UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Five Strategies to Keep Writing, Even When You Don’t Want To

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

At the University of Louisville, Spring Break is next week and the Derby festivities are not far behind. The end always seems near in the Spring semester, but at Louisville perhaps it seems always within in reach. After all, university classes are all over by the first week of May to make room for the hats and horses!

For these reasons, and probably others, March is the final push before the end of the semester and final projects. To help you stay motivated, focused, and productive during these weeks, here are five strategies to keep yourself writing and working. Feel free to use them at other times of the year! :-)

  1.  Write 100 words every day. Ashly_Version_3The key to finishing any large writing project is to make a habit out of writing every day—or nearly every day. This habit makes it easier to write because your mind becomes accustomed to the practice and also because it keeps your project fresh in your mind. Some days, obviously, are harder than others, so my personal strategy is to make sure I wrote 100 words every day. This is a small amount that keeps me accountable, keeps my project fresh in my mind, and allows me to feel productive even on days when I’m feeling writers block. Also, often if you can eke out 100 words, more come flowing. But if they don’t, you’ve still met your goal for the day. For a quick reference, the sentences in this strategy make up 145 words, including this sentence.
  2. Tally the number of hours you work, and reward yourself. A good friend of mine who just defended her dissertation uses a strategy of rewards to motivate herself. For every hour that she works, she earns one tally. In the evening or on the weekend, she can trade in tallies for hours of play or relaxation time. If you can hold yourself to it, this kind of reward system is great for making sure you stay on task when you’re supposed to be working. The strategy also helps you schedule time for working and time for relaxing so that you don’t have to feel like you’re working all the time.
  3. Take a break. If you’re really feeling overwhelmed by your project, it may be time to take a break. When we’re struggling with a project, we can get caught up in thinking about the struggle or the impending deadline and lose our ability to actually do productive writing or work. That’s the point at which walking away, for a little while, can actually be helpful. “A little while” might be 15 minutes, an hour, or even a day. You don’t want to take too long of a break, or else going back to the project will seem daunting. Before you take your break, try writing down questions you’re having, what you need to write about next, or other goals you have for the project.
  4. Write on a different “surface.” Dan McCormick wrote a couple weeks ago about how different tools or “surfaces” help us think about our projects differently and can lead to break-throughs. If you’re feeling worn out on a project, try writing about it on paper or in a different program. You might even try writing in a different location. The key here is to change things up a little to open the possibility for new thinking and new ideas.
  5. Talk instead of write. Especially if you’re feeling stuck on a project, it might be a good idea to talk about it instead of writing about it. You could, of course, come in to the writing center. Even I have met with another consultant to just talk about what I wanted to write about—that way I could hear it out loud and another person could help me figure out if it made sense. The consultant wrote down things I was saying, what I seemed excited about, what was interesting to her. After the appointment, I had some notes to move forward with. Another option is to use voice recording software. Word has a talk-to-text function (though it needs a little training), Dragon is a great talk-to-text program, and then there’s always just basic sound recording software on your phone or computer.

So, even though the allure of warmer temperatures, Derby, and other summer events are just around the corner—don’t give up on your projects! Try any or of all these strategies to find out what will keep you writing and working. And, remember, the Writing Center is a great resource for all stages of the writing process.

“Writing in the World”: A Student Art Exhibition in the University Writing Center

When you walk into our Writing Center, the first thing you will likely notice is UofL student art lining the hallway leading to our consulting area.  Along with the talented student artists who have created this work, we have Art Professor Gabrielle Mayer to thank for this display as she has provided us with this wonderful art for the last two years.

The people who visit and work in the Writing Center love to stop, look, and discuss the art.  Due to the success of our collaboration, Professor Mayer and the Writing Center have come up with a new collaboration.

On March 26th, from 10 AM to 5 PM, the University Writing Center will host a student art exhibition at its Ekstrom location.  The theme for the event is “Writing in the World.”  Any UofL student can submit a 2D, 3D, or video art project that addresses this theme.  This exhibition will be held while another event is going on in Ekstrom: The Symposium of Student Writing.

Since 2009, the Composition Program has put on this event, which is aimed at showcasing the writing projects students are composing in composition classes.  We hope that all UofL community members come by to support both events.

For students interested in submitting art to the exhibition here are the full details:

 Writing in the World:

A Student Exhibition Opportunity in Celebration of Writing

At the University Writing Center we work with all kinds of writing. Students bring their course assignments to us, but also bring their stories, job letters, and other writing that they engage in when they are off campus. We want to celebrate the diversity of writing in the lives of University of Louisville students through the theme of “Writing in the World”

 Criteria

All artwork must be original, created by University of Louisville students, and in some manner be inspired by writing in the world.

“Signs guide us through the day, graffiti challenges our views of a city, and notes from friends soothe our pain or make us smile.  We are constantly putting words together to reach out to each other. We text, we tweet, we write research papers and poems. Whatever media we use, writing and reading connect our ideas, dreams, and passions to people in the world around us.”

Two-dimensional artwork must not exceed 26 inches in either dimension.  Works on paper must be framed and all 2D work must have wire on the back for hanging (no sawtooth hangers please).

Three-dimensional artwork must not exceed 30 pounds or 24 inches in any direction.

Video entries (DVD) are accepted but must be delivered (no email entries) to the University Writing Center with submission information -include student name, email address, phone #, artwork title(s), (specify #1 or #2)& length of video- by entry deadline. Please deliver in envelop labeled “Writing in the World Entry.”

 Submissions (2D and 3D)

You may submit up to two artworks per student by emailing your submission to g.mayer@louisville.edu.

Submissions must have “Writing in the World entry” in subject line and include student name, email address, phone #, artwork title(s) (specify #1 or #2), medium, and dimensions, in body of email.  Attach artwork file(s) to email.  Artwork file(s) must be jpeg and have artist name and image number in file name.  File size should be no larger than 800 pixels in either direction.   File name example: BobSmith1.jpg

Exhibition Schedule

Entry deadline: 5pm, Monday, March 17

Notification of selected work: Thursday, March 20

Delivery of artwork: Monday, March 24, 9am – 5pm

Opening: Wednesday, March 26,10-5pm with reception from 12 to 2pm

Artwork pick-up: 9am-5pm, Thur, May 1

How I Write: Mike Rutherford — Sports Writer

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

This week we hear from founder and author of CardChronicle.com, Mike Rutherford, who introduces himself as follows:

My name is Mike Rutherfordrutherford_trophy and I think the first season of Laguna Beach is as good as television is ever going to get. More? All right, then.

I’m 29-years-old, I graduated from Trinity High School and Bellarmine University here in Louisville, and I also attended Brandeis Law School for a short period before accepting my current job. What could have possibly pulled me away from a life of writing that completely prohibits any hinting at the F word? Well, I am the college basketball editor for SBNation.com, which is very F bomb friendly, and am in the middle of my third season with that gig.

I’m also the founder and author of CardChronicle.com, a Louisville sports blog (although we’re not supposed to use that word anymore) that I started all the way back in 2007. Additionally, I co-host a weekly radio show on ESPN 680 and do a variety of other (legal) Internet things.

How I Write: Mike Rutherford

Location: Louisville, Ky

Current project: CardChronicle.com/General college basketball coverage insanity

Currently reading: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

  1.  What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

    I’m probably best known for writing blog posts – which I suppose is sort of an all-encompassing title for a number of different types of writing – for my website, CardChronicle.com. Most of the work requirements for my full-time gig revolve around editing, assigning and laying out, but I do write weekly features and occasionally standard news stories. I also write a weekly column for The Voice-Tribune here in town, and do freelance work for various online publications across the country.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    The where is the easiest to answer, because it’s almost always from home, which I really like. If you’re reading something written by me before, say, 1 p.m. on a weekday, there’s a pretty strong chance that I wrote it topless and in pajama pants. Go ahead and store that image.

    As far as the when is concerned, the biggest drawback of always needing to know if something important is happening in the world of Louisville sports or general college basketball is that it prevents you from being able to dedicate yourself to more exhaustive pieces during the day. This being the case, it’s extremely rare that I write a feature anytime other than really late. Like really, really late. Like, I can tell you the last five anchors of “Up to the Minute,” the CBS news show that airs before the first morning local news (I’ll love you forever, Melissa McDermott).

    There are few things I’ve written over the past five years or so that I’m really proud of which weren’t formed at least partially between midnight and 7 a.m. If I’m being distracted by emails or if I’m worried that something is going to break on Twitter, then I’d just as soon not even attempt to pen something contemplative or overly insightful, because I know I’m going to look back and be disappointed. Plus, I think it’s been scientifically proven that your brain is at its creative peak when you’re the most tired. I can’t remember where I read that, so you’re just going to have to pretend I’m someone reputable and roll with it.

    How do I write? I’d say with reckless abandon and a complete disregard for any sense of dignity. No, but seriously, I do it with words.

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    Music is out if I’m doing anything where I actually have to think, but I do like having it on for busy work. When I’m up really late, I like to have the television on but muted. I also like to try and find a live program, because otherwise I feel a little disconnected and depressed. It sounds weird, but it legitimately helps me when I have a visual reminder that there are other people in the world awake and accomplishing things while I’m working…I just don’t want to actually interact with them during the process.

    I don’t necessarily need to roam the house or a room, but I like working with the peace of mind that I can if I need to. If I’m in my room and there are people downstairs, or if I know my fiancé (see, you’re thinking this is all really weird, but it’s just normal enough that an incredibly beautiful woman agreed to put up with it for the rest of her life) might ask me for something, I’m totally unable to dive to deeply into anything.

    If it’s daytime work and I haven’t had coffee yet, then I need coffee. I try to save that until after the busy work of the morning and my 10 a.m. editorial call is over. Eating is always a special surprise.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    Whenever you’re in the brainstorming stages of any piece of writing, there’s always one idea or one line that pops into your head and makes you think, “that’s really good.” Start there. Start with what you know is good, and then work backwards once you have a better sense of what your story is or what you’re trying to say.

    As for revisions, I think what works is different for everyone, but for me comfort is a huge factor. I can respect the hell out of a person and still not trust them (or myself) in a situation where I’m asking for their help. I’m extremely stubborn, but I’m also really passive in situations where I think my time might be wasted. So when I’m working with someone who I respect, but who I’m not really comfortable with, I’ll invariably spend the entire time pretending like I’m listening and wondering if they’re buying it. I have to work with someone who I know I can joke with, and who I know I can get into an argument with and not have it be a big deal.

    Also, if it’s a long-term project, make sure to take some time between finishing your first draft and beginning your first revision. I know that’s pretty standard advice, but I’ve ignored it multiple times and ended up digging myself into a huge hole that could have been easily avoided.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

    Keep reading things outside of your genre. From November-March, it’s really hard for me to find time to read things outside of game recaps and player profiles, and I think my writing really suffers as a result. I’ve forced myself to avoid that trend as much as possible this year, and I think it’s had a positive effect. Spending time with writing that’s so dissimilar to the type you immerse yourself in for most of the day helps you access an area that would otherwise stay neglected. It’s been a huge help for me in keeping things fresh and distinctive.

The Benefits of Writing across Different Surfaces

Dan McCormick, Consultant

Some writing happens all at once and on only one “surface”—a text, a to-do list, an email, or a short-answer response on a biology test. You have an idea, you write, and then you’re done. But lots of writing happens on more than one surface. A reporter might take notes on a pad during an event, and then refer to those notes as she types her article at a computer that afternoon. A magazine writer might type notes as he researches, write an outline of ideas in a notebook, and refer to both as he writes his feature. A novelist might jot down ideas in a moleskin notebook (or on cocktail napkins), type out character sketches and plot summaries on the computer, and write notes to herself in the margins of printed drafts.

Writers sometimes think that a piece of writing is supposed be only one piece—one document, one computer file—but’s that’s not the case. There’s no rule that says writing has to happen in isolation from other writing. After all, most student writing is in direct response to a specific piece of writing: the assignment prompt. Why not take advantage of the same variety of surfaces that professional writers use?

DSCN1636For myself, I find it helpful to have different writing in different places, on different surfaces—all for one piece of writing. I typically write down ideas in a notebook, write little margin notes in books and articles as I research, type notes and outlines in a Notepad file, and (as I refer to all of these) type my “paper” in a Word file. What’s helpful about all this different writing is having different empty surfaces where I can focus on different aspects of my writing—the ideas, the organization, the research. I can then guide my attention while I write by putting different surfaces in front of me. As I write this post, I’m switching back and forth between a Word file, where I type the post itself, and a Notepad file, where I’ve typed out an outline of ideas and examples.

I’m fascinated by the way these different surfaces do different things for my writing. Paper gives me a certain feeling of freedom (the “empty page”) and of permanence. Digital media give me the ability to re-arrange my thoughts and, of course, to copy and paste from my typed notes. And scribbles in the margins of books and articles—marginalia—let me compose mini-thoughts as I read or review, putting ideas in my own words while giving me quick access to where in the text those ideas came from.

It’s natural to think of these other surfaces as “process” and the final document itself as “product”—but I don’t think that’s necessary. Certainly these different individual surfaces can build up into one—but I don’t think the process is totally separate from the product. Writing notes on a pad, or in the margins of a book, requires thought and volition, just as writing a “full piece” does. And ideas change between these different surfaces, not only because time passes but also because each surface supports a slightly different way of expressing those ideas. So the final document that is turned in for an assignment or for a scholarship application or for publication is, in a sense, one more iteration of ideas and language that has developed out of other ideas and language. You might say that process turns into product only when you decide it does.

How I Write: James Ramsey — University President

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

This week we are pleased to featureramsey-portrait James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. Before assuming UofL’s top post, he served as senior policy adviser and state budget director for Kentucky and senior professor of economics and public policy at UofL. He has served as vice chancellor for finance and administration at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Western Kentucky University. He has been associate dean, assistant dean and director of public administration in the College of Business Administration at Loyola University and research associate for the University of Kentucky’s Center for Public Affairs. Dr. Ramsey is a tenured professor of economics.

A frequent national speaker and writer on economic issues in the public sector, Ramsey has  received a number of honors and awards including the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award in 2012, Greater Louisville Inc.’s Silver Fleur-De-Lis Award in 2011, Louisville Advertising Federation’s Louisvillian of the Year Award in 2010, Western Kentucky University Distinguish Alumni Hall of Fame in 2010, Louisville Defender Outstanding Community Service Award in 2010, Business First Business Leader of the Year in 2007, University of Kentucky College of Business and Economics Alumni Hall of Fame in 2004, the Governor’s Association’s Outstanding Public Service Award in 2001, Kentucky’s Distinguished Economist of the Year in 1999 and the Fern Creek High School Hall of Fame in 1998.

How I Write: James Ramsey

  1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?


    At this point in my professional career, most of my writing is of a professional nature:
    a. Communications to various members of the university family including Board of Trustees, Board of Overseers, University of Louisville Foundation, Alumni,  etc.;
     Legislators and public policy makers; Donors;

    b. Policy papers;

    c. I still try to do a bi-monthly newsletter to several different groups, both university and non-university, on the state economy and the state’s economic outlook. 

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I need silence to write.  While I can close the door to my office, there are always interruptions, either in person or telephone.  Also, there is the constant allure of checking the latest e-mails, etc. I do most of my writing in the car.  At an earlier point in my life, my family and I lived 2-1/2 hours from my place of work.  While I would generally leave home early on a Monday morning, I would try to come back one or two nights during the week for our kids’ school events and then home on the weekend.  The point is, I had a lot of time in the car and I became accustomed to dictating all kinds of communications from responses to e-mails, letters, and in some cases professional economics papers.  I continue that practice.  My home is 20 or so miles from the office so I can often dictate 15 or 20 minutes coming in to work – I’m actually dictating my answers to these questions now as I am on a trip out of town and will be in the car for 3 hours.

    My best time to write is early in the morning – fresh, brain working (late afternoon/evening – brain dead).

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    When I am writing and not dictating I need a yellow pad and a number of pencils with erasers.  I rarely type other than short cryptic answers – not very proficient at typing.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    It depends to some degree on the type of communication but generally I will first think through key messages to convey or points I want to make.  I jot those down and identify data sources or research needed to support the points to make.  I generally have an outline, very topical but from beginning to end and I try to work through it to ensure that my writing has a logical consistency and flow.  Depending on the type of communication I frequently go through multiple revisions; I struggle over almost every word and go back and forth.   In fact, at some point I generally have to say enough is enough or, more realistically, I reach a deadline and the 18th draft, for example, becomes the final version.  I like to have others read my writing that will be presented or communicated to larger groups for a) typos, spelling, grammar; and b) logical consistency.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received:

    a.       Try not to use any words that are not needed;
    b.      Have others proofread;
    c.       Develop an outline with themes that you are trying to communicate.

Finally, I would love to write a book sometime – not about my profession of economics or higher education administration (I’ve done special chapters for books, etc.) but rather a book that deals with real world experiences.  On two different occasions I have started dictating ideas – one was based on a dog we had for 15 years, telling our family story from her perspective.  The last several years of the dog’s life she was deaf so I thought I’d call it, “I Saw It All … And Heard Some Of It.”  There wasn’t anything particularly amazing that happened in our lives and that’s why I probably never pursued the project – rather the dog would relate family experiences, especially difficult situations like death, tragedy, etc. but from the dog’s perspective.  At one time I thought I would have someone transcribe all this to see how bad it was but …

Learning to Break Rules

Rick Wysocki, Consultant

Recently, I was working with a client in the Writing Center who asked:

“Why does this have so many rules? I wish I could just write the way I wanted to.”

The student was talking about a specific genre of professional writing that had strict guidelines regarding language use and formatting. He was frustrated—he thought the conventions were over the top, and he didn’t enjoy writing that way.

Since then, IDSCN1627’ve been thinking about the rhetorical choices we make in our academic and professional lives—about the “rules” that we technically have the choice to accept or deny but which have strong institutional pressure behind them. During my session with that student, I said something along the lines of, “Well, yes, there are a lot of rules, but your audience expects you to follow them.” I’d like to expand that response, and talk a bit about how we interact with these conventions masquerading as rules.

First, it’s true that some conventions do have an incredible amount of institutional backing. If you turn in a paper to your biology instructor containing so-called “colloquial” language referring to “little molecular dudes,” you might get points taken off your essay (I’m never letting that go Mrs. Hull). On the other hand, if you write a literacy narrative for your composition course completely avoiding first person, your teacher hopefully wouldn’t lower your grade, but might ask you to rewrite it in a more personal voice. Keep in mind that these conventions don’t always come from outside—I, for example, neurotically add a references page to every document I write that cites sources, regardless of whether it’s required or asked for.

That said, the guy in my head who still loves punk music, even though he’s now a fully functioning cog in the academic, cite-your-sources-or-else machine, is still annoyed by your rules, man. Both he, and the client mentioned above, are completely justified in feeling this way. We’re told constantly that writing is about expression, and with all these conventions writing can sometimes seem like somewhat of a bummer. I’d like to offer a little advice I find helpful in dealing with these situations.

  1. Know the rules. Seriously, get to know what’s expected of you in the writing contexts you’re engaged in. If you’re in your biology class there’s no shame in asking the teacher about the genre of science writing, checking the library for sources on the topic, or coming into the Writing Center for help. Even though conventions can be frustrating, you still need to learn them—especially if you’re planning on breaking them. Which leads me to—
  2. Don’t break conventions for no reason. If you’re annoyed about having to go to the trouble of doing APA format and, in response, just do the whole paper in MLA, that a) doesn’t make any sense and b) deprives you of learning a new skill.
  3. If you want to break rules, know why. When you’re consciously going against the conventions (that you learned in step 1), of your writing context, imagine explaining to your instructor why you did so. Better yet, go talk to your instructor about the assignment. Making your case early on let’s you at least find out what the consequences might be of, say, writing in third person instead of first. Keep in mind that your instructor may disagree with you—in that case, you have to weigh whether or not third person is worth having to rewrite your paper or getting a reduced grade.

What I’m trying to stress is the importance of breaking rules consciously, and with the appropriate information about the rules themselves. Put simply, it’s only cool to break the rules if you know you’re doing it. So learn those generic conventions. If you need help, the Writing Center’s here for you.

How I Write: Siobhan E. Smith — Media Scholar

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Dr. Siobhan E. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Louisville. Her research interests involve minority matters in the media, and her single-authored projects explore portrayals of race and gender in reality television. She teaches Introduction to Mass Communication, African Americans in the Media, Television Criticism, and Reality TV. She is a proud graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, Louisiana State University, and the University of Missouri. Siobhan enjoys watching trashy reality TV and reading.

How I Write: Siobhan E. Smithsmith

Location: Now? At my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Collierville, Tennessee.  For my writing? Usually, on my couch, with trashy talk/reality/court TV on in the background. I have found Snapped marathons on Oxygen and Law and Order: SVU marathons on USA to be very stimulating background fodder.

Current project: Here’s just a few (!): I am very blessed to collaborate with several of my colleagues on very intriguing research. I am still working with my friends in Communication, Pan African Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology on our NIH-funded project, which explores healthy food habits in Louisville and Hopkinsville. I’m also revising a manuscript with my mentee that is an analysis of MTV’s The Shop, revising another with two awesome colleagues from Social Work and Sociology that explores Black men’s use of popular culture to make sense of their romantic relationships, and putting the finishing touches on yet another with my Communication colleagues which will hopefully go out before school starts. In my head, I’m kicking around some individual projects, but they are in their beginning stages and I’m too shy to share those just yet. ;)

Currently reading: Club Monstrosity by Jesse Petersen. It’s a funny and quirky read about modern day monsters (e.g., The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster) who have a support group, and then they start being murdered. Whodunnit?!

  1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

    As you can see from above, usually collaborative research projects. I will do my homework when I work with my friends because I don’t want to let them down. UofL is an AWESOME place for building relationships and friendships. I’m working on being as diligent for myself.

  2. When/where/how do you write*?

    I try to write a little bit every day. But I’ve gotten away from the idea of filling up a blank space with words every single day. Although, if you want to publish, that is a necessity sooner than later. I count meetings, discussions, etc. as time toward my writing. Anything that helps me get closer to that pub counts. Revising a manuscript, looking for literature, etc. When I answered “Location” above, I mentioned my love of my TV and my couch. While not good for my neck or my back, I’m too lazy to drive 20 minutes to campus to work in my office, and apparently too lazy to clean up the “office” in my apartment.

    On a good day, if I don’t have any distractions (the TV doesn’t count b/c it’s my friend), I can literally write for hours (eight or more), from early afternoon to early in the morning. I’ve read that this “binge” writing isn’t good, but I feel a supreme sense of satisfaction when I can see what I have accomplished – whether it’s several new pages of manuscript, many freshly read articles, etc. I admit to being frustrated when I get hungry or need a bathroom break, b/c I get into a groove and don’t want to stop until I get to a good stopping place.

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    My TV, my laptop, articles annotated and ready to go, and excitement for where a project might take me!!! Sometimes, if I get frustrated w/ a particular section or idea, I’ll write it out and then type it up.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    As one of my professors at Mizzou told me about getting started: Just start! Write a paragraph of the intro, do an outline, start reading the literature. Do it! Then you just have to finish it.

    For revision: Work on one section at a time and give yourself rewards before you go to the next. You can cat-nap, check your e-mail, call your friends, etc. Don’t get beside yourself w/ those rewards, however. Time them (15 minutes is probably enough).

    Give your manuscript to someone you trust. I have a few people I can do this with. It’s great to have another pair of eyes help you see things you couldn’t and help you think through things that were driving you insane.In general, set reasonable goals.

    And remember, whatever you’re doing ALWAYS takes longer than what you originally planned.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

    HA- I think ALL of these things I’ve mentioned came from someone else. For those needing to publish research, Belcher’s book (Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks) is a dream. But I would say, figure out what works best for YOU, and do that. If you like to work in a coffee shop every day, great. If you have to work quietly in a locked room, fine. Do you! Schedule time for your writing, and be good to yourself when you accomplish your goals.

    Best of luck to you in your writing endeavors! Don’t forget the little people when you strike writing gold…

From Talk to Text: Why Conferencing Helps Your Writing

Daniel Ernst, Consultant

If someone were to ask me what I do, DSCN1632I’m not really sure what I would say. I could provide nominal answers—I “help students with their writing,” or I “tutor”—but these fail to capture my full experience at the Writing Center. As I think back on all the conferences I’ve had with students, it’s hard to pin down with any precision one thing I can point to and say “that! That’s what I do.” And that’s just how writing is; it’s idiosyncratic, personal, complex, weird, and procedural, and our job as consultants is to meet with students at any stage of this weird process of any type of writing. So this imprecision is expected (and even welcomed).

But, there is at least one thing that happens at every conference: we talk. Now, let’s wax philosophical about this fact. It seems obvious and like sort of a letdown, right? “Of course you talk; it’s a conference.” However, I am increasingly convinced that this action of “talking about assignments” cannot be emphasized enough. And as I think back on my conferences, it becomes clear that meeting one-on-one with students to “talk” about assignments it not simply one of many components of consulting on writing; rather, the one-on-one talk is the realm in which all the other components of writing instruction take place. Conversation is the medium, the form, through which any kind of instruction or advice or conference works. So what? What does all this mean? To make it more concrete, here are three reasons why I think talking about your writing is hugely beneficial:

  1. It will clean your intellectual house. Assignments are hard. Not only are they designed to prompt a synthesis of your knowledge on a subject, but also they sometimes contain confusing vocabulary. For instance, what does it mean to analyze, compare and contrast, or construct an argumentative, thesis-driven analysis? After all, these things don’t always mean the same thing to everyone. One of the best things to do when facing a complex writing prompt is to spitball, to just talk and think out loud, and it’s especially helpful when you do it with someone else. An audience, even one consisting of a single writing consultant, can provide valuable feedback or counter points to help hone your ideas. You can talk out those minor issues like “what does a reflective paper do?” and move onto seriously crafting your ideas.
  2. You’ll use language in new ways. It’s easy to forget that writing is just one type of language use—we also talk and think using language. Each medium—speech, writing, and thought—uses language in special, conventionalized ways. But I would argue that, of the three, writing depends the most on the other two. Obviously, we must engage in critical and intense thought when writing, but we should also talk about these thoughts both before and during the writing process. Have you ever tried to explain something orally that you have written? Undoubtedly you changed the language in some way, and that’s because the two media operate differently within language. Encountering multiple language mechanisms is instructive; it will allow you to see your topic from new perspectives and challenge you to write more clearly and effectively.
  3. Your ideas get a test run. I don’t know about you, but my ideas always sound a lot better in my head than when I voice them or write them down. Talking through your ideas with a consultant gives you the chance for a dry run with an audience. The sharing of ideas is my favorite part
    of the job, but it also reflects important and foundational academic principles. Sharing, debating, and challenging ideas and knowledge is truly what education is about. Talking through your ideas with someone will automatically make you not only a stronger writer but also a stronger thinker.

So, for your next assignment, come to the Writing Center and let’s talk.

5 Tips for Productivity: The Secret to Success

Arielle Ulrich, Consultant

DSCN1639Now that we’re nearly a month into the semester, you’re hopefully starting to get the hang of your classes. You’ve gone to a few classes, you’ve turned in some assignments, and you’ve probably just taken your first exam or written your first paper. This is the point in the semester where I typically lose steam because, after all, the end of the semester seems so far away. It’s not until later in the semester, when I’m struggling to write three papers at the same time, that I realize how much time I wasted at the beginning of the semester and wish I could go back in time and slap myself.

However, instead of starting to work on that time machine, I recommend something a little more practical (and doable): invest some thought into raising your productivity level. As a graduate student, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of utilizing your time in an efficient way. If you’re struggling to get all your school work done, it’s not enough to simply work harder, you also need to work smarter. Hence, I’ve put together some tips that should get you started and hopefully serve you well throughout the semester as you plan for success.

  1. Be honest with how you’re spending your time. Take a few days to track how you spend every hour of the day. By finding these gaps in your day and filling them instead with productive activities, you’ll get more done in the day without changing anything else in your schedule. I recommend using this sheet to track your time throughout the day:  http://getbuttonedup.com/tools2/free_printable_time_management_sheet_template.pdf
  2. To-do lists are a must. However, sometimes to-do lists can be easy to ignore if you add too many tasks onto it. I recommend a to-do list that separates your tasks into quadrants based on importance or necessity. Throughout the day, you work through the quadrants, starting with tasks that are urgent and important, and eventually move down to tasks that are neither. Using this method, you are sure to complete the most important tasks of your day without wasting time on busywork.tumblr_mz6f66jtzF1qdjs4ao1_500
  3. Use a scheduling tool like Google Calendar to remind yourself of exams, due dates, and meetings. By adding these events to your phone immediately, you’ll be able to schedule reminders so that you’re sure to remember the important deadlines for the semester.
  4. Don’t forget to take breaks! I often try to work for 30-60 minutes at a time, and then I take a 10 minute break to let the information settle in. Breaks not only give your brain a chance to rest, but they also increase productivity by ensuring that you don’t overwork yourself. If you don’t have a timer, you can use software to remind yourself to take breaks. Try a website like http://www.pomodoro.me/ that can give you desktop notifications.
  5. Lastly, seek help when necessary. If doing your homework takes hours and you’re still failing, seek out a tutor who will be able to give you study tips. REACH offers a range of tutoring opportunities as well as workshops on other college survival techniques. If you never seem to be able to start a paper, schedule a Writing Center appointment for brainstorming tips or to go over a draft. Never forget to ask other people how they stay productive!

I hope you find these tips helpful as you go into the rest of the semester. Happy writing!

How I Write: Greg Wrenn — Poet

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Greg Wrenn, photo by Pak Han

Greg Wrenn, photo by Pak Han

This week we feature poet Greg Wrenn. His first book of poems, Centaur, was awarded the 2013 Brittingham Prize and was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in Spring 2013.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, The American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.  A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a recipient of the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, he was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and received a BA from Harvard University and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis.

How I Write: Greg Wrenn

Location: Oakland, California

Current project: An untitled essay on artistic vision

Currently reading: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life and the Book of Revelation

  1.  What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

    I’ve been writing poetry for over twenty years, and my first book of poems, Centaur, came out in early 2013.  But now I’m hungering to be more direct in my writing, to make arguments and bold statements that feel unsuited to the genre of poetry as I understand it.  And to be much more autobiographical.  I suppose, too, that writing an essay on artistic vision is a way for me to step back from my usual lineated lyrics and ask myself why I write at all.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I write in a white leather chair that resembles Captain Picard’s on the Enterprise.  I face a large statue of the Buddha in the corner; a wooden windowsill lined with plantswrenn_writing studio and a ceramic snail, which reminds me to slow down; and a framed poster from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo of Hercules using his brute strength to create the Panama Canal, reminding me to exert effort.  I usually write in the late morning to the late afternoon, though I have been known to compose poems in my head while tipsy at a bar.

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    I almost always begin by handwriting the draft with a mechanical pencil – I like that I can erase what I write, sharpening isn’t necessary, and the graphite marks are so thin and controllable.  I write on a piece of blank computer paper placed on a large art book.  I usually need to write in silence, at home.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    To get started, write with your non-dominant hand.  Have it dialogue with your dominant hand.
    Revise in the bathtub.  It works.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

    freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
    remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
    the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.
    —Adrienne Rich, from “For Memory”

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