UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “September, 2016”

A Summer in Europe: Writing Center Work in Poland and Beyond

Lance Gibson, UofL Sophomore

Lance Gibson is a UofL sophomore majoring in English and Mathematics with a minor in Linguistics. Lance has visited the University Writing Center as a writer and, was interested enough in Writing Center theory and practice to talk with a number of us here about how he might pursue his interests. We were impressed with his passion for Writing Center work and helped connect him with the director of the English Writing Improvement Center at the University of Lodz in Poland.  Lance was awarded an Etscorn International Summer Research Award that allowed him to work in Lodz and Germany for six weeks this past summer. We asked Lance to write about his experiences for our blog.

While en route to my first professional academic conference in Łόdź (/Woo-dj/), Poland, a city I couldn’t even pronounce, to learn about and present on writing center work that I frankly thought was above my pay grade, I couldn’t help but feel a little trepidation. After nearly 24 hours of traveling and narrowly escaping expulsion from a train during my first twenty minutes in Łόdź, I can’t say the initial tone was set very high.

Some months previous I had explored the option of going to Poland to teach in the

lance1

Lance (left) with Brandon Hardy, of Eastern Carolina University, at the European Writing Center Association Conference

University of Lodz’s English Writing Improvement Center (ERIC) as a summer educational experience. It was by complete luck that the European Writing Center Association (EWCA) conference just so happened to be taking place while I was there; I was even invited to submit a proposal. That was serendipity at its finest. But when I was faced with the daunting prospect of trying to meaningfully add to the conversation of writing professionals, it was intimidating. Yet I discovered that both the conference and Poland exceeded my initial expectations.

Poland has a unique and eclectic sense of culture. Having only been in the European Union since 2004, Poland has modernized in an extremely short period of time. This is shown in its architecture. While the Lodz city center shows Poland’s modern facets, the outskirts are traditional reflection of Poland’s former years under Soviet control. This juxtaposition of old and new became a major theme of my learning experience in both cultural and literary contexts.

When the EWCA conference rolled around, I found that it was an extremely accessible and easy way to get plugged into the important academic discussions on the practice of peer tutoring and writing pedagogy. All of this was put into context by interacting with a group of passionate and diverse individuals from Germany to China to Serbia. The very same juxtaposition of old and new practices in peer tutoring and writing pedagogy were seen at the conference, providing a perfect context for discussion on our overarching, shared goal of how to most effectively develop successful writers in schools, businesses, and the community.

At the core of this discussion were the myriad strategies writing centers from around the world use to address this goal. While some writing centers seek to develop foreign language proficiency in writing, others seek to negotiate mandatory writing courses to be offered in their universities, and others still, seek to empower tutors to make a difference among their peers.

One of the key differences in the practice of writing pedagogy is making the distinction between writing centers as either a place to learn writing vs. a space to practice writing. While many centers in the U.S. are used as a place to learn to write where students schedule appointments in advance to meet with a tutor, locations like the ERIC and the Vidadrina Schreibzentrum (German for writing center) in Frankfurt Oder, Germany are using an older drop-in style of tutoring. This drop-in style focuses more on making the writing center a comfortable space to write where tutors are available as needed to answer a question or give feedback.

ewca-peer-tutor-day

Peer tutors discuss writing pedagogy at the European Writing Center Association Conference

When we compare these European favored to styles to the practice of writing pedagogy in the U.S., we can see a few distinctions. Overall, writing centers in the U.S. are extremely popular and may sometimes serve undergraduate and graduate populations of thousands of students, whereas writing centers in Europe have less traffic, and therefore, focus on taking a more personal approach. For instance, while less than forty students per year use the ERIC, those same forty students are likely to work very closely with the ERIC on projects like theses and term papers. Is one method more effective than the other?

That’s a method of some intense debate. I believe that each writing center develops a system that accommodates the goals and needs of its users in order to best develop writing both inside the university and out in the community as well.

My overall experience from the EWCA conference is that there are a multitude of ways to approach writing pedagogy and peer tutoring. We, as writers and scholars, can best improve upon both our own personal writing and developing the writing of others by having an honest and open dialogue about these diverse methods, tweaking things in our own writing centers and styles of tutoring based on these practices, constantly find ways that both do and don’t work for us. This intellectual exchange is at the heart of scholarship and the pursuit of the art of successful writing. Ultimately, I hope to continue this discussion both at home and abroad, studying how we change individuals and communities through the powerful force of writing.

You Are Not a Unique Snowflake

katie-kKatie Kohls, Consultant

If you are interested at all with musical theatre and haven’t been living under a rock for the past year, you have probably heard of a little show called Hamilton. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote the music, lyrics, and book. This musical had taken the world by storm, and if it wasn’t about the Founding Fathers, many of the songs could be in the Top 40. Just go listen to “My Shot”, “Non-Stop”, or “Burn” and hear what I mean. The entire score is amazing. And Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, played Alexander Hamilton for the first year of its run on Broadway. And no role in the musical is limited by color or race; the Founding Fathers in Hamilton are as diverse as America today. Miranda is changing how we look at musicals, actors, and history.

Miranda also wrote the musical, In the Heights, and has composed the music for Disney’s new movie, Moana, to give a few of his other works. Basically, Miranda is a phenomenal person and writer, who has literally changed the world with his work. But on September 23, he reminded his Twitter followers that even writing geniuses have their rough patches.

Miranda’s Twitter is a place of beautiful positivity and updates on what he is doing with his time. His good morning and good night tweets are motivating and touching whether you know him or not. On September 23 though, he tweeted a ‘memory’ from three years’ prior (memories on social media remind you of popular posts that you posted on that day in previous years). This memory was a conversation Miranda had with his wife, Vanessa, about writing:

lmm-tweet

Miranda’s tweet says, “This conversation happened 3 years ago. Keep Writing. Get back to your piano” with a picture of the 2013 tweet which said:

Me: Sometimes the writing doesn’t happen as fast as I’d like it to.

Vanessa: I know.

Me: I have a hard time finding the balance between not beating myself up when it doesn’t happen as fast as I’d like it to, and not wasting time while I wait for it to happen.

Vanessa: Everyone has that problem all of the time.

Me: You mean these aren’t unique snowflake problems that happen to me because I am a unique snowflake?

Vanessa: No.

Me: Oh, good.

[End of Play.]

This tweet shows Miranda’s humor, but it also reminds us as writers and creative beings that we must keep going. Like Miranda said, the balance of not beating ourselves up and not wasting time is difficult. And we can take some small comfort in arguably one of the creative geniuses of our time has trouble writing sometimes. Who knew?!

But in all seriousness, we all struggle, but we all try to mask it. We don’t want to admit our weakness, and admit we just can’t sometimes. But if one of the greatest creative geniuses of our time is admitting that he struggles, shouldn’t we, the lowly uninfluential peasants, be okay with our struggles? I’m kidding about the peasants, but I am serious about being okay when we can’t write, can’t create. Our struggles to write aren’t because we are some special unique snowflakes with unique snowflake problems. I’m sorry, but in writing, you are not a unique snowflake but neither is Miranda.

So “What Comes Next?” Just because your problems are not unique, does not mean that your writing is not unique. So next time you are stuck or “Helpless” or have no clue how to begin again, “Take A Break” and “Wait For It” because you will “Blow Us All Away”. Soon your writing will be “Non-Stop”, and you should have confidence because “History Has Its Eyes On You”. And maybe you will make it to a point where some poor grad student fixes her writer’s block by incorporating your songs into her conclusion.

 

How I Write: Nicholas Siegel

nicholas-siegel-picNicholas Siegel is a fiction writer and freelance journalist from Louisville, KY who earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University. His fiction has appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Literally Stories, and Five on the Fifth. He currently works as the full time Content Editor for the Sullivan University System and is a lover of bourbon, coffee, music, and cats. You can see his work on his website:  nicholassiegel.squarespace.com.

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

I mainly write fiction—usually short stories, but I’m also working on a novel. That’s what I studied during my MFA, and it’s my favorite type of writing to do.

I’m also a freelance journalist for a few different local magazines and currently working as Content Editor at the Sullivan University System. It’s nice having the opportunity to do three types of writing that tap into some similar parts of the mind but are vastly different in execution.

When/where/how do you write?

For my fiction, I like to write at my desk at home. I have a small apartment on the second floor of a fourplex, so it’s nice to have my deck door open as I write. I also spend a lot of time doing work in coffee shops, because I enjoy being around other people, even though I’m not interacting with them. As someone who usually feels torn between introversion and extroversion, it’s the perfect compromise.

There really isn’t a specific writing time—just when I’m not at work or out with friends and family. As for how, I use a word processor called Scrivener on my Macbook. It’s been a big help for organization.

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

I like to write in Moleskine notebooks, probably because I have some deep-rooted pretension or insecurity and want to be validated as a writer. Really, though, if I have a notebook that’s on the pricier-side, I’m more inclined to take care of it.

And as I’ve mentioned, I love Scrivener. I don’t use half of the features, but the ones I do use are a huge help. It’s humbling to remind myself that someone like Vonnegut wrote his novels on a typewriter, or that Nabokov filed away scenes on notecards in shoeboxes, but if the technology exists to make my job more pleasurable, I’m going to use it.

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

Just start writing. Don’t worry so much about whether your first paragraph is exactly where you want to start. You can change that later. Try not to revise as you write. I’m guilty of this, and it slows me down a lot. Get a draft out, as bad as it is, and then go back through and change it.

I doubt I’m the only person to use this analogy, but I like to think of a story’s first draft as a block of stone. Revision is the process of hacking away at it to make a sculpture. You have to get something down to work with in the first place, and you aren’t going to write a sculpture on your first shot, no matter how good you are.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

The best advice I’ve been given about writing has been repeated by many people I admire: just write. We come up with all sorts of excuses not to—time, mood, etc. You can’t wait for the muse to strike, or else you’ll only be cranking out a few short poems a year if you’re lucky. When the muse is there, it helps, but it usually isn’t.

In the end, the only thing that separates a writer from anyone else is that a writer writes…a lot. It’s not about skill, or publications, or financial success. It’s just about practice.

New Places, New People: Working Across Differences in the Writing Center

emily-cEmily Cousins, Consultant

Like traveling, Writing Center work allows us to better understand our place in the world through encounters with difference, and to explore undiscovered terrain within ourselves.

As Writing Center consultants, our discussions tend to focus on how we can cultivate effective strategies to give writers the support they seek in improving their writing. We want writers to walk away from every appointment with more confidence and a better understanding of certain genre conventions or sentence-level features of academic writing. But what is often left out of the ongoing discourse among consultants is what we gain from writers. It is not just writers that are transformed by visits to the Writing Center – we are also being transformed by the writers we see on a daily basis.

The most obvious way in which we’re changing is that we’re constantly learning new things. We get to read papers from a wide range of disciplines, so we’re always processing new information, concepts, data, theories, and discipline-specific vocabulary. This is certainly one of my favorite aspects of Writing Center work. But what is even more fulfilling and transformative is meeting the writers themselves. The feeling I get when talking to different people about their writing is not unlike how I sometimes feel when going to new places.

We often think of travel as requiring flights or hours of driving, but we don’t always have to go far to find an unfamiliar culture in a new place – it could be the next city over, or a new restaurant down the street. I like traveling to unfamiliar places not so much for leisure, but because it’s often difficult and uncomfortable. If prior experience tells me anything, it’s that I seem to be happiest when I am outside of my comfort zone, challenging myself to experience new things.

In the Writing Center, we are always working across differences, in ways that are often challenging. No matter what the writer’s background, no one is going to think or write exactly the way you do. Every Writing Center session requires communicative acts to negotiate differences, and by doing so, we are rewarded with opportunities for reflection and growth.

For the past four years, I worked in a Writing Center at an international university in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and I often took advantage of weekends and holidays to hop on a rickshaw or bus to explore my surroundings. Over time, I’ve come to some realizations about what to expect while traveling, which I think can also apply to Writing Center work.

Expect a change of plans. My excursions taught me to embrace the art of playing it by ear; no amount of preparation could ever guarantee that a day would go exactly how I planned. Likewise, in Writing Center sessions, the less we assume about writers, the more we can allow sessions to take shape organically, arising from the writers’ own agendas. If we do go into a session with a plan in mind, it’s important to be open to revising that plan as we go.

Expect highs and lows. One time, I got on a bus anticipating a 2-hour journey, only to reach my destination 14 hours later. In some Writing Center sessions, we may not accomplish everything that we wanted to, and the writer may leave with unresolved concerns. We may anxiously mull over what we could have done better. On the flip side, just like there are days while traveling where everything seems to fall magically into place, some Writing Center appointments can feel pretty close to perfect. These moments give us the energy and resolve to keep trying our best day after day.

Expect miscommunication. Whenever we travel to a new place, whether it’s to a new part of town or a trip abroad, miscommunication is common. These encounters may be relatively inconsequential and quickly resolved, or may have more significant impacts. In Writing Center appointments, there is always the possibility of misunderstandings. We may interpret what writers tell us differently from what they intended, and vise versa. This might give rise to moments of tension or resistance. All instances of miscommunication are learning opportunities, and through reflection we can try to understand how and why they happened.

Expect to be humbled. Every place has a past. I felt history whenever I ate at road-side teashops in Chittagong, or when I walked down streets lined with old book stalls in Kolkata. Traveling takes me away from a self-centric frame of mind to one where I’m just a tiny piece of an ever-greater whole. Everyone who comes through the Writing Center has their own past. In brief encounters with writers from all walks of life, I find myself constantly humbled by the magnitude of what I do not know.

Expect to be changed. We are moved by landscapes, and inspired by rhythms of city-life. We never know how we’ll be changed; the only certainty is that we will change. As we play our part to support others in their journeys as writers, we can only expect that we will, in turn, be transformed. Sometimes writers will impact us in unexpected ways – writer to consultant, writer to writer, person to person.

A Conversation with Recent MFA Graduate Martin Jennings About the Low-Residency MFA Experience

kevin-bKevin Bailey, Consultant

Have you ever considered pursuing a graduate-level degree in creative writing?  If so, you’ve perhaps heard of MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts in Writing).  An MFA in Creative Writing is a terminal degree (i.e. the furthest one can go in the field).  There are two main styles of MFA programs: high- and low-residency.  Despite this, information sessions on MFA programs tend to focus mostly, if not entirely, on the more traditional, high-residency programs.  I interviewed recent Spalding MFA graduate and writer Martin Jennings in order to get some insight into the less-frequently-discussed low-residency MFA experience and, thereby, open up new opportunities to creative writers seeking graduate study.   As a side note, writers can also achieve a terminal degree in creative writing by completing a PhD.  The following interview, however, is specifically about the MFA process with a special focus on low-residency schools.  Bear in mind that not all low-residency MFA programs are the same.

 

First off, why don’t you let us know what the difference is between a low-residency MFA program, like the one you recently attended at Spalding, and a high-residency program?

Sure.  There are some key differences.  The main one is that while you’re in a low-residency program, you do not stay on campus for two years and live in that area, as you would in a high-residency.   For low-residency, you do most of your work from home, while staying in touch with your professors and regularly turning in packets of new and revised work.  During the residency period, you have your lectures and workshops the same as you would at a high-residency program, except it occurs over a ten-day span, so it’s very intensive.

Early on into your MFA program, I remember you telling me that Spalding had helped you develop your own voice as a writer.  Do you still feel that way, and if so can you explain that in a little more depth?

Yes, I do still feel that Spalding helped develop my voice.  They were very encouraging in my low-residency MFA.   The instructors were particularly interested in seeing students experiment and try out different styles, themes, and perspectives in their stories.  And I was lucky enough to have had mentors who were very knowledgeable and able to point out new (to me) writers and books.  One writer whose work I was introduced to was Nicholson Baker.  He was recommended to me in my last semester at Spalding.  I remember thinking, “How haven’t I heard of him before?”  I saw my own voice, though much less refined, in his writing.  My mentors were very perceptive and able to take what I had written, show me my strengths about my particular style, and also instruct me about things I could do better, so as to make my work more cohesive.

Were there any other changes that occurred in your writing style/lifestyle while getting your MFA?

Yes, there were quite a few changes on both fronts.  As far as my writing style goes, I did a fair bit of experimenting with different types of stories and different narrators, subject matter, varying lengths (including a lot of flash fiction and longer stories) – just to get a feel for how you go about writing each type, what the differences were with each, and what they had in common.  I found myself somewhat favoring the smaller, more concise stories.

And as far as the lifestyle changes go, since I was responsible for turning in 35 to 50 pages of work each month, comprised of both new and revised work, I had to find a new way to incorporate writing into my everyday life.  And this was in addition to working a full time job and managing other responsibilities.  So writing became more a part of everyday life.

How did the low-residency program work for you in ways that a high-residency program might not have?  By contrast, is there anything offered by a high-residency program you feel you may have missed out on?

The volume of work that I produced in my low-residency program, based on what I hear from people who have done the high-residency, was much greater.  You get more specialized attention on your writing in a low-res program, and you’re producing so much material, you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  Spalding did offer experience in academic writing, but that was not the main focus – rather the creative writing work was.   I think you could say that low-residency MFA programs are designed for people who want to become better writers, as opposed to people who want to have careers in the teaching or in the academic world.  Generally speaking, high-residency programs seem to have greater teaching experience options – there seems to be more opportunity for it.  This can provide you with job experience.  There were workshops in low-residency that focused on creative writing pedagogy, but again, this was not the primary focus of the program.  And I would be remiss not to point out that low-residency programs are generally not as well funded, which means you often have to take out loans or pay out of pocket.  And it isn’t cheap!

What were some preconceptions you had about getting an MFA that didn’t pan out?

That I would graduate with sort of a collection of short stories that were ready to be published as such.  That by the time I finished – after two years – surely I would have enough pieces to flesh out a full collection and achieve great critical and financial success.  This wasn’t the case.  I did graduate with a lot of strong pieces that have gone on to be published, but it is a much more intense and lengthy process than you imagine going in.

I also had a fear that I would come out with cookie-cutter pieces of writing after having been exposed to a specific program and set way of doing things.  Fortunately, that didn’t come through at all, and I was allowed to experiment and find my own style of telling stories.

Finally, any cautionary words/suggestions for writers considering a low-residency MFA?

I do have some.  I would caution writers to make sure that what they want out of their program is to become a better writer, not to secure a set of marketable job skills.  The low-res program will teach you to be a better writer, and while it may offer some positive job-related skills, producing better writers is the primary goal of a low-residency program.  The focus is always on the writing, not on securing you a job.

Martin Jennings graduated from Spalding in the Fall of 2015.  His work has been featured in multiple publications since his graduation, most recently his story “Bodies of Water” in Sick Lit Magazine and “Hammer Space” in Under the Bed Magazine.  Martin writes, works, and lives in Louisville.

 

Write About an Experience While in Transit: A Creative Writing Prompt

Ashley TAshley Taylor, Consultant

Transportation scenes are my favorite in any genre or medium. Airplane, train, automobile, boat, ferry, bus, elevators, even bridges and stations. Vehicles can function as devices in liminal spaces, transporting characters and audience between places, worlds, states of being, and can even reflect on social change. They speak volumes when a character is encountering, contemplating, or considering a change on any scale. Because traveling often involves observing or interacting with strangers, using vehicles or stations are common maneuvers for reflecting on the human condition. Transportation scenes augment the symbolism of story, allowing objects and action to serve multiple functions, enhancing the power and meaning of the text.

Think about the function of the Hogwarts Express in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series or multiple plane rides in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or even falling down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. These vehicles, stations, and modes of transportation serve as links between worlds that play to the larger themes of each work: the tension of being between those two worlds. If we narrow the scale from book series and novels to shorter works like flash fiction and poetry, transportation scenes communicate certain codes about what’s going on beneath the surface and in between the lines.

In Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, two characters are sitting at a bar that lies between two train paths, one side of the tracks with lush and fertile land, the other side dry and barren. Hemingway doesn’t explicitly reveal the direction of either path or even the resolution for the tension. The emphasis is placed on the liminal space and pressure the characters feel while interacting between the two contrasting sides.

I encourage you to imagine or reflect on a time in transit or stuck between two places. Whether departing or arriving, explain the condition of the vehicle and/or station. Explore the sensory details, reveal the two worlds, and exploit the tension between them.

Examples:

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

Pdf:https://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences/EMS/Readings/139.105/Additional/Hills%20Like%20White%20Elephants%20-%20Ernest%20Hemingway.pdf

You Tube link that examines an interpretation with visuals:

https://youtu.be/Jc8YDIxwnKQ

The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley

Pdf: https://everydayliferhetoric.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/alice-notley-the-descent-of-alette.pdf

Review: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-14-058764-7

From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson

http://www.bartleby.com/188/138.html

Riding Backwards on a Train by James Hoch

http://anotherhand.livejournal.com/220418.html

The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/48411#poem

 

How I Write: Amy M. Miller

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insights 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.

Amy M. Miller is a writer and Administrative Coordinator for the nonprofit organization, Louisville Literary Arts. Amy’s essays have appeared in Salon, Hippocampus Magazine, [PANK], The Louisville Review, MOTIF, and Under The Gum Tree. She is a graduate of the Amy MillerSpalding University MFA in Writing program and holds an M.A. in English from University of Louisville. Currently, Amy is working on her first collection of essays as well as several children’s picture books. Amy lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and two children.

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project:

I am drafting and revising two essays and one picture book, while simultaneously seeking representation for two other picture books. Lots of plates, constantly spinning.

Currently reading:

I’m finishing a guilty summer read, Sue Perkin’s Spectacles, a memoir from the host of The Great British Bake Off (I’m addicted). I also have a toe in Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, by Dinty Moore, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, and Small Fires, by Julie Marie Wade. I’m a nonfiction writer and reader. All of the nonfiction I read informs what and how I write. That said, I love a good, engrossing novel and next up for me is Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and a kids’ middle grade novel my son is reading for school, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.

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

Well, I’m a multi-tasker (which is a kind way to say I’m distracted). I love many different genres of literature and that is true for my writing, too. I began my MFA work in creative nonfiction, which is still my first love; however, after four years of writing personal and introspective essays, I needed to explore topics that were not about ME. I have always enjoyed the whimsical and hilarious prose of children’s picture books and have collected picture books even before I had kids of my own, so I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and have been writing books for 3-7 year-olds. It’s very freeing to write outside of my first genre, and loads of fun, too. Aside from creative writing, I work on public relations work (web content, press releases, social media campaigns), as well as contract grant writing.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I don’t have a specific time when I write because I have kids who constantly require feeding, chauffeuring, and all manner of attention, plus I work part-time. I write when I can — when my kids are in school, my workload is light, and the house is quiet. My writing spot has moved around the house. I used to make a home at the dining room table, but grew tired of moving my papers and iPad on and off the placemat. Most days, I’m parked at my desk in front of a giant screen in my hard swivel chair. When I’m brainstorming or revising, I might take the iPad or a notebook to the couch, where I sit next to my dogs. Invariably, all of my writing happens in the morning or afternoon. If I write at night, I’ll have too many ideas buzzing around my head to sleep.

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

I love accessorizing — at least for writing. You cannot beat a good spiral bound notebook for notes — something that can lie flat or be folded over. For writing implements, I prefer a roller ball pen because the fluidity of ink allows me to continue writing without pause and doesn’t leave imprints in the paper. We writers are weird about our instruments. I also like odd colors of pens: purples, oranges, greens. But to be perfectly honest, I spend most of my writing time perched in front of the desktop computer, mostly because it is the most reliable device I own and I can save my work on the cloud and desktop. I also use Google Drive to share writing with critique partners. Over the years, I have moved away from listening to music while I write and prefer silence, but I always have a hot cuppa coffee and a bottle of water next to me.

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

I begin a piece in a variety of ways. Sometimes I have an idea while walking the dogs or sitting in carpool or taking a shower. I try to keep a small notebook in my purse or in the car, or at the least, a scrap of paper and pen nearby. Other times, I just sit at the computer and start free writing. I almost never write the full draft in one sitting. On complicated essays, in which I play with structure, I often need to break away from the writing and map out the essay as an outline. I highly recommend reverse outlining for revision. Start with your draft and outline what is on the page. Does it flow from one idea to the next? If not, move the pieces around and use the outline to direct how and where you will make changes. It feels less scary to cut and paste an outline and it’s a great way to look at the piece more objectively and holistically. Another invaluable word of advice: Always find an impartial reader who you trust to give you constructive feedback! My critique partners always see connections and glitches that I am unable to because I am too close to the piece. Lastly, read your work aloud. This is a foolproof way to find where a piece needs work.

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

Be concise, cut your modifiers, and don’t hold your readers at arm’s length — invite your readers to see all of the ugly, messy truth. Readers respond to flawed narrators and non-fiction writers have a responsibility to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be.

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