UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Archive for the category “Process”

Writing is Contagious: The Dissertation Writing Retreat and Building a Community of Writers

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

It’s hard to shake the mythology of writing as a solitary activity. Over and over again, people talk about writing as something that geniuses do in inspired isolation. Yet our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat demonstrates each year what much of the research in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies shows, that successful writing is also very much a social practice. Sure, at some point a writer types out the words that convey individual thoughts. Before and after that moment, however, the power of community and

IMG_20170526_110832

Writing at the Dissertation Writing Retreat

individual relationships can be essential to a writer’s success. The powerful presence and influence of others is at the core of our approach to our Dissertation Writing Retreats, and why we think they have been so successful for the past six years. There are two ways, in particular, that the social aspects of writing come into play during the week.

 

Writing is Contagious

Sitting in a room full of people writing inspires people to write – and to keep writing. There is an energy and accountability that comes from committing to writing, and to staying in your chair and working through the obstacles you might bump into as you write. Every year people tell us how the energy and focus of working in a group of writers propels them forward with their dissertations. Many writers also find the sense of mutual accountability helps them be productive with their writing. In addition to the Dissertation Writing Retreat, we will be continuing to provide the opportunity for accountability with our weekly Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer (for more information click here).

IMG_20170523_120028

Small -Group Discussion on Structuring Dissertation Chapters

Another way we support community during the Dissertation Writing Retreat is through conversation. Every day we break for small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (How to Interpret and Respond to Committee Comments, Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Approach Literature Reviews). These conversations not only help with issues about writing, but the chance to hear from other writers with similar concerns – and different suggestions – reminds all the writers that they are not alone and that all writers need support. Then we break for lunch and have time to relax and socialize – also a valuable part of the writing process.

Relationships and Motivation

The other social aspects of writing that are invaluable during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are the relationships that develop between the writers and the University Writing Center consultants with whom they work during the week. Each writer is paired with the same consultant and they meet each day to talk about drafts, writing processes, organization, or just be a sounding board for ideas and brainstorming. The research on

DWR17 consult1

Vasiliki working with Rachel

writing and on motivation (including my own) shows that supportive relationships that offer constructive criticism, but also respectful listening, provide writers with the strategies and motivation to move forward once the retreat is over. What’s more, the consultants also learn from the writers, and that reciprocity is one of our key values in the University Writing Center.

The Dissertation Writing Retreat, while a lot of work for us at the University Writing Center, is one of my favorite weeks of the week. I always leave inspired. But, rather than tell you more of my thoughts about it, here are some reflections from the writers and consultants who made the day possible.

Writers

Katie Adamchik, Sociology. This week was what I needed to boost my productivity. The retreat designated time and psychological accountability for me to focus on my dissertation. The workshops and consultations helped me organize my work and gave me strategies for moving through issues that come up along the way. I appreciated being surrounded by a community of people working toward a similar goal – we commiserated, supported, brainstormed, and celebrated together. I highly recommend this to all students!

Cortney Armstrong, Microbiology and Immunology. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been an invaluable week for me. Coming from the health sciences campus, I thought I would feel like a fish out of water, however, I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable I felt and how productive I was. No matter what field or discipline you are coming from, this retreat will be of great benefit for you! Not only was I productive on my dissertation (I completed a chapter this week!), but I was also productive in using the tips and skills I needed to plan for writing the remainder of the chapters for my dissertation. It was a wonderful week spent with a community of brilliant peers, all who are focused and pushing towards the same goal, finishing! I highly encourage all graduate students to apply for this retreat and come prepared to be astonished with how valuable it is and how much you will accomplish. I can’t thank the Writing Center enough for giving me this opportunity!

Lily Assgari, Psychological and Brain Sciences. My experience in the dissertation writing retreat was nothing short of amazing. It was incredibly helpful to sit in a room with the intention to write for hours a day with little to no distractions. Our community of writers supported and encouraged each other. We would discuss our issues and share

DWR consult3

Lily working with Jessie

our experiences daily. The accountability of having to talk about what I was had accomplished kept me motivated. The tool and tips that consultants suggest helped make a daunting process more manageable. While the week was definitely exhausting, the experience is well worth it. For the first time, I can honestly say that I am looking forward continuing to write. I would definitely recommend the dissertation writing retreat to any student that needs to write a dissertation.

Corey Boes, Social Work. My time spent at the Dissertation Writing Retreat was invaluable. I am in the very early stages of organizing and writing my dissertation and being able to learn different writing processes and strategies from my daily consultations and even from the other retreat goers was extremely helpful. The daily break out discussions were informative and helpful. They covered topics that were relevant both immediately and as I make progress through my project. I hope to be able to carry forward with the great writing momentum that I was able to gather through my time spent here this week.

Vasiliki Kosmidou, Entrepreneurship. I highly recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to everyone. It is very hard to summarize in a few sentences how valuable it has been for my dissertation progress. I came to the Retreat while still collecting my data, so I was able to use my time efficiently to write up my methods section and organize the overall structure of my chapters. Beyond the sense of accountability and community, I found extremely useful the small group discussions which gave me strategies for restructuring my dissertation for other purposes, such as conference presentations and journal submissions. I have also learned a lot from my writing consultant, who provided very useful feedback on my writing and resources that I could use beyond the writing of my dissertation. Lastly, as a graduate student, I always struggle during the academic year shifting my focus between research, teaching, writing my dissertation along with my other responsibilities. As a result, I certainly appreciated that the Retreat offered me not only an encouraging working environment, but also the luxury of writing for 8 hours every single day. By doing so, it has helped me build momentum and exceed my writing goals. Thank you for this wonderful experience!

Xiaohong Li, Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. Thank you so much for providing me and other students with such a great opportunity for writing our dissertation in the workshop. During the workshop, I can devote my time and concentrate on writing my dissertation. Working with the consultant in the workshop is also very helpful. I also enjoy chatting with or listening to other graduate students talking about their writing experiences in graduate school. Taken together, it is a wonderful experience and really speeds up the process for achieving my Ph.D. degree. I would like to recommend it to other Ph.D. students.

Keri Mathis, Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat gave me the designated thinking and writing time that I needed to make significant progress on my dissertation. I especially appreciated the structure of the morning writing time, discussion groups, and afternoon consultations. I left each day knowing exactly what I needed to do for the next day’s writing and left the retreat with tips for how to sustain my productivity

Jeanelle Sears, Social Work. Participating in the Dissertation Writing Retreat provided me a cognitive and physical space of accountability that was so needed after months of stagnation. It also came at the perfect time, as my committee was expecting a draft of my early chapters in only a few weeks following this retreat. I came in on Monday morning with a ten-page conceptual paper and am leaving with more than 30 pages of drafted material and a solid outline for how the rest of the chapters will evolve. I appreciated not only the quiet time for independent writing, but also the camaraderie of fellow students and the writing center consultants. Both equally advanced my thinking about this project overall, and offered smaller strategies I can engage in for editing and organization, including leaving some things alone in the short-term. After all, the best dissertation is a done dissertation, and I have new energy to get mine over that finish line.

Jaime Thompson, Social Work. The Dissertation Writing Retreat at the U of L Writing Center has been refreshing and motivating. It is indeed a “retreat” as it allows you to purposefully withdraw from the hustle and bustle of your daily life to devote an entire week to writing and learning.  I highly recommend it to any Ph.D. student wanting to join a community and feel supported in the process of preparing your dissertation project, no matter what stage of the process you are in.

Consultants

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. This week I was once again reminded of the power of talking through our ideas even as we’re struggling to form them. I think we still imagine the academic as someone who works in isolation–sitting in a room, at a computer, generating ideas that spring from her head alone. But this image ignores the fact that we need other people to talk to about our ideas and to encourage us when we’ve struck something good. This week, I learned every day from the writers I was working with because we shared so much as we were talking through their dissertation projects. For example, one of the writers I worked with this week came up with an excellent metaphor for her dissertation–nesting dolls. While talking about the scope of her work, she said it felt like she was starting with the baby: she had a very clear problem and research site in mind, but she had to find all the other contexts and conversations that surrounded that smaller, situated, local issue and describe those other contexts in her introductory chapter. I have found myself thinking about this metaphor all week, particularly as I have been working on my own dissertation prospectus. It has been so valuable to think about the conversations I am contributing to as nested. This metaphor encompasses so much about both the struggle and the excitement of creating a dissertation project, and it exemplifies just one of the many ways that my conversations with other writers this week have shaped how I’m thinking about my own work.

Rachel Gramer, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has helped me think about how easy it is to internalize academic and dissertation writing practices (and rather quickly). So much of what I could offer as a tutor came from my recent dissertation writing experiences, which include but also transcend the immediate acts of writing words on screen or page. I was glad to share my experiences about the diss writing process, working with committee members, and the larger purpose of the dissertation in academia, in specific fields, and in graduate education. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this week has been the privilege to create conditions for dissertation writers to feel heard and affirmed in their struggles and triumphs. It was such a pleasure to confirm for graduate student writers that yes, all writers make these mistakes; yes, all of us struggle with these issues; and yes, your writing is good, is clear, and is progressing. And yes, your ideas and contributions to your field are salient and needed–and writing your dissertation is the beginning of sharing your thoughts and findings with others, not The End.

Jamila Kareem, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. This summer marks my second year at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. As a consultant this year, I found that working with Ph.D. students in Sociology and Social Work exposed me to ways to examine my own work through new theories and methodologies. When I completed the retreat as a participant, I learned the importance of conversing about my own work to understand how it appeared to others. This year, I relied on the importance of understanding others’ work so that our experiences—personal, professional, and scholarly—may help each other through the research and writing process as we all continue in this field of academia.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. As the assistant director for graduate student writing, I have spent much of the fall and spring semesters speaking with graduate students about their prospectuses and dissertations, but it was not until working at the dissertation writing retreat that I had the opportunity to truly see the writing process in action. Over the course of each day, the sounds shifted from the silence of 14 writers hard at work to the hum of the discussion groups to the noise of the writers at lunch, talking about dissertations and anything but, and then back to quiet as the day ended with writing and reflection. As a Ph.D. student in the early stages of her dissertation, I found it motivating and heartening to see this community form in just a few short days, to see writers sharing strategies and emotional support. I myself learned a lot that will help me as I move forward in the dissertation process.

The Writing Center: Every Step of the Way

Kevin Bailey, Consultantkevin-b

The spring semester is drawing to a close.  Tensions are high, schedules are full, and it seems like there’s no way on earth that all the work that needs to get done will ever get done (at least not on time).  Of course, it will get done, though; it always gets done.  And when it does get done, there’s a feeling of exhaustion, followed by a moment of relief, and then, within a matter of days, an overwhelming sense of – “What now?”

And the answer to that question is different for all of us.  Perhaps you’re finishing your first year of college and making plans to take more difficult coursework next semester.  Or perhaps you’re jumping straight into summer classes.  Maybe this is your final semester before graduation and you’re preparing to enter the job market.  Or maybe you (like me) are gearing up to teach for the first time in the fall.  These are all big and potentially scary changes.

It can be daunting to consider all the work that lies ahead.  No matter what stage of your academic career (or life) you’re in, new obstacles are always going to stand in your way and new responsibilities are inevitably going to take up your time.  And I can’t in good conscience recommend you put these things out of your mind.  It’s important to plan.  It’s important to look ahead and approach your “What now?” with confidence.

The point I’m making, I think, is that even though your workload may increase and you’ll take on larger projects, you will always be able to adapt to new challenges, especially when resources like the Writing Center are around to help you along the way.  One of the many mantras I’ve memorized from my time tutoring over the past year has been: “We’re here to help with any writing project at every stage of the writing process.”  This phrase is usually applied to the standard college essay, and by it we tutors often mean we can help regardless of how much of said essay has been written.  We help to brainstorm topics for papers that have not yet been started as readily as we discuss strategies for revision on papers that are mostly finished.   But this same mantra can be slightly repurposed to say “We’re here to help with every step of your writing career,” and it would remain equally true to the Writing Center’s purpose.

The Writing Center can help in a big way with every one of those “What now?” scenarios I mentioned earlier.  If you have a summer project you want to work on, the Writing Center is open for consultations during the summer.  If you’re entering the workforce or applying for positions, you can set up an appointment to construct or review your CV, resume, or personal statements.  If you’re teaching next semester, you can bring in and receive feedback on your syllabi and lesson plans (something I’m already making plans to do).

No matter what’s next for you, you’ll be writing.  And no matter what you’re writing, the Writing Center can help.

“Can someone hold my hair while I word-vomit?”

Michael Phillips, Consultantmichael-p

Recently, I found myself in a pickle.  I put off a research paper until the last minute (guiltily), partly because I didn’t really know how to get started and partly because I didn’t really know what to argue.  I’d already conducted practically all of my research, but I didn’t know how to make my contribution, my part of the scholarly conversation, novel or interesting.  I was bogged down by my own self-consciousness and insecurities about the topic, trying to grapple with whether I would sound academic or formal enough for the assignment’s requirements.  What pulled me out of that slump, that inability to get my ideas out onto the page, was a critical stage of the writing process that I’d forgotten to employ: word-vomiting.  One of my professors introduced this non-committal, helpful practice that can enable the writer to produce their best possible writing.  Word-vomiting, for me, is a lot like freewriting but with one critical difference.  While freewriting is a good exercise to employ to start writing about anything, word-vomiting can be much more direct, much more specific to a certain topic, to get the writer to start unpacking and flushing out ideas particular to that topic.

So how can you best engage with this strategy?  I suggest compiling whatever materials you’ve gathered through the research part of the process, like your notes, primary sources, secondary sources like scholarly articles / books / journals relevant to your topic, etc.  Once you have these resources and have familiarized yourself with them, I recommend putting yourself in the most comfortable position to get your thoughts about your topic onto the page.  Whatever kinds of thoughts you have about the topic, both significant, and insignificant, personal and impersonal, communicating those thoughts in whatever way will help you locate what aspects of your topic you find most interesting or compelling.  This stage of the writing process is so important for this very reason; I’ve skipped out on word-vomiting altogether in the past, and I’ve found myself writing at length about an argument that doesn’t inspire me.  When I’ve historically found myself in that position, the writing stage is both grueling and seemingly interminable.

Word-vomiting is also important because it puts you in a much better position to sift through ideas you’ve already fostered rather than having to generate entirely new ideas when you’ve already begun writing the paper.  It’s so much easier to cut ideas or synthesize ideas you already have on the page than it is to create new ones as you’re executing the writing of your paper.  When you’ve exhausted the word-vomiting stage of the process, you’ll realize a lot of your ideas just don’t work or don’t fit into this assignment.  They’re still important, though!  And they may have a place in a future assignment or a future scholarly / creative endeavor.

Research papers are hard, and finding your position / stake in a research paper can be even more difficult. If you’re looking for other ideas about how to get started your can check out our Writing FAQs and ideas for getting started with digital project. But with this helpful strategy of getting your ideas about a topic onto the page at whatever pace, of word-vomiting whatever you think or feel about that topic, you may find your research paper may be just a little bit easier or smoother to execute.

How I Write: Cedric Powell

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.

Cedric Merlin Powell is a Professor of Law in the Brandeis School of Law, a member of the Ohio and New York state bars, and is admitted to practice before the SupremeCedric+Powell5854 Court of the United States, and the federal courts of the Second and Sixth Circuits, and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has written over a broad range of topics including affirmative action and Critical Race Theory, the First Amendment and hate speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment and structural inequality. All of his scholarship critiques neutrality as a means of preserving structural inequality, and advances theories of substantive equality which reject colorblindness and post-racialism as normative principles in constitutional analysis. Professor Powell has also been named the Dean for Research for 2016.

Location:  University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law

Current project: Race Displaced: Buchanan v. Warley and the Neutral Rhetoric of Liberty

Currently reading: David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform (Chicago 2011)

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

My writing consists primarily of law review articles, essays, book reviews, magazine articles, and op-eds in the press.  I plan on writing a book in the near future.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I usually write late at night when everything is peaceful in my home. I like to write for extended periods of time, so I feel that I am truly productive when I have a significant period of uninterrupted time to compose my ideas and get them out in draft form.  I have an office at home where I write, it is a comfortable space, and it is a functioning office away from my more formal office space at the law school.  I write by doing extensive research (I want to know what everyone in the field has said about the topic that I am contemplating writing about), and then I take notes from the readings to ensure that I fully understand the topic and its underlying doctrines and nuances, and I draft an outline to write from.  Before I start writing, I take my research notes and plug them into specific sections of the outline so that my discussion will have continuity; and, hopefully, to avoid repetition.

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

I don’t need any special tools to write. However, I do need long legal pads because I write everything out in longhand (it takes me a while to draft an article).  After I come to the end of the writing process, I am confident that I have covered everything, so the only question is how the piece should be revised and edited.

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

My best tip is to just get started; writing is a process, so that means your first attempt will not be perfect.  This is precisely why revision and editing a draft is essential to the writing process.  I must admit that this is my least favorite part of the process; but I realize that it is necessary, and it always makes the work much better than it was before.

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

The best writing advice that I have ever received was to write as much as you can as often as you can.  Everyone’s writing process is different, so it is important to trust your process. I hope that I will heed my own advice on future projects.

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

Silence in Writing Center Sessions

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing as Writers through Journaling

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

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

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

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

Jeez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Time to Write

Ashley Taylor, ConsultantAshley T

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

“When do you find time to write?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have compassion for yourself.

We are a resource for you.

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!

 

 

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

track-960393_960_720

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! 

 

Post Navigation