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Creating a Culture of Writing: Looking Back at 2017-18 in the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

All the signs point to the fact that the academic year is coming to a close. Writers are focused on finishing their final papers, faculty are focused on finishing their grading, even the puppies have returned to the Library to help people reduce their stress. Yet, even as everyone pushes to complete the final tasks of the semester, it’s important to take a moment to mark the accomplishments and events that took place in the University Writing Center during past year.

Our central accomplishment of the past year is the one that is simultaneously the most common, but one that is never routine or taken for granted.  Once again our consultants have worked, in individual appointments, with more than 5,000 students, faculty, and

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University Writing Center Staff, 2017-18

staff on writing projects ranging from literacy narratives to lab reports to dissertations to scholarship applications. Hour after hour, day after day, they have worked collaboratively with writers to help them with their concerns about the drafts in front of them, but also to help them become stronger, flexible, and more confident writers. The positive and productive work that takes place here, and the transformative effect it can have on writers, comes from the thoughtful and dedicated work of our staff. Yet I also want to thank all the writers who trusted us with their work and all the faculty who supported our work by recommending us to their students.

In addition to our ongoing work with writers at UofL, however, we also work to create and sustain a culture of writing on campus and in the community. Here are a few examples of what we done in the past year toward that goal.

Workshops, Writing Groups, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: We have reached more than 750 students at UofL through workshops about writing that took place both in and out of classroom settings. Our popular Creative Writing, LGBTQ+ and Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups continued to provide safe, supportive, and productive spaces for UofL writers. Also, in addition to our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat in May, we held our first Dissertation Writing Mini-Retreat in January. We will be continuing all of these groups and workshops, so be sure to check our our website for information and dates.

Writing Events: New writing-focused events this year included a faculty roundtable discussion about “Engaging Diverse Voices in Writing and Reading,” an open-mic night

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Our celebration of International Mother Language Day

for the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine, and a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series. At the same time we once again held our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, participated in the Celebration of Student Writing and Kick Back in the Stacks, and celebrated International Mother Language Day.

 

Video Workshops on APA, MLA, and Using Sources Effectively: We revised our video workshops on APA and MLA Citation Styles and on Using Sources Effectively and avoiding plagiarism. These are available on the University Writing Center YouTube page and join our other extensive online resources of Handouts and Writing FAQs.

Writing Center Blog and Social Media: Our blog not only brought ideas about writing and writing center work to the UofL community, but also connected to writers, teachers, and tutors around the country, and our presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram continued to grow and connect with writers and writing scholars.

Community Writing: As we have written about several times on the blog this year, our community work with Family Scholar House and the Western Branch of the Louisville

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Our work at the Western Branch Library

Free Public Library continues to grow and evolved through a collaborative and participatory partnership involving these organizations, UofL students and faculty, and the University Writing Center staff. This work was recognized recently with the College of Arts and Sciences Community Service Award.

Thanks to the Best Writing Center Staff around: These accomplishments are the result of the tireless, creative, and thoughtful work of the staff of the University Writing Center. It is their inspired work that allows us to support UofL writers and create a culture of writing on campus and off. They also make this a fun place to work. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassandra Book, Assistant Directors, Layne Gordon, Jessica Newman, Christopher Stuck, and Caitlin Ray; consultants Brent Coughenour, Emily Cousins, Nicole Dugan, Reid Elsea, Taryn Hall, Beau Kilpatrick, Rachel Knowles, Isaac Marvel, Mitzi Phelan, Tim Phelps, Keaton Price, and Mary-Kate Smith, and student workers Brianna McIntyre, Jency Trejo, and Dhyani Vashi.

Farewell: Finally, we are marking the retirement this year of Robin Blackett from her job running the front desk – and so much more – of the University Writing Center. For more797d0bac-b9e7-4c00-9800-bd15814a225c than 12 years Robin has not only been the first person everyone meets when they come to an appointment, but she has personified the ethos of care and attention to student needs that we value here. Robin has greeted writers with warmth and professionalism, reassuring people who were often feeling upset and anxious, that they would be able get support for their writing at the University Writing Center. Robin has been integral to our success and growth over the years and, though we wish her well in new adventures, we will miss her dearly.


We will be open during the summer, starting May 7, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director of the University Writing Center, presented at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference (SWCA) and SWCA also awarded her the Gary Olsen Travel Award Scholarship. She also presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center, presented at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center, presented at the national Conference on Community Writing. She also had a piece, titled “Mariella,” published in the Miracle Monocle and won the Miracle Monocle Award for “Ambitious Student Writing.” She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.

Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, published the article “On Your Feet!”: Addressing Ableism in Theatre of the Oppressed Facilitation.” in  the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal. She also presented at the 2017 Medical Rhetoric Symposium, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Chicago Disability Studies Conference, and the Rhetorical Society of America Conference. She was also selected to be a Rare Disease Legislative Advocate and attended events in Washington, D.C. during the National Institute of Health during Rare Disease Week. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.

Brent Coughenour had stories accepted for publication in The White Squirrel and the anthology Kentucky’s Emerging Writers. He also served as a graduate student intern for the Miracle Monocle literary magazine and began a creative writing podcast with fellow consultant Nicole Dugan. He will be the Assistant Director for the Creative Writing program next year as well as an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator.

Nicole Dugan served as a graduate student intern for the The Miracle Monocle literary magazine and began a creative writing podcast with fellow consultant Brent Coughenour. She will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.

Reid Elsea presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture. Next year he will be the Morton Endowed Chair Research Assistant and the co-president of the English Graduate Organization.

Taryn Hall was accepted to present at the national Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference and will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.

Beau Kilpatrick will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.

Rachel Knowles will be a co-president of the English Graduate Organization next year.

Mitzi Phelan completed her MA with her Culminating Project, “The Beloved Black Body: Investigating Toni Morrison’s use of Biblical Rhetoric to Rewrite Christianity on the Black Body.”

Tim Phelps was awarded the Department of English Scholarship Award for Excellence in Creative Writing, and the Sara-Jean McDowell Award for Excellence in Fiction.

Keaton Price completed her MA with her Culminating Project, “Disguised Language in John Milton’s Paradise Lost“.

 

 

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Writing Center Receives the College of Arts & Sciences Community Engagement Award

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director  Layne

If you follow us on social media, you may have already heard the exciting news that the University Writing Center received the College of Arts and Sciences Community Engagement Award for 2017-2018. Among other projects, the Award Committee recognized the Writing Center’s partnerships with Family Scholar House and the Western branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. While these partnerships are still growing and evolving, we are fortunate to now be in our third year of working with Family Scholar House to offer writing tutoring on-site for their participants, and we are entering our second year of working at the Western branch with primarily K-12 writers.

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Display at the Celebration of Excellence, Friday, April 13th

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At the Celebration of Excellence (from left to right): Associate Director Cassie Book, former Assistant Director Amy Nichols, and Assistant Director Layne Gordon

As some of our previous blog posts discuss, the Writing Center developed these partnerships as part of its ongoing commitment to fostering a culture of writing both on campus and off. Through the hard work of Writing Center administration, excellent leadership at the community organizations, and a large group of undergraduate interns and graduate student volunteers, we have been able to create sustainable, meaningful relationships with these community partners. This academic year alone, our interns and volunteers have already had over 200 consultations with writers in the community. In addition to weekly one-on-one tutoring, the  workshops and events we hold at these sites are designed to communicate an understanding of writing as a recursive, social process.

If you’re interested in learning more about how these partnerships have evolved and what we’ve been working on, check out some of our previous posts on our spring updates and last summer’s comic writing workshop at the Western branch. And, if you are a member of the U of L community and you’re interested in getting involved with our community literacy projects as an undergraduate intern or as a volunteer, please contact us at (502) 852-2173 or writing@louisville.edu.

 

All Pathos All the Time: In Pursuit of Credibility in a Post-Truth World

Taryn Hall, consultant

Last week in the University Writing Center, I had the pleasure to work with a writer on a paper which I’ve been thinking a lot about since. The paper was considering the role of education in the post-truth era, a term which I’ve heard before, but hadn’t fully Tarynconsidered the gravity of its meaning. Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year, post-truth refers generally to the idea that facts have become less significant in the public opinion—and in policy making—than political appeals to emotion (Wang). It’s a pretty postmodern idea, right? Objectivity (and reality, maybe) seems to mean little in terms of our relationship to what we stand for as voters and what we look for in our elected officials. This consultation took place on the morning after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and like many of us, I felt the weight of that event like I have many times before. The empty emotional appeals, rather than actionable plans, that I was seeing on social media from politicians and citizens alike perhaps made me sensitive to the conversation I had with the writer, but I left the consultation really thinking about the idea of the post-truth world and our place within it.

The tendrils of post-truth have seeped into further corners of our consciousness than solely the ways in which we connect with politics, however. That emotional appeals are given greater weight than truth is often evident in the work we do as writers and thinkers. Here at UofL, we’ve reached a point in our semester where many of our English 101 and 102 classes are working on either annotated bibliographies or rhetorical analyses. When I work with these students in the UWC, I often find that these assignments are their first experiences delving into secondary sources or examining the rhetorical moves of authors. While I’m sure that professors do an excellent job of preparing students to look beyond the emotional appeals in pursuit of the ethos of their source authors, I still occasionally find myself reading drafts which are predicated on the emotional response a piece elicited from them. Maybe a student didn’t trust the validity of a source because it was arguing for something that they personally don’t believe in, or they have chosen a news article which came from a definitely-not-credible corner of the internet because the emotional appeals made it easier to connect to and thus write about. It’s challenging, though rewarding, to help students learn what it means to find appropriate sources for academic work, but I think my job as a tutor working during this post-truth era is larger. I want to help writers develop their own authorial ethos.

Ethos, in academic writing, is generally used in reference to the credibility of the author: Who are they? How do their credentials affect the authenticity of their argument? As one of Aristotle’s appeals, ethos is an essential concept for those who are working on a rhetorical analysis. Most students learn to interpret the ethos of the authors of their sources, yet sometimes it seems like we don’t teach students to consider their own ethos as they write. You establish your credibility by citing sources, of course, but there’s more to it than that. As Tim noted in his blog post a couple of weeks ago, we are always engaged in manipulation in writing; you couldn’t persuade anyone if you weren’t, yet we have a responsibility to use that manipulation ethically. We do this by privileging facts over blatant or underhanded emotional appeals and by vetting our sources consistently and appropriately. Ultimately, it seems that our duty as learners—and citizens—is to help make this post-truth world a little more truthful.

Work Cited

Wang, Amy B. “‘Post-truth’ Named 2016 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.” Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/16/post-truth-named-2016-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries/?utm_term=.4d3811168f02.

Finding the Strategies, and Confidence, to be Stronger Writers

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

If you’ve ever heard someone from the University Writing Center talk about what we do here you’ve likely heard them say that our goal is to do more than help a writer simply “fix” a current draft. We also want to provide ideas and strategies to help that person become a stronger writer in the future. Some of these suggestions are nuts and boltsdscn2185 suggestions about organization or revision or grammar and usage. Yet we also believe that writing well involves more than just mastering a set of skills. The writing processes we use, as well as how confident and motivated we feel to work on a piece of writing, can be crucial to how successfully any writer navigates new writing challenges.

Talk to many university students – or, quite frankly, most people in the culture – and you will hear people say things such as “I just can’t write,” or “I’m not a born writer.” After years of unproductively harsh criticism, rather than constructive instruction, they have internalized a belief that there is some kind of hidden magic to being a good writer, and that they don’t have it. The truth is, that writing well takes time, practice, failure, revision, advice, and is an ongoing, life-long learning process for all of us. There are simply no “born writers.”

In recent research of mine, I have been focusing on what makes people feel anxious about, or confident in, their reading and writing abilities at a given moment. Put more simply, what makes a person feel literate at one time and not another. Many factors facilitate or obstruct such a feeling of agency for people. A new technology can make writing suddenly much easier, or can make previously simple actions complicated and confusing. A teacher’s response to a writing assignment can be dismissive and discouraging, or offer encouraging suggestions for revision that make a writer feel that success is possible.

Culture, material conditions, language, and many other factors shape all writers’ perceptions of agency. All of these external influences result in experiences, emotions, and memories that also shape such perceptions. My research on how these factors influence student writers took place in part at the UofL University Writing Center as well as with students in the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan, (the book is titled Literacy 9781138667112Practices and Perceptions of Agency: Composing Identities). In this research, I drew on research in psychology and neuroscience, as well as other fields, to understand how writers’ sense of confidence could vary dramatically from one context to another and how that affected their abilities to write successfully. A student could write well in one course, and struggle in a new course, even in the same major, when facing a new genre. Another student could excel at writing at work, but not at school. Each experience creates a different emotional memory that will influence how that student both thinks and feels about a similar writing situation the next time it comes up. Research in psychology on emotion, memory, and motivation, illustrates how important the kinds of response we provide as writing consultants and teachers is to the ways in which students approach their writing.

At the University Writing Center, we have incorporated some of the ideas from this research into the ways we work with writers. We are developing strategies that help writers approach revision, even substantial revision that will require a great deal of work, with more confidence in their abilities to do such difficult work, and more internal motivation to complete the work. One key part of this approach is helping writers understand that their struggles and anxieties are not unique to them, but typical of all writers, from first-year students to famous novelists. We sometimes take the time to talk about how learning anything is first a struggle, but one that they can work through. Writing is not an innate gift, but a learned activity that gets better with practice. That knowledge alone, research has shown, can result in significant changes in how willing student writers may be to put in the hours and effort to improve their work. We both give students strategies for improving as well as talk to them about how, like all writers, they have strengths, challenges, and the abilities to keep learning.

My research is just one example of the ongoing research about writing and the teaching of writing that takes place at the University Writing Center. We are, as our mission statement points out, “committed to being part of ongoing scholarly conversations about the teaching of writing.” You can see this research reflected in work that Cassandra Book, our Associate Director, did on our Virtual Writing Center, or by the publications and graduate student projects that you can find listed on our website, or the conferences at which our staff present each year. An essential part of being a research university is the idea that we should use our research to contribute to knowledge in our field and enhance the educational experiences of our students. We’re looking forward to the start of the spring semester and to helping all writers find the strategies, and confidence, that will offer them the chance to express their ideas as clearly and creatively as possible.

The Writing Center Diaries: Dispelling Myths About Journaling

Rachel Knowles, Consultant

I’ve recently been (re)obsessing over The Vampire Diaries, a book series that inspired a television show about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. As indicated by its title, the series is centered on narrations by the main characters’ diary entries, which Rachelnaturally feature their tumultuous love lives and frequent brushes with death.

Fictitious as they may be, these characters seem to have plenty to write about within this false reality, and their diaries, compelling enough to make any “Bestseller List,” have helped fuel romantic notions of what I have long believed a journal should be: dramatic in content, flawless in grammatical structure and, of course, held together by an expensive lavender cover – but more importantly, a journal must be routinely attended to by a dedicated writer.

I have always jealously admired the “habitual writer,” the person able to effortlessly record the juiciest tidbits of their daily lives and musings. I tend to imagine that these rare beings keep a leather-bound journal at their bedside, easily accessible for a late-night scribble. Or perhaps they carry a little black book in their pocket to write down their thoughts as they appear. They’re probably also cat people that enjoy gin and travel. By their very nature, they must have such interesting lives – can I really say the same?

For the longest time, I shied away from keeping a journal, unwilling to face my mundane existence and afraid to ruin the clean white pages with my unedited nonsense. But I’ve made an effort to rid myself of these damaging assumptions; that is, I’ve come to a new understanding about journals, thanks to recent conversations with a few of my Writing Center colleagues.

Journals don’t have to be biographies. They don’t have to consist of poems, or lyrics, or stories. They can hold the truth or be full of lies. They are whatever you want (or need) them to be, and their purpose can change at any time – and that’s the true beauty of it. So it shouldn’t matter if I make a spelling mistake or draw an ugly flower in the margins when I get writer’s block: I love writing, so why shouldn’t I write? In other words, who am I to get in my own way?

One of the best pieces of advice I received from a professor was that if you want to journal, do so in a plain, ugly notebook so that you won’t worry about how “good” its entries are. If you can get out of the mindset that you are “ruining” a pretty book, then you remove the temptation to tear out its pages and “start over” or give up. Just like the journal itself, not everything you write has to be a masterpiece, and the moment you realize that, you are free to explore the endless possibilities.

College: What Your Guidance Counselor Didn’t Tell You

Mitzi Phelan, Consultant

I’m watching the professor’s mouth move. I’m nodding and smiling at appropriate times. My body language is positioned as engaged and interested. I nod appropriately as my classmates ask interesting questions relevant to the topic. My body is here, but my mind is not. So, you ask, where is my mind? At the moment, it is furiously engaged in Mitzischeduling. Somehow, this is the last week of October. I have a 12 page conference paper and presentation due Wednesday night. The good news: I have a stack of superb scholarly journals related to my subject matter. I also have a stack of 8 books checked out from the library that will lend a wealth of intellect to the research I am working on. The bad news: I have only read one of the journals and none of the books. So somehow I am going to need to synthesize all of that material into that conference paper in a very short amount of time. This is only one of the three papers that I need to make serious progress on before this semester ends in a few short weeks. So, am I mentally engaged in this class right now? No. I’m not. Do I want to be? Yes, absolutely. The information being discussed is vital to my chosen field. Also, college is expensive. It is costing me not only financially but time-wise as well. I miss evenings of going home and just hanging out with my family without a pending assignment looming over me. It is frustrating at times to find myself and my life dictated by due dates and deadlines. So what, you may ask, does this have to do with you? If you have never had an experience like the one described or felt the pressure of college closing in, then nothing. If you have, then everything.

College is challenging, and not just in the clichéd way people have always talked about. It takes commitment and dedication to be academically successful. But if we are completely honest, commitment and dedication is not drawn from an endless supply inside us. It usually is funneled from another place. Therefore, a high GPA usually means that some other area in a student’s life had to go on the back burner. The area that loses attention is different for everyone; for some it’s their social life that suffers, for others it’s leisure time, perhaps sleep. Many times the areas being sacrificed are not even an conscious decision by the student, they are just “getting things done.” But, at some point, this deficient area will make itself known.

My area made itself known when I realized that I had taken too much on and was overwhelmed with deadlines. The moment I described above was any eye-opener for me. I had to take a breath and self-evaluate. I became aware that I was frustrated with the lack of time I had with my family so I was procrastinating getting started on assignments. This led into a cycle of more frustration and more deficiencies in other areas of my life as I was overworking myself to stay successful academically.

If you are finding yourself falling into the these cycles of frustration that tend to happen at this point of the semester, I have some pointers that might can help. First, just breath. You’re going to be fine. Second, prioritize: what is the most important thing you need to be working on right now? Identify it and start chipping away at it. Instead of waiting till the night before a paper is due, start four days before it’s due and write a fourth of the assignment every night. Also, use resources; if you are having trouble starting an assignment, email your ideas to your professor. If they don’t like your ideas, they’ll tell you. Then you’ll know what NOT to write about. I encourage you to visit the Writing Center too. It is surprising how often just talking out an assignment with someone can make it come together so much more easily. Lastly, make peace with the fact that you aren’t going to “get” everything. There are going to be lectures that your mind spaces out on and there are going to be reading assignments that you just can’t get your head around. The funny thing about college is, it’s not until about the time you are nearing graduation that you realize that everyone is struggling as much, if not more, than you.

I leave you with the words of one of the writers I worked with last week: “Be kind to yourself.”

Brent’s Spooky and Scary Tips to Make Writing Not So Spooky and Scary

Brent Coughenour, Consultant

I pulled up to the red light, slowly, and my brakes squeaked more than usual due to the thin layer of rainwater still on the ground from today’s shower. It was late, and Brianna and I were belting out Prince’s “When Doves Cry” as it played in my car’s stereo; actually, it was probably Prince’s fault that neither of us noticed the man approaching my passenger-side Brentdoor, his eyes set on her. She turned and met his gaze before I did, and I felt the car shake when she jumped. Brianna yelped, and I looked over just as the man bent down to get a closer look into the car. He was bearded—a misshapen and half-shaved beard, but a beard nonetheless—and wore a dark pair of coveralls like some sort of blue collar worker would. He spoke to us—at us—but we couldn’t hear what he was saying; it almost looked like he were lip-syncing the Prince song, which was still playing as I had been too shocked to turn it off: “maybe I’m just like my father, too bold.”

“He’s trying to get in,” Brianna said, her voice soft and breathless, her eyes never breaking away from the man.

I shook my head and tried to remain calm. “No. He’ll go away.” I looked up to the light and silently pleaded for it to turn green.

Almost on cue, the man broke eye contact with Brianna and slipped back from the car. She sighed with relief, but I kept my eyes on him. Although he backed up from the window slightly, he came again to the car and slithered towards the rear passenger door.

As he reached his hand out to the door handle, I couldn’t remember if I had locked the doors….

 

Real life is scary. The above anecdote actually happened to me, and, although it’s not likely that my severed head would have ended up on that dude’s mantel, it scared me nonetheless. Still, I have an outlet that I can channel my fear, my insecurities, my thoughts, and my (unwanted?) opinions through: the written word. Writing is also scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

It often feels like writing is an impossible task—any kind of writing, not just academic. In the past I’ve read Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing,” Stephen King’s It, Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, and Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me and thought to myself: wow Brent, you’re never going to be as good a writer as these Kings and Queens, why are you even trying? But Past Brent missed the point. It isn’t possible to write like Stephen King. I am not Stephen King, I’m Brent, and I should write like Brent, finding my own voice and narrative direction, and, although I can try my hardest to emulate my favorite writers, I have to write what I can and stay true to myself. That sounds like a cheesy line from a John Hughes film, but it’s true. The greatest advice I ever received was from my undergraduate creative writing professor Dr. Rebbecca Brown: “write about what you don’t know about what you know.” Trust me, it isn’t as convoluted as it sounds.

The second best advice I ever received was from almost everyone else who has taught me the art of writing: “just write, darn it.” This is the tip that I typically apply to my own academic writing, and it’s also one that I typically prescribe to writers that enter the University Writing Center looking for help. Academic writing is daunting; in our position as college students, it can be easy to think that everything must be a certain way and everything must sound exactly the same. Although there is some truth to this, it’s not a myth that I subscribe to and it isn’t one that I follow. The fear of not fulfilling the requirements, or not writing as well as everyone else, is one that can absolutely cripple the motivation, the drive, and the desire to write something. Fears like this create the dreaded and infuriatingly capitalized Writer’s Block, and derail the entire process. My advice? Write and write and write. If you’ve been given a specific prompt and perhaps aren’t too familiar or comfortable with the assignment, write out what you can and get your thoughts, opinions, and knowledge down on paper. If you’re able to choose your own paper topic, lucky you! Pick something that interests you, like something in your own academic field, and tackle it head-on. Go until you can’t go anymore, and then bring it to the Writing Center and ask specifically for Nicole Dugan to help you out (because she’s a better writer than I am).

Writing is scary, man. I picked the above four works of literature to use as examples because, in their own special way, they terrify me. Whether I’m reading about Ted Bundy or the death of a child, I respond when it’s something that frightens me and puts me wholly out of my element, and I’ve found that I write better when something is challenging me as well. I’ll leave you with two more things to keep in mind. One, reading and writing go hand in hand. If you want to be a strong writer, be it academic writing or creative writing, you’ve got to keep reading. Find something you find interesting, or an author you enjoy, and read whatever you can find. And lastly, as good a writer as you are now or will become, realize that we’ll never be as good as future Nobel Laureates 2 Chainz and Kanye West because we didn’t write “Birthday Song,” which I’ll paraphrase below: when I die, bury me inside the Writing Center.

When to Walk Away: Taking a Break in the Process

Reid Elsea, Consultant

You have finished your fourth cup (pot) of coffee. It is probably late at night (early in the morning by now), and the paper is due in a few hours. This, as we all know, is not the ideal way to write a paper, and we tell ourselves every time (promise ourselves), this will be the last time.

The pressure of the “now or never” situation helps me overcome a writer’s block, Reidbecause I have a deadline to meet. However, when I begin a project with plenty of time to brainstorm, outline, draft, and revise, I often find it more difficult to start. I think this is a common problem that leads many of us to wait until the last minute to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). As Tim pointed out in his earlier blog post, sometimes the best approach is to just write. Good, bad, or ugly. I find this to be a helpful strategy in my own writing, but it brings with it another block. Just like before, I am caffeinated far beyond the suggested daily limit, and staring at my writing. Often I will like what I have written, but I will have no idea where to go next, how to conclude, or where to begin making it into a final draft. I find this type of writer’s block as frustrating and difficult as the process of getting started.

One technique I have found works best for me in this situation (when time allows) is to save the document, close my computer, and walk away. Sometimes I don’t walk far, just to the couch to put on some Netflix and zone out. Other times I walk right out the door and don’t stop for a bit. I’ll walk around the block or to the park nearby. What is important, for me, is to not be looking at my writing in this time. This is a time I welcome distraction. Whether it is TV, a walk, music, or calling a friend on the phone to have a chat, I find disengaging from the writing for a time helps me to refocus on what it is I am doing. I am sure we have all started a paper with one idea, and then ended with a very different one. This isn’t a problem, but rather it is a discovery. The final idea likely does not reflect your original thesis; however, it may be the case (as it often is in my writing) that it takes me a while to get where I want to go.

This is the perfect opportunity to walk away. While it is cliché, I often find the ideas I was in search of in the shower. This is not always the case, but, like any other kind of “walking away,” you are looking for something where it is not (another time honored cliché). What is important is not the location, but the mindset. And so, I will leave you with the words of Marcus Aurelius on getting away in one’s own self: “So keep getting away from it all— like that. Renew yourself” (Meditations 37).

 

Work Cited

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays, The Modern Library, 2003.

“Learning to Dwell” or Locating Yourself in Academia

Nicole Dugan, Consultant

I tend to dwell, most often in a 7th grade memory in which I dramatically fell in the lunchroom and watched the contents of my tray fly up into the air before landing on top of me. I can feel the heat rising to my face and hear the guffaws of my friends, the slow clap that built as I picked myself up. It’s been over ten years since this happened, but my Nicolebrain likes to periodically revisit this moment. This seems to be the sort of mental dwelling most of us do, and we are usually trying to escape that memory rather than relive it a hundred times. Embarrassing memories from 7th grade are not the most pleasant places to dwell, and we don’t think of them as useful. However, dwelling can be productive if placed in the right context.

Dwelling as I illustrate above, cognitively dwelling or ruminating, is most often perceived as negative. Our brains run down paths that we seemingly cannot control, but the act of dwelling can be a positive and useful tool in the writing process. In terms of creative writing, the people, moments, ideas, places that repeatedly pull our attention can become inspiration for stories and poetry if we’re willing to put it down on the page. In one of our previous posts, Tim talked about having the “willingness to embrace the discomfort of labor” in order to persevere through the challenges of writing and creativity. Writing is indeed a labor, regardless of how long one has practiced it. Yet, from an outsider’s perspective, many writers seem to glide through a process that is so intimidating and uncomfortable to most of us.

Cognitive dwelling is not only a momentary jaunt down memory lane, but also a potential kind of residence. In Geographies of Writing, Nedra Reynolds explores the ways that space and spatial practices interact with the process of writing, and she spends a chapter on “learning to dwell.” Those that seem to have the upper hand in navigating the writing process appear this way because they “know where the bullies hang out and where the best curry is” (Reynolds 163). They have, as Reynolds would say, inhabited writing long enough to time the best routes and avoid traffic. The realm of academic writing can be a scary place, and this is often because we are surrounded by people who have lived there much longer than we have. When I moved to Louisville at the beginning of August, I had to find my new favorite place for greasy breakfast food (still haven’t found it) and which Kroger I like best (the one on New Cut Rd.) before I felt like I actually lived here. Entering academic conversations requires writers to have this same kind of insider knowledge, and “dwelling doesn’t happen when people feel excluded or that they don’t belong” (Reynolds 163). Deciding what to write about, finding resources, putting together an outline, and writing the first draft is like navigating a city where you don’t know which roads are one-ways or where you can pull a U-turn. However, Reynolds would argue something else: The writer of a text is an “owner or dweller,” while readers are “visitors or transients” (166). You, as the writer, are creating a map for the people who are reading your paper or personal essay; whether the reader gets lost or successfully finds the destination is completely in your control. This means you get to decide the rules, even if you’re fulfilling an assignment.

Dwelling begins before you create the physical text, even before the research. An idea sparks, and you spend the next few hours, days, or weeks, depending on the project’s timeline, turning it over in your head. Will it work for the assignment? Is it researchable? Is it even a good idea? I do my best writing when I can take something I’m already passionate about and turn it into a project. In a way, I take parts of the places I already dwell in and put them into an academic context. Like Beau discusses in his post, your hobbies or the music and television shows you like can help you feel more comfortable with writing. Even better, you can pull down the perceived barrier between those things you love and your academic writing. We often separate our lives, feeling like the different places and communities we inhabit are in boxes rather than a cohesive map of our identities. If we want to become successful inhabitants of academia, allowing the parts of our identities that are seemingly incompatible with academia gives us a way in, a chance “to orient [ourselves] when in an unfamiliar place” (Reynolds 168).

We all dwell, on those embarrassing memories, the television show we binged this past weekend, or a looming deadline. In order to dwell in the manner of inhabiting a space, we have to locate ourselves within the bigger picture or place ourselves in that picture. It’s not always a matter of “finding” your voice in your writing, but allowing the voice you’ve always had to make space in the work you’re doing in the classroom.

 

Works Cited

Reynolds, Nedra. “Learning to Dwell: Inhabiting Spaces and Discourses.” Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. UP Southern Illinois, 2004, pp.139-177.

Keaton’s Adventures in Letter Writing

Keaton Price, Consultant

Every August in elementary school, my teachers would send out giant envelopes filled with information about the upcoming school year. Most importantly, these parcels contained the list of students who would be in my homeroom. Even though I knew I would not receive my school’s mailing until the 4th or 5th, on August 1st, I would excitedly wait for the mailman to arrive with any deliveries. Every day our mail would show up, and not wanting to seem like a crazy child who had been peering out her bedroom window obsessively since 8 a.m., I would wait until the mailman drove off to go search our mailbox. Normally, my much-anticipated envelope would take a few days to Keatonarrive; however, when it did finally make it to my house, I would excitedly tear open the parcel and eagerly scan all of the pages for my homeroom details. The wait was over, and I could stop stalking the mailman.

Today, in a world of texts and emails, all of which I am instantly notified about and receive electronically, I started to think about the last time I had received a physical letter in the mail that was meant solely for me. Of course, I get bills (unfortunately) and random advertisements; however, the only written, personalized correspondences I receive are “thank you” notes. Even those are pretty rare, though. I therefore decided to start writing more personalized letters, an activity that has undoubtedly declined in the wake of technological advancements.

To start my project, I chose to write to my friend who goes to school up at Notre Dame. Although we communicate every day through texts, snapchats, or messages on Facebook, I thought it would be nice to write him a physical letter. Since part of what makes receiving a letter so fun is the tactile aspect of getting an envelope and letter that one can hold and keep, I therefore started my adventure by picking out the perfect set of stationary at Carmichael’s Bookstore. As a notoriously indecisive person with a warped sense of time, I spent way too long searching for the perfect notecard and, once I selected one, barely made it to work on time. (PSA: Powerwalking from your car in 80 degree weather is not fun. However, I was quite impressed that I made it to work with four minutes to spare, so I will be entering the 2020 Olympics in Toyko as a highly ranked power-walker.)

Ok back to letter writing… In my actual note, I wanted my handwriting to be perfect, and I knew that if I had a bunch of scratched out words, I would not be satisfied. I therefore wrote out a draft of my note on another piece of paper first before transferring my ideas to the actual letter. While I was most certainly just overthinking things, I began to wonder during this drafting process about the authenticity of moving my ideas from my notebook to the notecard. If, for instance, in my draft I told my friend that I was writing my letter from UofL’s University Writing Center but then ended up copying my ideas onto the physical letter while at home, was I lying in my note? I was no longer at the Writing Center, so could I honestly tell my friend that I was writing from that location? While this moral predicament is ultimately absurd because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter where I wrote my draft or letter, it is still an interesting question to ponder and makes me feel sort of philosophical.

Once I’d finished transcribing the letter, I then set about addressing the envelope. Although this sort of writing is standardized by the postal service, in addressing my letter by hand, I continued to add a personal touch to the note. By writing out the address and the entirety of the letter, my friend could see that I had physically taken the time to craft each word. This personalization gave this letter an authenticity and sincerity that is rarely found in emails or texts.

With my letter finished and envelope addressed, I then found a stamp and dropped my sealed note in the nearest mailbox. The fun with letter writing doesn’t end here though! Since my friend has no idea I am sending him a letter, I cannot wait to see how surprised he will be when he receives his note!

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