UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

No Dissertation without Self-Care & Self-Advocacy

Brittany Kelley, Consultant

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertating: finalizing the prospectus;Kelley_WC Pic building the lit. review chapter and gathering data; and narrowing a mountainous amount of data into a book-length project. Yet, we were all facing similar challenges, similar internal questions:

  • How can/do I possibly make it through a project so big?!
  • How can I set good writing routines? What does that even mean?!
  • I’ve got all these things I love right in front of me, how do I choose which ones to write about?!
  • What about my committee?

We also all shared some similar challenges in our writing: writer’s block; organization issues; typos; identifying just the right amount of content. You know, all those things you can expect.

But, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. Writing is a way we figure things out. It’s a way that we communicate our needs and ideas with others. And it can be exciting as much as terrifying. It can be emotionally draining (and, I find, it often is). The dissertation process can be even more so, because it seems like it’s a proving ground, rather than a starting point. So, it’s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

And, of course, advocate for yourself.

  • If you need some strict deadlines, then set those up with your committee chair.
  • Remember that your committee is there to guide you, but that the project is yours. In other words, work with your committee to help you meet your goals for your project.
  • Make frequent meetings with committee members. Sometimes talking it out first is what you really need.
  • Consider forming a writing group with peers. Low-stakes writing communities can really help you stay motivated and confident.

The dissertation can take a lot out of you. And, as my dissertating compatriots and I discovered last week, it’s important to take the time to recharge, to care for yourself, and to advocate for yourself as you research and write.

So, happy writing! And remember to take care.

The Week-Long Dissertation Writing Retreat: Notes from the Consultants

We just finished our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University Writing Center. During the week of May 19-23, 14 writers from nine different disciplines took part, meeting every day to write and talk about writing. While some writers were in the early stages of their project and others were close to finishing, they were all provided with time to write and feedback on their writing. Each day the participants had several hours set aside for writing and then time for a one-hour consultation about their writing with a member of the Writing Center staff. In addition there were daily writing workshops on topics such as organizing a large writing project, writing a literature review, and working with committee comments.

Writing Time

Writing Time

The consultants who work during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are experienced writing teachers who are also PhD students currently working on their dissertations. Here are some of their thoughts about the work that took place during the week.

On developing writing strategies, aside from just making time to write:

While the dedicated writing time is often the benefit participants say is most helpful, another important benefit that I think often goes unnoticed until after the retreat is the development of writing strategies. Aside from developing dedicated writing time, it is important to have a plan, and more often multiple plans, for approaching writing and approaching the different tasks of a dissertation. The writing consultants work with retreat participants to practice and develop different techniques and strategies and for thinking about others that might work. For example, this year I worked with one participant on creating outlines both before and after writing. Starting with an outline can help you identifying which pieces fit into a chapter, but sometimes when we’re writing we get stuck thinking about what fits or not and end up not writing anything. In that case, it’s a good idea to just write what you have and then see what needs to stay, what needs developed more, and what belongs in another chapter or maybe even a different publication. So, while the retreat’s immediate reward may be time and more words produced, we hope–or I hope, at least–that the more beneficial reward is the writing strategies that can be applied to the dissertation and future writing projects.  ~Ashly Bender

On remembering to take care of yourself while dissertation:

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertation, but, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

~Brittany Kelley

On how academics really manage to complete projects:

During a late morning workshop on Thursday, I talked with participants about ways to maintain the habit of writing after the retreat. What they said reminded me of several important principles around completing academic writing projects. Many of the participants appreciated how the DWR structured a set time and place for writing. Committing to this routine meant that writing would not be an irregular event, but rather a habit. Participants also mentioned how they appreciated the group dynamic of the retreat as a form of accountability. Surrounded by other academic writers who were similarly working toward a set of goals provided motivation to continue – and at least one small group in the retreat committed to maintaining regular writing together in the weeks to come. And finally, several participants noted the value of talking to others about their writing. In reference to the daily afternoon meetings with writing consultants, the participants said that talking one-to-one about their projects became an important strategy for addressing challenges and setting goals. This rewarding discussion reminded me that completing academic projects has much less to do with how “smart” we are as academics, and much more with committing to working on a regular basis, developing and using strategies when we get stuck, and making sure to build in time for regular discussions with others about our work.

~Jessica Winck

Consultants and Participants Talking about Writing

Jessica discussing writing with one of the retreat’s participants

On project planning and the early stages of dissertation work:

I worked with two math education dissertation writers. Both were working on their proposals, which are due in August. I liked working with them at this stage as they are still making their way through the literature and methodologies. This was different than past retreats which participation stipulated a defended proposal. I liked this earlier stage in the process because I could help talk them through the lit review as well as scheduling out short and long term goals. The proposal stage is all about getting your bearings and this is what they needed help with most. As someone who is in the same boat as them, the beginning stages of writing this document, I learned a lot just from talking with them about their writing fears and challenges. And I think that talking helped them get writing.

~Jennifer Marciniak

On writing in a collaborative atmosphere:

This past week at the Dissertation Writing Retreat has taught me a surprising amount about the collaborative side of dissertation writing—a concept which I think contradicts what many of us think about writing, and especially in this rather peculiar genre. As a consultant, I began the week with few assumptions about the work ahead of me, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself paired with two students who had remarkably clear ideas about what their projects entailed, and what thoughts would need to go into the writing to get their arguments across. These students, it seemed to me, didn’t need a lot of coaching to get the work written, or even a lot of effort to make their writing read easily. Both brought that to the table on the first day. What they did need was just someone to receive those ideas as an uninitiated reader (uninitiated, at least, to their specific fields and projects), who could then bounce back the most salient ideas to them. I’m fond of automobile analogies, and to me this process felt very much like taking these projects for a “test drive” every day—I would take up whatever new ideas they had presented for the day, do a spin around the block in them, and then report back to their authors what was working and what might need more tweaking.

As a student currently working on my own dissertation, this test drive process was both enjoyable and informative. I was always happy to take a break from my own project for a few hours; to get out of my car and try a new one for a bit. I also learned quite a bit from seeing the process play out in someone else’s shoes. When,–after a day that saw a lot of suggestions on re-organization of points with both of my clients–I met with my own director and was given the same feedback, I realized pretty quickly how necessary it is to have a “test driver” on your team, who can exist outside of your project until you bring them in for specific testing.

"Test-driving" the dissertation with colleagues and consultants

“Test-driving” the dissertation with colleagues and consultants

We often think of writing as a solitary practice, and I feel like the drafting of a thesis or dissertation often feels even more so. But this week has made it abundantly clear to me that we all need a team to help us out from time to time; that we are, in fact, engineers who are designing a kind of textual machine that needs to work on the road, or in the field. I was happy to serve on two such teams this past week, and going forward with my own project, I feel more certainty about how to use my own.

~Benjamin Bogart

On the joys of the retreat:

One of the best things I saw this year at the Retreat was how much the graduate students enjoy interacting with each other.  I loved to see them share their advice about how they handled certain steps in the writing process, from organizing all of their research to how to structure certain chapters.  We do a lot as consultants, but I think a lot of the benefits of the Retreat for graduate students is how much they can learn from each other’s experiences as well.

~Meghan Hancock

A Year of Success in the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams

Director, University Writing Center

In the rush to meet deadlines, turn in papers, finish grading, and all the other actions that mark the end of an academic year, we can become so focused on navigating what’s ahead of us that we lose sight of the journey we’ve completed. I always think it’s useful to look back and reflect (no surprise to those who know me). As with every year, the central mission of the Writing Center has been to work with members of the university community to help them become stronger writers. The consultants in the Writing Center have worked with thousands of students, faculty, DSCN1756and staff on everything from dissertations to lab reports to job letters to novels, and have done an amazing job from the first day of fall semester to the last day of this term. In addition to this ongoing teaching of writing, however, this year in particular has been an eventful year at the University Writing Center. It’s worth taking a moment to point to some of the accomplishments, and to talk about what they are going to allow us to do in the future.

Some of what has taken place has been new:

Writing Center Website: In February our new website went online. Not only is it easier to navigate, but we have new material online to help writers. For example, we have links to answer questions about Common Writing Situations faced by both undergraduate and graduate students. We also have up-to-date handouts on everything from strategies for revision, to writing better introductions and conclusions, to issues of grammar and style. We will be continuing to build the website in the common year to add more resources for students and to create resources for faculty writers and about the teaching of writing.

Virtual Dissertation Writing Retreat: We held our first online Dissertation Writing Retreat for distance students in January and plan to have similar events in the coming year.

Writing in the World Art Show: We held our first, juried art show focused on ideas and images about writing. Titled “Writing in the World,” and organized by Gabrielle Mayer in Fine Arts, the show opened as part of the Symposium of Student Writing in March.

“How I Write” Blog Series: Writers as varied as University President James Ramsey, sports blogger Mike Rutherford, professor and Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the School of Medicine Tom Geoghegan, and novelist Brian Leung contributed to our new blog series on “How I Write.” Each writer offered insights into writing processes and tricks and approaches to writing. The series, the brainchild of Assistant Director Ashly Bender, will go on hiatus for the summer but return in the fall.

Some of what happened was the growth of ongoing Writing Center projects:

Writing Center Social Media: Our presence on Twitter and Facebook became more frequent and popular over the past year. And our blog not only brought ideas about writing and Writing Center work to the UofL community, but also connected to writers, teachers, and tutors around the country.

Dissertation Writing Retreats:We will continue to have our popular Dissertation Writing Retreats in the spring and fall semesters at the University Writing Center.

Workshops: Our Writing Center staff conducted a broad range of writing workshops in both courses and for student organizations on issues such as revision, writing a literature review, citation styles, and resume writing.

Finally, in addition to carrying on with these ongoing projects, there will be more changes in the year ahead:

WCOnline Scheduling Software: Starting in May the University Writing Center will move to new scheduling software. This new scheduling software will make it easier for students to make their own appointments online, and make it easier for us to coordinate and work with writers, both in person and online. If you’re planning on coming back to the Writing Center in the fall, take a look in the summer and take a moment to register with the software.

Videos about Writing: We’re planning on creating more videos that respond to student concerns about writing and writing processes.

It has been another strong year at the University Writing Center and I want to thank all the writers who made appointments with us and all the faculty who supported our work by recommending us to their students.

I also want to thank all the amazing Writing Center staff for such a great year. The positive, supporting, and productive work that takes place here, and the transformative effect it can have on students, comes from the thoughtful and dedicated work of our staff.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 12, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

 Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center, in addition to its teaching mission, is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Jennifer Marciniak, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center, was recognized by the Southeastern Writing Center Association as Graduate Student Tutor of the Year for 2013-14. She will be starting a job with the Writing Center at Berea College this fall.

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director of the Writing Center, published a chapter titled “Exploring Student-Veteran Expectations about Composing: Motivations, Purposes, and the Influence of Trauma on Composing Practices” in the collection Generation Vet: Composition, Student Veterans, and the Post-9/11 University.

Layne Gordon, a consultant, had her article on “Tutoring with Genre: Making Connections Between Genre Theory and Writing Center Pedagogy,” accepted for publication in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal.

And the Writing Center staff presented at a variety of conferences during this academic year.

Ashly Bender – Eastern Kentucky University Tutor Appreciation Workshop

Megen Boyett – Rhetoric Society of America and Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Daniel Ernst – Kentucky Philological Association; Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Meghan Hancock -Southeastern Writing Center Association

Jennifer Marciniak – National Conference on Peer Tutoring; Southeastern Writing Center Association

Dan McCormick – Language, Literacy, and Culture Graduate Student Conference; Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Jacob Robbins – Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Adam Robinson – Eastern Kentucky University Tutor Appreciation Workshop

Jessica Winck – Eastern Kentucky University Tutor Appreciation Workshop; Research Network Forum

Rick Wysocki – Language, Literacy, and Culture Graduate Student Conference; Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

This summer Ashly Bender, Jessica Winck, Adam Robinson, and I will be presenting at the Council of Writing Program Administrators conference.

Finally, congratulations go to Megen Boyett and Amy Nichols for completing their MA program and to Amy for being admitted to the UofL Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition.




How I Write: Austin Bunn — Creative 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.

Austin Bunn’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. His collection of short stories, The Brink, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial (2015). He wrote the screenplay to the film Kill Your Darlings (Sony Pictures Classics), with the film’s director John Krokidas, about the origins of the Beat generation writers, staring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, and Michael C. Hall. The film premiered at Sundance 2013, and screened at the Venice, Toronto, London, and Hampton’s Film Festivals. He teaches at Cornell University.Austin-Bunn_BW

How I Write: Austin Bunn

Location: Ithaca, NY

Current project: Original screenplay, short documentary, devised play, and more fiction!

Currently reading: The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing and The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips.

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

    These days, I find myself drawn to writing screenplays — I love the collaborative experience of making film, the most powerful art form of our time. Also, frankly, screenwriting is, for me, much much easier to produce than fiction. Great fiction demands close attention to the filigree of sentences, original perceptions rendered in fresh language, and consciousness on the page. When done well, there’s nothing like it, and the satisfaction of moving a reader through prose is a deep reward. But man, it’s work!

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I have an office, with a good desk, nice classic chair, and a view of my front lawn. And I never use it. I end up going to a coffeeshop and parking myself for hours there – it keeps the distractions (email, phone calls, news) at bay. I tend to write for about 3-4 hours and then I’m done and I need other people.bunn_TheShop

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

    Foremost: music. If I forget my headphones when I head to the coffeeshop, I know I’m in for a difficult morning. When I start a new project, I start by shopping for a soundtrack: something to inspire, provoke, contextualize what I’m doing. For Kill Your Darlings, it included bebop jazz, period love songs (“You Only Hurt the One You Love”), and a lot of Sigor Ros and Jonsi. Then we were lucky enough to get all of them on the soundtrack!

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

    Getting started has never been hard for me. The blank page is my friend, and I think you need to make friends with it. I give myself total permission to write poorly but I try to find the “voice” of the piece: is it edgy and dense? Funny? Searching and quiet? Those first days are exploratory. Revision is another matter entirely: I don’t love it. It requires the part of my brain that is a close-reader, that inches the bar higher and higher, that expects more from me than I thought I had. I also feel like I can revise sentences forever. Sam Lipsyte told me that if you find yourself revising a sentence once and then revising it BACK to the way you had it, you’re done. Move on.

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

    “Deeply imagine.” Ethan Canin.
    “There is no good part. It should all be the good part.” Sam Lipsyte.
    “Writing is about the inner experience of life; that is what writing can do that no other art form can.” Marilyn Robinson.
    “All actual life is encounter.” Martin Buber.
    “You are allowed shitty first drafts.” Anne Lamott

Getting Started with Revising

Adam Robinson, Associate Director

With a week left to go in the semester, I imagine that many of you are finishing up final revisions.  I have some advice about how you might start the revision process.

AdamFirst, I recommend that you think about revising and editing as two different processes.  Revising is connected to rethinking your argument, reorganizing parts of your paper, rewriting paragraphs, adding new sources, taking out paragraphs that don’t seem to fit in the paper.  Editing focuses more on proofreading your grammar and punctuation errors, checking your citations, rephrasing sentences that may confuse readers.  Revising and editing are equally important, but as you probably know through experience, revision takes a lot more time.

It’s useful to make this distinction between revising and editing for a few reasons, but one in particular comes to mind.  If your professor asks you to revise, then you know based on the distinction you have made between revising and editing, that she or he wants you to make some significant changes to your paper—to restate your thesis—to rewrite a section of the paper—to add new sources that strengthen your argument.  Your professor does want you to edit your work too—but editing doesn’t do the work of revision.

Okay…so you have in your mind the differences between the two.  What next?

I’d reread your paper.  Odds are you haven’t read your paper in a while, so it’s very likely you will have a new perspective when you do so.  Hopefully, you’ll notice places where you can add more analysis or you’ll notice a paragraph doesn’t have as much substance or insight as some of the others in your paper.   Hopefully, you’ll notice some parts of your paper you really like too.  You may decide to focus your revision on what you feel you are doing well.  That’s an important thing to note.  Oftentimes, a writer will view the “good parts” of her or his paper as the parts that can be left alone when revising and editing.  But sometimes the opposite should happen.  Sometimes the best section of a paper needs to be more than a section of the paper—it needs to be the whole paper!   The big point here is that a big part of revision has little to do with actual writing—thinking or rethinking is equally important.

After you’ve reread the paper and started to come up with things to work on, check again on what you were asked to do with the assignment.  This starts with taking another look at the assignment sheet as it usually will have some clues about how you can approach your revision.  Not only do assignment sheets have lists of requirements (this many sources, this many pages, etc.), but often they have insight into why your professor asked you to do the assignment to begin with.  This seems obvious I know, but it’s easy to miss assignment details when you write your first draft.  Writers are often just eager to get thoughts down on the page with early drafts, so details can get skimmed over.

Look at professor comments if you have them.  Read those comments as soon as possible to be sure you understand what you’re professor has written—you may need clarification.   And I recommend drawing a diagram—or some kind of chart—where you organize the comments your professor gave you.  What comments ask you to revise?  What comments ask you to edit?  If you take anything away from reading this blog, it may be the following the point: Be sure to address those revision comments.  It’s easy to fix commas and misspelled words (the editing stuff)—it’s harder, for example, to strengthen your paper by reworking your introduction so it frames your paper more effectively or by rewriting a paragraph so it connects better to your argument.

Finally, this comment relates to any paper that requires you to use sources or requires you to analyze a book, film, etc.—which is a lot of papers in college.  Before you go and track down more sources, go back to the sources you already have.  For example, you may be citing a scholarly source or analyzing a novel.  Scholarly sources and novels can be pretty dense; you usually need to read them more than once to really get everything the writer is trying to say.  So rereading all or part of that source again may allow you to draw on some more material.  And also go back to your paper, to the places where you use sources.  Are you getting everything you can out of the source?  When you quote, do you take time to discuss the quote and really flesh out for the reader what you see when you read the quote?  Basically, what I mean to get across here is that you may have all the material you need right in front of you.  Or you may not!  You may need to read some more.  You may need to change the direction of your paper.  But at least doing some of this preliminary work can help you figure out what you will need to do to successfully revise.

Before I end this blog, I have to credit Alex Clifton (a consultant in the University Writing Center) who  created a wonderful handout about revision strategies.  Check out Alex’s handout, along with all of our other newly revised handouts, all of which, are located on our new website.

Good luck revising!



5 Pieces of Writing Advice to Reconsider

Jacob Robbins, Consultant

Giving writing advice, by its very nature, is a difficult minefield to navigate. It is often handed down in what appear to be timeless platitudes, as if only recently and begrudgingly translated from the Latin. While they are situationally applicable, the following instances of (mis)guidance suffer from their often indiscriminate use:

“Show don’t tell”DSCN1622

In many cases, this is actually excellent advice. There is no easier way to guarantee that one’s personal statement is dull than by turning a riveting personal anecdote into a grocery list or instruction manual. Vivid details ensnare the reader, and can ensure persistent attention. However, continuing to do so with no reprieve is not only exhausting, but also tends to dilute the descriptions with increased use. Showing often draws its power from poignant use, so blanketly following this rule can actually have the opposite intended effect.

“Clichés are bad”

This one may be the hardest to put a half-hearted defense for. If you just use the same old, same old tired phrases, you’ll just end up beating a dead horse. Also, the individual meanings you intend to impart upon your utterances may be lost in the process. That being said, if you are attempting to win the The Bulwer-Lytton Writing Contest, clichés are right on the money.

“Edit as you go”

One should absoltutely edit as they go, because that indicates attention to the minutiae of the paper. However, it seems as if this statement excludes the possibility of (or diminishes the importance of) editing on a largger, more global level. In other words, this maxim only covers hald the equation. Editing is a constant process that requires attention to meticulous details as well as the big picture, rather than one to the exclusion of the other.

“Only use said”

There is no denying that “said” is the most direct way to indicate speaking attribution. However, the monotony of using it exclusively can quickly develop a white-washing effect similar to that which is created by the overapplication of the other “rules” found on this list. “People say things in a variety of ways that can be reflected in language; it would be a shame to unnecessarily limit our capacity to describe that variation,” mused Jacob.

“Write what you know”

This is by far the worst offender of the bunch. Depending on one’s perspective (or philosophical stance), the argument can easily be made that knowing itself is a tenuous and perhaps impossible goal. Conversely, writing what you know may be the only possible option. Read generously, this statement warns against fabrication. Hopefully this is not something we need remind ourselves constantly as we write.

At points, I was perhaps too critical or too ungenerous in assessing the value of these time-honored directives. However, I believe that negative experiences or habits connected to the constant overapplication of these phrases can be put in perspective when viewed through this critical lens. As in most (if not all) things, these expressions are best used in moderation, rather than generally.

How I Write: Christy Metzger — Student Services Director

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.

Christy Metzger is the director for the Office of First Year Initiatives at the University of Louisville. In August 2006 she began her work in this field when she was charged to undertake the university’s more coordinated first year experience efforts. Christy earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Spanish and Psychology from Transylvania University and a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration from the University of Louisville.

How I Write: Christy Metzger

Location: Belknap Campus (Strickler Hall 126)metzger

Current project: I’m working on my own This I Believe-style statement for Book-in-Common.

Currently reading: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery

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

    Since I finished my Master’s degree, the vast majority of my writing is business writing, which I undertake for my job. No matter what the task, it’s important that I’m mindful about how I craft my message; I do believe that attention to tone, language, clarity and a mistake-free end product makes a big difference in whether I’m successful in my work or not.

    Email consumes most of my writing time, as it does for many of my colleagues. I think it’s harder to persuade, clarify, inform, activate, etc. over email than it is with an in-person audience, so depending on the subject matter and recipient it may be a quick email or it might be one I really have to draft and revise. (I do a lot more drafting and revising than I do quick emails.)For executing our programs themselves, I’ve written things like facilitation guides and instruction manuals, reading guides and tips, and classroom materials.   And to promote and assess our programs, I will create program brochures, web content, requests for funding, surveys and annual reports.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    Usually I’m writing in my office at work. However, if what I’m writing feels like a more difficult task I might take that home to work on – perhaps nestled into a comfortable chair or outside on my deck when it’s warm.

    When I was writing papers in graduate school, I found I was most productive at a coffee shop, where the ambient noise kept me alert but where I didn’t have the distractions (or beds) of home to sidetrack me.

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

    I type faster than I write by hand now, so I much prefer to write on a computer. I enjoy having a cup of coffee nearby, whatever notes I need, and some sort of music in the background (right now it’s afternoon decaf with peppermint mocha creamer and Don Williams crooning old country standards). If I’m at home, it’s certain that my sweet dog is nestled right up next to me.

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

    My best advice is to first be clear about the key ideas you are trying to convey. That way, you can focus your writing product around that. When I started writing longer papers with open-ended topics and many different sources, I found that it helped me to begin to put my notes about each article in an outline form in a Word document. Along the way, I’ll pop in key points and thoughts I am having in response to the reading, as well as important quotes I might want to use later. The Word outline format lets me group similar ideas and move things around, and it’s from these notes that my papers grow. Sometimes whole paragraphs practically write themselves because I’ve already done a lot of the thinking along the way. When at all possible, I have someone else read and proof my writing.

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

    The best advice I received was about writing emails to my colleagues. I’m much more cognizant now that my main idea or request needs to be in the first few sentences of the email so that it’s quickly seen by the recipient. I have a tendency to want to provide a lot of context to help my reader understand why what I’m conveying is important. However, because of that my main thought or request often wound up at the bottom of a lot of writing, where it was perhaps overlooked. (I even moved my main idea up in this paragraph in case my reader lost interest to this point.) It’s a small point to make, but I do believe it can make a tremendous difference.

The Last Stretch – Making it through Final Papers

Jamison Huebsch, Consultant
It can be stressful near the end of the semester. You have final papers due, perhaps in most of your classes, and you’re often not sure if they will be finished in time and to your professor’s standards. At least I’m often worried about that. Perhaps you haven’t even started your final papers yet. If so, don’t panic because it happens to the best organized of us, but try not to let nerves stop you for working on your paper. After all, the night before its due will come not matter what, and it’s best if you’re not trying to pull an all-nighter cranking something out. To help out I’m going to offer some tips on getting your final paper across the semester finish line, so that you can enjoy your break with everyone else:
  1. Manage Your Stress! :Take note that I didn’t write “Don’t stress”. That is almost impossible, as people have been stressing out about finals since classes instituted them. Finals are a stressful time, so learn to manage it instead. Since you know you are going to be stressed (and maybe are already suffering from some), managing your stress so you can remain productive is very important. Some of the most helpful tips on dealing with finals stress can be found in an article by our own Carly Johnson here: (http://uoflwritingcenter.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/keep-calm-and-start-your-final-projects/).
  2. Getting started:If you haven’t started on your final papers yet, it’s time to brainstorm. Your professors will give your guidelines for what will be acceptable paper topics, but it can be hard to pick what you should write about sometimes.  Since almost every paper will be based on issues discussed in class, you might think about what have been the major themes in the class so far. Perhaps you had a favorite book or topic, and you can expand on that. Other times you wish something had been covered in class but it wasn’t, so you can explore it on your own. Regardless of what you pick, deciding as early as you can and getting to work on collecting your research and materials is crucial.  Bounce ideas off friends who haven’t gotten sick of you talking about school. Making an appointment with the Writing Center can also be helpful, even if you’ve gotten started late, as we can help you at any step of the way from brainstorming all the way to revision.
  3. Plan Your Work:Hopefully you already have an idea for your final paper. Review the guidelines your professors have given you for your final paper. You might work on an outline, or start your bibliography or reference list. Sometimes it can be helpful, if you have the time, to annotate your research sources as a form of pre-writing. I personally find it helpful to make a checklist of any major requirements the paper should have, in my own work this is often things like which sources I have to add to my literature review or which theories apply to the topic I’ve chosen. Your class may vary, but making up a list of important details to cover can help you to avoid missing anything important. It also gives a real sense of accomplishment as you tick off things from your list as you write them, and this can be very important on large projects when you might spend days writing. Completing small goals and recognizing it can help you stay motivated.
  4. Revision:Once you’ve a draft done of your final paper, you’re nearing the finish line already. However revision and polishing are important steps before the final draft stage, and can often make a big impact on your final grade. The first thing would be to review any feedback you have gotten from the professor on past work. Usually you’ve turned in some sort of preliminary assignments, giving you a chance to see what the teacher thought you did well or what you still needed work on. When you revise take the time to do multiple passes, each one focusing on a specific goal like improving your transitions or checking if you used passive voice. Try reading your paper aloud, to yourself or a friend, so that you can hear how it sounds (and this is a good technique for catching errors). Double check your thesis, and make sure that it agrees with your paper all the way through to your conclusion. This is another good time to consider coming to the Writing Center if you can.
  5. Relax!:To twist a meme: Summer is coming! Once you’re done with your paper, take some space from it. If it’s due tomorrow, then go celebrate being finished. If it’s not due for a while, then take a day (or two!) off before giving it one last once over for revision. It can be very helpful to get some distance from your own work when doing revision. Once that is done however, go turn it in! Summer awaits!

    Make sure you get plenty of rest, and enjoy what time off you have, if you are like me you will be back in class doing it all over again soon enough. As you near the end of your particular academic goal, You might even begin to miss the whole crazy cycle.

Writing in the World – New Ways of Imagining Literacy and Language

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

People sometimes think that, on a university campus, you spend all your days with print books and paper – even more so when you work in the University Writing Center. Yet, it doesn’t take long to look around and see that the university is filled with communication happening in so many different modes and media, from words to images to video to sound. This week we had an exciting reminder of how art works as composition and communication with the opening at the Art ShowWriting Center of the student art show titled “Writing in the World.” We had a dozen works from UofL students, all on the theme of “Writing in the World” The theme asked students to represent, through their artwork, how they encountered writing and how writing worked in their daily lives, both on and off campus. The show opened Wednesday to complement the UofL Composition Program’s Symposium of Student Writing and will remain in the Writing Center through the end of the semester.

Some artists, like Peri Crush, worked with the material artifacts of literacy, as seen in her sculpture “Break Through”

"Break Through" by Peri Crush

“Break Through” by Peri Crush

created from the pages of a book. Other artists drew on the visual representation of words, whether in graffiti as in  Irene Tran’s untitled photograph or Gwen Snow’s dress titled “Egwengwen Ritual Costume.” Some artists made connections to works of literature, such as Katlyn Brumfield’s still life “Poe” and still others played with the slippery nature of language itself, as in the video “Have You Seen the Dog?” a collaboration by ten students.

All the works reminded me  that literacy is simultaneously material and immaterial.

"Egwengwen Ritual Costume" by Gwen Snow

“Egwengwen Ritual Costume” by Gwen Snow

Without the material artifacts of books and pens and paper and computers, we have no reading and writing. Literacy isn’t possible until we create a work that can be interpreted though the sign systems of writing or images. At the same time, literacy is an immaterial concept that requires interpretation and connection, to other life experiences and other texts. Perhaps what the artwork demonstrated most vividly is that literacy is visual. We can not only read written words, but we can also to step back from them to understand how they work aesthetically as form and design.

It was exciting to have so many visitors drawn to the Writing Center to see the artwork, and to vote for their favorite choices. Throughout the day people were talking about the art, and talking about the themes of the show. We presented three awards. The Directors’ Award went to Alexa Helton’s  untitled drawing. The Writing Center Staff Award went to Peri Crush’s “Break Out.” And the People’s Choice award – voted by the people visiting the show — went to “Have You Seen the Dog?”

Our thanks go to Gabrielle Mayer, associate professor of Fine Arts, who organized the show and collaborated with us on the theme, and to all the student artists who contributed work, and whose names are listed at the end of the post.

"Untitled" by Alexa Hilton

“Untitled” by Alexa Hilton

At the University Writing Center we are committed to engaging writing and composing in all modes and media and we hope this kind of art and writing show will become an annual event.

If you haven’t seen the art already, do come to the Writing Center, on the third floor of Ekstrom Library, and take a look.

Artists participating in “Writing in the World.”

Yeva Sshurova

Colin Beach

Katlyn Brumfield

"Have You Seen the Dog?"

“Have You Seen the Dog?”

Brynn Gordon

Kathryn Harrington

Alexa Helton

Beth Heutis

Robyn Kaufman

Colton Kays

Amber Kleitz

Keegan Kruse

Irene Mudd

Renae Osman

Mikayla Powell

Brittani Rosier

Gwen Snow

Irene Tran



How I Write: Kyle Coma-Thompson — Novelist

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’s feature writer is novelist Kyle Coma-Thompson, whose most recent book is The Lucky Body (Dock Street Press, 2013). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, AGNI, The American Reader, New American Writing, Bat City Review and elsewhere. He has held fellowships as an Axton Fellow in Creative Writing at University of Louisville, a Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy, and a Hoyns Fellow at the University of Virginia.

How I Write:
Kyle Comacoma-thompson-Thompson

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project(s):
A novel, a collection of short stories, a collection of poetry.

Currently reading:
Cemetery of Mind—Dambudzo Marechera;
To Each His Own—Leonardo Sciascia

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

    Fiction and poetry.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    What I write during any given part of the day depends on how much time I have available. If I have a half-hour or hour block of time before my next commitment, I write poetry. If I have two or more hours, fiction. Often I’ll write poems before beginning on a short story, to loosen up.

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

    Whatever’s at hand, I’ll make use of. I keep a pocket notebook to write in while I’m walking, driving, at work, wherever. I keep a notebook for story ideas. Then groupings of notecards on which I sketch out the linear structure of events and details of those story ideas. Then I write drafts of stories or poems on a computer, either at home or at work.

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

    Take joy in writing garbage. Forget about any needs or desires you may have to write well or to complete an accomplished piece of work. Just generate an overflow of kinetic slop, then sift through it—often the best ideas or stretches of writing come from uninhibited, unambitious play. In other circles, this is called “brainstorming”.

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

    Even before you even begin to think of writing, empathetic detachment should be a priority. Which means: in a piece of writing, avoid the temptation to address the reader using the first person plural.


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