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New Ideas, New Progress, and New Friends: Reflections on our 2019 Dissertation Writing Retreat

By Edward English, Assistant Director

Last week we once again hosted fourteen Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the ninth year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spend their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff.
Every day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunches.IMG_6628

The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented ten different disciplines at the University: Biochemistry, Biology, Early Childhood and Elementary Ed., Education, Microbiology, Nursing,  Public Health, Rhetoric and Composition, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

Jessica Newman, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

This is the third UofL Dissertation Writing Retreat that I’ve helped out with, while working on my own dissertation. For the first two, I was an assistant director at the University Writing Center and so took part in the retreat introduction, breakout groups, etc. This year, though, I participated as consultant only, coming in after lunch and leaving two and a half hours later.

The determination and productivity of the grad students who take part in the retreats were more salient to me than ever this year: rather than arriving each morning as things were getting started, I would instead step from the afternoon heat into a room quiet with reading, typing, scribbling and highlighting, and I would leave before the Writing Center closed for the day, the writers just as focused as when I arrived. I really appreciated working with my two writers as they shared their projects, obstacles and strengths. Talking with them reminded me, as I hope that I and the retreat reminded them, that we are not alone in this.

Rachel Rodriguez, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

rachel.jpgThe Dissertation Writing Retreat serves as a designated space and time for individual drafting and revising, but this year I reflected on the myriad of unexpected benefits of the retreat. There is something magical about working in the presence of others (don’t mind my shameless plug for the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group). Many writers flock to libraries or coffee shops to work within that buzz of human activity, but even if silence reins during the retreat, the gravitational force of a group of individuals all working together on different iterations of the same massive, complex task is undeniable. One writer mentioned that when they felt like they couldn’t focus, they’d look around the room at everyone who was still intently writing and say to themselves, “if they can, I can!” before diving back in.

This week, several of us consultants would even arrive early to work on our own writing projects in the staff room, hoping to ride that productivity wave. When the writers surface for breakout workshops and sessions with their consultants, we’re all given the rare opportunity to act as representatives of our disciplines, verbalizing what we know tacitly about how knowledge is made and shared in our fields.

It’s a strange realization that “dissertating” doesn’t look the same in every discipline, and that a dissertation serves different roles and materializes into different products depending on your field. This exposure to interdisciplinarity crafts us all into better and more reflective scholars. As this year’s group of writers look ahead at seemingly disparate careers in university departments, science research labs, hospitals, K-12 classrooms, and even tropical rainforests, the dissertation writing retreat is one avenue through which we all learn about how writing is contextual, adaptive, and always evolving.

Melissa Amraotkar, Writer (PhD Candidate in the School of Nursing)

The social accountability of being in an atmosphere surrounded by other graduate students working on their dissertations kept me on track. Daily one on one meetings with the same writing consultant gave me more confidence in my writing plan, helped me to be more creative in writing, and provided a space outside of my committee to discuss my dissertation topic. Small group discussions with Writing Center staff members were beneficial in exploring aspects of writing that I hadn’t considered. I would recommend this retreat to any graduate student writing a thesis/dissertation.

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLEcassie.jpg

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat, including Bronwyn Williams, our Director; Cassie Book, our Associate Director; and Amber Yocum, our Administrative Assistant. In addition, Assistant Directors Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez , and Christopher Stuck were instrumental in the planning and execution. Finally, the fantastic consultants, themselves Ph.D. students in English, Megen Boyett, Layne Gordan, Jessie Newman, and Christopher Schiedler helped our writers make progress each day. And thanks to Paul DeMarco, Acting Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

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Looking Back at the Year in “Our Community” at the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Earlier this year, Edward English, one of the assistant directors in the University Writing Center, suggested that we create a new promotional video drawing on the perspectives of our writing consultants about what they find meaningful in their work teaching writing. I agreed that it was a great idea and, this spring, Edward and consultants Michelle Pena and Jacob DeBrock, created the video you see here, titled, “Our Community”.

video thumbnail

University Writing Center: Our Community

What I appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy, about this video is what they captured about the intangible, but essential, role that caring and community play in the work we do at the University Writing Center. On our website and in our presentations we always foreground, and rightly so, the expertise we have in teaching writing that can help students, staff, and faculty become stronger writers. Yet, just as crucial to our approaches to writing pedagogy is the work we do to create a culture of caring and empathy. We do this through a focus on listening, starting where the writer is, and, most of all, always remembering that we are responding to a person, not just a set of pages. You can see this commitment, and the pleasure it brings, in the words of the consultants in this video.

wc staff 2018

The University Writing Center Staff for 2018-19

Empathy, listening, and caring, are not qualities that will show up in any official end-of-year reports. Emotions and ethics are typically not assessed by university administrators or accrediting agencies, or always considered appropriate ideas for discussion on a university campus. Still, these are the ineffable qualities that make our University Writing Center a distinctive and successful place for learning on campus. Because we focus on working with writers, not just on drafts, we know that we help writers develop a stronger sense of agency and confidence about their work. Because we listen first,  and then respond, we also engage in conversations about how writers are shaping their identities, and how those are negotiated in the systems of power in the University and culture.

We did, in fact, work with an impressive number of writers this year – more than 5,000. Out of those visits came stronger drafts and more confident writers. We are grateful for the trust that writers from across the UofL community show in bringing their writing here and letting us work with them to make it stronger. What the numbers can’t show that the video gives a glimpse of is the care, compassion, and that vital sense of community that the consultants build every day with each other and all the writers who walk through our door.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 6, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Beyond Tutoring – Workshops, Events, and Community Writing

Our commitment to working with writers and supporting a culture of writing extend beyond our daily consultations. Here is a just a glimpse of what we have been working on this year.

Workshops, Writing Groups, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our staff did more than 220 presentations about our University Writing Center services and more than 40 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 give UofL writers supportive communities through which they could create and talk about writing. We again held a our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat in May. We will be continuing all of these groups and workshops, so be sure to check our our website for information and dates.

Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events,

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Kick Back in the Stacks, August 2018

including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, the Celebration of Student Writing, Kick Back in the Stacks, and International Mother Language Day. Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the UofL Creative Writing Program, we again hosted a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series as well as two open-mic nights and one workshop in collaboration with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine.

Community Writing: We also continued our work with our community partners, the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House. Once again we are grateful for the participatory and collaborative partnerships with these organizations . You can find out more about these community writing projects, including how to get involved with them, on our website.

The Best Writing Center Staff in the Business

Amber YocumThe most important staff news of 2019 was the addition to the University Writing Center staff of Amber Yocum, as our Administrative Associate. Amber is in charge of our front desk, our scheduling system, office management, and supervising our student workers. She is brilliant and innovative and we’re lucky to have her as part of our community.

The new “Our Community” video also shows the community that our staff create among themselves. They do exceptional work as consultants and as full-time graduate students, but they also find time to take care of each other, and to laugh. I’m proud of them for that and think the university and the world can use more of it. It is the inspired and tireless work of all of our staff that, day after day, 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 and Assistant Directors, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Christopher Stuck. Our consultants this year have been Quaid Adams, Brooke Boling, Josh Christian, Jacob DeBrock, Nicole Dugan, Katie Frankel, Anna-Stacia Haley, Rachel Knowles, Catherine Lange, Michelle Pena, Liz Soule, Jon Udelson, Abby Wills, and Adam Yeich. Our student workers were Taylor Cardwell, Wyatt Mills, and Jency Trejo.


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.

Bronwyn Williams, Director I had two Writing Center-related publications this year, co-authored with former University Writing Center associate and assistant directors. One was “Find Something You Can Believe In”: The Effect of Dissertation Writing Retreats on Graduate Students’ Identities as Writers.” with Ashly Bender Smith, Tika Lamsal, and Adam Robinson in Re/Writing the Center: Approaches to Supporting Graduate Students in the Writing Center. (Utah State University Press. 2019). The other publication was “Centering Partnerships: A Case for Writing Centers as Sites of Community Engagement,” with Amy McCleese Nichols, in Community Literacy. 2019. I also presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in with Cassie Book, Layne Gordon, and Jessie Newman, from UofL.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director published “Digital Curation as Collaborative Archival Method in Feminist Rhetorics.” with Pamela VanHaitsma. in the journal Peitho,  spring 2019. She also gave the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Josh Christian and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. In addition, she presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, and the International Writing Centers Association Conference.

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Final Transmission.” in Little Fiction. 2018 Flash Issue. She gave a reading at “Live at Surface Noise,” in December 2018. She was also awarded the UofL Creative Writing Graduate Student Award for Poetry, 2019

Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Rhetoric & Religion in the Twenty-First Century Conference and Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition.

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Christopher Stuck, Assistant Director For Graduate Student Writing presented at the Rhetoric Society of America Conference and served as Graduate Student Coordinator for the Discourse and Semiotics Workshop Series.

Consultants

Quaid Adams presented at the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research Conference, the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference, and served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

Brooke Boling served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

Josh Christian presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. He also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Liz Soule. He was awarded a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship and will be a Graduate Program Peer Mentor Coordinator next Year.

Jacob DeBrock presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900.

Nicole Dugan completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Writing the Self: First-Generation Students, Personal Statements and Textual Authority.”

Katie Frankel presented at the Indiana University Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference and had a book review of Sons of Blackbird Mountain published in Interstice. She also received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.

Anna-Stacia Haley received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.

Rachel Knowles completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Talking It Out: Towards Interdisciplinarity in Online Organizational Crisis Response”

Catherine Lange presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference.

Michelle Pena presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference

Liz Soule presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Josh Christian at Asbury University in April 2019. She also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Josh Christian.

Jon Udelson published a short story in Juked titled “Out & Elsewhere” and had a A book chapter accepted into the edited collection Style and the Future of Composition Studies. He presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition. He was named a board member of the Creative Writing Studies Organization. In the fall he will start a job as an Assistant Professor of English at Shenandoah University.

Abby Wills presented at the Uofl Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the University of Cincinnati English Department Interdisciplinary Conference.

Adam Yeich was named the Assistant Director of Creative Writing for 2019-20. He presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. He served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle , where he had a book review published, as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

 

 

 

(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!

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.

Throw Me a Lifeline: How Outlining Can Save Your Paper and Ultimately Your College Career

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant

One of the hardest things to do when writing a paper for a class is actually writing the paper. Anna-Stacia HaleySometimes this difficulty stems from the fact that you may not have read the necessary book or article, but most of the time it stems from the widely known struggle of trying to organize your thoughts. What if I told you that there was a way to help you get off of the struggle bus?

There is: Outlining–you’re welcome.

But outlining is, outlining. How does that save your life? Well, it doesn’t really per se. But it can save your paper and a lot of time.

Outlining is extremely underrated, as many people automatically think of spider-maps, mind-maps and other oddly shaped or insect friendly methodologies. But au contraire mon frère, outlining is what you make it!  It can be as long or as short as you’d like. I have a great friend who’s version of outlining varies drastically from my own.

Her outline could be classified as an entire paper with pretty headings. My outlines start off with headings, then go into subheadings, and then I write a bunch of random stuff about the topic of those headings. It looks something like:

Big heading

  • Smaller heading
    • Blah
    • Blah
    • Blah

Looks easy enough right?

Throughout my educational career I’ve had to craft a plethora of different papers, ranging from a page to twenty plus pages. I found that the higher I went in page length, the more I needed an outline to stay organized. If I didn’t use the outline I’d jumble up my topics and the paper would become difficult to follow.

I also found that, when using an outline, when I ran out of words, I was able to go back and find areas that I could expand upon or that I missed during the rapid fire production of my rough draft. Now, as a graduate student, I dare not consider writing a seminar paper or any other paper for that matter, without at least some kind of draft.

Often times when our thoughts are jumbled the easiest way to make sense of them is by writing them out and taking the time to draw the connections between them–que flowchart. Outlining organizes your thoughts by giving you a map to follow. This map is essentially based off of your thesis statement. Which by the way, if you’re unsure of how to write that, the University Writing Center has a few great resources on our page!

Outlines are great for making sure that your major points stay in line with your thesis and can help highlight areas that needed to be expanded, especially when it comes to your thesis statement.

Outlining may seem like an extra step, extra work and not worth the extra time spent. However, I’d rather spend thirty minutes writing out a outline than waste three hours staring at my computer screen because I’m not sure where to go from there. Wouldn’t you?  Because let’s be realistic, the longer you stay up working on these papers, the more money you’ll be forced to spend on Starbucks. While the CEO of Starbucks might enjoy this, the average college student’s wallet does not.

Link to the thesis handout:

https://louisville.edu/writingcenter/for-students-1/handouts-and-resources/handouts-1/thesis-statements

Need more ideas about outlines? Here’s a Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEQlqWAPD9A

 

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?

Taking Research Assignments One Step at a Time

Michelle Peña, Writing Consultant

Research projects can seem daunting to many students new to collegiate style work. This type of writing requires a certain degree of commitment, that many aren’t familiar with yet. Oftentimes, new students finish their work in a hurry, without proper research, and without forming an analysis around their research.Michelle Pena

Why this method for approaching projects has failed in the past is because students feel unprepared to grapple with the work they have set before them. I have seen this occur multiple times as a writing tutor. Students, who have not had experience writing a paper of this style, approach me with a forlorn look in their eyes begging me to help them figure out a way to use outside sources to support their thesis. My answer to them, if they are trying to write an essay that makes sense to an observant professor, is I can’t.

What many people who haven’t written academic work do not realize, until far too late in the writing process, is that the focus of their work needs to come from their accumulated research. Actually doing the research as a way to formulate your ideas is necessary toward completing these types of assignments. I understand that many students feel intimidated by the prospect of acquiring that much data for a single piece of writing.

So, as a way to counteract any feelings of uneasiness, I have listed a few ways you can approach this work without getting overwhelmed.

1. Give yourself time to think about what type of work you want to do and why:
Many rush into deciding what they should focus on. This is usually because it is seemingly the easiest or most interesting option available. What I would suggest would be to take your time looking at all of necessary information. If you are writing a research paper for an ENGL 102 class and are given an assignment that asks you to analyze a text, look at that text from multiple perspectives. Later, cater your research to these perspectives and use them to guide what you read through.

2. Actually read what you find:
This step kind of speaks for itself. But actually try to understand the material you find. You don’t want it to come down to crunch time and find out that none of what you gathered works.

3. Spread out your research time:
Try to avoid doing things last minute. I know we have all been warned about procrastination before but heeding those warnings when approaching research papers is actually pretty helpful. Try allotting a specific amount of time for preparing your work. Instead of trying to do every part of an assignment on one night, give yourself multiple days to do the research. Maybe one day you find two to three sources and another day you find a few a more. This way you don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

4. If you are assigned an annotated bibliography, utilize it properly:
If you are assigned to do an annotate bibliography, take advantage of it by finding sources that are applicable to one another and your topic. Don’t try to find sources with an applicable word in the title; find sources that actually have material that you can work with. I would even go as far as to say you could write an annotated bibliography even if you aren’t assigned one. An impromptu annotated bib that includes the parts of the article that make it applicable to what you’re working on.

5. Pre-Organize your outline using your sources:
I understand that some people don’t like doing outlines, so if you are of the type that avoids outlining like the plague, this step may not apply to you. (But I would urge you to open your mind for a moment.) Once you have collected all of the necessary pieces of your research and you have decided what points support what you want to say, write them down in the order they will appear throughout your work. After you have done this, write where your sources will be listed underneath them. This process will help with bringing everything together in the end.

Remember, research assignments aren’t designed in the hopes that you will fail; they are designed so that you might learn. So don’t get overwhelmed and take your research one step at a time.

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.

“I Don’t Know What I Want to Do With My Life”: Writing as a Personal and Spiritual Guide to Decision Making

Quaid Adams, Writing Consultant

Some people have definitive ideas of what they want to be from an early age and will stick to that path throughout their educational careers and into their chosen field without any hesitation. Quaid AdamsHowever, for those who, like me, have wanted to do a little bit of everything since they were a child, the question, “what do you want to do with your life?” sends shivers down your spine regardless of how confident you are in your career decisions.

This may seem familiar to many people in and out of college these days as our world gets more and more chaotic and the job market gets more and more uncertain. The choices we make may seem like the right one at the time, but when we get started, it is not quite what you hoped for.

I want to stop here for a moment and put your mind at ease—you are not alone in this struggle, it will get better, and it is okay to do what you love.

However, while that’s all well and good, what happens when you do not really know what you love and with so many options how do you choose? Never fear, I am here to offer you some advice, and from where this blog will be posted, you can guess what that advice will entail—writing. To put things into perspective, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has been struggling with not knowing what career path he wishes to pursue a lot as of late.

When he got to college, like many of us, he had ideas of what he thought he might want to do, but as his first semester went on, he became unhappy in his original choice of major and leading to a major change by the end of the Fall. Unfortunately, his new major is not meeting his expectations either, causing him unnecessary stress and anxiety about what he really wants to do with his college career and ultimately his life. The conversation was actually useful for both of us, but one part of it that stood out to me was a suggestion given by our advisor who happened upon us chatting. He suggested that my friend write about it and see if it helps.

While I’ll admit that when he initially suggested this, I thought it seemed a little undeserving of such a big decision. However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made and the more I appreciated the sentiment in our advisor’s suggestion. Writing is a process, and, in that process, a writer can learn a lot about themselves. It is for that reason that I chose to write about it here.

For those who are followers of our blog, you may remember the entry I did in October of 2018 which talked about the Writers’ Notebook and how this multifaceted tool can serve whatever purpose the writer needs it to. While I still believe in that piece, for the purposes of my friend’s predicament, an entire notebook keeping experience may not be the best use of time, unless it was something he chooses to continue to use, then by all means, check out my last post. However, if he just chooses to use a couple of exercises, the writing aspect serves the same role in providing organization of thought, anxiety easing, and providing a sense of accomplishment when it comes to working toward a solution.

The first exercise was one provided by our advisor. His recommendation was that my friend think about what they want out of a career and write it down. Did he want to work in an office setting with people or would he prefer work that is more solitary? Would he like to work with numbers or words? People or animals? The opportunities are endless, but what is important to this exercise is to actually think about what you want out of a career and how you work best.

It is important here to think about the type of work you want to do as well, even if its just something you think that you might like, writing about it has no repercussions and it will allow you to process your thoughts as you narrow down the field of careers. This is also an opportunity for you to look inward and figure out how you work best. Do you like doing tasks where you get to be creative? A career in journalism might be better for you versus one in accounting. It is important to know how you work best and what you need to be successful in your work when

making decisions about your future career.

Once you have your potential career field narrowed down, it is important to do more research into these jobs. If you’re thinking about a job in marketing, consider trying your hand at writing a sales pitch or creating an artistic campaign and write about the process. How did it make you feel doing this work? Does it spark joy? That was something for the Marie Kondo fans out there, but her message rings true even in this instance; if it does not bring you joy, get rid of it.

Writing in these no-risk situations can really give you a glimpse into how you may potentially feel about the potential work of your chosen careers and it allows you easily comparable criteria for what you want when you write about other careers. Like the Writers’ Notebook, you can also just write about your anxieties surrounding your decision-making process and the career such overall. While it won’t make the decision for you, it will allow you to work through your concerns and identify exactly what parts of the search is causing you the most anxiety. Once you identify these concerns, you can work on finding ways to deal with those side-concerns in an effort to alleviate some of the stress about the larger goal of finding your passion.

Although writing about your potential career or the anxieties you are feeling about making these big decisions are not going to actually make the decision for you, the process can be incredibly useful. Never underestimate the power of seeing your words and ideas manifested and organized in front of you as well as the thought process that brought those words to life. Writing is grounding and sometimes finding something to hold on to in this crazy world is essential to righting yourself and making sense of the chaos.

My final piece of advice in this is that it is ok to take your time in finding what you love. This is your life and that there is no one else’s timeline you must follow as you figure things out. Take the time to write about your ideas, explore as many different paths as you can, and above all else, find your happiness.

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.

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