UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “January, 2017”

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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How I Write: Nancy Gall-Clayton

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.

Nancy Gall-Clayton is a local playwright. She has written over 75 plays, and her work has been performed on stages in Louisville and around the world. To see more about her work and interests visit http://www.nancygallclayton.net/    gall-clayton-at-work

Location:
 Just across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana (after 40 years in Old Louisville!).

Current project: A full-length play about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919), commissioned by Looking for Lilith Women’s Theatre Company to be produced in July 2017 at the Clifton Center.

Currently reading: The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter, first novel by playwright Kia Corthron; Gilgamesh, A Verse Play by Yusef Komunyakaa, and The Dramatist, bimonthly magazine of the Dramatists Guild.

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

I write full-length plays as well as 10-minute plays, the latter a form popularized by Jon Jory, former Producing Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. I write history plays, plays on social justice issues, comedies, and plays that feature complex women.

When/where/how do you write? 


Anywhere and everywhere: on my laptop in my home office, at coffee shops, at the public library, in motels, and on airplanes. I also write on napkins at restaurants, on a pad kept on by bedside table to record thoughts that wake me up, and on a pad in my car (at red lights only!).

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


Quietness. Either a computer or a pen and pad of any kind.

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

Just write! Writing itself – even if you start with drivel – generates more writing and better writing. Don’t revise until you have a complete rough draft. You can’t make much progress if you keep revising the first page! Don’t censor yourself; just write!

What is the best writing advice you’ve received? 


Kate Aspengren at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival shared this with me long ago: Imagine your protagonist walking across a field toward you through fog and mist. As she comes closer, you hear your character begin “There’s something I really want you to know about me….” What the character says may not make it into your play or story, but it will inform your writing.

Also, here’s an idea from The Playwright’s Process, a book by Buzz McLaughlin: Fill out an imaginary but very detailed job description for your characters. Again, you’ll learn a lot. What you discover (who should we contact in case of emergency, for example) probably won’t be in your final product, but you’ll know your characters so much better than you would have otherwise.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations!

 

 

The Role of Writing in a Democracy

Kelly Carty, Consultantkelly-c

On Friday we witnessed what Barak Obama called a “hallmark of our democracy:” the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. Donald J. Trump, to the horror of some and the delight of others, is now the 45th President of the United States. He will occupy the White House for at least four years as our Commander in Chief.

But you already know this. The details of the day have probably trickled down to you much better than the benefits of the wealthy. I’m not going to reiterate what you’ve seen on your Facebook newsfeed, Google News, or SNL. Instead, I would like to explore the role of writing in a democracy. I want to explore the ways in which we can write to resist, dissent, and call for change. I want to explore the relationship between writing and active citizenship.

Writing, as a political expression of our freedom of speech, is central to the functioning of our democracy. Even with its legal limitations (e.g. libel, slander, obscenity), the freedom to express ideas ensures that democracy, a system of government in which rule emanates from the common people, remains a democracy and does not morph into an aristocracy, an oligarchy, or a totalitarian state.

You may be thinking that writing can’t do much. That writing can be an expression of freedom of speech, but no one listens. I certainly felt discouraged when I wrote to Rand Paul about gun control and received a slightly off topic, pre-crafted reply in the mail.  But writing is powerful. It has led to drastic social and political changes. If you are skeptical, Google any of the following:

  • Foundational Religious Texts (like the Sutras, the Vedas, the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’an)
  • Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
  • The Communist Manifesto
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • J’accuse…!
  • WikiLeaks
  • Social media posts in the Arab Spring
  • (and because I also think literature changes the world)
  • Shakespeare’s plays
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • The Jungle
  • (and because science can change the world)
  • Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres
  • Newton’s Principia
  • Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
  • Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers

While I don’t want to discourage you from attempting to write such dramatic pieces, I recognize it is difficult (and often situation-dependent) to write something so influential.  So how can we still write politically effective pieces?

We can write to engage in civil discourse.

You may already do some of this. Writing a political Facebook status or commenting on someone else’s is a way of engaging in discourse. In order to do this effectively, however, you must be willing to engage with those who disagree with you. You must be willing to attempt to understand other views. You must be willing to practice rhetorical devices. (And we have a handout on this! Lucky you! Unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithms tend to isolate us in agreeable newfeeds.

You could try other avenues of online discourse, such as Twitter. Our new prez loves to tweet. Matt Bevin, our Kentucky governor, likes to tweet and block.

If you want to work outside the bounds of social media, you can write letters or responses to your local newspaper. Here are links to the contact information for a few of our local newspapers:

We can write to our representatives.

If you want to supplement your civil discourse with direct interactions with the government, you may want to consider contacting your representatives. Before you do that, however, it’s useful to know a bit about our system of government. The United States is a representative democracy. This means that elected representatives, not the common people as is the case with a direct democracy, run the government. If citizens want something to happen, they have to go through their representatives.

Complicating this a bit further, the United States is also a federal republic. This means that we have representatives on multiple levels (the state government and the federal government). Thus, depending on what you want to be done, you may need to talk to representatives from one or both levels.

There are a couple of ways you can find your representatives. On the federal level, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have searchable databases. Each state will have it’s own website, but for Kentucky, you can find your legislators here. The website Common Cause is useful as well, as it provides more information on the specific actions of your representatives.

Hopefully, your representatives will be responsive. Some of them send letters. Some of them send emails. For example, I received this from Mitch McConnell:

mcconnell-email1

We can write to supplement other political acts.

Maybe you want to do more than write. That’s great! Keep in mind that writing can supplement your other political actions. For example, if you want to march or protest, you can create a witty sign:

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If you want to join a politically active group, such as Showing Up for Racial Justice or Black Lives Matter, you may need to write to support the goals of the group. If you want to create your own, you may want to write a mission statement or a list of objectives.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that writing can augment your voice.

I will leave you with something a friend showed me on the day of Trump’s inauguration. It’s an arrangement by Anne Carson in her book Nox:

cinerem1

 

Accessibility and Accommodations in the Writing Center

Layne Gordon, Assistant Directorlayne-g

At the end of last semester, the Writing Center debuted a new page on our website for Accessibility and Accommodations. We are excited to be among the relatively small group of writing centers who have public statements along these lines, and we’d like to take a moment at the beginning of this new semester to account for some of the decisions we made and to address why we think accessibility is an important philosophy for writing centers to adopt.

Although I was responsible for the specific content of the page, the decision-making process was a team effort. As we started brainstorming, we quickly realized that there were a few things that would be central to our approach to accessibility. First, we wanted to communicate the ways in which accessibility is already part of how we think about tutoring writing and the design of our space and resources. For example, we emphasize in our statement that we work with writers at any stage in the writing process. We already work regularly with writers on brainstorming and understanding assignments, and writers with disabilities might find this particularly helpful. I go on to note that our consultants spend time discussing identity and disability in our Writing Center Theory and Practice Course. And, in terms of space and resources, we offer transcripts of our videos, our consultants are currently working on making our handouts screen reader-friendly, and we have a long-standing history of welcoming additional visitors to tutoring sessions such as American Sign Language interpreters and service animals. These are just a few ways that our existing efforts and approaches can be beneficial to writers with disabilities.

Second, we wanted to convey that we are committed to accessibility as a disposition as well as a policy. We know that students often encounter accessibility policies on syllabi and in other official documents from the University, but we wanted to offer a slightly different take on what accessibility could mean for all writers who visit the Writing Center. Accessibility as a disposition means that we are not only willing to adjust our space and our tutoring approaches when requested, but more importantly that we are committed to being inclusive of writers with a range of abilities, experiences, and identities. In other words, it means that we strive to be proactive about accessibility rather than reactive. Understanding accessibility in this way is part of our broader commitment to an ethic of service and hospitality, and this is one reason why accessibility and accommodations policies are particularly important for writing centers to consider. If we are going to claim to serve all writers in a particular community, it is essential that we try to anticipate the range of abilities and identities that those writers will bring with them to their Writing Center experiences.

Finally, we wanted this page to communicate that we are receptive to any and all accommodations requests that writers may have. One way we work towards this goal is by explaining that, in most cases, we do not require official documentation to make accommodations. Rather, we are open to dialogue with all writers who have ideas about how we can accommodate their needs, including writers with undocumented disabilities or those who may simply have learning styles and preferences that don’t match up perfectly with our typical approaches to tutoring writing. For example, we can conduct tutoring sessions in one of our side rooms and we can use a variety of media to communicate with writers about what they’re working on. Rather than a narrow approach to accommodations that would place a kind of burden of proof on the writer, we hope that this conveys a broader and more inclusive attitude toward accommodations.

As we mention on our Accessibility and Accommodations page, we welcome feedback and suggestions for how we can improve our efforts at accessibility, and we hope that this initial work offers others the opportunity to think about accessibility as a philosophy.

Getting Going on a Personal Statement: Motivation and the Role of the Writing Center

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Cassie Book, Associate Director 

There’s no shortage of advice about writing your personal statement for graduate school applications on the University Writing Center’s blog or website. Our past writing consultant bloggers have tackled the personal statement from several angles:

Five Tips for Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Personal Statements Part I: Just How Personal Is It?

Personal Statements Part II: Research and Focus

Timely Tips for the Personal Statement

Tips on Crafting an Effective Personal Statement

We also have a handout on personal statements, which comes in handy during appointments.

With so much great advice, you should be good to go, right? No? In my experience, both as a writer and a consultant, the most difficult aspect is getting started. So that’s what I’d like to write about today: moving from nothing to something on your personal statement or statement of purpose.

We do have a helpful FAQ about getting started on personal statements, so I’d suggest checking that out too. However, here are three strategies, adapted for this particular writing task, to jump start your process. These strategies will work best after you’ve reviewed genre basics about personal statements and the instructions for your specific program applications.

  1. Freewrite: Prompt yourself with an open-ended question such as “Why am I interested in this specific program?” and set a timer for five or ten minutes. Keep your pen or pencil moving on the page or your fingers typing on the keyboard. The point isn’t to produce coherent writing; the point is to work yourself up to an idea you can build on later.
  2. Start a shoe-box collection: If you have time, take a day, week, or month to let ideas for your personal statement simmer in your mind. When an idea or experience comes to you, write it down and put it in a box or envelope. When it comes time to draft, you’ll already have a few starting places.
  3. Create visual or a map: Generate ideas visually either with a paper/pencil or a digital mind map. You might find that approaching the project visually loosens your writer’s block and helps you see the personal statement in a new light organizationally and logically.

Getting started is not a problem unique to personal statements. The difference with personal statements is you can’t distract yourself from writing with reading or research. Writing a personal statement always comes back to thinking about constructing yourself with words, and that is what you’re trying to avoid! No matter how much anyone says “just start writing,” sometimes you just feel frozen.

This is a moment where the Writing Center can be a huge help in your writing process. When I talk with new peer writing consultants about their job, one of our first discussions centers around the various roles a writing consultant can play. One of those roles is the motivational coach. And this is the role we’ll play for you as we help you get started on your personal statement. You don’t have to write anything beforehand, just schedule an appointment to brainstorm and bounce ideas off someone else. Bring your personal statement instructions, and we’ll have a low stakes conversation to help you generate ideas.

Another opportunity the University Writing Center offers is the New Year. New You: Personal Statement Workshops in January. The workshop will be designed to help you even if you haven’t gotten started yet. We’ll talk about personal statements in general, give you some prompts for getting started, and look at a few examples.

So, if you know that you’re applying to graduate school in the next few months, but you’re having trouble getting started, let the Writing Center do what we do best: talk with you. Schedule an appointment or stop by one of our workshops in January. You do have to write about yourself, but there is no reason to do it alone.

How I Write: Dr. Jose M. Fernandez

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.

jose-fernandez-pic

Dr. Jose M. Fernandez is an Associate Professor of Economics in the College of Business. His research is in the areas of crime, health, and industrial organization.

Current project: “Less Alcohol, Less Service: Do local alcohol bans affect the number and mixture of full and limited service restaurants?”

Currently reading: Dollars and Sex, Naked Money, and Harry Potter & the Cursed Child.

 

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

I primarily write for scholarly journals in economics and health policy. These articles tend to be technically dense filled with economics jargon, tables, and equations.

When/where/how do you write?

I need a fairly quiet place to write with few interruptions. The few interruptions is key for me. This usually means I am writing in my office after hours when my colleagues and students have gone home or at my house while my wife is at work and my children are at school.

The interesting part to being an academic researcher is to find the answer to a research question. You do all this work with data collection and analysis just to be the first person to better understand this little corner of our world. It is a thrilling high that comes with the job, but all this effort goes to waste if we do not share it with everyone else. Therefore, we write afterwards. When I write my papers I actual start in the center. Since I am a data head, I first write the data description and analysis sections of the paper first.

Next, I write the literature review. There is an old saying that goes, “if it is good it isn’t new and if it is new it probably isn’t good.” This quote always reminds me to look into the scholarly literature for the works of others that inspired or contributed to the question and answer that I am presenting.

Lastly, I write the introduction and the conclusion. I write these pieces last because they are the most important. We live in a world with information overload, you need to grip the reader’s attention in that opening paragraph. You need to convince them that their time is worth reading the next 30 pages. If you can’t achieve that, then you want to at least explain the question and tell them the punchline by the time they have reached the end of the introduction even if they skimp on the details.

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

I mainly need my computer with a word processor or Latex editor, my statistical program, and google scholar. I do not really play music unless I am cleaning data.

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

My best advice for revisions is to read your paper out loud. Your brain tends to fill in missing words for you when you read silently, but out loud it is easier to catch. Secondly, I recommend printout your paper or using MS Words track changes, get some coffee, and a red pen. Much of my revisions are taking sentences and first making them into the active voice. In the second pass my goal is to make the sentences shorter and remove grammatical/spelling errors.

For writing scholarly papers in general I like these two resources: Economical Writing by Deirdre McCloskey and, for students, an Economics sample paper.

What is the best writing advice you ever received?

I received two pieces of advice that have helped me with my writing. First, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT PAPER. This phrase will help you get over the anxiety of writing in the first place. Your first draft should be rough. It should be a brain dump where you get everything you wanted to say about the topic down on paper. This will get you started and revisions will take care of the rest.  The second piece of advice is for when you are stuck. I tend to write in bulk, but if I am not feeling creative or inspired that day I force myself to write at least one page. This single page serves several purposes. I have something concrete to show I have worked today. Next, it has started me to think more about the topic. The best part is that even if you do this every day for a month you will have a paper done by the end of the month.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

 

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