UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

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.

 

Making Your Writing Process Work for You

Layne Gordon, Consultant

In the Writing Center this semester, I have worked with several students who are either returning to formal writing after awhile, or are being asked to do formal writing for the first time. (By formal writing here, I’m referring to things like research papers or argumentative papers that typically require the use of outside sources.) Most of these students have expressed some form of anxiety over the writing process itself—the most common of these being an uncertainty over how to begin the paper.

It has long been established in the field of composition that the writing process is not as linear as past scholars used to believe. You know the old drill: brainstorm-draft-revise-edit-done, with some additional steps sometimes. Instead, it is more of a fluid process in which the various writing activities blend and can even occur simultaneously. layneFor example, I often edit while I’m drafting rather than after. And I frequently make an outline of my paper after writing an early draft rather than before. Contemporary scholars have taken note of these phenomenon and now understand that writing is a highly recursive activity. However, despite this progressive theoretical understanding, many students still have a very real concern over constructing a paper in the “right” way. In the Writing Center this semester, I have found this to be especially true of more formal academic assignments.

So for those students feeling such anxieties at this point in the semester, I offer this advice:

Create a writing process all your own. If you are struggling to write an introduction, skip it for now and work on a body paragraph. If you aren’t quite sure yet what you want your overall point to be, try skipping to the conclusion of your paper and writing about what you want to have proven by the end. In other words, don’t be afraid to try new things in your writing process. To give a personal example, for years I was really against incorporating free-writing into my writing process. But this semester, I decided to try something new and start several papers by simply writing whatever came to mind on the topic. It turned out this was a great way for me keep writing without getting stuck and it let me see how my thoughts were working out on the page rather than trying to sort through everything in my mind.

My point here is twofold:

  1. if you are struggling to write a paper because you are adhering to a process that somebody else told you was a good idea, then now might be a great time to try something new.
  2. if you have been sticking to the same process for some time, then it might be worth switching it up to see if you could improve on your personal process. No one way of writing will work for everyone, and taking the time to explore what works for you can not only make writing your term papers easier, but also more enjoyable.

Of course, you can always visit the Writing Center to get more help at any stage of the writing process and to get ideas and strategies for writing.

How I Write: Thomas Geoghegan — Graduate Dean

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 the “How I Write”geoghegan headshot series features Thomas Geoghegan, the current Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the School of Medicine, as well as a faculty member in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He recived his BS degree in Biology from the University of Massachusetts/Boston, and PhD in Biological Chemistry from the M.S. Hershey Medical School associated with Penn State.  Thomas Geoghegan  joined the faculty at UofL in the Department of Biochemistry in the School of Medicine in 1979.

How I Write: Thomas Geoghegan

Location: UofL School of Medicine

Current project: Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Currently reading:  David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

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

    I began my career as a bench scientist (molecular biologist) writing papers and grant applications (not always successfully I might add).  I also teach and of course needed to write lecture notes, study guides and test questions (again not always successfully).  I no longer write scientific grants and manuscripts. I do however continue to teach and write reports of activities of our office.  For a short time I also wrote a blog on graduate education (once again not always successfully).

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I mostly write in my small, cramped, and overly cluttered office. geoghegan office

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

    For the most part a pad and paper, and computer.

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

    Tip for getting started – get started; no really get started.  People write differently but everyone has to get started.  I’m big on getting something down on paper and editing the hell out of it.  In fact I’ll spend 5-10 times more time editing than writing.

    My best tip is to post a bullet list with principles of writing right in front of you.  When you’re stuck (and everyone gets stuck) it refreshes your memory and get’s you started again.

    One caveat; my son is a journalist/writer.  He sits down to write and most of the time it comes out perfect, with few revisions.  Proving that much to my dismay as a molecular biologist , it’s not all genetics (because I can never do that).

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

    Most of my serious writing is (or was) scientific.  And the best advice I got was to “keep it simple stupid”.  The more you try and elaborate, the more complex and less understandable your arguments are.

Keep Calm and Start Your Final Projects

Carly Johnson, Consultant

I hope you all had a relaxing spring break, full of sunshine and unassigned leisure reading. As we begin this countdown to finals (and Derby) carlyit is difficult to garner the motivation to begin your final projects. However, as someone who has spent many a tear-filled, coffee fueled night feverishly typing a final paper hours before it is due, I can tell you truthfully that it is better to start sooner rather than later. At this point you may be saying to yourself “yeah, but I work better under pressure” and I thought the same thing—until I embarked on what I call “Carly’s 5 fool-proof methods for staying focused and sane throughout finals week,” which I will share with you now:

  1. Take it one step at a time, and reward yourself along the way.I like to set up a schedule for myself prior to finals week that allows me to get a little bit   done each day. When I am on a roll achieving these tasks, I reward myself by watching Netflix for a couple of hours, or purchasing a fancy smoothie. This enables     me to stay on schedule while still allowing myself to have a little taste of the relaxation that awaits me over the summer.
  2. The solution to writer’s block is not avoidance.When I would get stuck on how to start a paper, I used to think that putting it away for    awhile was the answer…and then “awhile” ended up lasting three weeks, and suddenly it       was due. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. If you’re stuck, ask for help, either from   your instructor, your peers, or by making an appointment with the writing center. Address           these small mental roadblocks before they become big issues.
  3. There is such a thing as too much coffee.During my late night writing sessions, I always thought the more coffee I drank, the          better my paper would become—but the fact is that too much coffee (or other caffeinated    beverage) will make you jittery and will cause your thoughts to race, which will end up making you feel more stressed than when you started. By staying on task with the        schedule mentioned in #1 above, you can avoid these all-nighters entirely.
  4. Feeling stressed? Go on a run.Even if you are someone like myself who only tends to run if there is an emergency, I       have found that physical exercise allows you to drain yourself of that excess negative   energy, and clears your mind so you are prepared to tackle those final projects. If      running isn’t your thing, check out some of the classes offered at the Student Rec Center     (I highly recommend the Zumba classes held on Tuesday and Wednesday nights).
  5. Reschedule social events for an after-finals celebration.If you struggle with turning down fun events with friend while you’re studying, plan an   event for after finals week that you can look forward to. That way, when you pass on plans for the evening you can invite them to your post-finals party, enabling you to     be social and productive simultaneously.

With these five methods, you can be sure to avoid the dark days of finals week, don your Derby hat and ease into your summer vacation knowing that you have overcome the pitfalls of procrastination. Good luck, stay focused, and remember that the writing center is always here to help!

UPDATE: Extended Submission Deadline for “Writing in the World” Student Art Exhibit

UPDATE: Submissions will now be accepted until Thursday, March 20th. See details below!

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 Thursday, March 20th

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: John Cumbler– Historian

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 featured write is John Cumbler, cumblera professor of history at the University of Louisville who is also in phased retirement. He has published 6 books on social, economic and environmental history. His seventh book From Abolition to Equal Rights for All is now in press and should be out this fall. John Cumbler has also published a couple dozen articles but says he enjoys writing books more. He enjoys research and writing, although teaching is his real passion.

How I Write: John Cumbler

Location: Gottschalk Hall, University of Louisville

Current project: I just finished my last book project- an environmental history of a fragile eco-system. I have a couple short pieces on which I am working, but I am taking a break before I launch into a new book length project.

Currently reading: Mysteries and Game of Thrones

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

    History pieces, either articles or book length projects. I also write advocacy pieces for popular media.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I write away from other people. I usually write at home when I am alone. I mostly write in the late morning and early afternoon, but if I am caught up in something I can write into the night.

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

    I began my writing career with a pencil and paper and then I would type up what I had written. By the time I was working on my second book I was working directly on the typewriter. My third and fourth books were a combination of paper and pencil and personal computer. By the time I was working on my fifth and sixth book I worked solely on the computer. Being alone is key for me.

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

    Do what works for you! I find it helps best to put down as much as you can on the first go. I work as long as the ideas seem to be fitting together. When they stop fitting together I take a break. I start up again either later in the day or the next day. Some people work best by disciplining themselves to work for a set period of time. That does not work for me. I work when it works for me to do so. When it doesn’t I take a break. Ideas push my writing. Getting started is hard, but putting down something helps move you along.

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

    Pick up the pencil and start writing. There are always reasons to put off writing, but eventually you have to begin. Better to begin early and fill in the blanks than to keep stalling until you have everything. Everything is a high bar to get over. My advice to all my students is do what works for you.

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.

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