UofL Writing Center

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Attention UofL Artists! Display your work in the Writing Center!

At the University Writing Center we are committed to celebrating communication and to putting student work first. As part of that commitment we have, over the past four years, made space in the Writing Center available for ongoing displays of student artwork. It has been exciting to have the student art in the Writing Center and has given the artists the chance to show their work to a larger university audience. Now

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Woman Writer of Pompeii

that we have moved into our new, very visible space on the First Floor of Ekstrom Library, we again have the opportunity to display student artwork. But now we have a central location on campus where the art we display will be seen by thousands of people a year.

That’s why we are calling for UofL student artists interested in displaying their work in our new space to get in touch with us. The work can be in any medium and on any subject – though we are particularly interested in work that connects somehow to writing, reading, words, books, computers, maps, and any other way we communicate to each other. All UofL students – art majors and non-majors alike – are welcome to submit works.

If you think your artwork would be a good fit for the University Writing Center space, email us today (writing@louisville.edu) or stop by the University Writing Center, First Floor, Ekstrom Library. (We reserve the right to choose which work to display).

Write In, Build Community

Cassie Book, Associate Director

We’re off to a good start at our new location on Ekstrom Library’s first floor. Since we moved, over 500 writers have visited for over 800 appointments! Yet, another benefit of the new space— location and design— is an improved ability to accommodate larger crowds.

On December 9th we’ll host the first big event in the new space, a Write In. We join nearly 90 writing centers worldwide in the International Write In. The general purpose is for writing centers to create community around writing during a particularly stressful time of the semester. Every center will adjust the theme to its local context. For our Write In, we will simply open our doors for UofL writers to use our space to work on final papers and projects. We’ll provide snacks and handouts; writing consultants will be available to answer brief questions. The Write In forwards our Center’s mission to support writing as integral part of the university and as a lifelong learning process. Just making time to sit and write is an important aspect of any writer’s process!

While the typical daily activity in the University Writing Center takes the form of focused 50 minute consultations, the Write In offers a comfortable and motivating space to write. So, if you’re UofL a student, faculty, or staff and could use a break from your usual writing routine, drop in on Wednesday, December 9 from 6-9 p.m. in the University Writing Center.

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The New University Writing Center on Ekstrom Library’s first floor will host its first big event, a Write In, on December 9.

Just Three Saturdays: Comparing Dissertation Writing Retreat Models

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last weekend the Writing Center wrapped up our third Dissertation Writing Retreat. Much like the previous two dissertation retreats we’ve held, this one offered doctoral candidates the opportunity to have dedicated writing time and resources as well as time each day with a writing consultant. Unlike our previous retreats, we did not meet every day for a week; instead we met three Saturdays in a row. The difference in scheduling offered a unique experience that offered a different set of advantages than the week-long retreat.

First, the week-long retreat—which is a common model for these kinds of events—is useful to writers because it can be particularly helpful for breaking out of a rut and for developing daily writing habits. Our director, Bronwyn Williams, wrote during our first retreat about what the week-long model can offer. Some of our clients for the May retreats came in with the goal of finally wrapping up a chapter or with starting a chapter. Writer’s block is a common concern. In fact, this past May when I served as a consultant for the retreat that is exactly the place I was in, and I was hoping that like our writers I would be able to find the key with scheduled time each morning to write. We also work with writers during the week to develop daily goals or practices that will encourage them to do some writing every day. Hopefully these practices will continue once the week is over.

Certainly we have had good feedback from participants in the past two retreats. We’ve heard repeated calls for more retreats and more support for doctoral candidates in the form of writing groups and writing spaces. The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies has responded to some of these call, as this semester they are starting Dissertation Writing Accountability groups. And, of course, the Writing Center always welcomes those who simply want to use the space to write or work during our open hours.

While we’ve had good feedback about the week-long retreat, and plan to continue offering them, sometimes circumstances call for some flexibility. A number of those interested in the May retreat were unable to attend because they work full-time jobs during the week. Many of these students were candidates in the College of Education and Human Development, and with the support of their college, we are able to design a Dissertation Writing Retreat that would meet all day for three Saturday in a row. Like our previous retreats, participants wrote in the morning and then, just before lunch, a short presentation was given on a dissertation writing strategy. In the afternoon, participants met with a consultant to talk about parts of their dissertation, writing strategies, or other writing related topics.

Ashly_Version_3The biggest advantage to meeting across three weeks—in this consultant’s opinion—was that there was a higher likelihood of developing habits. One hope of the week-long retreat is that repeated practice for five days, with support and peer supervision, will plant the seed of a habit. For the participants in this retreat, they had at least two weeks to practice and then report back about their effectiveness. There wasn’t as much direct support, but the accountability for progress was a little higher since they had a week to make progress between meetings rather than just an evening. One habit that I worked on with two of the participants was the practice of doing some writing or work every day that related to the dissertation. These women had busy lives—teaching, raising families, and other commitments—but they also worked hard to do even fifteen minutes of dissertation work every day. Of course, it wasn’t easy and some days that fifteen minutes didn’t happen. For the most part it did though, and I have confidence that they will be able to keep it up.

This is certainly not to say that one scheduling style for a dissertation writing retreat is better than another. Instead, I would argue here that each schedule works toward a different set of goals and has different expectations. Perhaps the week-long model is better for getting a burst of motivation and production that can get the ball rolling (again, sometimes) while the three-week model is more effective for establishing not just sparking habits. As the Writing Center moves forward and continues to host these retreats, we will be exploring these early thoughts and more. So, stay tuned; there’s more to come.

Join the Fight; Become a Writer

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Ashly_Version_3By 2013, the Order of Words—of letters even—could no longer hide the fractures running through its structure. Some words remained strong by latching on to other words to create powerful cultural phrases. Other words adopted new meanings, or they went under penknife for to add or remove letters. Some particularly unfortunate words just fade and disappear; their ghosts haunting old pages and high school students.

In the beginning, the deteriorating words were blamed on the infamous kids-these-days and new-technology. Well intentioned figures like Twitter and Facebook were turned into evil villains. They were accused of stealing letters, breaking down the cornerstones of complete sentences, and misusing punctuation! Evidence of their positive effects on word-smithing was covered up or ignored.

While language academies and even some teachers fought to hold onto the old Order, other recognized the vitality possible in the changing letters and words. Many knew that some words had been lurking in the shadows of the order and hoped these words would add a new texture to the tapestry of available communication. Leading this fight was the Caped Word Smith. No, not the caped Will Smith—Word Smith.

The mission of our loquacious hero was to forge new paths for young words who were just trying to make a name for themselves and to protect them on their journeys from the dreaded Grammar Meanies. Word Smith would traverse the many interconnected strands of the World Wide Web standing up to grammar bullies, but always trying to show them the way to acceptance and better understanding. She even appeared in the printed worlds of Newspapers and Books. On the most anticipated occasions, Word Smith visited students in their classrooms to share with them the possibilities of Words, Letters, and Punctuation—spreading love and appreciation in all their young hearts.

Of course, not all young words always behaved responsibly—sometimes staying out too late or hanging around with the wrong letters or words. With an eye to the future, Word Smith would encourage them to look inside themselves to find their true path forward. She would challenge them to think about the places and times in which they could be most effective. Did they really belong in this status post, or did they aspire to the offices of textual bureaucracy? She helped them see and seek their dreams.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing Word Smith did for the world though was the creation of the WordCorps. The Writers of the WordCorps were just everyday people who knew the power of Words but also that Words should not be boxed in and controlled. They worked to spread the respect for Words and their ability to change over time. Writers were encouraged to choose their own genres and locations for sharing the WordCorps message. Some worked with those old vilified figures—Twitter, Facebook, and Texting—to rebuild the world’s understanding of how new platforms can inspire growth as opposed to destruction. Others wrote longer texts that they shared with their classmates, coworkers, and friends—always aiming to use Words in new and effective ways. Adventurous Writers even took words into videos and other formats to give them a new kind of movement.

While the WordCorps makes good progress, they always need more Writers to spread the message. It is the dream of Word Smith and the WordCorps to enlist everyone into their organization so that all Words can reach their full potential without fear of bullies or meanies. Will you fight with the Caped Word Smith? Take up your keyboard, your pen, your pencil, whatever you need—and fight the good fight for the Words and Letters and Punctuations! Will you join us, will you be a Writer?

Volunteering: An Important Way to Share Your Literacy Skills

Michelle Day, Consultant

MichelleA few months ago I finally decided to pursue volunteering with the Center for Women and Families (CWF), something I’d thought about for years but for various (good and bad) reasons had never gotten around to doing.

To my very pleasant surprise (and sort of by accident), I connected with two CWF staff members who invited me to become part of a reading/writing group they’re starting with some people who are receiving services from the Center. I’m beyond thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to use the English skills I’m learning to work toward a cause I care very much about—ending intimate partner violence and sexual assault and supporting those who have experienced it.

But now, it’s got me thinking. My last blog post on June 17 was about improving personal statements in preparation for grad school applications. To be sure, I spend a lot of time talking to students about how they can improve their writing in pursuit of further education or a job, an obviously valuable task. Yet I can’t really remember ever advising students about how they can use their writing (or other literacy-related) skills for volunteer work, which is often easier to find and obtain than employment or graduate school admission.

There are many reasons people seek out volunteer work. For me, it was a combination of things. As a Christian, I believe making sacrifices for the good of others is one of the most important things Jesus did and taught others to do. My role at the CWF will also allow me to practice writing/teaching differently than I do at the Writing Center or in the classroom. Plus, it’s a nice way to bring balance to an often-hectic schedule of mostly work/school activities.

Other volunteers might have similar spiritual/moral or practical reasons. Some people might volunteer because the issue they’re involved in has personally affected them or because they want to connect with people who have similar values. Other people find volunteer work in general rewarding or feel a personal moral obligation to help others. Still more volunteers want to learn new skills or do some professional networking.

Whatever the motivation beyond the impulse to serve, people who are skilled in literacy-related practices can find ways to use those skills to satisfy the volunteer impulse in their local communities. Here are a few literacy-related opportunities you can check out around Louisville:

The Center for Women and Families offers services to (male and female) survivors of intimate partner abuse or sexual violence. You can volunteer to be an English tutor and help individuals practice their English speaking, listening, and writing skills.

  • The Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs seeks to provide education, life skill resources, and community to its works. Volunteers can teach or tutor in a variety of subjects, including English skills.
  • Portland Promise Center is a faith-based community development center in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood. It offers opportunities for
    volunteers to tutor kids.
  • Brooklawn Child and Family Services — a residential, therapeutic treatment center for youth with behaviorial/emotional issues — also has opportunities for volunteers to tutor in a variety of subjects, including English.
  • Kentucky Refugee Ministries is the Kentucky state refugee resettlement office at which volunteers can tutor in English/ESL.

You can find other similar volunteer opportunities by searching on websites like Metro United Way or Volunteer Match.

Write, Talk, Repeat: Reflecting on the Benefits of Our Second Dissertation Writing Retreat

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last week our former Assistant Director Barrie Olson wrote about the anticipation and promise of participating in our second Dissertation Writing Retreat (DWR). After a long, restful weekend and some reflection, it seems that the DWR delivered on nearly all its promises. Like Barrie, I participated in the retreat as a consultant, but as a dissertation writer myself, I found it helpful on multiple fronts. The biggest benefit of participating in the retreat, though, was being able to work with other graduate students both inside and outside of my field. The Dissertation Writing Retreat may be all about writing, and involve a good deal of writing, but talking about the writing helps to solidify the meaning of all that work, especially with those who aren’t familiar with the work.

Since I’m at the early stages of the dissertation process, my direct experiences may be somewhat limited. Nevertheless, between working with many different dissertation writers over the years and my own experiences, it seems that articulating the dissertation succinctly is one of the biggest challenges. In my own graduate program, we’re often advised to develop multiple versions of our answer to the question, “What is your dissertation/project about?”: ranging from an “elevator” version to a 15-20 minute version. Condensing an approximately 200 page project into a brief description isn’t all that easy when your brain is filled to the brim—maybe over the brim—with theories, research, examples, and other data that is “essential” to understanding your project. And, believe me, it all seems essential when it’s your project.

Working with two different students from drastically different disciplines (one in the Humanities and one in the hard sciences), I found that the feedback that they most often needed through the week was to write what they were explaining to me in sessions. That seems so easy, doesn’t it? All writers know it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. You often need someone else to spot the gap in your writing and tell you where you aren’t explaining something. It isn’t always about missing information though. Maybe your verbal description of your project really emphasizes a particular aspect or connection in your project, but you only have one sentence or a paragraph in 30 pages about that aspect. A good listener and reader can help you find those disconnections between what you’re saying about your writing and what’s actually happening in your writing.

Ashly_Version_3What’s really inspiring for someone like me is that those conversations are not just helpful for the writer. Having these conversations with two DWR participants helped me realize why I was having such difficulty drafting the introduction to my own dissertation. I’ve been writing pages and pages leading up to the point that I always begin with when I talk to people about my project. When I realized this during the retreat, I thought to myself, “Well, duh. That’s the problem.” Reaching that “duh” moment isn’t always easy though, and I’m sure that it won’t be the last one I have before this whole dissertation is written.

Fortunately, for all twelve participants in this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat, these kinds of conversations were not limited to the one-on-one consultations we had each afternoon. Each day around lunch time, we also offered short workshops about the dissertation process, including writing the literature review, managing time and production, working with committee members, and developing support networks. In addition to hearing from some of the writing consultants, we also benefited from the insight of Dr. Stephen Schneider and Dr. Beth Boehm. The participants found the workshops especially helpful because they offered the opportunity to ask questions about the dissertation process generally but also to receive project-specific feedback from those who were currently working on their dissertation and those who had already completed one.

With all this praise in mind, it seems a little suspicious that I would claim that the retreat delivered on almost all its promises. Based on this post and the feedback from our participants, what could possibly have been missing? Technically, you’re right; it wasn’t missing anything it promised. Yet, as ambitious scholars we’ll always want more of a good thing. More time to write, more time to work with others on our writing and on our projects. More free food. We are still students after all. Thankfully, many of our participants said they would return to visit the Writing Center to work on their projects. And hopefully, we will all be inspired to create these kinds of supportive writing groups beyond the structure of the Writing Center.

That’s our dream, and this year was one more successful shot at achieving it.

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