump and find your wings on the way down.

12. You can’t always be happy, but you can make a conscious decision to be positive. Positivity is a mindset that can eventually help you find happiness.

13. Similarly, you can’t choose what happens to you in life but you can choose how you react to it. (Hint: reacting with optimism helps.)

14. Work hard, but don’t forget to find time to relax. This is something I struggle with sometimes—I can get so focused on my goals and my endless to-do lists that I convince myself that relaxing is a waste of my time. But it’s not—I’ve learned that if I relax then I have more energy to be productive! It’s a win-win.

15. In the words of Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

16. You never know how what is happening now will impact you in the future. The not-for-profit organization I’m currently working for during the summer is where I did my placement during high school. Obviously in high school, I had no clue that I’d come back as an employee—and yet, here I am!

17. “Take it day by day” was a piece of advice my dad gave to me when I was feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of this year. I like to think about, and plan for, the future—but it’s also important to focus on taking each individual day as it comes.

18. Laughter makes everything better. I have an affinity for puns and bad jokes. Sometimes (most of the time) I’m the only one who laughs, but I don’t let that discourage me from trying to make others laugh!

19. Be kind. The world needs more people who are kind not because it poses some benefit to them, but simply because they have good hearts. Your kindness could make a huge difference in someone’s life, and it could have an incredibly positive impact on the world.


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Fleeting Moments

A bowl of citrus fruits was smeared across the sky, deep oranges and smoky yellows blended together like paint on an artist’s canvas. Then someone threw a shower of glitter on top of the fiery mosaic sky. It was a long weekend at the cottage and, over the lake, fireworks were exploding into the sunset. I wanted to run and grab my camera, but I paused. Could I have captured the beauty of the sky, without the camera altering the colours? Maybe. But I was less confident in my ability to change the camera’s settings and press the shutter at the perfect moment to photograph the fireworks. So I stayed by the window and watched not through the lens of a camera, but with my eyes.

The next day, I was struck by a similar situation. It was a sunny afternoon, the kind that feels too good to be true. I was in a kayak, enjoying the rippling water in the otherwise calm bay. In front of me there was a pathway of sorts, an arch of tree trunks bending over the water. I passed a cluster of lily pads as I paddled under the hanging trees. The trees, the water and the sun gave way to pure serenity. If I had my camera, could I have taken a photo that reflected the absolute silence of the bay? Could I have immortalized, in pixels, the clear water and the reaching branches? Maybe, but maybe not. I stopped wishing I had brought my camera and started to soak in the scene, sans technology.

Believe it or not, the evening after the fireworks display, the same thing happened again. The sunset had come and gonepink this night, not orangeand outside it was pitch black. But then the sky lit up. Someone was setting off a spectacular firework display from a raft. Red lights flew into the sky; then green, then what appeared to be purple. Then dazzling white lights erupted, stark against the black backdrop of the evening. This time, I grabbed my phone. I didn’t worry about taking the “perfect shot”; I used Instagram’s “Boomerang” feature to capture short videos that reversed themselves. In my videos, the fireworks exploded spectacularly and then retreated into themselves.

Oftentimes the moments we want to saviour are fleeting. We sometimes have a tendency to try to make those moments immortal; in other words, fool ourselves into thinking that we can make them last forever. Taking a photo is one way to make a moment last forever, but there are so many things that a photo doesn’t capture: the scent of fresh air on the open lake; the feeling of complete calmness when the blue sky fades into a painter’s palette; the screeching sound that the fireworks make as they soar into the sky, and the crackling sound they make as they fall.

Sunsets fade to black. People run out of fireworks. Moments end: this is an inevitable fact of life. But the fact that these moments exist at all is what makes life worth living. Because the sun rises the morning after it sets; because there is another firework-filled holiday to look forward to in the future. If we capture a beautiful moment, however imperfectly with a camera or however hastily with our eyes or other senses, we can find something to remember it by. And maybe, then, in a way, we really can make a moment last forever.


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Writer’s Block, Rainy Days, and 1,000 Followers

It’s Friday afternoon. It’s hot outside—almost unbearably so—but inside, with my ceiling fan whirring away, it doesn’t seem so bad. I’m sitting at my desk, Harry Styles blasting as my cat is curled up against the side of my laptop. Beside my laptop, my phone sits, silent, and on the floor near my feet my purse is still packed from my day at work. The moment, though peaceful, is fleeting. Now Michael Bublé is playing; my plants have caught my eye, and it has occurred to me that I need to water them.

My cat was fascinated with the way the water poured from the cup when I watered my cactus. Maybe she recognized the water as the same liquid she sips; or maybe she was wondering why I was paying attention to my cactus and not to her. In any case, my plants are watered, Spotify has turned to advertisements instead of music, and my cat is now asleep in a wicker basket on my floor.

This week has been busy for me—enjoyable, but busy nonetheless. Now that I have an entire weekend stretched out in front of me, I’m not sure what I’ll do with my time. I’ll tackle my to-do lists, of course, and try to relax.

It’s the next day now—I forgot I started writing this last night until I saw the untitled document sitting in my Google Drive. It’s still hot today, but the forecast is calling for thunderstorms for the next three days.

I’ve been thinking about this blog a lot recently. I have so many ideas, but, to quote John Green, they are stars that I can’t fathom into constellations. I got a custom domain last week—changing my URL from sherinaspeaks.wordpress.com to sherinaspeaks.com—and I guess for some reason I thought that when I got a custom domain, I’d become a blogger extraordinaire. But while the domain has made me incredibly proud of the progress of my blog thus far (I recently hit over 1,000 followers, something which is still sinking in) it hasn’t catapulted me to a place where I have gazillions of blog ideas, or even the motivation to write those ideas.

The reason for my aforementioned busy-ness is that I’ve been working full-time hours as a communications assistant at a local not-for-profit organization. I love my job—it allows me to put into practice all of the things I learned this year in journalism school. But the fact that I am writing all day at work makes it that much harder for me to come home and write more for this blog; switching my “work brain” off, and my “blog brain” on, has proven difficult for me.

So, yesterday, as I stared at an empty document, I decided to get over it and just write. Something is better than nothing; as many writers have noted, you can’t edit a blank page. Sometimes you have to get over the expectation that amazing sentences are going to pour out of you, that you’ll write the best thing you’ve ever created. Sometimes, you just have to write. Write, when you think you are too busy to write. Write, when you feel like your blog is growing but you are standing still because you haven’t written a new post. Write when the world doesn’t make sense; write when it makes perfect sense. Write, and write, and write, and eventually, you’ll find the words you’ve been looking for.

Somehow through writing this jumbled post, riddled with life updates, blog updates and minutiae details about my day, I found the words I wanted to say: which are that life is pretty good right now (on this blog, and also outside of it). Thank you to my 1,000+ followers, thank you to my 2013-self for starting this blog, thank you to you for reading this. Now that I’ve written this post, I am itching to write more—but first, I will enjoy the sun before it turns to rain (as I am editing this, it has started to rain—making me glad I wrote about the sun while it lasted).


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That Time I Saw Hamilton

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now, I felt like singing at the top of my lungs. I was standing with my family outside the PrivateBank Theater in Chicago, staring up at a row of gold lights. On the windows above, eight letters spelled out the soundtrack of the past five months of my life: H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N.

Hamilton, in case you aren’t familiar, is a musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and America’s first Treasury Secretary. Through hip-hop and rap music, the musical takes you through Hamilton’s journey to America and his so-called “rise to the top.” It explores his relationships, from marrying Eliza Schuyler to sending love letters to her sister Angelica and having an affair with Maria Reynolds. Hamilton’s friendships are also shown—we see, for example, both the moment he first meets Aaron Burr and the moment when Burr shoots him in a duel.

My sister got into the Hamilton soundtrack long before I did. When I finally started listening to it, she guided me through the history behind the songs and told me which ones I’d probably like the best (she was right—she almost always is). Once I got to know the songs, we’d sing together every chance we got. We’d discussed the moment we’d get to see the show so many times and yet, as we stood outside the theatre, it hadn’t really sunk in.

The excitement of the other people in line surprised me. Everyone wanted to take a picture with the iconic image—the distressed golden background with the four-pointed star and the cloaked figure of Alexander Hamilton raising his arm to the sky. I knew Hamilton was a big deal, of course; it’s won 11 Tonys. But I guess I never really considered that the hype, so to speak, existed outside the bubble of myself, my sister, and my best friend who also loves the musical.

The inside of the theatre looked similar to the outside, with shining lights and golden decor. Family close in tow, I evaded the monstrously long merch lines and headed for the balcony. Miraculously, on the way up there was a merch station with no line —I purchased a set of postcards (already having a t-shirt from my aforementioned Hamilton-obsessed best friend). As I climbed the stairs to the balcony, my excitement was climbing, too. By the time I was in my seat with a Playbill in my hand, I had a smile permanently plastered on my face.

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My first thought was that the stage looked exactly like the photos I’d seen of it. Two circular parts of the stage floor, which would rotate during the show, sat still—I didn’t. I bounced around, unable to contain my excitement. Soon, the lights faded and, as a hush fell over the theatre, a voice spoke. In a British accent that the crowd would come to love, “our” King, as in King George, told us to turn off our phones and enjoy “my show.” This set the scene for the show magnificently. Before I knew it, that signature opening— if you know it, you’ll know—was playing, and Aaron Burr was onstage, introducing, in song, none other than Mr. Alexander Hamilton.

The musical was absolutely amazing. Hearing the music live gave me goosebumps—the orchestra, the singers—and seeing the actions and choreography accompanying the music was phenomenal. I loved seeing the story I’d come to love played out visually: watching as Hamilton proclaimed that he’d never throw away his shot and seeing Alexander and Eliza meet (and then seeing that entire scene again from Angelica’s point of view).

I love Hamilton not just because of the music, plot or characters, though these are all things I love about it; I also love the story of how the musical came to be. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation in Mexico and, upon reading Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton, immediately connected the way Hamilton wrote his way off an Island to America to an arc that would fit in a hip-hop album. Miranda already had a successful musical, In The Heights; and, at first, he envisioned Hamilton as a mixtape. But it grew into a musical—a crazy successful one, at that.

Many people compare Lin-Manuel Miranda to Alexander Hamilton. Both men were and are prolific writers—“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” —and both work, to use a song title from the musical, Non-Stop. What especially inspires me about the musical is that it started with a simple idea and it grew into something incredible.

As night fell on the day I saw Hamilton, I sat down in my Chicago hotel room to watch TV with my parents. It just so happened that we stumbled upon the episode of Modern Family where Lin-Manuel Miranda guest-stars (crazy coincidence, right?). He was already a Tony winner when he appeared on the show, but he has still grown so much since then.

All in all, seeing Hamilton was an amazing experience. If anything, my obsession has grown since seeing it—I still listen to the soundtrack on almost a daily basis. But now, I can envision the scenes from the musical in my head; I see the costumes, the facial expressions, the dancing, everything. And for that, I feel pretty lucky.


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A Weekend in the Windy City

On the weekend I went to Chicago with my family. I’m home now, but part of me still feels like I’m in the windy city — steps away from shopping on the Magnificent Mile, walking in Millennium Park and alongside Lake Michigan. I’ve been to Chicago twice now, and there’s something indescribable about the city that I just love.

This visit was made even more special because I had the opportunity to see Hamilton, AKA the best two hours and 45 minutes of my life. I think that experience warrants a separate post, but as you read on, remember that more is coming. I can’t stop thinking about Hamilton, so I won’t stop talking (and writing) about it. If you can’t tell, that’s kind of my unofficial blog mandate.

It was hard for me to narrow down photos to include in this post, but I’ve selected a group of photos that, to me, capture that indescribable feeling about my visit to Chicago. It’s the ornate architecture juxtaposed against the trees in the park; it’s the tourists milling around the stainless steel Bean and the locals jogging past Lake Michigan on a sunny morning. It’s all of these things, and more. There’s always more. But for now, here are some of my favourite photos. Enjoy!


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4 Things I Learned In My First Year of Journalism School

I recently wrapped up my first year of journalism school. It went by so quickly, and although it was challenging I had a great year. In some other blog posts where  I’ve mentioned my journalism experiences, some commenters have been curious about the program. And, seeing as I’ve interacted with some bloggers who are also either aspiring or current journalism students, I decided to write a post about four of the many things I have learned this year. If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments!

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I took these photos in the morning of Nov. 9, just before I went out to interview people for my article about the election results. 

1. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to witness history.

I didn’t have any journalism exams this year; instead, we had “Story Days”; four or five days throughout the semester where we had to conduct interviews, take photos, record audio… to file by 5:30 p.m. the same day. One story day in first semester fell on Nov. 9, the day after the U.S. election. I was planning to write about Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president; but I ended up getting people’s reactions to Donald Trump winning the election.

Even though I wasn’t able to add my personal opinion in my article (I saved that for a blog post that I wrote a few days later) it was still an incredible feeling to be writing the same story that other journalists all over the world were writing. Witnessing Trump’s historical victory through writing an article about it was a really cool moment in my first year of studying journalism.

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I took tons of pictures of the CN Tower this year, but this is one of my favourite shots. 

2. Get photo composition right in the moment.

I learned pretty early on this year that heavy photo editing is frowned upon in journalism because it means altering the reality of an image. Not relying on editing or filters after the fact means it’s important to pay attention to compositional elements when taking the photo. I took most of my photos horizontally, and tried to remember elements like rule of thirds, lines, and framing. Thinking of these things when taking photos — and taking multiple shots instead of just one — helps you take good photos, without needing to edit them afterwards.

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OK, this photo is vertical (and slightly edited). But, hey, artistic rules are meant to be broken… right?

3. Forget “Less is more” when it comes to gathering material.

The adage “Less is more” may be true for word counts due to readers’ increasingly shortening attention spans, but it doesn’t ring true for the process that comes before writing. My journalism professors gave us guidelines on how many voices to include in our stories; often we’d need at least four.

However, this didn’t just mean going out, interviewing four people, and calling it a day. Four voices means four good voices who have interesting stories to tell. This means getting more interviews than required so that you can narrow it down to the best ones. As one professor said in our last lecture, you know you’ve done your job well when you have good quotes on the cutting board.

The same thing can be said of research, and even emailing sources; I remember one story day where I was looking for an expert in war journalism. I reached out to several war journalists, but ended up only hearing back from one. If I had only contacted one person, I probably wouldn’t have had a quote to include in my article.

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Toronto has no shortage of cool buildings to photograph!

4. You can do so many cool things with a journalism degree — and you don’t have to wait to graduate to get started.

When I reflect back on this year, I wrote a lot of things that I’m really proud of. For one of my last story days I pitched a story about press freedom on campus since there had been some incidents where student journalists were denied entry to on-campus events. This was a story that was important to me, and it ended up being my favourite article that I wrote this year. Having that opportunity to choose the story I wanted to cover has made me even more excited to branch out into other types of news writing and to continue pitching my original ideas.

And that was just for an in-class assignment — outside of class, there are so many interesting opportunities, from writing for on-campus publications to working on your own journalism-related projects. Working towards a degree in journalism is exciting because you don’t just get to do “real” journalism once you graduate; you get to do it while you’re in school!


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