UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Self Care and the University Student

Brooke Parker, Consultantbrooke-p

The ins and outs of the university can be stressful and anxiety inducing for many of us, particularly at this point in the semester. While Spring Break’s brief moment of relaxation has left us, our final exams and seminar papers are fast approaching. It’s easy to forget that engaging in self care is just as important as the writing and studying you’re doing.

As someone with a mental disability, self care is a really familiar and helpful concept to me, but this is certainly something every student can benefit from. The term “self care” refers to anything you yourself can do for your own physical or mental health. And while both physical and mental health are tied to each other, I’d like to emphasize self care’s benefits for emotional and mental well being in the university.

So, what does self care look like for a student? According to Psych Central, self care is individual and looks different for everyone. But they do provide some helpful suggestions:

  1. Think about what activities make you feel relaxed and write them down. For example, walking my dog, painting, and watching Rick and Morty with friends are all activities that make me feel calm and relaxed. So, I try to engage in them regularly.
  2. Schedule self-care moments on your calendar. Or, set an alarm on your phone to take breaks from writing or studying. I like to take frequent breaks when writing to decompress and give my mind some respite. In fact, I took a break will writing this post to take a hot bath, which is another helpful de-stressing tool.
  3. Get your self care in when you can. While some of us may be able to lock down a self care schedule on the calendar (I have a really hard time doing this), the rest of us can sneak in self care when a moment frees up. My colleagues and I often take turns laying on the couch in our consultant room between sessions—catching naps or just moments to close our eyes when we can.
  4. Take care of your physical health as well. This is something I’ve had quite a hard time doing this academic year. I often feel like I don’t have the time to go for a run or attend an hour long yoga session. However, even walking your dog or doing light stretching can be acts of physical self care that can also help you destress.
  5. Know that its ok to say no.  I grew up with a mother who never said “no” to her clients, and I saw how quickly she burnt out during the week because of this. Making sure not to overextend yourself is important. You’ve got enough on your plate as a student—don’t feel bad if you want to or have to say no to something.
  6. Keep checking in with yourself. I keep a bullet journal to track my state of mind each day. If my anxiety is high or I experience a dissociation, I will write about it. This allows me to find trends in my stressors so that I can recognize and avoid/navigate them in the future. I’ve found this to be one of the most helpful aspects of my own self care.

While this is in no way a comprehensive list of ways to take care of your self during these last stretches of the semester, I hope these examples provide a starting point from which you can construct your own, unique approach to self care.

I’d like to add to this list taking advantage of counseling services. While self care is certainly beneficial to everyone, some students (including myself) have mental disabilities for which the structure of the university isn’t always as understanding. Counseling services can be a space in which we find that understanding. Further, coming to the Writing Center when you’re overwhelmed with an assignment or just don’t know where to begin can help relieve the stress you are feeling. Our consultants know that, for many, writing can be a stressful activity, but we are here to provide you with the tools to help you confidently (and hopefully less stressfully) navigate your assignments.

How I Write: Michèle Foster

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.

Our featured writer this week is Dr. Michèle Foster. At the University of Louisville, Dr. Foster serves as Henry Heuser Jr. Endowed Chair for Urban Education Partnerships and Professor in the School of Education.

Michele FosterGetting to know me.

I grew up on the East Coast, attended a private academy for girls that offered a classical education and had a French-English bilingual program, so in addition to English, I am fluent in French.  Later as an adult, I learned Haitian.  I’ve worked in education for many years and at varying levels of the educational spectrum, in the Boston Public Schools before desegregation, in METCO, the oldest voluntary urban-suburban desegregation program in the US and at Roxbury Community College, a predominantly African American community college, where I was a writing instructor.  I’ve been a faculty member at several universities including: University of Massachusetts-Boston, University of Pennsylvania, University of California-Davis, Claremont Graduate School, University of Missouri-Kansas City and now at the University of Louisville where I serve as the Henry Heuser Jr. Endowed Chair for Urban Education Partnerships and Professor.

This semester I am teaching Writing for Publication, a graduate level writing course I’ve taught for more than 15 years.  Although I am new to the university I am eager to bring my wide range of educational experience to the CEHD and the University by offering courses that I have taught previously, including:  African American English in Society and Schools, The Social, Historical and Cultural Contexts of African American Education, Anthropology of Education, and Ethnographic Methods.

Current projects

At the moment, I am trying to get my own new research project, Grit and his cousin mindset: What role do after-school and summer programs play in promoting social and emotional learning? off of the ground which entails producing a literature review, writing research grants, developing various protocols and interview guides, and working through the IRB requirements in order to get approval.  I am also serving as an evaluator for the work of the African Diaspora Project, a multi-faceted project. The current work for this project includes tweaking the African Diaspora Course (ADC) Advanced Placement Course Syllabus that has been submitted for approval to the College Board and helping the course designers come with an evaluation plan for the pilot testing that will begin in 2 school districts in fall 2017. And if everything goes according to the plan, the ADC Advanced Placement Course will be offered at a couple of JCPS High Schools. At the beginning of February, in response to a special call, I submitted a jointly authored manuscript for consideration.

Currently reading

When it comes to reading, I’m an omnivore. I read the New York Times, Washington Post and the National Public Radio offerings every day.  I read the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I also try to keep with a number of journals in my fields. Because I serve as a reviewer for several journals, I read a number of manuscripts that have been submitted for publication; last semester I read 5. This semester, I am reading a lot of manuscript drafts, some for the Writing for Publication Class and some for junior colleagues who are struggling with making the transition, from writing like graduate students to writing like full-fledged academics. Occasionally, I will read something that is not directly related–fiction or non-fiction—but later may become tangentially related to some academic project. It’s rare that I don’t find something useful for thinking about my academic work in almost everything I read.  I also read lots of email and text messages and interesting pieces I find on Twitter.

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

As an academic, I write journal articles–empirical, conceptual, and literature reviews– book chapters, books reviews, proposals for funding, which serve to advance my own career.  I also write reviews of manuscripts submitted to the journals for which I serve as a referee, tenure and promotion reviews, and detailed assessments of several junior colleagues’ work to help them work through issues with their manuscripts, all to help develop the next generation of scholars and academics.

When it comes to less formal writing, I write email messages and text messages.  I also write lots of letters and cards and send them by snail mail to surprise friends and colleagues who rarely receive handwritten letters.  I write lots of lists—grocery, reminders, appointments—and get great satisfaction from crossing off things as I complete them.

When/where/how do you write?

I can write almost anywhere, at the house, in the office, a coffee shop, the library, on a plane, a hotel. When I am at the house I have to twist my own arm to write and not be distracted by all of the chores that seem to call for my attention only when I am trying to write. Others reading this will understand. When I was a novice writer, I had convinced myself that I could only write in certain locations, but I’ve learned that is not true, but the kind of writing or rather the phases of writing I do might vary according to the location. In different contexts, I do different writing tasks. Some environments are more conducive to creating or drafting a piece, others more suitable for revising, editing or sorting out a vexing problem in something I’m writing.  But I can always manage do tackle some writing task in whatever context.

The sound of my writing is a critical factor. I believe that’s because being a member of the broader African American discourse community has made me exceptionally attuned to the way my writing sounds.  Because of this, I spend lots of time rewriting and revising my writing so that it sounds like me.  Every once in while someone, who has read my prose before they’ve met me, hears me speak and tells me how much I sound like my writing.   When this happens, I am delighted because I know I’ve accomplished one of my goals.

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

Nothing in particular.  I can write on a computer although it took me some time to learn to do so.  When I began graduate school, computers were not in fashion, so I would write my first draft on legal pads and then type the draft into an electric typewriter. As a beginning writer, I was convinced that I could never write a first draft using an electric typewriter because I felt that my brain and hand were and had to be connected for the thoughts to get on the page. By the time, I was writing my dissertation, computers had come into fashion and though writing software programs were rudimentary, I wrote my dissertation on an Apple 2E using a writing program that could only accommodate 12 page files and linked them together in a 200+ page document. Over time, I learned to write first drafts directly on the computer and now find this easier because over time, my Catholic school penmanship has deteriorated, so that I often cannot read my own writing.

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

I tell students and junior colleagues to put aside some time each day to write. It’s like getting started and continuing an exercise program.  When beginning to exercise, it’s difficult to get motivated and exercise each and it’s easy to put it off on any given day.  But the trick is to get started and do it. Once into the routine it’s something you need to do—writing and exercise. And it gets easier.  Of course, it’s difficult getting started again once exercise and writing have been aside for a period.  But once one has gotten into exercise and writing shape, it’s easier for the body and mind to snap back more quickly after a break. The other piece of advice I give students is that all one needs to write is a page a day.  If one can write a page a day, something I believe is possible for almost everyone and one takes 65 days off from writing a year, the total number of pages compiled will be 300.  This will yield many articles and/or a book.  Who, I ask can’t muster 1 page a day.  On the 1 page a day regime/diet depending on your point of view, one can often alternate between composing and revising.  When I am on this plan, I spend one day composing several pages.  The next day, I go through what I wrote the previous day and am able to trim down several pages to at least one good one.  I also recommend the online tool, the Writer’s Diet, as a personal self-help tool to help turn flabby writing into fit prose.  I’ve got lots of other advice to offer as well, but I’ll stop now because I don’t want to give away all of my secrets.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Keep writing, get regular feedback on your writing, read and respond to the comments you’ve received no matter harsh they might seem because they can help you improve your writing.  Don’t take the comments personally.  Use them to improve your writing.  Find writing that you admire, study it carefully, try to figure out what strategies and devices the author is using, and try them out yourself. Keep writing until you find your groove and your voice.   Remember the words of Miles Davis, a famous jazz musician who said “You have to play a long time to play like yourself.”

Silence in Writing Center Sessions

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

I’ve always known that silence can be beneficial in various ways during writing center sessions. It recently dawned on me, though, that silence often requires a conscious effort to create, and that perhaps I could be doing more to actively create productive silences during meetings with writers.

My desire to incorporate more silence into my writing center sessions is largely based on the role silence plays in facilitating my own writing and thinking process. When I receive feedback on something I’ve written, I need time to comprehend verbal feedback and to process my own thoughts. I also need time to think of the words I want to use to articulate my responses. This is why I’m grateful whenever I work with people who, when giving feedback, allow for moments of silence throughout the discussion.

When I have my tutoring hat on while working at the Writing Center, I sometimes forget that the writers I work with may feel the same way about silence as I do. I always try to be ready with the next question or the next suggestion, to keep the trains of thought all moving smoothly forward without much pause. I tell myself that by doing this we’re getting the most out of the allotted 50-minute time frame. But I think it’s worth asking: am I not giving us enough time to nurture certain conditions that might fuel productive, reflective, creative thinking?

One strategy tutors use is to have writers brainstorm and/or write on their own; the tutor might walk to another room and come back after 5-10 minutes or more, depending on the context. This is one way to allow for quiet time for writers to work, and can be an effective way to incorporate silence into a session. However, this is not quite the kind of silence I have in mind. The silence I want to use more during my sessions is a mutually shared, collaborative sort of silence, during which both the tutor and writer are still sitting together side by side, thinking. Sometimes the silence might be broken to exchange an idea or two. I’m thinking of a type of silence that is the opposite of empty and/or uncomfortable – the anti-awkward silence.

The “awkward silence” is an interesting concept I learned about as I became more familiar with social conventions in American culture. Growing up in Japan, I always felt that silence was the default way to exist in the world, a way to convey respect and mindfulness. It was difficult moving to the U.S. where presence often seems to be measured by how much one speaks. There appears to be a widespread aversion to silence in social situations, which is perhaps linked to the phenomenon of “small talk.” So, while I personally appreciate moments of collaborative silence when discussing my own writing with people, I understand that some writers might find silence uncomfortable. So, as tutors, we should be attentive to cues that might suggest whether or not a writer might really benefit from silence during sessions.

I sometimes initiate collaborative silences by asking the writer, “can I take a moment to write this down?” Sometimes I will stop myself from thinking of the next thing to say. It has been surprising how many times writers will then break the silence with a new idea or insightful comment they may not have offered had we not taken a moment to pause. Whenever this happens, I remind myself of how valuable and productive silences can be.

Community Literacy and the Writing Center: Building Foundations

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director Amy N

For the past two years, the Writing Center has been working to build a commitment to community literacy into our activities. While writers from all over the university come to us for help with course assignments and beyond, writing centers constantly inhabit a liminal space where personal, academic, and professional writing collide. To honor this fact, we also wanted to expand our offerings to value writing that may happen off-campus, whether connected to higher education or not. While the role of writing centers and community engagement is still relatively new to writing center scholarship, we are excited about the potential benefits that what we might call writing center values, with their focus on listening and building trust over time, may have for the way university entities approach community partnerships.

Amy Picture1In Summer 2015, we began conversations with academic support staff at Family Scholar House to find out how our skills might be of use, and started offering workshops and tutoring hours for student writers on FSH campuses. This year, we expanded those hourly offerings and began allowing some of our trained consultants to volunteer as well. Three accomplishments we are particularly proud of this year:

  • Working in conjunction with Bronwyn Williams’ Spring 2017 Community Literacy course, we have been able to expand our spring hours to offer hours on multiple FSH campuses throughout the week, meeting a long-term FSH goAmy Picture2al of providing more in-house academic support for student writers.
  • Assistant Director Amy McCleese Nichols led families in a set of “Story-Making Workshops” during Fall 2016, which focused on composing for fun using family (or imagined) stories. This 3-day set of workshops had a total attendance of 81 adults, 52 children, and 48 hand-sewn booklets with individualized covers were made for participants to write stories in and take home.
  • This spring, we have also added another community partner: the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Also working with the Community Literacy course, we are providing writing help every Tuesday for K-12 students.

Throughout these conversations, we have kept several values in play: showing up, listening, and building partnerships gradually for continuity. In Bronwyn’s words, we begin by simply “showing up.” Showing up in our context has meant keeping a sense of flexibility when setting up programs and plans. While we have put time and effort into making sure our work is meeting a need articulated by our partners, we also save room for the moments when no one shows up – and then we show up the week afterward. By building our relationships and a sense of trust gradually, we have found ourselves more able to have conversations when offerings need to change for the mutual benefit of both organizations.

We are also creating logistical structures within the Writing Center to support long-term partnerships. As the first Assistant Director working with community literacy, I brought a unique skill set from my previous work as a nonprofit volunteer coordinator. As I have worked with our partners, I have written manuals, kept records of previous conversations, and passed that knowledge on to other staff in the Writing Center so that our partnerships are not bound entirely to a semester-by-semester schedule. While our offerings and volunteer numbers will ebb and flow over time as partnerships evolve, we hope that having a consistent contact who stays in touch from year-to-year within the university will provide a sense of continuity for us and our partners while also providing opportunities for graduate student assistant directors to gain experience in the logistics of managing partnerships.

We look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library. This fall, we are partnering with the English 508: Literacy Tutoring course, taught by Dr. Andrea Olinger. The course will cover teaching writing individually and in small groups in academic, professional, and community contexts, and students that have taken it will be qualified to complete internships and volunteer work through these partnerships.

Ultimately, we hope that what Tiffany Rousculp has termed a “rhetoric of respect” will define our community literacy efforts. By putting our partners’ voices first in the conversation, keeping elements of our partnerships consistent, and strategically partnering with service-learning courses, we look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library.

 

 

International Mother Language Day

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

Last week, on February 21st, we hosted our first celebration of International Mother Language Day here at the U of L Writing Center.

I first found out about International Mother Language Day a few years ago, and I wish I’d known about it earlier. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially declared International Mother Language Day in 1999, and since then, countries worldwide have celebrated annually to promote multiculturalism, intercultural communication and linguistic diversity. February 21st was chosen for its historical significance, to commemorate the day in 1952 when university students in Bangladesh were killed by police while demonstrating for their rights to speak Bangla, their mother tongue. UNESCO is also committed to raising awareness about preserving endangered languages that are at risk of disappearing altogether. The 2017 theme was “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.”

In preparation for our event, we decorated using color printouts from an art series by Ella Frances Sanders featuring words in different languages that do not have direct translations in English (see her book here). We also set up a table with language trivia, and a poster on which participants could write in response to the question, “What do you love about your mother language?”

mother-lang-day-3

During the event, which took place from 2-4pm, nine student volunteers gave presentations about their mother language(s). The languages represented were Japanese, Mongolian, Korean, Bengali, Kazakh, Russian, Arabic, Spanish and Filipino. Presenters used Powerpoint, showed Youtube clips, played song recordings, and used the whiteboard to share about their mother languages. Audience members got a sense of what the languages sound like when spoken, as well as what the scripts look like in writing. The presentations were highly interactive, with participants inviting each other to practice saying different words aloud.

 

I found myself truly inspired that day, seeing each volunteer speak in and about their mother language(s) with such enthusiasm, and also watching members of the audience raising their hands, asking questions, requesting presenters to repeat things or write words on the board. It’s this type of openly curious interaction and dialogue that I think can partly give rise to a sense of community we talk about and think about—often, unfortunately, in the abstract. As I reflect on the event, I think it was successful not just because of the diversity of cultures and languages represented, but also, more importantly, because participants were so actively engaged, eager to teach others and learn new things.

mother-lang-day-2

At the Writing Center, we tutors are constantly learning from the writers we work with – but not always as much as we’d like. 50 minutes goes by pretty fast. The cultural exchange that we’d ideally hope to foster often gets sidelined in the face of a looming deadline. This is why I think all Writing Centers should observe International Mother Language Day every February 21st, to take some time to look up from our day-to-day routines and learn more about the cultures and languages of the students we work with. Writing from the perspective of a Writing Center tutor and someone whose mother language is not English, I think curiosity goes such a long way in creating truly inclusive spaces – and celebrating International Mother Language Day is a perfect opportunity to create such a space.

Thank you to all the student participants for their wonderful presentations, and to those who attended and contributed to making the event a success. I’d also like to extend a thank you to the International Center office and OASIS staff, who helped publicize the event.

See you again next year!

 

 

There’s More to Life than School

Carrie Mason, Consultantcarrie-m

This weekend my fiancé and I traveled down to my home for some family time. I’ve done a little schoolwork, but not much, and this blog is the last thing I’ll do. I’m learning a slow lesson: school work – or even regular work – does not define my life. It is just a part. I enjoy academics, but it’s not the most important part of my existence.

You see, the thing is, on May 27 I’m getting married. There’s a lot of stuffs that go into this wedding planning and most of it I hadn’t even thought about before being engaged. And since I live with family in Louisville, while my fiancé lives in an apartment with friends, we also have to find a place to live. But I’m not writing this blog to talk about all the things that I have to do, I’m sure you also have tons of things you also have to accomplish.

What I am saying is that sometimes school just needs to take a back seat.

Don’t misread me, doing well in school is still a good and right goal; it would be foolish to abuse the privilege and skimp through the semester. However, it is infinitely more important for me to continue building a deeper, stronger relationship with my fiancé as we work toward marriage.

You see, dear reader, life is not all grades and articles and books to read. There is more than an essay exam. There are trees to see and flowers to smell. If I get straight As in every class and write the most profound papers, but I fail to cultivate lasting relationships, then I have wasted time. And if I end my academic career with institutional laurels, but have a mind full of demerits because I did not take time to care for myself, then I am worse than when I started.

So, dear reader, take care of yourself and your relationships. Keep working to achieve your academic goals, but remember there are other parts of life that would be unwise to neglect.  It’s hard to learn and remember, because right now everything seems to be on the very top of the to-do list, but remember, the academic accomplishments are more enjoyable if you have people to share them with. Besides, an essay exam only lasts about an hour anyway.

Flying Out Loud

Ashleigh Scarpinato, Consultantashleigh-s

As a Writing Center tutor, I am always encouraging the writers I meet with to read their work aloud because there are so many benefits: it helps find typos, places with awkward syntax, etc. Sometimes, I have noticed that hearing someone else read your work aloud is also very beneficial. So, I have also suggested to the writers I tutor to download reading software that will read their work back to them. Given that I offer this advice fairly regularly, you would think I would have taken that advice for myself.

I had the honor of reading some of my poetry for the reading series Flying Out Loud on Monday, February 13th. First there would be an open mic for any local poets, then the featured writers would each have ten minutes to read their work. I had never read in a coffee shop or for a reading series. I knew I needed to prepare accordingly, so I organized my poems and began reading them aloud, in a soft, mumbled whisper to ensure that I was within my time limit. With my printed poems in one hand and a copy of The Woman in White in the other, I walked into Sunergos Coffee Shop—the smell of freshly brewed coffee whisking through the air. Arriving early, I ordered a decaf Frappuccino, and when I picked up my order, I noticed that the baristas had pulled designs through the froth. I collapsed on the couch and attempted to get some reading done.

The open mic started just after 6 o’clock, and it was so enjoyable hearing poets read their work—with varying rhetorical choices. As one of my poetry professors once said, poetry is meant to be read aloud, so no amount of internal reading can quite do a poem poetic justice. And with each poet, the clock crept closer and closer to my time slot, and those familiar butterflies began creeping their way back into my stomach. Finally, it was my turn to read my work—to say aloud the words I had crammed in the margins of notebook paper and reworked into stanzas on my laptop. I was going to read some poems that I had never read for anyone other than myself; I never feel quite as honest as when I read someone one of my poems. I fumbled my way through the chairs in front of me and up to the microphone, centered in a dim spotlight. I began reading my poems to the audience, attempting to regulate my breathing and pounding heart. While reading, I noticed a typo on the page, but luckily my brain registered the error before my mouth could formulate the mistake. I knew what I wanted it to say, what it was meant to have said. And when I finished reading, just under my ten-minute limit, I looked up for an applause of reassurance. I kept thinking about that single error no one else was even cognizant of. After resuming my seat on the couch, I reflected on my decision to whisper my poems while practicing. I thought about the fact that if I had just read them aloud with a full, clear voice, I would have caught the typo before printing the copy.

Will I read again at another reading series? Yes, and I would encourage all poets to do the same. I truly believe that there is nothing else in this world quite like reading your work aloud. So, even if you do not have the connections to be one of the featured readers in a local reading series, try to do the open mic. You can hear yourself read in an authentic setting and provide yourself with an opportunity to see and hear the way an audience responds to your writing. After all, reading and writing go hand and hand, and along with that comes the benefit of reading what you have written aloud.

Artistic Awards in a World of Divisiveness

Katie Kohls, Consultantkatie-k

The Grammys were this weekend. Besides the beautiful and oftentimes odd fashion that will be on the pages of every magazine, musical artists (albeit primarily English speaking) were rewarded for their talents and creations. Since its introduction in 1959, The Grammys have been the highest award most musicians can achieve. The Grammys are ranked among the top award shows like the Emmy Awards (television), the Tony Awards (stage performance), and the Academy Awards (motion pictures). Like the Pulitzer Prize is for composition, these awards attempt to recognize creative people and their accomplishments.

I think it is important to appreciate what these awards, and others like them, attempt to do. They recognize and promote creative artistry that typically doesn’t have a pragmatic use. A song isn’t supposed to cure cancer, a film isn’t made to stop world hunger, a television series isn’t created to raise math and science scores, a stage production isn’t performed to create the next technological advancement, and many texts aren’t composed to achieve any capitalist aim. These pieces of creativity are crafted to appeal and help something that cannot be measured and that doesn’t have a logical end goal. In a world where STEM is prioritized and money seems to be the greatest source of power, these awards stress and celebrate almost a counter-culture of creativity for the soul’s sake.

And this is not to say that science, math, and pragmatic things aren’t good or necessary, but living in a world with only them is not only boring but also stifling. Creativity is necessary even for science and math and sports. A few months ago there was backlash against actress Meryl Streep for her comments on some people’s feelings on immigration and what makes America great: “So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.” You can read the rest of her speech here https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/08/arts/television/meryl-streep-golden-globes-speech.html?_r=0. Whatever your opinions on Streep’s talents or her political opinions, I think she gets at another issue with this comment. Football, MMA, and other sports aren’t the arts; they have artistic elements and places for creativity, but they are not the arts. They, like the sciences and math, have their places and uses, but they cannot be substituted for the arts. Sports champion physical strength and competition above all, and fall short of what arts allow and the people the arts bring together.

The arts bring people together not by competition or to see who is superior, but by something deeper that cannot be adequately defined. A song can’t cure cancer, but it can give strength of spirit and comfort to a suffering patient. A film can’t feed every hungry individual but it can bring recognition to people in need. A television series can’t raise test scores, but it can make learning enjoyable. A stage production can’t make new technology, but it can cause people to think differently about their world and history. And a piece of writing, along with most of these endeavors, can and do make money, but most of the time they have bigger, more important meanings behind their creation. The Grammys and other creative awards celebrate a part of our culture we must try to champion and show its importance. We must not let our creativity and connectedness be trivialized or dismissed. These award shows are important, and they, in some respect, represent all of us creators who dare to do something beyond the logical, beyond the normal, and beyond the expected.

Growing as Writers through Journaling

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

Now and then writers I work with in the Writing Center ask me if I know of any tips to help them improve their writing. I find that offering cogent suggestions isn’t always easy. Perhaps part of my difficulty in offering “easy” tips to improve writing lies in the glacial rate at which my own writing seems to progress, and it’s difficult to imagine easy fixes for the challenges we face as growing writers. Still, it’s important to acknowledge the desires of writers (myself included) who earnestly want to know what they can do outside of things like going to the Writing Center to help them develop their craft. So, here goes my attempt at mustering a nugget of writing advice: First, if possible, allow yourself to let go of the anxiety to “improve” your writing. Second, keep a journal. In this post, I’ll try to explain my reasoning for these suggestions.

We seem to live in a goal-oriented age full of sensationalized bullet lists for self-improvement. For example:

  • Seven steps to lose 30 pounds in 30 days
  • 10 habits of highly successful people
  • Three ways to live a longer, healthier life
  • 17.6632173333333 quick tips to becoming a smarter, stronger, better looking, wealthier, more well-liked human being

Jeez.

I resist trying to make writing advice fit this mold. While I think we can take measures to improve our writing, I’m afraid the goal of simply “being better” at writing sometimes eclipses the importance of writing itself.

But in the university, where students often equate writing with assessment, a goal-oriented approach to writing seems nearly unavoidable, perhaps even natural. I often hear things like “I want/need an ‘A’ on this paper” from writers I work with. To be honest, I think the same thing while writing my own papers, even as I tell myself grades aren’t the point of writing. As writers in the university, we are writing in what we perceive as high-stakes environments where, for better or worse, assessments and credential-getting come into play. We value GPAs as means to keep scholarships, advance professionally, and measure our performance. However, I would like to suggest that by writing in situations where we can suspend quantifiable goals, we might give ourselves a better opportunity to grow as writers at a more organic pace.

Give up goals of becoming better to become better? How does this work? While my suggestion is admittedly based on personal experience rather than extensive research, I will venture to defend my suggestion by showing what writing in a journal—a venue divorced from assessment—has done to help me progress as a writer.

I’ve kept a journal, writing with varying degrees of regularity, for years. Outside of required writing for school or the odd freelance job, journaling represents my most consistent writing and has generally been the writing I’ve enjoyed the most. Over the years, keeping a journal has given me the chance to write about whatever I’ve felt like writing about, free from the pressure of formality or worrying about an audience. My entries tend to be pretty mundane, often just recordings of a day’s events, but I think writing routine journal entries has helped me become a better writer over time. To explain my thinking here, I’ll try to draw an analogy between writing in my journal and playing soccer. There’s a connection eventually, I promise.

Growing up, I loved to play soccer. I spent hours each week in the backyard kicking the soccer ball around. These hours were unstructured time spent doing something I liked to do. I had no clear goal and generally was not consciously striving to get better, but as successive soccer seasons rolled by, I began to see that my time spent playing soccer in the backyard was helping me become a fundamentally better player in organized games.

When I think about the journaling I’ve done over the years, it occurs to me that in many ways my journaling parallels my time playing soccer in the backyard. I started writing in my journal simply because I sometimes felt like writing something down. Beyond that, I had no real goal. For instance, I might take an evening walk, and there would be something special about the walk—something in the cool air, the way the sun sank behind a nearby ridge, some memory that came to me as I experienced everything—that would make me want to write about the moment, that would inspire me to try to find the best words I could to describe the experience. I might return home and write a short journal entry about the walk, not as a conscious exercise in writing, but as an attempt to pen down an experience I wanted to remember. Writing would, I hoped, help me find the words to do some glimmer of justice to the experience. Trying to write about various events in my life in short journal entries turned out to be a fair amount of writing practice and helped me become more comfortable with writing in general.

Journaling hasn’t turned me into Shakespeare, but the practice has helped me grow little by little as a writer over time. My journal is a place where I’ve tried on different hats as a writer, a place where I’ve recorded funny episodes, random thoughts, or events from perfectly unremarkable days spent working and running errands. I’ve written through times of happiness, melancholy, frustration, and transition. I’ve written simply to write. Free from the fear of assessment or judgment, I’ve experimented and played with writing for years outside of any formal writing assignments.

As we continue to negotiate new genres, assignments, and challenges in academic settings, perhaps something as simple as journaling at night before bed could go a long way toward making us more practiced writers. Journaling offers us the chance to get to know our own voices a little better and, just maybe, can make us a little savvier in our writing when we meet the next writing project coming down the road.

Finding the Time to Write

Ashley Taylor, ConsultantAshley T

One of my favorite questions to ask writers out in the world is:

“When do you find time to write?”

Out of the various answers, whether creative or academic, ultimately the collective response in the midst of a busy life is to schedule time to write. However, you can’t stop your third shift manual labor job and say “hold on, I have to finish this paragraph real quick” or tell your 5 month old baby “I need this time to myself, sorry.” The world doesn’t stop for writing assignments.

Students live busy lives and learn to balance their schedules between academic, work, and personal life. But writing can be a monster when put under pressure, which can cause writers to put off an assignment, feel overwhelmed by the writing process, or feel as if they have to make sacrifices in the other areas of their life just to tackle the next rhetorical essay, research proposal, or short story.

A polished draft is not required to make an appointment with the us. You can make up to three sessions in the same week and we help through all stages of the writing process. My absolute favorite appointments are when we brainstorm and plan because in those sessions, writing feels approachable, manageable, and a little less scary.

When I hear that the key to finding time to write is to schedule it, it seems as if that means on my own. Schedule alone time, to write alone, to tackle writing alone. But that’s not the case. You are most certainly not alone in having a busy life and even when writing alone, there’s an audience involved as a silent party. Sharing your writing through all the stages of the process helps to foster the idea that writing is most certainly a social act. Reach out. Schedule time with others.

Here are just a few resources that can be helpful in this process:

In the University  Writing Center alone we have consultants who are a parent-to-be, a new parent for the first time, a new parent for the second time, a parent with two children entering grade school, and a parent with three teens. We have consultants who are planning weddings and starting internships. Many of our consultants are graduate students in our first year of the master’s program and PhD candidates taking steps toward building careers. We are students with writing assignments in the midst of busy personal lives and we know the value of reaching out.

Have compassion for yourself.

We are a resource for you.

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