Choose Your Character… and More: Immersive Storytelling in Video Games

Pixelated image of Mario.

Image from: Pixabay

By: Rhiannon Wineland

We all remember Mario, right?

Little plumber with a mustache… overalls… hopping over barrels hurled at him by Donkey Kong… Mario is an iconic video game character. A notable game he stars in is Super Mario 64. The game is simple. You play as Mario and hop into paintings to gather stars in different worlds as you work towards defeating Bowser and saving Princess Peach. While it is a great game, it’s very linear and the player doesn’t get many choices.

But now gamers have choices!

These choices started off small. The Legend of Zelda series, for example, allowed players to rename Link. Eventually, players could choose more detailed dialogue options for him as well. I remember playing Skyward Sword for the first time, for example, and feeling like I could give Link more of a personality. Immediately, I felt morally obligated to choose the nicest options. Was I going to upset this video game character Link was speaking to? Would I break the heart of the character who had a crush on him? This may sound ridiculous, but it made me more anxious while playing the game. I started making sure my dialogue options were as nice as possible.

And games just kept giving me more choices…

I’m not the only one who gets stressed about choices in games! People would reload save points just to redo a conversation in a game because a little conversation can suddenly impact what ending a game gives players! Take the game Detroit: Become Human, for example. The choices will add up and impact other choices. You have the fate of characters in your hands (literally, you’re holding a controller), even characters you think are safe.

In game screenshot of the game Detroit: Become Human

Image from: Rhiannon Wineland

Think about reading the suspenseful part of a really good book…

Your eyes will start to skim the pages looking for a clue to your favorite character’s fate, the pages start flying by until you see it! And then you feel a release of relief. Well, the author of the book is obviously skilled in storytelling and building suspense. In this case, you have no control over what happens to the characters here. It’s written and it’s linear. Choices in video games make the story not-so clear cut. That doesn’t mean the developers and writers aren’t good storytellers at all. It just means they’re making the story more immersive. You’ll feel that anxiety of the protagonist in the game, but now you can decide what happens! What will Connor and the Androids do in Detroit: Become Human? Is Ciri going to live in Witcher 3? And sometimes, the fate of a character is dependent on one small dialogue choice. For example, Geralt’s responses to Ciri in Witcher 3 are what decides if she lives or dies. The player needs to make sure the responses they choose fit a certain mood. Personally, I found myself double checking walkthroughs to make sure she lives!

We’re seeing games do this a lot more now!

The stream I discuss in this section was discussion based. As I streamed, people talked in the chat about their favorite immersive elements in video games. Occasionally, I asked questions or had them specify their answers a bit more. To watch this stream, click HERE. Due to the stream crashing a few times because of system updates and Cyberpunk 2077‘s updates, there are several videos in this collection.

Infographic on the types of immersion elements in video game characters.

Image from: Rhiannon Wineland

Players are loving these immersive elements to the point that it’s unusual to see games without some sort of stake. Let’s use an example that everyone can follow, gamer or not. In 2020, CD Projekt Red released the game Cyberpunk 2077. This game took all these customization elements that most games usually had a bit of and mashed them all together to create what would be a completely immersive experience. The game is in first person point of view so players looking at the world through their eyes. The protagonist is completely customizable with players able to decide on and customize the tiniest of features, their sexuality, background, personality, and love life can be decided on. And it all impacts the game. Your relationships with characters, how you treat Johnny Silverhand (Yes, that’s Keanu Reeves!), and how you navigate the setting decides the ending you get. And there are six endings that you can get. I actually streamed this game, discussed immersive storytelling in video games, and had viewers chime in about what makes them feel immersed in a game.

And you know what’s cool? They all had different answers!

Some talked about the lore of the game, like was there a background to the land, do they talk about the culture of the characters, is this a new, fantasy world, etc. Some just liked tiny decisions like choosing Pokémon to battle with and collect. While I enjoy fast-paced, suspenseful decisions and plot-driven stories, it doesn’t always have to be that way. I’m sure everyone remembers when Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out at the beginning of quarantine in 2020. So many people loved being able to make themselves in the villager customization and design clothes for them. They got to make an island the way they wanted. It was an escape from the scariness that was 2020. It was a happy game that allowed them to be as creative as they wanted.

Screenshot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Image from: Rhiannon Wineland

My friend, Holly, is a huge Wizard of Oz and classic Hollywood fan, so she customized her island to fit that theme. She was kind enough to send me a screenshot of her Yellow Brick Road area.

That’s the beauty of video games.

They’re another form of storytelling that allows a gamer to be immersed in a story in a new way. Developers are always looking for new, innovative ways to get gamers involved, and it always seems like a new release is showing a new way to approach a story. Gamers love choices because it allows us to relate more to the characters and do what we want. Humans love control, so this is perfect. But the amazing part is that this means that anyone who plays a game may get a different experience! This makes it fun for gamers to discuss their experiences and see what else the game has to offer story wise! No game is a bad game and no gamer is less valid. We’re all just leveling up together!

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Anywhere but Here: Escapism in WandaVision and Life

Image of Marvel's Avengers, specifically the character of Wanda.

Image from: Antman 3001

By: Rehann Rheel

Welcome to Westview

Wanda Maximoff calmly walks through a break in the stones that outline what could have been—should have been—a house. Her face is a calm mask that belies the turmoil of emotions she’s feeling inside.

As a child, Wanda and her brother, Pietro, were trapped under rubble for two days when their house was bombed. Their parents did not survive. That entire time, an unexploded Stark Industries missile sat just feet away, threatening to finish what the first missile had started.

It’s only a bit over 10 years later that Wanda’s twin brother—the person who’s been by her side for literally her entire life, the only person she’s been able to depend on—dies. And a part of her dies with him.

Despite the loss of her brother, Wanda eventually finds happiness. She falls in love with Vision, and though their relationship isn’t easy, it’s a source of strength and joy.

But that happiness doesn’t last. It never lasts. To save the world, Wanda is forced to kill that source of happiness and comfort. She has to kill Vision.

And so she does.

Painting of Marvel's Vision.

Image from: Flickr

Afterwards, Wanda tracks down Vision’s body. She wants to lay him to rest. To mourn him as we all mourn our loved ones. But when she finds him, he’s ripped into pieces, strewn across cold hard surfaces of a lab. Being experimented on as though he were nothing more than a pile of computer parts.

Wanda walks away empty-handed.

Standing in that shell of a house, holding the deed that promises a future that will never come true, Wanda breaks. Her heart-mind-soul fractures. She falls to the ground and releases a heart-wrenching cry of pain as magic and sorrow and rage and loneliness pour out of her in an unstoppable wave, drenching the town in chaos magic, trapping the citizens in a new world, in WandaVision. It’s an alternate reality inspired by all the TV shows that had embraced Wanda with moments of peace ever since she was a child. A place where she’s guaranteed her happy ending.

An escape.

"Escapism" written on a notepad.

Image from: En Bouton

What is Escapism?

Living is stressful. There are so very many things that could go wrong in a given day. To deal with these negative aspects of life, humans have different coping strategies. These coping strategies can vary from doing yoga to venting with your BFF to stress eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting (not that I’ve ever done that, of course).

Infographic created to expand on vacations connecting to escapism.

Image from: Rehann Rheel

Escapism is one such method of coping. With this particular type of survival mechanism, humans engage in an activity that allows them to repress negative experiences by becoming immersed in an activity (2). There are three parts of escapism that enables this to happen:

  • Task absorption: By being absorbed in an activity, a person enters a “narrowed associative state,” which basically means a person gets tunnel vision. Everything—including our problems—falls away except for the task at hand.
  • Temporary disassociation: Human beings are essentially one of those really complicated puzzles with the itty-bitty puzzle pieces. Those puzzle pieces are comprised of thoughts, emotions, memories, behaviors, etc. You put them together, and you get a human. Escapism allows us to temporarily divide ourselves into those pieces. This means we can ignore a certain aspect, like overwhelming emotions, to focus on something else.
  • Reduced self-evaluation: I don’t know about you, but I can be pretty hard on myself. If I make a mistake, I carry that “failure” with me throughout the day and beat myself up about it. But escapism lessens that self-evaluation—I’m no longer Rehann Who Can’t Remember to Send an Email to Save Her Life, I’m The Boy Who Lived (2).

In creating WandaVision, Wanda is able to experience all three facets of escapism. She ceases to be the Wanda we know from the Avengers movies and instead becomes a character in her own show. She’s wholly focused on playing a character, which allows her to disassociate from the undesirable memories. And since Wanda Maximoff doesn’t exist, Wanda can’t self-evaluate, either.

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Of course, us regular folks can’t just release a red magical glow that makes our innermost fantasies come alive. But that doesn’t prevent us from being excellent escape artists. We just use different methods.

Binge-watching, video games, and books are probably the most popular methods of escapism. When participating in these activities, the real world falls away and we instead live in the fantasy world somebody created for us. It’s a safe place, usually with guaranteed happy endings and unlimited attempts to fix mistakes. And even if the storyline does lead us to a point of no return, what’s happening isn’t happening to us at all, and so we don’t have to suffer any of the consequences.

Created infographic of suggested "escape songs".

Image from: Rehann Rheel

Binge-watching, video games, and books are certainly effective methods of escapism, but they’re not the only ones. Music, though it doesn’t have a narrative component, can just as effectively remove us from the life we’re living and take us on a journey (3). International travel very literally allows us to escape our lives (1). Sports, religion, gambling, and alcohol consumption are additional ways humans escape from our daily lives—though obviously some methods are more prone to the negative effects of escapism than others (3).

Self-Suppression and Self-Expansion: The Two Escape Hatches

As I mentioned earlier, the general concept of escapism is to take a break from life. But it turns out that some psychologists believe that there are two different types of escapism:

  • Self-Suppression: This is the type of escapism we most often think of, where the focus is suppressing who we are and what we think to escape some sort of emotional turmoil (3). Laying in bed, listening to music at an extremely high volume (been there, done that) might be a form of self-suppression.
  • Self-Expansion: The focus of this “flavor” of escapism isn’t so much leaving who you are behind, but rather focusing on a task that will improve who you are (3). An example of self-expansion would be learning a new language. The world falls away, just as it does when listening to music, but there’s a growth aspect here absent in self-suppression types of escapism.

Back to Reality

Researching escapism kind of forced me to do some psychoanalyzing. I find it hard to turn off the TV or put down my book or the Switch controller, especially when I have time-consuming responsibilities to take care of (*cough* this blog post *cough*). But I think I think I usually straddle the line between the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of escapism. I may be reluctant to leave The Night Court and go to work, and I may get uncomfortably close to established deadlines, but I do it. Every time. (With only minor kicking and screaming involved.)

And that’s a large part of what divides “good” escapism from “bad” escapism. Leaving reality for a few hours to put some distance between yourself and your problems can be a healthy coping strategy. Literally possessing an entire town and its people for a few weeks? Very bad coping strategy.

Initially, Wanda doesn’t understand what’s happened, what she’s done. Once she realizes the truth, she first tries to convince herself that she’s not harming anybody. The people in town are happy; she’s helping them, if anything. But escapism isn’t designed to keep our troubles at bay forever. It’s just supposed to be a temporary reprieve.

In the end, Wanda has no choice but to face the truth. In the end, Wanda has to let Vision go all over again.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Using Rhetorical Theory to Overcome Vaccine-Skepticism

By: Sarah Ondriezek

Vaccine-skepticism is nothing new.  Objection to vaccines began popping up in the early 1800’s as a response to the English government mandate that children receive the smallpox vaccine. At the time, people raised concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine, mistrust in the government, and the importance of personal liberty. The Anti-Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were both formed in response to the smallpox vaccine, and similar groups (along with anti-vaccination journals) sprung up in the United States near the end of the 19th century.

Despite the fact that vaccines have eradicated deadly diseases for over 200 years, anti-vaccination sentiment has persisted. Proponents of the modern anti-vaccination movement have pushed back against the DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine, the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, and even vaccine additive, thimerosal.  In the last decade alone, parental refusal to childhood vaccination has caused a resurgence of measles and whooping cough.  Interestingly, the reasons given for vaccine-skepticism remain similar to those during smallpox: vaccine efficacy, potential risk of harm from vaccines, mistrust in the government (or “Big Pharma”), and personal liberty.

As the world enters its second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of a vaccine.  What has largely been lauded as an anecdote to the Sars-CoV-2 virus, has been, unsurprisingly, met with a great deal of distrust from anti-vaccination proponents. The refusal rate for COVID-19 vaccination in the United States has been estimated to be around 25%, placing the threshold for herd immunity in jeopardy and allowing the virus to continue mutating.

Coronavirus task force being formed.

Image from: Flickr

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC, and other, highly visible public health officials/organizations have worked tirelessly in the media to address the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and to dispel misinformation about the vaccine. Everyone continues to work from the same Risk Communication template – how effective is this tactic in persuading the public to accept vaccinations?

The onus to overcome anti-vaccination sentiments eventually falls to health-care providers (physicians, physician assistants, nurses, etc.), who provide face-to-face care for patients. This is an area where vaccine rhetoric experts can offer tips and guidance to help healthcare providers respond to vaccine-hesitant patients in the most effective way.

Compulsion Vs. Persuasion

Created infographic on vaccine fact and fiction.

Historically, ensuring that the public is vaccinated has been approached in two ways: compulsion or persuasion. Vaccination compulsion techniques may take the form of: government ordinance, school or work mandate, or a patient being fired from a physician practice for refusing vaccination. These methods certainly have their benefits (ensuring that everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated) but are also accompanied by public backlash and an array of ethical dilemmas. Persuading the vaccine-hesitant is no easy task, as they hold fast to their concerns and beliefs.  The difficulty in this task aside, effective persuasion provides the vaccine-skeptical patient with the tools of empowerment to choose vaccination. This method of ensuring vaccine uptake has been growing in popularity as the preferred method for overcoming vaccine-hesitancy.  In the field of communications, vaccine rhetoric, under the umbrella of the rhetoric of science and medicine, has emerged as the focused-study of using persuasion to approach vaccine-skepticism.

Vaccine Rhetoric

One of the leading experts on vaccine rhetoric, Heidi Y. Lawrence, Ph.D.. approaches vaccine rhetoric from a material rhetorical approach. In her 2018 article, When Patients Question Vaccines, Lawrence focuses on the difference between objects (matters of fact, stable, known articles) and things (matters of concern, unstable materials that require discourse to understand).

Inlay terms: healthcare providers view vaccines as objects (stable, safe, effective protection against disease that offers high reward with low risk), while vaccine-skeptics view vaccines as things (unstable, potentially dangerous, misunderstood items that are up for debate). Interestingly, there is a lot of reciprocity between objects and things. Things require a rhetorical situation and discourse to become objects; objects require debate and discourse to be understood and recognized as matters of fact.

Using a material approach to develop practical vaccine rhetoric strategies opens the door for successful communication between patient and healthcare provider (actually creating a rhetorical situation in a provider’s office).

Pulling from Lawrence’s 2018 article, and other existing research on the topic, I’ve developed a list of evidence-based tips to assist healthcare providers in addressing their vaccine-hesitant patients.

Rhetorical triangle

List of Tips- The 5 R’s

  1. Refute claims swiftly and directly – offer a counterargument that directly refutes the claim.  If a patient says, “I don’t want to vaccinate, because vaccines cause autism,” respond only to that claim.  Offer that there is no evidence to support the claim, and that the doctor who originally touted this had his medical license revoked.
  2. Resist the urge to be pedantic or patriarchal – keep in mind that the patient views the vaccine as a ‘thing’ and not an ‘object.’ Instead, be open, understanding, and use this space to bridge the gap between ‘thing’ and ‘object.’
  3. Recommendation of healthcare provider – includes the prevention benefits of a specific vaccine and personal endorsement of vaccine. For instance, when recommending the HPV vaccine, the prevention benefit can be stated as, “The vaccine prevents various types of cancer.”
  4. Respond & identify with a patient – a person’s concerns are very real to them and should not be dismissed. Listening carefully to concerns, using empathy, and identifying with opposing viewpoints opens up space for a dialogue that is respectful and built on mutual understanding. Sometimes, this is all a patient needs to be open to persuasion.
  5. Remember to use Rhetorical Appeals – Logos, Pathos, and Ethos (see diagram above) should be used in every patient interaction.


The best way to combat vaccine-skepticism is by applying a rhetorical framework based on expert research in the field of vaccine rhetoric. While a great deal of information exists to combat anti-vaccine rhetoric on the internet and in mass communication theory, the first-line response typically comes from a healthcare provider. We must arm our physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses with the right tools to overcome anti-vax disinformation and rhetoric.

In the Face of Fear

Intruder breaking into a home.

Image from: Wtop News

By: Rehann Rheel

Frozen in Fear:

I paused where I stood and stared at the form lying on my living room couch. My brain, still slow to process information this early in the morning, slowly ticked off the things it knew I wasn’t seeing. I wasn’t seeing my mom or my aunt, because I could hear them a few yards away, in different rooms. I wasn’t seeing my sister, because she does not have man feet or such holey socks. And I wasn’t seeing some employee of my mother’s that she’d asked to house sit for the night because that didn’t even make any sense. So that meant…what I was seeing was…

An intruder.

In my house.

Sleeping on my couch. 

I had to warn somebody. My sister, my mom, my aunt—and myself, of course—were all in danger. But when I tried to call out, nothing happened. Like whatever neurons connected my brain to my vocal cords didn’t exist. 

Stupid, stupid. 

Plan B, then. Getaway, go to the adults and warn them via the most intense game of charades I’ve ever played. 

I had better success with Plan B. Slowly backing away (because I was afraid that the intruder wasn’t sleeping and that he’d leap up like a ninja the second my back was turned and stab me), I left the living room, then the breakfast nook, and finally reached the kitchen where my aunt was pondering wooden pieces on the ground; wooden pieces I knew must be from the door the intruder came through. 

When there was finally a wall between me and the intruder, I got some control of my vocal cords back. Enough to rasp, “Look! Look!” as I gesticulated at the living room.

The concept of “fight or flight” is thrown around a lot—in TV, books, anything. But what I did that day—at least at first—was neither fight nor flight: it was freeze. 

The Science of Fear:

Fear is a not-so-dear friend of mine. You see, I am an easily startled person, and can hardly make it a day without being scared by some unexpected sound or presence. But despite my frenemy status with fear, I don’t actually know how it works. Turns out, fear is an extremely complicated, multi-step process that happens in less than a second.

First, comes the object of fear. Maybe it’s a speeding car or a murder hornet or just a strand of hair you thought was a spider because you forgot that you dyed your hair a darker color. When faced with this object, the eyes and/or ears send the sights or sounds directly to the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in processing emotions. The amygdala looks at the information it’s been given and sounds the alarm, sending a distress signal to the hypothalamus. (Harvard Health, 2020).

So, next, the hypothalamus takes charge. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that talks to all the rest of the body via the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two very important parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former is what lights a fire under our feet, so to speak, and triggers the fight or flight response (Harvard Health, 2020).



Labeled view of brain.

Image from: The University of Queensland

Fight or Flight:

The term “fight or flight” has been in use since the 1920s (fight or fight or flapper, anyone?). It describes the reactions we exhibit when faced with a threat—perceived or real (Schmidt et al., 2008).

“Accurately or not, if you assess the immediately menacing force as something you potentially have the power to defeat, you go into fight mode. In such instances, the hormones released by your sympathetic nervous system—especially adrenaline—prime you to do battle and, hopefully, triumph over the hostile entity,” said Leon F Seltzer, Ph.D. (Seltzer, 2015).

However, if you take a look at the threat you’re facing and realize that there’s no way you’d ever make it out of that particular battle scratch-free, the body wants to flee (Seltzer, 2015).

Fear response model.

Image from: The Royal Society

…Or Freeze:

Okay, so both fight and flight make biological sense. But what about freeze? How can a (seemingly) total loss of bodily control when faced with some foe be beneficial? Turns out, it is. Because sometimes, a person can find themselves in a situation where they know they can’t overpower the object of their fear, but neither can they outrun it. That’s when the freeze response kicks in (Schmidt et al., 2008).

Let’s say that—heaven forbid—you’re being attacked. It’s too late to run, and your assailant is stronger than you. In this situation, the freeze response can help you to escape the physical, mental, and emotional pain you’d be otherwise experiencing. And this disassociation can actually preserve your sanity. In such a situation, some of the chemicals our bodies secrete, like endorphins, can act as a kind of painkiller. Also, it’s possible that if an attacker—be it human or animal—feels that their victim isn’t playing along, they might just get bored and stop the attack altogether (Seltzer, 2015).

It’s important to note that the freeze response is a little different from the concept of “tonic immobility,” which is something demonstrated by animals in the wild when they play dead. Playing dead often means “motor and vocal inhibition,” but these two characteristics aren’t necessarily tied to the freeze response (Schmidt et al., 2008).

It’s also important to note that the freeze response isn’t a passive state, or the failure to act. Instead, it’s more like the information gathering stage of fear. The senses take in the situation, the brain develops a plan, and the body prepares to act on that plan in various ways like increasing muscle tone and suppressing pain (Roelofs, 2017).

In addition, studies have shown that people might be predisposed to the freeze response. A study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that, “The majority of items that were more highly associated with freeze included those focused on cognitive symptoms of anxiety (e.g., confusion, unreality, detached, concentration, inner shakiness) as well as fear of losing control” (Schmidt et al., 2008). This is supported by numerous fear studies involving rats; those with a genetic predisposition to anxiety were significantly more prone to freezing than non-anxious rats (Roelofs, 2017).

In the Face of Rheel Fear:

Thankfully, that day with the guy on the couch ended without anybody being harmed. All four of us escaped the house while the intruder continued to slumber, and he only stirred when the cops woke him up (Talk about a rude awakening). But the “what ifs” still sneak up on me, even 12 years later. What if my hesitation put my life at risk? What if my hesitation put my family’s lives at risk? 

Betsy Huggett, director of the Diane Peppler Resource Center, went through a similar dilemma. A trained soldier, Betsy was confident that she knew what to do when the base’s sirens went off. However, instead of going to the station as she’d trained to do, she ran. “My training failed me,” she thought at first. “But what I really felt was that I failed. I didn’t feel like my training failed; I failed” (Huggett, 2019). 

But we didn’t fail. I didn’t fail. Freezing is part of the natural human reaction, just like fight and flight. It serves a purpose, just like fight and flight. And it has its pros and cons, just like fight and flight. If the intruder had been a light sleeper, too much sound or movement could have awakened him, and then the story I tell as an ice breaker might have had a much more sobering ending. 

Still, I have to admit that, if I ever find myself in a similar situation again, I hope I draw the Flight card, so I can get me and mine the heck out of Dodge.

My Path Through Anorexia Nervosa Recovery

Image of butterfly on window sill.

Photo by Jian Xhin on Unsplash

By: Keara Hozella

The content of this blog may be sensitive to some readers. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s website or call the hotline at 1-800-931-2237. 

My definition of recovery started when I returned home from the fall semester during my sophomore year, noticeably thinner than when I had left in August. Terrified of any food with carbs, protein, fat, and most of all, any significant number of calories, I truly was a shell of myself. I wasn’t prone to cracking a smile and preferred to sit off to the side with my carbonated, artificially flavored water in at least three layers of clothing (the former my choice, the latter a necessity as my weight loss had made me intolerant to cold).  

A week later, I sat in a doctor’s office—one that specialized in the treatment of eating disorders—as she told me I couldn’t return to campus. She listed all the reasons it wasn’t medically safe for me to go back to school, including the typical mental and physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa, such as extreme weight loss, fatigue, thinning hair, intolerance of cold, exercising excessively, preoccupation with food, irritability, and insomnia. She also mentioned she would be arranging a spot for me to begin inpatient treatment within four days. 

Return to School or Recover 

My world as I had known it was rocked. I wanted to go back to school, where I could continue to soak up as much as possible from my English classes, reading, and writing (and continuing to feed my eating disorder while starving myself – a secret I came to realize I wasn’t keeping that well). As I sat in the office, I focused on all the things I would be losing: my apartment’s closet with the scale where I weighed myself four times a day, the ability to closely monitor what food I ate and when, my hour-long sessions at the gym, the strict timeline I had set for myself on when I would graduate, apply to grad schools, and hopefully get accepted into my dream program of choice – one that was a niche program on Shakespeare that required nearly perfect GRE scores. I also ruminated on what I wouldn’t gain (namely, weight). I do remember feeling relief that someone saw how hard the charade was to keep up, and how many numbers and calculations ran through my head daily.  

Missing Pieces  

While I can remember some of my thoughts and feelings during my sophomore year of college, there are huge chunks of time missing from my fall semester. I don’t remember most of what I read or wrote for classes and retained only about a quarter of signs from my American Sign Language course. According to Carrie Hunnicutt of Monde Nido Treatment Centers, trouble concentrating is a common occurrence in people with anorexia nervosa, because food restriction means the brain doesn’t receive an adequate amount of nutrients. I would learn more about the less commonly talked about symptoms as I continued along my recovery journey.  

For example, the disconnect between my still-disordered mental state and my no longer thin body as I gained much-needed weight in recovery was a hard one. I still had the anorexic mindset, but no longer with a body that reflected it. In the hospital, my treatment team had set a goal weight for me to achieve to be considered weight restored, far lower than my original healthy weight I had had for the majority of my life. As I continued to gain weight, I shot up above the target weight set for me, another anxiety-producing aspect of recovery, where I didn’t feel I was succeeding or “doing it right.” Yes, even in recovery, my anxiety, depression, and perfectionism were rearing their ugly heads, a Cerberus that threatened to take down my progress in recovery so far. 

Clarity Restored 

As I ate more and became more accustomed to eating a range of foods, it was easier to see just how disordered my relationship with myself, others, and food had been. The thick fog that had surrounded everything throughout this year-long period was beginning to lift. I call this the second phase of recovery. I was gaining weight, eating foods that scared the hell out of me, and learning to confront the issues that had led to me developing anorexia nervosa in the first place. Along with “fear-food Fridays,” where we all chose a food that we never would’ve previously eaten in days with anorexia nervosa (my choice often being a peanut butter doughnut), my recovery became even more complicated. 

Image of donut.

Photo by Kenny Timmer on Unsplash

Here was where the harder work began. I started to address my anxiety through the lens of generalized anxiety disorder, finally a name for something that had been with me for as long as I could remember. It affected me during regular, day-to-day things like going to the grocery store and driving, along with more intense affairs such as public speaking and job interviews. The research on co-occurring disorders in people with anorexia nervosa is a well-researched one. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, conditions such as anxiety, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder go hand-in-hand in those with eating disorders.

Chart describing eating and co-occurring disorders.

Photo from:

Recovery Now  

Even now, nine years into my recovery, the underlying issues that so strongly permeated my life during my eating disorder and recovery, including anxiety, are still there. Sometimes it shows up in ways I don’t think would happen had I not struggled in the past. There are times where I give myself a pep talk to not skip breakfast and count a cup of coffee as a “meal.” The understanding that a snack in between lunch and dinner is something I’m allowed to have from now until forever is still one I’m working on. Glimpses of nutrition labels don’t throw me as much as they used to when I had every food’s calories memorized. But when they’re in size 100-point font on a restaurant’s menu, it is hard to pick one that I really want as opposed to one with the less caloric one. I’m able to do it, but not without stress and a shake of my head to get rid of the pesky thought.  

I’ve thankfully added some tricks up my sleeve to help me when things get rough, including therapy and anti-anxiety medications. Even these are hard to admit as things I need to keep my strong stance in recovery, and I don’t keep up with either as much as I would like. My path to recovery has been a rocky one…one that is constantly changing and evolving as I do. It’s taught me recovery is possible, especially with proper care, help, and support from others and medical professionals. 

Image of hiker along a path.

Photo by Arina Wong on Unsplash

While the definition recovery can be easily found online, what recovery from anorexia nervosa looks like in practice, and the paths taken to get there are not as easily discovered. 

Just as each person who has an eating disorder is a unique combination of stories, history, and experiences they’ve had, each person’s recovery is a winding odyssey into the unknown, with an ending that hopefully includes healing and an understanding of their own definition of recovery. 

Writing for Global Audiences

With the rise of the Internet, the world is smaller than ever before. Whether you’re designing websites for a global marketplace or managing translation of user manuals, you need to make sure your content can reach a global audience.

Don’t worry; you won’t have to dust off your high school French. Translation is part of a broader process called localization. Localization adapts a document for a different target market. This goes beyond translation to include changing number and date/time formats, currencies, symbols, graphics and more.

Although localization is a task best left to specialists, writers can make this process easier by keeping global audiences in mind when they’re writing. This is called internationalization – i18n for short.

Tips for Internationalizing Text

Following some standard guidance can help make your document easier to localize.

  • Avoid Idioms and Metaphors – Because idioms are not taken literally, it can be difficult to translate them into other languages. Sports metaphors and cultural references are also problematic. “We’re batting a thousand” will be readily understood in America. In Russia? Not so much.


  • Avoid Synonyms – Synonyms can confuse readers whose vocabularies are limited. They can also cause translators to wonder if you’re referring to the same thing in both cases.
  • Beware of Embarrassing Words – You can’t know all of the words that might have embarrassing meanings in other languages, but avoid those you do know.
  • Write Out Dates – 01/05/15: Is that January 5th or May 1st? It depends on where you are. You can avoid ambiguity by always writing out month names.
  • Avoid Holiday-Specific References – References to holidays are culture- specific, and often include religious overtones. Saying that someone was “as excited as a child on Christmas morning” will mean little in a culture where they know as much about Christmas as you do about Diwali.
  • Avoid Discriminatory Language – Use multicultural names and examples, and avoid stereotypes.
  • Be Clear and Concise – If something is hard to understand in English, it’s going to be harder to translate. Complex syntax can confuse non-native speakers.
  • Leave Space – Translated text will take up more or less space than its English counterpart. Web pages and software applications are particularly vulnerable to layout issues when the text is suddenly too big to fit in the size allotted.Tips for Internationalizing Images

    When your document contains images, internationalization takes on a whole new dimension. Following these tips can save you lots of headaches when you need to localize your images.

  • Avoid Words – An image that contains text can be a nightmare to localize. You can keep text and images separate using captions or HTML overlays. Even better: use images that need no description.
  • Avoid Offensive Symbols – Even common symbols can be offensive in some cultures. Facebook famously changed its “Like” button from a thumb to a stylized “f” because the thumbs-up sign has different meanings in different parts of the world.

  • Use Layers – Most image software allows you to separate text from the underlying image using layers. Provide the original files to your localization team so they can easily change the text.
  • Leave Space – Words often expand in length when translated, which can mess up your carefully composed diagram. Make sure your image has enough room to accommodate longer translations.
  • Save the Data – If your document contains charts or graphs, be sure to save the original data or spreadsheet. That way you can simply re-generate the chart with the translated text instead of having to perform costly and complex image editing.Bottom LineNow, more than ever, professional writers need to be aware of their global audiences. By taking the time to consider internationalization up front, writers can save their organizations (and themselves!) a great deal of time, money and effort in the localization process. You can be the one to help your company go global.Further ReadingThe Top 10 Ways to Cut Website Translation Costs

    Think Globally, Write Locally

    Guidelines on the Use of Non-Discriminatory Language

    Text Size in TranslationW3C Internationalization

    Common Idioms and Metaphors

How My Creative Writing Helped My Professional Writing

Alison Albitz

I began my undergrad with only one major: a BFA in creative writing. After one semester, I knew that pursuing only one major would mean taking a lot of extraneous courses that wouldn’t necessarily add up to much, so I decided to simultaneously pursue a BA in communication with a focus on print journalism.

This addition initially seemed like a very logical one: I liked writing and felt that I was good at it, so why wouldn’t I try a different style? How different could it be? As it turned out, switching between AP style and MLA, fact and fiction, and no-nonsense and poetry ended up being much more difficult than I had anticipated. Once I began working professional writing seemed like a whole new beast to tackle.

It wasn’t until my senior year of undergrad that I understood that switching between these styles of writing was difficult because I saw them as completely different entities, when I needed to view them as supplemental to each other. As I’ve mulled over the similarities between the three, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

They all have the same end goal

At the end of the day, writing is all about communicating effectively. In journalism, the goal is telling a story or sharing information. In creative writing, the author attempts to get a reader to feel something, understand a character, and see the world from a different perspective. Professional communication is all about conveying information succinctly and efficiently. When I realized that the ultimate goal of these different writing styles is so similar, I began to see that I could use skills I’ve learned in one area to better improve the others.

None of them are allowed to be boring

Whether you’re writing a press release, a newspaper article, or a novel, it has to keep the reader engaged. The art of storytelling is not easily learned, but is integral for maintaining the reader’s interest. Click here and here to learn about the role of storytelling in grant proposals and nonprofit campaigns.

Never assume that one skill cannot translate to other areas

In a newswriting course, my professor constantly reminded us that we weren’t writing creatively when we wrote news stories. In other words, this wasn’t creative writing; this was journalism. However, my creative storytelling skills added to both my newswriting and professional writing skills, and the succinct style of journalistic writing has aided my creative writing, too. Any skill learned in one area of writing is transferrable to others, and trying to limit certain skills to specific mediums only limits the potential for great writing.

Seeing Red? Tips for Working with Editors

by Amanda Bernhardt

“Why did you change this?!” said a researcher who had just stormed into my office. He was holding an issue brief I recently edited and sent back to him.

“Because it’s jargon. This brief is for laypeople. They’re not going know what ‘substantial gainful activity’ is,” I said.

“But our client—the guy paying our bills—likes that language. Shouldn’t we do what he likes?”

As editorial disagreements go, this one was minor, mostly because we have a corporate rule about it. But writers and editors always seem to but heads over something. And if you’re a writer, eventually you’ll be dealing with this, too.

I can hear you groaning already. Writers don’t love the idea of having their work napalmed by an editor, but editors aren’t the enemy. In fact, their goal is to make you and your writing look great. A good editor sees your work as your readers will see it. She can tell you what to cut, add, and correct to get the attention and response you want.

But what if you disagree with the edits? What if the editor doesn’t catch everything or changes your intended meaning? Here are some tips for minimizing the amount of red ink spilled:

Before the Edit

  1. Revise your work. Just because you’re working with an editor doesn’t mean you can skip your own revision. Get your draft into a good shape before an editor sees it. Have someone else read it, if needed.
  2. Get your facts straight. A good editor will catch things like simple math errors or that Austin (not Dallas) is the capital of Texas. But if your standard deviation is off by 2 points or you cited the wrong source, that may be on you. Find out how much, if any, fact checking your editor does.
  3. Know your style guide. Save yourself and your editor time by learning your style. It’s easier to put in the serial comma yourself than to have your editor do it and have to accept a ton of commas in Track Changes.
  4. Have a pre-edit chat. Tell your editor the purpose of your document, your audience, the style guide you’re using, and your deadline. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the editing process. Chat with your editor in person, if possible, to establish a rapport.

After the Edit

  1. Don’t take it personally. Getting a red-inked document back can make you feel like a fifth-grader getting an F on a paper. Don’t worry, you’re not grounded. Many writers, including great ones, get heavily edited; it’s a normal part of the process. Your editor’s goal is not to punish you but to make you and your writing shine.
  2. Have a post-edit chat. Review the edits and note any you disagree with or have questions about. Go over those with your editor. There’s a lot of give and take in editing, and not every edit is set in stone.
  3. Take another look. If you revise your work post-editing, you may introduce new errors. Feel free to ask for a follow-up edit or a proofread to catch any typos. (Remember to budget time for this.)

Further reading:

Basic Interview Advice for Writers

by India Johnson

After you’ve submitted your writing sample and/or portfolio, it’s time to prepare for the in-person interview. Take a deep breath, relax, and follow these interview tips:

Learn about the company and position. Do research. Learn about upper management (LinkedIn is a great tool). Read about the projects the company has worked on. Carefully read the job description to familiarize yourself with the required responsibilities.

Prepare brief answers to typical interview questions. Your answers should be clear and concise. Typical interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about a recent project.
  • What do you love most about writing?
  • Tell me about your writing process.
  • What do you do in your free time?

Prepare questions for the interviewer. This shows your industry knowledge, and also it reminds them that they are being interviewed as well. You must decide if you want the position if it is offered. Typical questions to ask include:

  • What will a successful year look like for this position?
  • Why is the position open?
  • How do you train new writers?
  • When are you looking to make a hiring decision?

Arrive early. If you are not early than you are late. Don’t make a bad first impression.

Dress Professionally. Here are some tips for what to wear for the job interview.

Take Notes. You may not remember everything that was discussed during the interview. Take brief notes for reminders once you get home.

Send a ‘Thank You’ note. After the interview send an email or mail a note to thank the interviewer for their time.

Must-Do Writing Tips to Establish Yourself as a Professional Writer

The leap from writing your first article to calling yourself a professional writer can seem vast, but there are a number of small steps along the way that add up to a successful career.

  1. Write. A lot.Just like any other skill, writing takes practice. The more you do it, the better and more efficient you will become—which often makes the difference between earning and losing money on a project. Set up a routine for yourself in which you write everyday. Soon, you won’t waste time staring at a blank screen—you’ll be in the habit of sitting down and getting straight to work.
  2. Define your expertise.Often the only way to know what you’re good at is to try it. You can gather experience and figure out what you like by completing assigned projects as part of a graduate program in writing, by volunteering your services, and by self-assigning writing challenges. If you think you might like grant writing, try putting together a grant proposal for a nonprofit organization you’re passionate about. If you want to try technical writing, see if you can pair with a local software developer to create documentation for one of their projects.
  3. Find feedback and support.One of the best and most straightforward ways to find what you need as a budding writer is to enroll in a graduate program, which offers two key things most writers need: deadlines and feedback. You’ll gain discipline and the invaluable benefit of constructive criticism.
  4. Build a community.Gaining a community of other writers and members of your industry can be a game-changer. Try joining a writing group or professional organization, attending author readings and events, enrolling in writing workshops, going to conferences, etc. The people you connect with will become your professional network.
  5. Create a writing portfolio.Nothing says “professional” like a well-crafted writing portfolio. It won’t be the first step in your journey, but it will be a vital part of establishing yourself.
  6. Make your online presence known.It’s not just your writing portfolio that counts, but your blog, LinkedIn profile, social media accounts, etc. Create a consistently professional brand for yourself as a writer and publicize it.
  7. Put yourself out there.Unless you’re extremely lucky, writing work does not fall into your lap. You must actively pursue it. This means, that in addition to writing everyday, you should be answering calls for submissions, entering contests, and pitching your story ideas to editors.
  8. Volunteer selectively.Everyone likes to earn cash, but sometimes offering your services for free can pay dividends, especially if it allows you to gain valuable experience.
  9. Own it.Once you’ve put in the time and gained the confidence, don’t be afraid to take ownership of the empowering phrase: “I’m a professional writer.” And don’t forget to pay the goodwill forward by helping other new writers get into the game.