UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “January, 2014”

5 Tips for Productivity: The Secret to Success

Arielle Ulrich, Consultant

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

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

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

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


How I Write: Greg Wrenn — Poet

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

Greg Wrenn, photo by Pak Han

Greg Wrenn, photo by Pak Han

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

How I Write: Greg Wrenn

Location: Oakland, California

Current project: An untitled essay on artistic vision

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

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

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

  2. When/where/how do you write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Tips for Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Megen Boyett, Consultant

DSCN1655More than any other month, January seems to be the time to write personal statements. You’re thinking about summer internships, fall graduate programs, and real world jobs, and application deadlines are just around the corner. You don’t want to brag, but you do want to stand out from the crowd. You want to showcase how hard you work, but you aren’t quite sure what committees look for. You have so much to say, but only 1000 words to say it in!

Sound familiar? You’re in good company. Plenty of other students are expressing the same concerns every week in the writing center. Here are five tips for writing an interesting, clear personal statement in 1000 words or less!

1. Don’t take it personally; it’s just business.

“Personal” is really the wrong word for this kind of writing. Acceptance committees want to know about your interest in the program or position you’re applying for as well as any experience you already have. Thus, you want to leave out childhood anecdotes, high school jobs, or stories about overcoming fears. Those say a lot about your work ethic, passion and character, but they don’t necessarily explain why you’re a good fit for your chosen profession or program.  Instead, think about your experiences in or related to the field that you’re hoping to get a position in. What interesting experiences have you already had working or volunteering in this field? Focus on one or two significant experiences that have shaped your views of the field or helped develop a particular interest. Instances that exemplify your interests or strengths in the field help a committee see who you are as a potential employee or program member.

2. Talk about your plan.

Where do you see yourself in a year? Five years? Ten? How will this position or program help you reach those goals? You don’t have to have all the details figured out yet, and you can certainly change directions later, but being able to clearly articulate what you want from the program or position will help an acceptance committee know what you hope to get from the program as well as what interests and skills you’re bringing in with you. This kind of detailed, practical planning may also help you think about why you want to be part of the program or company you’re applying for.

3. Do your research.

What do you know about the program or position you’re applying for? What do they value or put emphasis on? How do your goals or values fit with that of the company or school? Again, this will help you narrow your focus and think critically about your plans for the future. Talking about your values or goals in a way that reflects those of the program also show that you care enough about the job to do your homework and that your interests are in line with what the program or company see as their own goals. You might also talk about specific professors or researchers you want to work with. A personal statement is a good time to mention how your interests intersect with theirs. If you’ve been able to work with them already, you might mention that work as particularly influential or shaping.

4. Don’t think of it as bragging.

Obviously you have a lot to learn still about the field you’re going into. Obviously you want to appear humble and eager to learn. Instead of thinking of a personal statement as bragging, think of it as telling a potential employer or program director what you have to offer the team you’d be joining. What needs might you fulfill within the program? What has your unique background and set of experiences prepared you for? What research are you interested in or already working on? When you couple this with discussion of your goals and what you hope to learn from the program, a committee can start to visualize your place within their program or team.

5. Put it away and come back later.

Once you’ve finished drafting and you think you’ve got a pretty solid personal statement, close the document. If you have time, take a day or two before you go back to it. Then, read it aloud, looking for typos. You might print it out and mark changes you want to make in pen if you’re having trouble focusing on a computer screen. Looking at your writing in a different environment can help you catch typos or think about your word choice in a new way.

Of course, we at the writing center will be happy to help at any stage of the process, from brainstorming to drafting to helping you revise before you send it off. Make an appointment to bring by your personal statement. Having someone to talk about your writing with not only relieves some stress, it’s also pretty fun.

Happy Writing! And if you need more tips before you come see us, check out our earlier post!

5 Strategies for Picking a Paper Topic

Alex Clifton, Consultant

It’s never too early in the semester to start thinking about paper topics. Trust me, it’s much easier to write your essays in March or April when you’ve already thought about and researched a topic over the course of weeks, rather than deciding to write about something three days before it’s due. I’ve done the latter, and it’s produced some sleepless nights and shoddy writing—something you definitely want to avoid! However, it can be difficult to determine what exactly you want to write about. The following strategies will, hopefully, jumpstart some thought and give you ideas for any classes you’re struggling in!

Make a list. If you look over the syllabus of a course and realize that nothing quite “speaks” to you immediately, make a list of subject areas you know you’re interested in. Are you into feminist theory? Do you enjoy researching murders in South America? Are you more interested in the political or economic aspects of the Russian Revolution? These questions sound silly, but if you think about things you’re interested in, a paper topic might spark from that. I once took a course on the Civil War and did not find myself enamoured with the books on the syllabus. However, I knew I liked writing about gender and children’s literature, and ended up writing a fun paper on children’s stories during the Civil War! Reminding yourself what your interests are will also help you come up with a topic that you will be far more invested in—which will make your final paper a lot more fun to write.

Preliminary research. It might sound boring, but typing in keywords into the library’s database (WorldCat, located here) can provide a wealth of information and ideas. Not only is it a good way to find scholarly and reliable sources, but those books can also give you an idea of the scholarship out there! WorldCat has a really handy feature where you can click on a book and it will tell you the chapter/essay titles within the book. If you’re trying to do a paper on Arctic exploration, you might end up finding an essay on John Rae, a Scottish doctor who discovered the grisly fate of the doomed Franklin expedition from 1848, that focuses on his skills with snowshoeing, which might spark some interest in nineteenth-century Inuit methods of snow travel. Yeah, it’s an extreme example, but WorldCat is such a great resource and you don’t even need to have a defined paper topic to use it!

Talk it out. If you’re really struggling to come up with a paper topic, it might help to brainstorm verbally with some friends. If you talk to a friend or two from your course, you might discover new ways of looking at the subject material that may trigger some interest. Maybe one of your friends is writing on Bosnian familial structures, and somehow their own thoughts inspire you to look up Bosnian recipes for a paper in a course on Bosnian culture. Sometimes, it also helps to talk to a friend from outside your course, as they may act as an impartial observer to your thoughts and can ask probing questions. If you don’t want to ask your friends for help, try talking to your professor. I have yet to have a professor at UofL who has been totally unwilling to help students, especially when it’s clear that the student is making an effort. (If you’re asking for help about brainstorming a paper topic way before it’s due, that shows you’re making an effort!) Some professors may seem scary and unapproachable in class, but I’ve found that they are less likely to bite during office hours. Your professor might also be able to look at your academic interests and help guide you towards a topic that they deem suitable and you’ll find interesting, a win-win for all!

Freewrite. Yeah, nobody wants to think about writing when they’re working on finding a topic to write on. It’s a dirty secret of research that you’re going to have to do a lot more writing than you ever planned on in order to come up with that glorious final paper. It sometimes helps to just write down things you’ve considered researching and listing ways you could flesh out each topic. Sometimes, seeing your own ideas out on paper can help make paper topics more concrete, rather than just thinking about what you might write about—it makes your ideas far more concrete, and puts you down the road for academic success!

DSCN1650Come in to the writing center. Last, but not least, if you’re really struggling with starting on a paper, come in to the writing center and talk to one of our consultants. Everyone has different strategies for working on papers, and they’ll be able to give you some useful tips. Talking to someone who works with writing might be beneficial in ways that talking to your friends aren’t: if you can talk to one of our tutors about your writing style and methods, then they might be able to find a way to help you figure out how to pick and start working on a paper topic.

I hope some of these tips help you find whatever it is you want to write about this semester! And, as always, feel free to stop by the Writing Center with whatever you’ve got of your paper. Whether it’s just ideas floating up in your head or a full-on draft, we’ll help you work with it. Happy brainstorming!

How I Write: Brian Leung — Novelist

Welcome back for the Spring 2014 semester! 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.

To kick off the new semester, brianleung1local novelist Brian Leung offers us a little bit of insight into his writing process. Brian Leung is the author of the short story collection,  World Famous Love Acts (Sarabande), winner of the Mary McCarthy Award for short  fiction and The Asian American Literary Award for Fiction.  His novels are Lost  Men (Random House) and Take Me Home (Harper/Collins) which won the 2011 Willa  Award for Historical Fiction. You can read more about each of these here. His fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction  appear in numerous magazines and journals. Leung is currently the Director of  Creative Writing at UofL and is a board member of the nonprofit organization,  Louisville Literary Arts.

How I Write: Brian Leung

Location: outdoors or next to a window (shame on me)

Current project: Novel and a short story collection

Currently reading: Zealot by Reza Aslan

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

    I confess to having a bias in responding to this question because, as a personal definition, I think of writing as the activity I engage in when I’m working on fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and the various small creative projects I’m invited to contribute to.  These categories get my attention on a daily basis, though it varies by deadline which I’ll be working on in a given moment.  For example, earlier this year I was asked write a brief review/essay, so I set aside my novel project to work on that.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on poetry and hand editing my novel manuscript.  These activities generally take place in the morning.

    Now, back to the confession.  On any given day I probably write more words on emails, social media and on text messaging than I do in my creative work.  I call this part of my typing life, communicating, but not writing.  I don’t mean to disparage these activities, but they rarely capture my sustained attention in a way that makes me reflect deeply on the language being employed.  This may be a casualty of thinking of electronic communication as being fleeting and not permanent. We’ll find out if that’s true when the lights go out.

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    I recall Annie Dillard writing that she had to close the blinds and tape up a drawing of the view from her window just so she could concentrate  on writing.  I require the distraction of the occasional cardinal, of a rocking, late blooming yellow iris. It’s a refreshing tableau to watch a squirrel hop through snow and pause when she spies me spying her.  Because of this, most of my writing in the last seven or eight years has taken place outdoors or next to a window.

    I write in the mornings three to five times a week, and I write slowly. I read every sentence aloud.  Because of this, I get to keep a healthy percentage of my sentences.

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

    Poetry I compose on paper, and I confess now to being entirely laptop dependent for prose.  I rarely listen to music, and I certainly can’t listen to music with lyrics leung_yardwhile I’m writing.  So, when I say that I have to write with nobody but myself and my cat in the house, I mean both without my boyfriend and without Lady Gaga or One Direction.

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

    Getting started when? There’s the getting started after you’ve started, and there’s starting with a blank page.  In the case of the former, I think it’s wise to leave off at an incomplete thought or image so that when you return you have a definite piece of the puzzle to begin with.  “Cornfelder stopped at the door, then turned because he forgot. . . .”  I don’t have a character named Cornfelder, but I’d have fun tomorrow morning figuring out what he forgot and then I’d be off to the races. It’s the same for essay writing, I think.  In an essay about James Baldwin, one might come to a point where Mr. Baldwin might weigh in. But wait until tomorrow and pick that up.   This process only works if you’re not a procrastinator, and if you are, G(g)od(s) help you.

    Starting with a blank page? See the writing advice I got below. Why bother writing at all unless. . . .

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

    The best writing advice I ever received was unspoken.  A creative writing teacher had cut me off at the knees in one of my first undergraduate workshops when my fiction came up. I was so livid, I went home and spent the week reading her work and producing an angry imitation.  The next class I stomped into class and read it aloud uninvited, asking at the end, and angrily, “Is that what you want?” She looked at me calmly and said, “Yes.”  I understood instantly.  Her expression and tone told me not that she wanted me to imitate her writing, but that she wanted me to be passionate about my own.

4 Resolutions for Spring 2014

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

For many people, Ashly_Version_3January is a time for new resolutions, a time to set goals for ourselves over the next 12 months. Our director, Bronwyn Williams, has written in the past about how “new year’s resolutions” for those whose schedules are governed by the school system generally come in August. I fully agree on that count, yet this Spring semester is unique for me. Hopefully by August I will have finished and defended my dissertation—meaning this may be my last semester as a student, in the official sense. Even if I don’t manage this grand feat, this is certainly my last semester at the University Writing Center. A fact I lament, even as I put up a new Texas landscapes calendar next to my desk. Because endings are looming on the horizon, I find that this Spring, more so than those in the past, I’m thinking about the things I hope to see accomplished by myself and others in the coming months.

  1. Most of our tutors will be finishing up their first year of graduate school, and one of them will be graduating. One of the great things about working in the writing center is seeing people grow and learn, and hearing them talk about all the interesting ideas they develop. This is true with our clients and our tutors. So I’m excited to see and hear about all the projects and ambitions for the future our tutors hold.
  2. We are continuing to get more readers and followers on our blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Across our social media, the Writing Center hopes to offer resources and advice for writers at all levels, and also a bit of humor. Also, on our Twitter, we post in the afternoons about upcoming availabilities, something that is especially helpful during mid-semester and finals when we get busy. On our blog, our tutors discuss in more depth about particular writing concerns, habits, practices, and experiences. Also, we’re excited to have our first full semester of our new How I Write series, in which established professionals from a range of fields discuss their writing practices; we’ve already heard from a couple creative writers, an engineering professor, and a law professor. I hope we continue to get more readers, and that our readers spread the word about our sites.
  3. The Writing Center had a record number of appointments last year, and we’re eager to continue serving the diverse UofL population. For many semesters in a row, our number of appointments has been growing. We fill nearly every available appointment, and our Virtual Writing Center is popular as well. Our staff and tutors work hard to be responsive to our clients’ various concerns, and we’re constantly brainstorming ways in which we can be more helpful and available. Our survey results from last semester showed that:In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (72%) or “Agree” (25%).

    In answer to the statement: “What I learned during my Writing Center consultation will help me with future writing projects,” more than 94% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (64%) or “Agree” (30%).

    In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 94% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (74%) or “Agree” (20%).

    In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (80%) or “Agree” (17%).

  4. Finally, no surprise, I’m looking forward to making progress on my dissertation. Writing a dissertation can be a difficult, circuitous, and sometimes just overwhelming task. Working with other graduate students in the Writing Center—at the Dissertation Writing Retreat and otherwise—has helped me to understand this process better and to just keep trying new strategies when I’m feeling stuck. Still, as with any large project, the process is marked by ups and downs. Thus, one of my major goals is to keep myself working and progressing toward my defense and being able to call myself “Doctor.”

As your Spring begins, what sorts of goals (or resolutions, if you prefer) are you hoping to achieve over the next few months? Over the next year? At the Writing Center, we are versed in developing processes, strategies, and plans for tackling writing projects, and we’re not only happy but eager to work with you on those projects. Together we can achieve our goals for this semester, this year, this/these projects.

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