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(Literally) Meeting Writers where they are at Community Literacy Sites

Rachel Rodriguez,  Assistant Director of The Writing Center

My favorite tutoring session this year was a group session, where the two writers were working on drastically different projects.Rachel Rodriguez One writer was working on a paper in which she had to identify an area in her life where she possessed rare expertise, and our brainstorming led her to a past job as a phlebotomist and her unique knowledge on how to draw blood.

This brainstorming and outlining was often interrupted by the other writer, whose projects included buttoning, unbuttoning, buttoning, unbuttoning, and buttoning both her and my jackets, discussing why snowmen don’t need jackets and monkeys prefer bananas, and finding the perfect video on Youtube of children baking imaginary cakes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this “other” writer was about 3.

When you imagine a “typical” writing center session (does such a thing exist?) you probably envision a quiet setting in which two people are examining a draft, exchanging ideas, and conversing, with plenty of pauses to think, consider, and reflect. Sessions in community literacy sites tend to take on a slightly different hue. Community means many, ever-shifting, laughter.

At the Gladys and Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus, writing sessions happen in an open space designed to look like a Starbucks, with computers and chic furniture. Large windows connect this room to a playplace so moms, many of whom live on-site, can keep an eye on their young ones. Every writer I have worked with at Family Scholar House is a mother, and every one is intensely and impressively dedicated to the pursuit of education.

At the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, tutors sit at a table at the center of the main floor – strategically within view of the entrance as well as the computer banks nearby. While cushioned by stacks of books, the sound of Fortnite is a constant buzz. Here, the typical writer may be a middle-schooler, hanging out with friends at the library after school but before heading home. Sometimes tutors cajole writers to take out their homework with the wave of a coveted piece of gum.

This is all to say that writing sessions at community literacy sites are all the things you might not expect: noisy, chaotic, dynamic. And this is precisely what makes tutoring there so fun!

A key skill in writing tutoring is flexibility, going with the flow, recognizing when a strategy isn’t working and changing it up, moving from poetry analysis to a biology lab report to an engineering dissertation in the span of a few hours. Community literacy stretches this skill to the max, expanding what we think of as a “session,” “writer,” and even “writing.”

This expansion is good for tutors’ brains: we return to the UWC with a bigger sense of what is possible. After all, the University of Louisville doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is part of a vibrant, complex community of individuals, families, and groups who in turn pursue a myriad of writing and reading endeavors. This may take the form of a comic book, rap lyrics, fan fiction, or a personal memoir. The University Writing Center is one of many writing centers that takes as a central tenet the idea of meeting writers where they are, and community literacy projects take this to a new level, literally seeking out writers where they live and play and gather, to listen to their needs and offer up our knowledge of audience, genre, and style. This literacy matters to the UWC, and this academic year, our volunteer tutors have contributed 477 hours towards these sites, with a few weeks to go.
Two former Assistant Directors of the University Writing Center, Dr. Layne Porta Gordon and Dr. Amy Nichols, have both stressed the importance of continuing to “show up” for our community (check our Layne’s post here, and Amy’s here), and I’m proud to continue to move our initiatives forward. Personally, I’m looking forward to a summer of tutoring at Western Branch, where I hope to encounter many writers like my friend so deft at buttoning.


I think it’s fair to say that the denouement of most writing tutoring sessions isn’t having a 3-year-old fall slowly into a heavy sleep on your lap, while talk with your writer of ethos and evidence-based claims is punctuated by the chatter of a tour group of local business people. But that’s precisely what made this my favorite session of the year, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer!

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

Writing as Self-Reflection: A Personal Writing Process

Josh Christian, Writing Consultant

When most people write, they do so with a goal in mind. Employees and employers write emails to communicate dates and quotas. Josh ChristianFamilies write texts to make dinner plans. Journalists write to meet a deadline. And students write to meet the requirements of their assignments.

Rarely is any form of writing done without some sort of purpose, to achieve or gain something. This is why not all forms of writing are valued equally by all people. If writing as an employer of a company or a journalist of some big-name paper, your writing will be valued over the student, who is only writing for a grade. What about writing that seems to have even less of a purpose, that isn’t done for a grade or paycheck?

Journaling is a perfect example. It is a form of writing that seems to have no purpose at all. It doesn’t exist to be seen or shared with anyone outside of the writer. So why do it? Here, I would argue that while journaling doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything, it very much is. And the product of journaling is of endless value. If this is true, a personal writing practice adds to one’s life.

So why journal? Most think journaling is for the dreamy school-girl or angst-filled teen. However, these people don’t consider the benefits of journaling. When journaling, a person is choosing to reflect on a moment, maybe traumatic or joyous; they reflect on their day or the possibilities of a decision they have to make. Journaling is then a form of self-reflection, which is defined by google as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, or motives.” Self-reflection can be found in most religious faiths, as they promote meditation as a religious practice.

The value of self-reflection has even been noted by major cooperations and business conglomerates, as they have integrated it into their various training programs to insure the making of responsible and effective leaders capable of learning and growing from their mistakes. At a personal level, self-reflection enables one to think over their past choices, words said and actions taken, becoming aware of how their actions or words affected others. Past decisions that caused broken relationships could go unnoticed if not for self-reflection. Journaling enables this form of self-reflection, as it allows one to write about their day, often in a narrative form, which allows for the assessment that leads to personal growth.

Similarly, journaling about an impending decision one has to make enables this form of self-reflection. When a person needs to make a decision about their future, say attending a specific university or taking a job, journaling enables them to reflect on their own characteristics and assess whether they are or are not a good fit for the university or position. Not only does journaling help one process their thoughts, it also helps one cope with the anxiety of the decision.

Sometimes it can feel like so much is at stake in making a decision, the anxiety is paramount, making it impossible to sleep or think. Journaling helps relieve this tension. As one writes out their thoughts and feelings, they process this anxiety and get space from their feelings, enabling them to think objectively. Thus, even in moments where one has to make a difficult decision, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many possibilities and weighty pros and cons. Journaling makes this process a bit easier.

Thus, journaling is not useless. It enables self-reflection that generates tangible results for people in their everyday lives. So if you are one of those people who think writing is just about achieving something, either commercially or academically, think again. Begin to incorporate journaling practices into your everyday life and watch as the benefits of self-reflection manifest. It only makes sense that a regular, personal writing practice that incorporates journaling would multiply these benefits. So, journaling, as a personal writing practice, is for everyone. It isn’t only for the journalist, novelist, student or businessmen. And writing does more than make profit. It adds infinite value to your life.

So, if you are thinking about beginning a personal writing practice, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What did you say or do for someone to make their day better?
  • Did you say or do anything that could have hurt another person? If so, what?
  • What made you feel good, today? What made you feel bad?
  • Are you more anxious than usual? What is different that could be causing your anxiety?
  • How might you change something you have done or said today to have a more desired impact tomorrow, or in the coming days?

The Blinking Cursor of Doom: How to Begin Writing Academically

Brooke Boling, Writing Consultant

Across the board, writers both new and veteran acknowledge how difficult it is to begin an academic paper.Brooke Boling Do you start with a thesis? Do you write from introduction to conclusion? Should you make an outline? Where do you put your research in the flow of your argument? What is the “best” way to start a paper?

The best-kept secret in academic writing is this: there is no “correct” process to writing or beginning a paper. There’s no way that works better than every other way. Lots of writers who are new to academic writing, returning after a long hiatus, or write academically as a career are daunted by beginning a paper and making an effective argument. You might feel like that blinking cursor on your word processor might as well be a physical wall stopping you from getting started.
A few questions to ask yourself when you’re starting a paper might be: what, to you, is the most important part of your paper? What ideas do you need to get down before they slip away? What is the overall argument you’re aiming to make? What pieces of research and evidence do you think are the most important? These are some great places to begin thinking about your paper overall.

I, personally, write my introduction first, and it is always long and rambling, leading to a thesis that is comprised of keywords rather than a solid claim. This process does, however, enable me to get all of my formulated ideas in one place, and it helps me order the rest of my paper. I can always go back and edit, so I try not to get hung up on grammar or spelling in a first draft (which is also a helpful tip as you’re beginning your paper). Some consultants in the Writing Center outline extensively, plugging in their research and relevant quotes in different parts of the outline, and even spending more time on their outline than their paper when all is said and done.

Other consultants find it helpful to free-write and see where it leads regarding the topic; I find this to be especially helpful in creative writing. Still others write all of their paragraphs out of order before figuring out where each element of their argument belongs, and then write around these paragraphs once they put them in order to make their overall argument. Lots of writers claim that writing their introduction last is what helps them get started on their paper. If parts of these approaches resonate with you, mix and match and see what works!

The bottom line is, feel free to experiment with different writing processes and ways of ordering your writing. There is no correct way to begin to write, and the more ways you experiment with, the more you will find what works for you, and you’ll be well on your way to developing your own personal writing process.

Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

Abby Wills: Writing Consultant

The culture—especially that of the university—is all too often frantic.

Image result for abby wills writing centerYou perpetually have too much to do. It’s embarrassing to not be busy. Procrastination both alleviates and creates urgency (and everybody does it, so it’s okay). If you are stressed and anxious, you are merely conforming to the culture.

But thriving at the university does not require conformity. Instead, refusing to conform to franticness often leads to better quality work and increased enjoyment in that work. So try going slow.

“But if I have three papers due tomorrow that I haven’t started yet, how can I get them done slowly?”

Good question. The voice of wisdom is not always the voice of the culture. It’s possible that it usually isn’t. So here is some countercultural counsel:

1. Say no.

Culture: Get involved! Take every opportunity! Get out of your comfort zone! Fill your CV! Your whole future rests on your ability to juggle as many opportunities as you can! You will fail if you miss an opportunity!

The never-ending extra-curriculars, organizations, and opportunities of the university can be overwhelming, and if you attended orientation, you may or may not have been told to participate in all of them. The pressure is heavy.

Wisdom: Think very carefully about which specific opportunities would be most meaningful to you and your hopes for your vocation. Slow down. Consider carefully. Think through your choices for at least as long as you thought about which starter Pokémon to take. Your schedule does not need to be completely full in order to be successful.

2. Ask for grace.

Culture: Never show any signs of failure! Never give up! Hide your weaknesses and pull through by your own strength!

Wisdom: If you ask, more people are willing to be gracious than you might expect. If you have no time to write a good paper in time for the due date—ask for an extension. Most professors would prefer a good paper late than a bad paper on time. Asking is not failing. Asking is showing that you care about the quality of your work (and your health).

3. Get alone.

I used to think that the library was a place that inherently nourished productivity. This depends on your personality, but after my first couple years of undergrad I finally realized that the conversations, passersby, and moving bookshelves (my undergraduate university was higher tech than UofL) were usually too distracting. I did my best writing in the woods (my undergrad was also not in the middle of a city), the empty chapel, and on the floor of empty, soundproof practice rooms in the music building.

Culture: Loners are losers.

Wisdom: Loners get stuff done.

Of course, it would be unhealthy to be always isolating yourself, but a balance between enjoying others’ company and working hard on your own is crucial to success, especially when you are an introverted writer.

4. Go off the grid.

You know what I mean. Put your phone in your sock drawer. Ignore its petulant cries for attention.

Culture: But if I turn off my phone, I will miss important things! What if someone needs to get a hold of me?

Wisdom: You miss important things every time you look at your phone. Get your life together.

5. Stake your time.

If you know your most productive time of day, claim it. For me, this is first thing in the morning, before other people have gotten up, when my mind is clear and I can be alone. I guard this time jealously, which means I usually give up sleeping in. Putting a stake in your productive time usually means giving up something—sleep, social events, Pokémon raids—but if your best work comes from this time, it is worth it.

Culture: Gotta catch ‘em all!

Wisdom: This saying originated in the golden era in which only one hundred fifty Pokémon roamed the region. It is anachronistic to apply it to today.

Slow Down

Remember that franticness is not necessarily productivity. Taking the time to do good work, to rejuvenate, to be alone, to sleep—slowing down in these ways may make your writing flow better than you think. It is possible that the reason you are stuck in your writing process is because you have not had a break from all of the voices—present or virtually present via internet—clamoring for your attention.

Slowness is countercultural, but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. Sometimes revolution is necessary before progress is possible. In a culture of stagnant urgency, slowing down is the resistance.

How I Write: Ron Whitehead

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.

“I have long admired Ron Whitehead. He is crazy as nine loons, and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Ron and Rainbow copy.jpg

Ron Whitehead is a poet, writer, editor, publisher, scholar, professor, and activist. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and later attended The University of Louisville and the University of Oxford.

First recipient ever of The English Speaking Union’s Joshua B. Everett Scholar Award to study at the University of Oxford’s International Graduate School. As poet and writer he is the recipient of numerous state, national, and international awards and prizes including The All Kentucky Poetry Prize, Ariel/Triton College Poetry Prize (Judge, Lisel Mueller), The Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry, and many others. In 2006 Dr. John Rocco (NYC) nominated Ron for The Nobel Prize in Literature. He was inducted into his high school’s (Ohio County High) Hall of Fame, representing his 1968 graduating class. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer recently presented Ron witha City of Louisville Proclamation thanking for him for his lifetime of work in and support of the arts.

Ron has edited and published the works of such luminaries as His Holiness The Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, Seamus Heaney, John Updike, Wendell Berry, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, BONO, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Rita Dove, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Hunter,
Amiri Baraka, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and hundreds more.

Location: Louisville, KY & Clarksville, IN.

Current projects: March 1st: THE DANCE by Ron Whitehead & The Glass Eye Ensemble featuring Sheri Streeter (sonaBLAST! Records & Howard & Nancy Wilson release), 10 tracks, online & CD, full art, music, film, photography, live performance Installation at The Tim Faulkner Gallery.

July 16th & 20th: WHIRLPOOL by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band and Shakespeare’s Monkey featuring Dean McClain (possible sonaBLAST! Records), online & CD, release concerts on 7/16 at The Bokeh Lounge/Evansville and 7/20 at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library.

July 20th: RIDING WITH REBEL JESUS by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band featuring Sheri Streeter (possible sonaBLAST! Records), 7-track EP, online & CD, live performance at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library. Album cover art by Somerset folk artist Jeremy Das Scrimager.

Last weekend of July: THE VIEW FROM LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI’S BATHROOM WINDOW: Beat Poems & Stories by Ron Whitehead (Underground Books/NYC), Ron will be UB’s featured poet at annual New York City Poetry Festival, Governor’s Island/NYC.

September/October: David Amram & Ron Whitehead, KENTUCKY BOUND: The Cabin Sessions, produced by Vince Emmett and Stephen W. Brown, online & CD, more info to come.

Currently reading: Volume 2 of Winston Graham’s Poldark Series plus several other titles.

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

Poetry and prose.

2. When/where/how do you write?

Two writing studios: one my wife created for me at our home in historic Clarksville, the other at my writing hermitage, 919 Cherokee Road, which was built for me by Howard and Nancy Bruner Wilson eight years ago. I write an equal amount at both
locations plus I write wherever I am. I travel often, near and far.

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

Pen, paper, tablet.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision, (5). and what
 is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Young folks (of all ages) often ask what they should do to become better poets and writers:

14 Suggestions for Aspiring Poets and Writers

1) Join a writing group. Outgrow it as soon as possible.

2) Dig deep into your childhood. Write the best and the worst memories. Embrace your past. You’ll find your voice by fully embracing your past. Be an autodidact. Teach yourself. The School of Hard Knocks is The Best School of All! Learn everything you can about everything you’re interested in. Learn things you don’t even want to learn things that are uninteresting but are related to your poem your story. Read everything you can get your hands on.

3) Take classes classes classes on literature, poetry, prose, and on writing.

4) Master grammar and scansion, the terrible mechanics of prose and poetry.

5) Be a master skeptic. Doubt and question yourself and everyone else.

6) Be a master believer. Believe in yourself and nearly everyone else.

7) Submit submit submit your work to every publication under the sun and moon.

8) You’re gonna get rejected. A million times. Get used to it. Suck it up. Develop your will power. Quit whining. Be strong!

9) Gather your poems and stories into book manuscripts and send them to publishers and when you’re rejected publish your own work.

10) Read read read your work out loud in private in public at open mics read read read your work out loud to dogs cats birds people to anyone and everyone.

11) Entertainment is central! Captivate your audience! Do you want to be bored by someone reading their poem their story?! Put all the energy you have into your reading. Sing your work. Even if you can’t carry a tune sing your work out loud. Listen for the rhythm. Get rhythm. Build music into your poem your story. Poems and stories are dancing songs.

12) Listen. Listening is the greatest art of all. We’re all dirty potatoes floating in the same tub of polluted water. The more we bang into each other by openly honestly sharing the stories of our lives the more we come clean. By listening to others and to yourself as you read your work out loud you will become a better writer a better editor.

13) On the darkest stormiest night of the year take everything you’ve learned and get in a car and drive as fast as you can along the coastline with a deep cliff falling down to the pounding ocean and throw everything you’ve learned out the window while screaming as loud as you can “Farewell!” “Goodbye!” then go your own way and start anew. Be your own original voice.

14) Language is an experiment. Always has been. Always will be. Have fun. Never give up!

Ron Whitehead’s official website is http://www.tappingmyownphone.com

The Places and Spaces of Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Sometimes, when I know I need to write – either creatively or academically – something possesses me and I think that writing in my bed is a good idea.Katie FrankelEven if it’s the middle of the day, I usually put on pajamas, because you’re supposed to wear pajamas in bed and I can write in pajamas just fine.

I crawl into bed, fluff my pillows, and set my laptop on my lap. If I’m determined to get some serious writing done, sometimes I’ll even open a Word document.

My dog sees me in bed so he jumps into bed, too, and snuggles up next to me. He is so cute. I set my laptop aside and grab my phone to take an adorable picture of him. While looking over this picture I start looking at other pictures, and the next thing I know, I am three years deep watching iPhone videos of my niece. I’ve now been in bed for half an hour and not gotten anything done. I’m kind of tired, and since I’m already in bed, a little nap wouldn’t really hurt, would it?

Does this writing process sound familiar to you? If it does, it’s probably time to reconsider the places and spaces where your writing is taking place. Today, I present to you a few suggestions of different writing locations that may allow you to be a more efficient writer.

The Coffee Shop

If you’re not a coffee shop goer, you’re probably already discarding this suggestion, but hear me out. I once was not a coffee shop writer either, believing that I needed privacy and silence to work, but mostly knowing that I didn’t want to pay the five-dollar-a-cup entrance fee. However, I have found that the coffee shop can be a great workspace. I like to write at coffee shops because I can usually sit with a friend (accountability partner), there’s some background noise that isn’t to the degree of being overwhelming, and food and coffee is there if you need it. If you don’t want to frequent coffee shops to write in because you don’t want to always spend money, then save coffee shops as an occasional writing space where you can also treat yourself (maybe for writing the last part of that paper?).

The Library

Sometimes, being surrounded by other students who are determined to make dents on their school assignments is helpful to me as I try to stay focused and write my own papers. Because the Ekstrom Library at UofL is so big, whether you want to be surrounded by constant noise or complete silence, you can find a place to sit and write on one of its four floors. And, if you’re doing research, the immediate accessibility to the stacks is certainly helpful. A major bonus working at the library affords students is that if you would like some additional help, you can stop in at the University Writing center on the first floor.

Your Home

Last but not least, your home can actually be a great place to get some writing done if you have more self-discipline than I do. Some people are actually more productive at home, and prefer to make various areas of their home their writing workspaces. Try writing at your desk, or kitchen table, or even sitting outside on your porch, if you have one. The benefits of working at home include not having to leave the house or interact with others, being able to stay in your pajamas, and having a constant source of food.

Leave a comment describing your favorite (or least favorite) writing space. And, if you have a dog, leave a comment if he’s a better assistant than mine.

 

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.

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