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Writing Places and Spaces

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

You’ve picked a paper topic, done some research, and now you’re ready to begin writing that term paper. Or maybe you’ve just struck on a bit of inspiration for a new poem, or a short story—maybe even the next great American novel. There’s only one question left: Where do you go to write?

The question seems simple, but sometimes the answer isn’t. Over the years, I’ve had to do a lot of writing, and one factor that has turned out to be crucial for any writing project I’ve undertaken has been my writing environment, the physical places and spaces I inhabit while writing.

Researchers have taken an interest in how material environments and writing tools can aid or inhibit writing. In a study of how college students’ “composing unfolds materially through space and time in a mobile culture,” Stacey Pigg observes, “While the materiality of academic writing easily slips under the radar, how students access and incorporate places and technologies in composing habits outside classrooms may be one of the most important determinants of their success within them” (271). In other words, the places where we write, and the technologies we employ in our writing (i.e. pen and paper, laptops, desktops, typewriters, stone and chisel, etcetera) constitute foundational elements of the composing process.

Indeed, as examples of famous writers illustrate, writing is often a ritualistic, idiosyncratic process deeply rooted in particular environments and surroundings. Mark Twain reportedly wrote while lying in bed. Dylan Thomas had his writing shed where, legend has it, his wife would lock him up each day to ensure he got some writing done. Similarly, Virginia Woolf sometimes wrote in a toolshed she had converted into a “writing lodge.” Sir Walter Scott apparently liked to compose poetry on horseback.

I find other writers’ writing places and spaces interesting and inspiring, but not all of us have access to a cozy writing shed overlooking rolling English hills—or a horse to sit astride, if you’re interested in that sort of thing—while we write. So where do we turn to carve out writing spaces for ourselves?

Perhaps the local coffee shop. As Pigg suggests, “Informal public spaces such as cafés, coffeehouses, and commons areas serve as commonplace productive locations for many writers” (261). Pigg further explains that such environments often provide Wi-Fi to support mobile laptops, or in-house desktops in commons areas. These spaces thus offer technological access in addition to “clean space” where writers can concentrate on their projects (261).

Public spaces help many writers write, but they are not ideal for everyone. A quiet-seeking introvert at heart, I’ve learned that coffee shops—even library study areas—are not great writing spaces for me. I’ve tried to write in such places, only to realize I don’t really feel comfortable in them, or there’s too much going on for me to focus. Consequently, I’m unable to do much writing in those environments. Though the café or common area are good work areas for many, I’ve discovered that I do better by writing in my bedroom at home. There, I have a small, worn desk and lamp that help me settle into writing. The environment is a quiet one where I feel comfortable and able to focus (most of the time). In addition, writing at home better accommodates my idiosyncrasies. For example, while I write, I like to take breaks to stand up and pace around a bit, a practice I’m not exactly comfortable trying in a coffee shop. I also like the convenience of being down the hall from the kitchen if I want a snack or a drink of water, or in case I feel like brewing some coffee or tea. In short, at home in my room I simply feel a greater sense of quiet and am consequently able to get more writing done.

All of this rambling is simply to say that if the coffee shop helps facilitate your writing, or the park bench, or the library, or maybe a room at home, go there and write. If you find you’re stuck in a rut, consider seeking out a different writing space for a while and observe whether or not the new environment helps you break through your writer’s block. We all have to write somewhere. Learning which environments are most conducive to our writing practices can help us demystify writing and develop our composing processes in productive ways.

Works Cited

Pigg, Stacey. “Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces.” CCC 66.2 (2014): 250-75.

 

Beyond the Back Room: Traveling, Collaborating, and Expanding Tutoring Strategies at SWCA-KY

Brooke Parker, Consultantbrooke-p

Questions, Please!
If you’ve ever had an appointment at our writing center, you’ve most likely experienced something like this:  You walk through the center’s open glass door, check in at the front desk, and choose a work table to sit at. All the while waiting for your consultant to emerge from behind the (somewhat mysterious) back room door. And you might have some questions about that.

What exactly are we doing back there? Well, we do quite a few things. From reading your registration/assignments notes and writing about our own sessions to basking in the general glow of the truly interesting work each of you is doing, our time is spent thinking, writing, and ruminating on writers. And drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

That’s probably what you expected all along, right? It makes sense that we spend most of our time preparing for and reflecting on the sessions we’re participating in. That’s what the back room is for. But, what are we doing beyond that room? How are we, as writing center consultants, expanding our experiences of tutoring, of writing from outside of the space we encounter and work in six days a week? Sometimes, our exodus from the back room covers quite a bit of mileage.

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Roadtrippin’
Recently, several of us hopped in a Volvo and made the two hour trek down to the Southeastern Writing Center Association-Kentucky Conference at the Noel Studio of Eastern Kentucky University. We were eager to learn from what other universities are doing in their writing centers and, hopefully, to discover some new strategies to further help our writers here at UofL.

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If this is a conversation where are all the people?
We arrived at EKU bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, parked in the designated area, put on our name tags, and walked into the Noel Studio. I think this was the first time any of us had visited this particular center or conference, but our reactions were pretty varied. Regardless, we were collectively surprised by the amount of participants, for better or worse. Two of our consultants, Carrie and Michael, touched on this in their responses.

Carrie: Honestly what struck me the most about the conference was the lack of participation from other schools. I think there were four schools? And like less than fifty people. It just makes me curious, writing centers strive to be places of collaboration and it’s sort of disheartening to see centers not engaging together. Of course, there are probably factors I’m not considering all the way, but I don’t think that takes away from my initial feeling.

Michael: What I liked most about this conference was its intimate, conversational nature.  I never really felt like the conference was lecture-oriented. Instead it encouraged audience participation and discussion in a way that was casual yet intimate.

While my initial reaction was similar to Carrie’s, I thought that the smaller size of the conference made it feel comfy, inviting those kinds of intimate conversations that Michael referred to and aiding in the collaborative activities the organizers had us in engage in.

Michael: As for the brain-dating activity, I found the balance of one-on-one conversation with individual tutors and with overall group discussion to be a valuable exercise.  Gaining different perspectives on how to tutor translingual writers was really helpful for me, personally, as I feel better equipped now to communicate more effectively with all kinds of writers.

In Michael’s case, the size of this conference really worked. But Carrie’s point hits on something I think writing center consultants feel drawn to do—to keep collaborating—and not just with writers and other tutors in our own centers, but with centers (and writers) across the state, across the field, across the curriculum. So, we ask ourselves, how can we continue to collaborate in new ways?

The mood within a writing center is – to some degree – determined by its layout.
The space of Noel Studio at EKU was incredibly beautiful and engaging: artwork hung on the walls, white boards lined the far left wall, chairs rolled and moved, and skylights beamed down sunshine. I think we all took multiple pictures of the space. Both Kevin and Melissa mentioned the effect of the layout on their experience at the conference.

Kevin: I think my biggest takeaway from the event was the setting of the conference. Seeing EKU’s writing center really revealed to me just how the physical layout of a writing center can affect the atmosphere within it.  With its brightly colored walls and windows, ample amount of art, and availability of different writing surfaces and utensils (markers, colored pencils), EKU’s writing center offered up an extremely inviting and fun vibe.  The space itself suggested that the activities facilitated by the writing center were fun and creative.

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Let’s face it, the space was a piece of art in and of itself, but Melissa pointed out that for every up there is a down.

Melissa: The Noel Studio was like a playground for college students. However, while it seemed like a wonderful space for creativity, I could see myself getting easily distracted in there. They did have legos, ya know, so could you blame me?

The very deliberate construction of the Noel Studio pushed us to think about the space of the writing center in new ways. So, we also ask ourselves, how can we use or change our space to help facilitate writers’ processes even further?

By bridging language barriers, we have a gateway into an entirely new way of thinking.
The second presentation of the day dealt with translingual approaches, particularly literacy maps, in the composition classroom, but (as the presenters encouraged) could be adapted to apply to writing center strategies, as well. Our consultants were really drawn (pardon the pun) to these methods.


Michael: The two activities, the literacy map activity and brain-dating, really pushed conference attendees to consider how ELL students approach language and writing.  With the literacy map activity, specifically, I found that exploring the ways my own literacies have been shaped has helped me to understand better how different cultures and different experiences will yield different language-building practices.

Melissa: I never really viewed multilingualism as a deficit per se, but I don’t think I ever really took the time to recognize just how many different elements have influenced my English language development. These different “domains” that I have always taken for granted have provided me with a certain amount of privilege that I had never thought of before. I not only have the lingo, but the experiential knowledge to speak with authority about several aspects of American life. And while multilingual students may not have those same advantages, they certainly have their own when talking about their own expertise growing up in a foreign culture.

Both Michael and Melissa point out the really productive ways these literacy maps helped them explore their own literacy experiences and how they might also do the same for the ELL writers we work with at UofL. We are currently speaking with each other about how this activity might be applied in our center.

In the end, there’s a plethora of resources out there that could help foster the creative process.
After the presentations, the lunch, the brain-dating and collaborative activities were over, we packed ourselves back into the Volvo and began the journey back to Louisville. But the conference certainly hadn’t left us, even though we’d left it. The next two hours were spent talking about what we’d learned about ourselves as tutors, about the writers we work with, and what questions we should take back to the rest of our cohort. I think Carrie summed up the experience nicely, saying “Overall, the conference definitely made me aware of how centers should try to accommodate as many learning styles as possible.” It certainly had that effect on all of us.

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

emily-cEmily Cousins, Consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Write: Maureen McCoy

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.

Our featured writer is Maureen McCoy. Maureen is the Coordinator of the REACH Learning Resource Center at the University of Louisville. In August 2016 she began a doctoral programMaureen McCoy focused on College Student Personnel in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville. Maureen’s Bachelor of Arts degree is in Humanities and Art History, and her Master of Arts degree is in Humanities with a focus on art history and medieval/renaissance studies.

Location: REACH, University of Louisville

Current project: Class papers

Currently reading: One More Thing by B.J. Novak

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

I am enrolled in a doctoral program in Counseling and Personnel Services through UofL.  Much of my writing is based on research or studies of theory and attempts to apply what I have learned to practical contexts.  I also work in the REACH program on campus as the coordinator for the Learning Resource Center, so I write occasional articles for publication.

When/where/how do you write?

I write in different places.  Sometimes I work at home, but I will also go to the library if I really need to make myself focus.  I like to spread out my materials, so no matter where I am I prefer to have a large table ore area to work.  I will jot down an outline or the major points for my paper and which sources I will use to support them.  This gives me a chance to organize my thoughts and make a plan.  Then I start writing.  I usually work on it by section if I have a clear outline, or I will work through it by source, putting them together as needed.  I cannot write everything in one setting usually, and I take breaks throughout the day to stretch or refresh myself.  I will also proofread my work at the beginning of each writing day to get myself in the right mindset, fix errors, and identify holes in or problems with my argument or organization.

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

I mostly need space for my resources and notes and my laptop.  I prefer quiet, but I will put on instrumental music if I am at home and not in a public place.

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

Gather everything together and try to make a plan before you get started.  This will help you organize your thoughts.  I revise my work every day as I am working.  I will even walk away from it for a day or two and then revisit it to make sure that it all still makes sense.  Getting started early is essential for me because having time away from the work gives me time to reconsider what I am doing and where I am going when I get back to it.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Do your citations and reference pages as you go so that you don’t miss anything!

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

Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Writing

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Someone once told me that any time you move it takes six months to learn how to live in a new place. After we moved into our new space on the first floor of Ekstrom Library last

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University Writing Center on the first floor of Ekstrom Library

October, it did taken us a while to figure out how the furniture worked best, get some art on the walls, and buy some new plants. Now, however, as we get ready to start the 2016-17 academic year, we are settled in and excited about the opportunities that our new surroundings offer us.

We plan to take advantage of our new space with a number of new and expanded programs and events in the coming year:

Creative Writing Groups: We are starting new creative writing groups for anyone in the UofL community interested in working on creative writing projects. The groups will meet once a month on a Tuesday during the fall semester allowing people to explore creative writing in a safe, open, and encouraging environment. Meetings will be times when people can will write, investigate issues of craft, read and respond to writing, and have fun. Any member of the UofL community is welcome – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. We welcome any genre of writing and any level of creative writing experience—all you need is an interest in creative writing. For more details and the schedule of meetings, see our website.

Graduate Student Writing Groups and Faculty Writing Groups: We are going to continue with our writing groups for graduate students and for faculty. These groups will provide time for writing followed by discussions of writing concerns and issues. More details and schedules for the graduate student group and the faculty group can be found on our website

Writing Center Events: We’re going to have a number of events in our new space this fall,

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“Bad Love Poetry” Open Mic Night from Feb. 2016

from participation in the National Day of Writing on Oct. 2o, to a Finals’ Week Write-In to support getting final papers finished, to an open mic night on Halloween for scary stories and poems. See our Events page on our website for more details.

In addition to our Writing Center events, we also have some other new initiatives we are excited about.

New Undergraduate Tutoring Class : We have had approved a new course for undergraduates and MA students interested in learning more about teaching writing and then potentially doing internships in community literacy settings. The course, English 508 – Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures will be offered in 2017-18. Students who take the course can then take part in tutoring internships in the community with organizations such as Family Scholar House and the Louisville Free Public Library. 

Community Literacy Projects: We are also going to continue, and expand, our ongoing writing workshops and writing consultations at Family Scholar House. We view this partnerships as one of the key parts of our efforts to provide more writing consultation services to the larger Louisville community.

Of course, it isn’t only what is new here that is exciting. One of the most exciting things that will happen this fall is what happens here every semester. Day after day writers from across the university will bring their drafts and their questions about their writing to the Picture1University Writing Center and engage in thoughtful conversations with our consultants about how to make that work as strong as it can be.  We have an excellent incoming staff of consultants who will be doing what we do best: helping writers improve the projects they are working on today, as well helping them become stronger writers in the future. On our exit surveys, more than 90 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their University Writing Center appointments both help them with their immediate writing concerns and that what they learn in appointments will help them with other writing projects.

We will also continue to offer our successful Dissertation Writing Retreat, our Graduate Student Writing Workshops, workshops on writing issues for classes and student organizations at UofL, and our consultations on the Health Sciences Campus.

The mission statement for the University Writing Center says that we believe writing is an “indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university.” We stand behind this belief and it is central to what we do. But, as the new semester begins, I think the events and programs we will offer in the year ahead will allow us to add to our mission the goal of creating and sustaining a culture of writing of all kinds, on campus and in our community.

Please see our updated website for more information and resources, as well as for information about how to make your appointment for a writing consultation.

Good luck with the new academic year and I hope to see you in the University Writing Center.

 

There’s More than One Way to Build a Writing Center – A Visit to The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Writing Centers – around the world – can be found in all kinds of locations, both physical and institutional. We’re fortunate at the University of Louisville to have a large and prominent new space on the ground floor of the main Library and to have the institutional support of departments and administrators across the university. Other writing centers have to find other ways to create spaces and identities for themselves when the university around them may not yet have figured out how much it needs a writing center – or even what one is. Recently, when I attended the Writing Development in Higher Education conference at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to visit and learn about one of the more exciting and innovative approaches to creating a writing center that I have seen  – The Writing Cafe.

The Writing Cafe is exactly what it sounds like. Located on the top floor of one of the

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The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

academic buildings, it is a place where writers (from both the university and community) can come to get a cup of coffee, have a writing consultation, attend a workshop, or just have a communal, social space to write. It’s a warm, welcoming space that combines the relaxed ambience of a coffee shop with conversations about writing. Even a brief visit made it clear that it was a place that was fostering and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community – which is part of the essential role of any writing center. It certainly tempted me to get a coffee and hang out and write rather than going to the next conference session (but I did go to the next session….)

What makes The Writing Cafe so exciting for people doing Writing Center work, however, is not just the space itself. The story of how Helen Bowstead and Christie Pritchard created and put together The Writing Cafe is instructive – and inspiring – for people wanting to establish a writing center or just find a new way of thinking about how a writing center might inhabit a different kind of institutional and social space. Faced with a university that was reluctant to provide the space and furnishings for a writer center, they came across the abandoned cafe space and convinced the university to let them renovate and

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Literacy artifacts at The Writing Cafe

use it. They furnished it with cast-off tables and chairs they scavenged from around campus – as well as abandoned literacy artifacts of, such as an old typewriter, globe, and camera. Their explicit goal was to drawn on “coffee-house culture” to create a place that was social and informal, but also generative and engaging. They also had the ongoing support of the Learning Development team at Plymouth University. People coming to The Writing Cafe don’t make appointments, but just drop in to talk with the consultants who are on call at that time. Unlike some writing centers, they have decided not have appointments or keep records of consultations, so that the atmosphere and experience remains one that is more focused on nurturing a community of writers and less focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The goal is not only to help people with their writing, but to give them an experience that helps them feel different about writing. Writing Cafe has been a huge success – primarily publicized through word of mouth among students.

Of course, this model doesn’t work for every writing center, but it is a reminder that there are other approaches and values that can be supported in writing centers in addition to

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What happy writers have written on the board at The Wrting Cafe

just helping people with the draft in front of them. The idea of a space that offers writers a different emotional experience about writing, and that emphasizes the importance of conversation and the social nature of writing, is refreshing and exciting in a time when universities in many countries are increasingly focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The Writing Cafe treats student writers – and all writers – like authors with something to say. Finally, The Writing Cafe is an example of what can be done, in a time of shrinking budgets, if you can be creative and work with what you have at hand. As someone interested in the idea of writing centers as “enclaves” of different practices, I was glad I got the chance to find out about this place.

 

Much will Change in Fall 2015 at the UofL Writing Center (Yet Much Will Stay the Same)

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

In some ways, this semester is starting like many others at the University Writing Center. We gathered as a staff for the first time at our Orientation last week and started to get to know each other. We have a great new group of consultants, as well as new faces as Associate and Assistant Directors.

University Writing Center Staff, 2015-16

University Writing Center Staff, 2015-16

With the start of classes this week we’ve been busy meeting with students and doing presentations about the Writing Center for classes and student organizations. If you want to make an appointment, we are open for business and happy to meet with you. In the year to come we will also continue with the programs we have established in recent years such as our Dissertation Writing Retreats, Junior Faculty Writing Groups, and workshops about Graduate Student Writing concerns. There is a great deal of anticipation about the year ahead. The photo of this year’s staff is in the familiar setting in front of the windows on the Third Floor of Ekstrom Library. So, yes, in some ways this year feels like many others.

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Under Construction – The University Writing Center space on the First Floor of Ekstrom Library

And yet, two floors below us, is the evidence how much is about to change. On the first floor of the Library the construction continues on the new space for the University Writing Center. At the moment it’s still a work in progress, but in the skeleton of wall frames and electrical wires you can see our new space taking shape. Sometime, then, near the beginning of October, we’ll be moving into our brand new space.

What’s exciting about the new space (besides getting new furniture), is that we will be much easier to find, as well as have more space in which to meet with students. What’s more, we’ll have digital consulting rooms that will make it easier for us to help writers with multimodal projects and to do online video chat appointments with distance education students. Our new location will also allow us to collaborate more easily with reference librarians, REACH, and the Digital Media Suite.

We also want to use the move to the first floor as an opportunity to do

What You Will See When You Enter the East Doors of the Library

What You Will See When You Enter the East Doors of the Library

more to make the University Writing Center a place where we develop and sustain a culture of writing on campus. So keep an eye out for announcements of other kinds of programming about writing to come in the year ahead. We’ll keep blogging about the changes and new programs in the year ahead and will be posting about it on our Twitter and Facebook pages as well.

We wish everyone a successful semester and we hope people will let us help them make their writing as effective, engaging, and creative as possible.

Imagining and Developing Writing Centers: A Reflection on SWCA-KY 2013

Dan McCormick, ConsultantDSCN1636

What does a writing center look like?  Does it look like rows of tables and desks?  Couches?  Computers and projectors and marker boards? Does it look like Legos and Play-Doh and glass walls and Ab-Ex décor?

The Noel Studio at Eastern Kentucky University does.  This was the site of the SWCA-KY Statewide Fall 2013 conference, which I attended on Friday September 20th along with the rest of the U of L Writing Center delegation.  Fitting that we should spend our day in a space that brings that aforementioned question to life, because broad questions of what a writing center looks like—in terms of space, technology, methodology, and campus finance—were on everyone’s minds.

The view from above Noel Studio at EKU

The view from above Noel Studio at EKU

Our ADs Adam, Ashly, Jennifer, and Jessica delivered a presentation on the U of L Virtual Writing Center, which serves students and faculty via email consultation or video chat.  The description of our online pedagogy was not new to me, but it was really cool to hear staff from other centers weigh in.  We discussed the challenge of identifying and addressing each writer’s needs without seeing a face or hearing a voice. (You can read more about our VWC here.)

Participants discussing approaches to virtual consulting

Discussing approaches to virtual consulting

In another session I attended, we discussed research questions on topics such as why students visit writing centers, how to increase visitor numbers, and how to best measure writing centers’ success.  I spoke to one man who was part of team in the process of developing a writing center at Hazard Community and Technical College in Jackson, Kentucky; we discussed how a writing center can best serve the needs of students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds who are interested in trade-programs, nursing, and technical writing.  The conference administrators encouraged all of us to develop our research ideas and submit abstracts for the SWCA regional conference in February 2014.

The conference’s keynote was a conversation with Kentucky singer/songwriter Daniel Martin Moore and EKU-alum/producer Duane Lundy, who discussed the collaborative aspect of creativity.  Along with a few songs, Moore shared his thoughts on what makes for the best time and space for writing.  If you’re in a hotel room in Costa Rica and the muse descends, Moore said, it’s time to clear your schedule and focus.  Lundy, on the other hand, described the importance of creating a safe environment for experimentation and creativity while making records at his studio, Shangri-La.  The two agreed that sometimes it’s best to take hold of whatever creative spark the situation offers, and sometimes it’s best to engineer the space and atmosphere to your advantage.  They also discussed how technology has made the process of creating music much easier—that could mean smart phone recording apps, pitch-shifting programs, and even moveable walls.  Drawing parallels between collaboration in the music studio and collaboration in the writing studio, Moore and Lundy emphasized that all creativity has its genesis in the bridges that art builds between people from different times, communities, and experiences.

SWCA-KY '13 Keynote Presentation

SWCA-KY ’13 Keynote Presentation

In sum, I found that writing centers all over Kentucky are asking the same question—what should a writing center look like?  How does technology fit in?  How can we ensure our place in the university’s budget?  How do we meet the needs of students from all economic backgrounds?  And, perhaps most importantly, how do we change the perception of a writing center from fix-it-shop to build-it-studio?  At EKU, it looks like comfy chairs and bright colors.  At U of L, it looks like iPads and an increasing online presence.  What does it look like at your writing center?

Five Places That Make Writing Easier

Megen Boyett, Consultant

DSCN1655It’s the start of the semester, which means, it’s time again to think about research papers! I know, it’s only the second week, and yet, that paper looms ahead of you on your syllabus. It will not be ignored and it will not be denied, but it will be here in about 15 weeks. Worst of all, it’s going to need outside information and some advance planning, both things that a four-day caffeine binge during finals week won’t provide.

The worst thing about new semesters is that, once again, you have the opportunity to find out how little you know and how much you wish you knew. But take heart! The best part about new semesters is that they’re a new beginning! You’ve got time again to get things done right! And, better still, there are resources for you to use right here on campus. Here are five places to get what you need for those research papers and have a less stressful semester:

  1. The Writing Center, of course!

Are you unsure where to start an assignment? Do you need some help figuring out what it’s asking for, or what you should do next? Have you written as much as you think you possibly can on a topic, but only gotten halfway through the page requirement? Bring your assignment and whatever you have so far into the writing center. Sit and talk it over with us for a while (let’s say, up to fifty minutes). Believe me when I say, it’s oh-so-helpful to have someone to talk about your work with, especially when they aren’t giving you a grade at the end. If nothing else, you’ll leave knowing what questions to ask when you go back to class.

  1. The Research Lab at Ekstrom Library

You know the sources are out there! You just don’t know where to start looking, and it’s a little intimidating to wade through so much information on your own. Fortunately, the librarians at Ekstrom do have a good idea of where you should start. You can ask questions at the research desk (1st floor), you can set up an appointment to learn how to use databases, or you can even chat with a librarian online at http://louisville.edu/library/services/ask.html.

  1. Citation Databases

Does thinking about citation styles give you a cold sweat? Then, of course, ask your writing center consultant. We all have our favorite sites for citation help. One of the most commonly suggested is the OWL, or the Online Writing Lab at Purdue. It has quick links to citation style guides and plenty of examples. Another really good program is EndNote, which stores all your sources for you and formats bibliographies and in-text citations. Best of all, it’s free through the U of L library!

  1. Your professors

I have yet to meet a U of L professor who won’t make time during office hours for a student to talk about a paper. Your professors are valuable resources because, after all, they wrote the assignment. Not only can they answer questions about what they want you to do, they’re also good for helping you talk through ideas and suggesting potential sources. Put their expertise to use!

  1. The Writing Center, again

You’ve researched, you’ve drafted, you’ve cited to your heart’s content. You’re pretty confident that you know what your professor wants and even how to do it. Now it’s all (or almost all) down on paper, but you’re still not sure that your paper says what you want it to. Come back to the writing center and read your paper aloud with a consultant! Never underestimate the value of talking about your writing with a student who’s been trained to talk about writing. Being able to hear feedback before you hand in a paper not only gives you one last chance to make changes and turn in the paper you meant to write, it’ll with future writing assignments, too. (Plus, it’s really fun to talk about something you created with someone who wants to read it. Trust me.)

Here’s to a fabulous semester! Here’s to knowing what you’re doing and to asking when you don’t know! Here’s to caffeine headaches after something other than an all-night paper-writing-palooza, because, after all, don’t you have better reasons to stay up till 2 am?

Happy Writing!

The Places We Write: An Unfinished List

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Ashly_Version_3Last week, BookRiot—one of my favorite blogs for literary discussions—posted about the places people read: under a tree, at the beach, in a coffee shop, you know the places. For each place, author Jonathan Streeter rated the aesthetic appeal. For example, reading under a tree is highly aesthetic given its “classic appeal” and prominence in paintings, books, and other forms of art. (Reading “on the throne” was least aesthetic, for obvious reasons.)

Streeter’s blog post got me thinking about the places we write. Much like reading, the cultural conventions around writers and how to write are strong. For centuries, the idea of the writer conjured up images of solitary, often disagreeable, and socially inept individuals (arguably, usually men). Even now, these characteristics often persist. We see it in movies like Shakespeare in Love, where the inspired William Shakespeare runs to his small cluttered apartment to scribble down lines of his upcoming play, or in Stranger than Fiction, where Emma Thompson’s character is portrayed as difficult to get along with. On-screen or in-book writers who frequent coffee shops are just as likely to be seen as solitary. Bronwyn Williams and Amy Zenger offer more critical and thorough insight on this in their book Popular Culture and Representations of Literacy.

Given that this view of writers persists, despite repeated evidence that when we write our content most often comes from interactions with other texts and other people, I want to consider today the places we actually write.

Dorm/Home: Most people who are expecting to be doing consistent writing or studying have a space in their home to work. For many students that place probably their desk in their dorm room. Others who aren’t living in dorms might have an office in their house, or just a desk. Personally, most of the writing I do at home I do in my kitchen because my table is big enough to spread out any books or notes I want to look at while I write. Plus, the food is right there.

Cafes and Bookstores: It makes sense to begin here since I’m currently sitting in a Barnes and Noble Café. While plenty of the other customers are reading, there are at least three other people writing in some form, and based on observation over time, I’d say this is not unusual. I generally prefer coffee shops, but the town I’m in is small and doesn’t have a café that accommodates hours-long customers. The upside to coffee and book shops is that those of us who need to “get out of the house” are able to be productive while still seemingly engaging with the outside world. Plus, there’s always people watching or small talk if you get stuck or need a break.

Libraries: Libraries have always had a particular atmosphere for me: quiet, studious, quiet. You may be getting a sense of why I prefer the coffee shop, but many people love the sense of focus and the lack of distraction that libraries can offer. Plus, many students living on-campus can make temporary homes and offices in the libraries at their universities. In fact, the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library is currently renovating to offer more of these spaces. The benefit of being in library, of course, is that if you need to look up a book or an article, you’re already there! I love wandering through the stacks. And, Ekstrom Library also houses the University Writing Center, so if you have any writing questions or want to walk-in for an appointment you don’t have to go to another building—just to the 3rd floor.

Writing Centers: Speaking of the Writing Center… Of course, most of our work is helping students with their writing in consulting appointments, but we also have computers and tables where people can just come in and write. This was one of the important benefits of our Dissertation Writing Retreat, every morning participants had at least four hours to just write before meeting with a consultant.

This list is certainly preliminary and subject to my own experiences. Where else do you write? Where is your favorite place to write? I’ve been known to write on my porch, on an airplane, and even in my car—though not while driving! If you aren’t bound by place, what things do you need to write? Let us know in the comments!

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