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Write Like You Mean It

Josh Christian, Consultant

            Advanced Composition appeared as an elective course in my student handbook at Campbellsville University, where I was an undergraduate. I enrolled my junior year, to try to get it out of the way for a freer, more calm senior year.Josh Christian (We all know about senioritis) But it was the only class on my schedule that semester I was concerned about, as I didn’t know what to expect. “Advanced Composition” read as if I was going to be plunged into the icy academic waters, left to sink or swim. So, sitting in the lecture hall on the first day of class, I was surprised when the syllabus listed a narrative as the class’s first formal assignment. First, I wondered about its elementary nature, how it seemed trivial for English majors. Then I began to panic. What was I going to write? How was I going to structure it? What ways could I approach such a broad topic? How would I know if I was writing it correctly?

If you are wondering, I didn’t die. I got through the assignment, and it was much easier than I thought it would be. But I do not believe I am alone in my panic, as in universities across the country, students are faced with such writing assignments in composition classes. And because of their lack of experience with writing narratives in an academic setting, they don’t know what to do.  The anxiety they are feeling is more than one writing assignment. No, it is evidence of something larger at play.

Throughout my high school and early academic experience, I was taught to write for the academy. I was to take myself out of the equation, permitted from using “I”. Instead I was told to be objective and to state my opinion but through an unbiased language. I was taught to not make a claim unless I could back it up. And if I did attempt to back up my claims, I needed to cite the material in-text and on a reference page of some sort. This was academic writing. The other kinds of writing, creative writing (stories, poems, plays, etc.) and journaling or messages sent to a friend, had their place but it just wasn’t in the academy.

You see, there had been a binary established, one in the making for generations before me. Academic writing sat on one side, while creative writing sat on the other. And like all binaries, there was a strict wall between them, especially early on, when all narrative or poetic elements were driven from a student’s paper until it became nothing more than thesis statements and transitional phrases. Don’t get me wrong, these elements of academic writing also have their place. But to drive the use of these elements out of any writing completely, is to take away a writer’s desire or ability to be creative, leaving stacks and stacks of student papers which otherwise could have been more thoughtful.

So, what do we do with such a binary? How do we, as students or faculty deal with it? How can we be excited about academic writing, if we can’t be creative? And how can we approach creative projects, like literacy narratives, if we haven’t historically been given permission to be creative before? Well, like any binary, we begin to defeat it when we question it. And when we begin to question the binary, it only helps if we are ready, as students and professors alike, to take back the mantle of “writer,” a title left for the literary authors who often mold the work we, as an academy, talk about.

            When we begin to identify as writers, we begin to take responsibility for our words. We begin to be more thoughtful about what we write because we have agency over our words, them becoming our own. So, make the choice that all writers have to make. When you read the assignment sheet, ask yourself where you can stand to be creative. How can you begin with an anecdote, using narrative elements? How can you push the limits of a rubric by thinking differently about a topic? How can you make what you are writing fun to write or read? Before you know it, your creativity will inform your academic work, and your academic writing will show you the necessity of research and argument. Dare to be a writer in your own right. And whatever you write, write like you mean it.Image result for bob dylan think different                                                                     (Apple, 1997)

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Get Babashook: Finding Inspiration in the Mundane

Catherine Lange, Consultant 

     Have you ever found yourself doing something mundane and relating it to something you just learned in class? Maybe you kick a soccer ball in an arc and then consider the algebra of soccer. Or perhaps you watch a movie and think it has some interesting perspectives on an issue.Catherine Lange

     Inspiration can come from any number of completely mundane places, as it did for me while watching The Babadook. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it follows the development of a monster that correlates to the mental break of the main character. As I watched The Babadook, I found myself considering the implications of the monster. If he is an entity dependent on the mother, is he a projection of her anxieties? And, if he is, what anxieties is she projecting through the monster? This horror film offered me a means of recreation and fodder for a possible analytical essay. What would my thesis be? Could the monster be the mother’s projection of her sexual anxieties?

     All of these questions inform my writing potential and would make for a creative but academic essay.  So, as you go about your day, look for the connections you can make between your everyday life and your coursework; sometimes inspiration is closer than it seems…

So You’re Looking to Get Published?: A Quick-Guide Reference to a Few Publishing Opportunities

Adam Yeich, Consultant     

So there is a rather large and close literary community here is Louisville, especially within the university, and this is something I was very happy to find here when I moved from rural Northeast Ohio. There are a whole bunch of things I could postAdam Yeich in this blog concerning writing, but I wanted to focus on something that would be especially useful to the future endeavors of the writing community here and at large. It’s a topic I didn’t have access to or knowledge about accessing until well into my own academic and creative writing career: submission and publication.

Publishing is the aspect of creative writing that is perhaps most daunting, especially for newer writers and/or writers trying to get their work out into the world for the first time. The Internet is HUGE, so how do you go about finding places looking for submissions? How do you go about finding an agent for your novel? I’m going to provide the links to a few resources to help you find the right home for your short story/poem/personal essay or whatever writing form you call your own.

First, we have Newpages.com, which is a news, information, and guide to calls for submission from contests to literary magazines, and all kinds of publishing options in between. You can set the filter parameters to whatever genre the piece of writing you’re looking to publish fits (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, art, photography, cross-genre, comics, reviews, interviews, and more), and then you can set the kind of publication you would like to publish in (book, chap book, magazine, anthology, literary website). This resource is a free guide to and compilation of calls for submission, including deadlines and costs for submission.

Link: https://www.newpages.com/classifieds/calls-for-submissions

A second resource is Duotrope. This is another guide to publication for writers and artists. This resource, according to their website, offers “submission trackers, custom searches, deadline calendars, statistical reports, and extensive interviews.” Duotrope is a more detailed and more user specific resource, so if that is of interest to any writers or artists out there, it is more than worth checking out. However, because of their status and reality as a more detailed and interactive resource, this one is not free. There is a free trial for users, but after that, anyone who finds it useful and wishes to continue using it will have two options for subscription. There is the $5/month subscription option or there is the $50/year option for those who know they plan to utilize the resource long-term.

Link: https://duotrope.com/

A third option I want to let you all know about is less directly about publishing and more directly about writing, though there are publishing opportunities that can extend out of this resource. The resource I am talking about is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. This annual event is best summed up by there website which describes the event as such: “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” I have a friend who participated in this event a couple of years ago, and she told me it was the single most productive month she ever had in the three years (at that point) she’d been working on her novel. It is definitely worth checking out, and the writing you’ll get done…well nothing else compares. The event sets you up to crank out words and pages like you never thought you could.

Link: https://nanowrimo.org/

Some last minute advice on seeking publication: Always read VERY carefully the guidelines the publisher has set for their submissions. Check their word count, page count, line count (for poetry), check whether they want blind submissions, check how they want the manuscript formatted if they specify, and make sure to include a proper cover letter if they request it. These publishers likely receive thousands of submissions when their call goes out. They have a limited budget for paying staff to read pieces and will take any reason to have a few less to read. Not following their specified guidelines could get you thrown into that “not getting read” pile.

I hope you find this helpful toward getting your work out into the world, because you have a voice and the world should hear what you have to say with it.

You Get What You Give: Making Success Happen in the Writing Center

Liz Soule, Consultant

Hey Writer,

So, you’re about to head into the writing center. You’re going to your first appointment (or maybe it’s your fifth) and you’re wondering: what can I do to ensure that I leave my appointment feeling empowered, confident and ready to tackle my writing? In other words, how can you make the most of your writing center consultation? Liz Soule

By committing to these three things, you can make certain your next writing center session is your best yet:

  1. Invest in the session: When you enter your consultation, try to center both your focus and your positive energy on it. Devote the entire 50-minute block to your writing. It might be challenging, but put distractions aside, and do your best to disengage from unrelated troubles for the time being. If you’re feeling frustrated with your writing, or uncomfortable with the session, attempt to embrace a positive mindset. You will make progress in these fifty minutes, even if you’re not sure how yet.
  1. Communicate your needs: Communication is absolutely vital in a writing center consultation. When you express your needs to your consultant, you offer us an opportunity to help you. Throughout your appointment, do your best to voice how you are feeling. If you’re not comfortable, or you think you may be hitting a wall, say so! Likewise, if something is working very well, it helps to mention that.
  1. Be prepared to take initiative: In a writing center consultation, you will ideally play the lead role: your concerns, needs and desires dictate what we work on. As consultants, we aspire to act as guides. Depending on your needs, we may offer you our perspectives, but for the most part, we will dedicate our time to understanding your intentions as a writer. This may require some give and take in our conversation. Although you should be prepared to take the wheel, know you’re not going at it alone: we’ll work together until we find the balance that works for us.

This consultation is a partnership. Just as you commit to taking initiative and communicating, we commit to seeking out and listening to your perspective. Likewise, we will invest, just as you will, in the productivity and power of your consultation.

I hope that these steps succeed in offering you a feeling of agency when you enter the University Writing Center. I’ll be there, in the back, excited to sit down beside you and get to work.

Liz Soule

Writing Genres that Are New to You

Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

As the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, I work with a lot of graduate students on a variety of writing projects. Many of the writers who see me are writing a new genre, whether that be a personal statement, a long-form seminar paper, or a grant proposal. Despite the wide array of genres I see, I often give very similar advice to Caitlin Raywriters. I also think that these strategies would be effective for writers of all experience levels—from a first year undergraduate in their first college class, to a PhD student working on their dissertation.

The genres I am talking about, though, are not just the weird ones that we might only come across if we are in higher education (literature reviews, for example, are not a genre common outside the walls of the university). This could also be something as simple as an email. For example, we may take it for granted that everyone can write an effective email. However, we all know that some emails are more successful than others. To move our own email writing practices to those exemplary ones, we may look at what others are doing (What do I look for when I receive an email? What do I respond to?) and then we emulate that. We also have a ton of practice writing emails, so we can learn quickly in the variety of drafts we create what is effective and what isn’t. The same principles can be applied to all writing.

The following strategies are ones I encourage writers to use when they are unfamiliar with a genre they are bringing to me. These are strategies I would encourage everyone to employ to master any genre that comes your way:

  1. Examine the assignment. This may seem like a given, but many people read assignment descriptions uncritically. Additionally, assignment prompts or questions can be extremely detailed or very vague. Let’s take a look at an example I see quite often. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) asks for a personal statement when applicants submit materials for medical residency. This prompt is simply, “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school,” and allows 5,300 characters. This is as vague as it gets. However, you can still tell several things. The readers clearly value brevity (you are limited to about a page and a half), and you are crafting an argument (why do you want to go to medical school?) Embedded in this question is the need for evidence. How does the reader believe what you are telling them? The context is also specific: why do you want to go to medical school? What is medical school to you, and what will you get out of it? How does it meet your goals? Suddenly, you can see lots of questions to answer that were simply implied in the prompt itself.
  2. Find examples. This is something I recommend to all levels of writers. It is very difficult to write an abstract, a literature review, or a personal statement, without knowing what successful ones look like. Once you get in the habit, you will automatically begin reading like a writer and will notice successful examples of writing everywhere you go. One piece of advice I have gotten as I move into writing my own dissertation, for example, is to seek out other dissertations (they are usually publically available). Further, find dissertations that were chaired by the same chair of your own committee. Finding examples can help you figure out what the unwritten expectations of certain genres may be.
  3. Ask an expert. “Expert” could mean an expert in the content area you are writing in, or an expert in writing itself. I often suggest that people writing very discipline-specific writing (like, maybe a review article for a journal) talk with their advisor or other trusted professors and get feedback. Those folks are great resources to talk about methods and field-specific questions that the University Writing Center may not have knowledge about. Then, you can also seek out a writing expert (like the consultants in the University Writing Center) so that you clarify your ideas and translate them into an effective piece of writing.
  4. Ask a peer. This is something I wish I had learned much earlier in college. You are surrounded by great resources in your classes and your major, or even down the hall in the dorms. The people in your classes are future professionals, and may even be your colleagues later on. Get together with someone, or a few people, and exchange writing! One of the best things I have found in graduate school myself is finding a few trusted people that I can send my “shitty first drafts” to without judgment (see Ann Lamott’s excellent essay “Shitty First Drafts”).
  5. Often, when faced with a daunting writing task that we don’t quite know how to tackle, we can easily get in our heads. That “editor” voice (which I imagine as my 7th grade English teacher for some reason) is one of the biggest reasons we get writer’s block. The biggest antidote to being stuck before even beginning the writing task is to simply freewrite everything that you know or think you know about a topic. Just write, and worry about the genre conventions later. Many times we figure out how to do something by doing it (See Reid’s “Getting Going” blog for more useful tips to get started!).
  6. The best way to learn a new genre is to simply keep writing in that genre until you are comfortable. Back to my original example of email writing, the more emails we send, the faster and more comfortable we are in composing them. While perhaps obvious, the reason for this is because we spend so much time writing emails and thus get a ton of practice. This is true for any piece of writing. You might take a really long time writing your first abstract, for example, but a few years later of practicing that skill and you will be able to write effective abstracts more quickly. See more strategies for practicing and developing writing habits in Isaac’s “Getting Started with Genre” or Michael’s “Can Someone Hold My Hair While I Word Vomit?”

Lastly, I think the biggest hurdle when faced with new genres is the uncertainty it causes in us. We think “I don’t know this…should I know this? Does everyone know this but me?” This connects to the most insidious experience of higher education—imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the idea that everyone knows what they are doing and are very successful at that work, and that you are merely “faking” it. However, everyone experiences imposter syndrome, and one of the biggest ways to combat this feeling is talking about your experiences and the writing process more. Tackling a new genre can be intimidating and stressful, but hopefully these strategies can help you be successful, no matter the writing task before you!

Getting Going

Reid Elsea, consultant

The weather is not the only sign that spring is finally (kinda) here. The schedule at the University Writing Center is booked solid most days, and the pressure of the “final paper” is nearly palpable. First off, you got this! Secondly, I thought it might be helpful Reidfor all of us if I use this the blog to offer some advice on getting through the crucible of finals.

The first step, and one of the hardest (especially for me) steps, is getting started. One useful strategy for getting into to the process is setting aside time for purposeful writing. In her article on writing your first research paper, Elena Kallestinova suggests to “choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments” (182). For me, the best time to do this is in the morning. Its important to try out a few different times in order to figure out what works best for your personal schedule. Another way to do this is to make University Writing Center appointments. You can use these as personal deadlines for papers, which can help your time management. Having a set schedule, one that works for you, does not only help you to avoid the dreaded “all-nighter,” but it can also make the writing process more enjoyable, which helps to improve your writing as a whole.

Now that you have your time scheduled, you have found a place that feels good to be and write in, its time to start. The first step is often outlining. Kallestinova notes, “This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help you generate ideas and formulate hypotheses” (182). The outline described here is different from the traditional idea of an outline. Often we think of the outline as just a plan for the paper. This outlining is more active. It allows you a space to brainstorm and take notes. One way I like to do this is through “double-entry note taking.” While this sounds like some complex method, it is just the process of taking notes with a couple extra pens. The way this takes shape for me is I use three pens (three different colors): one for page numbers and quotes, one for why these are significant or how I plan to use them, and finally one for questions I have or tangential ideas. Some of the time these notes make their way directly into my writing.

So, you have all your outlining and note taking done, your writing schedule (rather than a chore) has become comfortable, and so now it is time to get that paper written. At this point, I sometimes find myself not feeling ready. I have pages and pages of notes, I have written and rewritten my outlines, but nevertheless I just cannot get the words on the page. Typically, I have the feeling that I just haven’t read enough, or that I still need to read, or find, that one (more) perfect source. It is important to remember all the work you have done up to this point. You have put in the time and are ready to write that paper. The process of research and writing research papers is an act of joining the “scholarly discussion.” As the writer, you become a voice in the conversation that you have been listening to (in research) and forming your ideas about. Your goal is to make your voice heard in the conversation, not to end it. This means that, at a point, you have to realize that your paper will not be perfect, or answer every question. You are helping a conversation continue, contributing new and exciting ideas, and providing fertile spaces for others to respond to your ideas and questions.

PS: You can do it!

Kallestinova, Elena D. “How to Write Your First Research Paper.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 84, 2011, pp. 181-190.

On the Road to Writing, It’s Okay to Stop and Ask for Directions

Mitzi Phelan, consultant

Have you experienced getting into your car, and while driving to a familiar destination you start thinking about all the things you need to do, or even just start daydreaming? Suddenly, you snap back to the present and realize you are at your intended location but Mitzihave no recollection of the actual drive. It’s amazing how we can become so familiar with the way we do something that we can actually can execute the activity on autopilot. Our brains are amazing objects that can run millions of processes at once. While one “system” is working through our schedule, another is thinking about summer vacation, and yet another is executing turns down familiar streets (hopefully one is watching for pedestrians). When the path we are navigating is so familiar to us, we can easily “switch off” and let the brain make all the decisions in default mode. But, if we are checked out of the process, are we really getting the best experience?

I gave the above example as a way to talk about the process of writing. By the time you have reached the level in academia where you would be interested in reading this blogpost, you have most likely been asked to do a lot of writing. Often, we are given a writing task and, just like driving, we set our brain to autopilot, or “writing mode,” and let come what may. We see our end destination (our “completed writing task”), hop in our mental smart cars, activate cruise control, and are on our way. The problem with this is that we only have one way of getting to the destination programmed into our mental maps. When we only allow for only one way of doing things, we ultimately produce the same type of writing, just with different topics. This doesn’t only apply to class papers–we can fall into the same rut with our creative writing as well.

To be completely honest, in the busy world of academia, writing on autopilot is convenient. It always gets us safely to our destination and conserves our valuable brain energy for the thousands of other demands that come on a daily basis. However, it does not help us develop into better writers. To produce better work, we have to mentally show up for the process. We have to switch off the autopilot and challenge ourselves to consider that there are valuable alternative routes to getting to our final destinations. Understand, however, that the goal in switching off autopilot and taking control of the wheel is not necessarily to get to the destination more quickly, although that may happen, but rather to truly immerse yourself in the writing process and gain insight to tools that you may be missing out on.

If you are like me, my cruise control looks like this: I get an idea for a paper, lock on to it with a death grip, think about it until the night before its due, word vomit on the paper, and then spend the wee hours of the morning its due making revisions. This process works for me and I am comfortable with it; however, I have realized that I am cheating myself out of being a better writer by not exploring other processes. Recently I have been trying to add practices that other writers use into my repertoire. I started with reverse outlining, now I’m committing myself to writing down my favorite thesis and then writing two more possible theses that either invert or challenge the original as a way to enhance my critical thinking of the topic. This has been immensely beneficial and has positively affected my writing skills.

If you feel like your writing has become stale, or that you are not meeting your full potential as a writer, I challenge you to see if you are still in the driver’s seat. Consider pulling out your old writing guidebooks and going back to the basics. Look to other writers for inspiration. Take time to go through the process. You’ll be amazed at how much of the beautiful scenery you have been missing.

Is Your (Writing) Body Ready for the Summer?

Rachel Knowles, consultant

If your situation is anything like mine at this point in the semester, you are struggling to keep up with class readings as you begin drafting your final papers, and of course, this has you dreaming about summer. Summer when, yes, you still have to work (we are all adults here, after all), but when you also have time to dedicate to fun activities that you Racheldon’t get to do during the semester – like actually sleeping!

While doing “nothing” can seem like an enticing way to spend your three-month vacation from academia, this time can be much better spent on improving yourself in some way – and the best part is that YOU get to choose what this looks like. For some, it’s finding time to be active, and for others, it’s getting through a reading wish list. But for most of my peers studying English at UofL, summer is a time for writing.

As I have gotten older, I have struggled increasingly to find time to free write and, as a consequence, I sometimes feel out of practice when writing outside of academic genres. Summer gives me the chance to really stretch and work those creative muscles that, if we’re being honest, are often bound up by the constraints of higher education. In the summer, I get to write about what I want, how I want to: no prompts, no criteria, and no deadlines.

Like anything else, writing takes on a different tone, a new pleasure, when it is done out of inspiration and free will, rather than in answer to requirement and obligation. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is finding something you’re passionate about. And thanks to digital and new media, it’s easier than ever for you to share your passions. The greatest thing about this technological age is that people now have the power to connect to one another from across the globe, but most people don’t realize that this link is often forged through (you guessed it!) writing.

Even if you don’t plan on sharing your personal thoughts with the world, there are still plenty of benefits to writing. I for one sometimes need a private place to vent, and journaling (which I wrote about in my last blog post) is a convenient and safe place for me to get any stresses off my chest. And the best part is that paper can’t grade (or judge) you!

So, while it may seem too early to start thinking about it and perhaps even exhausting considering current circumstances, I would encourage you to find excuses to write this summer: take note when an intriguing thought strikes you, record your dreams (or nightmares), write a drinking chant, compose a goofy poem, or describe the feeling of the sun on your skin, lest you forget it when the cold snow returns.

Most importantly, have fun while you write and have a great summer!

How I Write: Katherine Massoth

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Katherine Massoth is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History. She received her PhD and Master’s from the University of Iowa and Bachelor’s degrees from the Katherine MassothUniversity of California at Irvine. Her research specialty is the history of women and gender in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. As a historian of the Americas, she teaches history courses on women and gender, borderlands, the American West, and chicanx/latinx studies. Her most recent publication analyzes how women’s cookbooks became a borderland for defining the appropriate type of “Mexican” food that could be incorporated into U.S. appetite – “‘Mexican Cookery that belongs to the United States’: Evolving Boundaries of Whiteness in New Mexican Kitchens,” in the edited volume Food Across Borders, Rutgers University Press, 2017.

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: I am currently revising my doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript. I am writing a history of women’s domestic and private lives in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, specifically Arizona and New Mexico. The project reconstructs how women, across ethnic groups, reacted to the transition from Mexican to U.S. control after the U.S. colonized the region in 1848. I am trying to retell the larger political history of the transition of power by focusing on women’s lives, such as their cooking, housekeeping and childrearing. I argue that these daily activities tell us more about the larger political process because we see how women were (or were not) affected.

Currently reading: Karen Roybal’s Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 and Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing. I am also reading Julian Lim’s Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands to review for an academic journal.

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

I write non-fiction/history. I am currently focusing on revising, which I am slowly learning is a completely different type of writing than putting words down. It is more than proofreading or reorganizing. Revising a dissertation to a book manuscript is a process they do not teach in graduate school and is completely daunting because there are no advisers hovering or demanding words. It also means taking a piece of work that I thought was complete and reworking the piece not from a blank slate but from 350 pages. I spend most of my writing time on thinking and less on writing. Right now, I am focusing on how to restructure my narrative, condense sections, cut dissertation jargon, and tell a cohesive and engaging history. I am also trying to find my voice. While writing my dissertation, my voice got lost because I had to follow the strict dissertation guidelines and provide background and theory to establish my study. Now that I have defended the value of this history, I can focus on telling it in my own style.

2. When/where/how do you write?

My writing location depends on where I am in the process. If I am revising or brainstorming, I tend I write in coffee shops with the ambient noise of people shuffling about. If I am putting fresh words down, I typically need to be alone in the library or my office. Most of my writing takes place in the afternoon, evening, or even late at night. I have never been a morning writer. I have to get all my tasks done before I can write. Otherwise, I am distracted. I write on my computer but I outline in a spiral notebook and take notes on hardcopies of my writing. I typically print out what I have written and make notes on the paper then I take it to the computer.

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

I need my writing uniform – leggings and a baggy sweater and shawl. My headphones are an absolute necessity because I listen to my “writing music” playlist of some tunes that I am so familiar with that they become ambient noise in the background. I wrote my entire dissertation listening to Sylvan Esso and Bon Iver on a loop. I also need my water Massoth Writing Spacebottle, coffee, computer, research and archival files, and notes. I have a set of erasable colored pens, one black pen, and a pencil that I always have. Each writing implement has a different purpose in my process. I also need time. I never developed the ability to write in short intervals. If I do not have at least 2 hours for writing, then I cannot sit down and do it. I like to dedicate large chunks of time to the process so I do not feel harried.

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

I am a tactile person – I have to touch things to process fully everything. When I find it difficult to revise, cut words or repetition, or reorder sections, I print out the document or paragraph. Then I cut each sentence apart or cut each paragraph apart. I lay out the pieces on the floor and just start piecing everything together like a puzzle. This works for cutting sentences because if when I am done I find one sentence lying to the side, then I know it was not necessary. This is especially useful for finding where I repeat myself. If I am reworking a larger section, I often find that once I take the paragraphs out of the full document the structure completely changes. I often suggest this to students who have a difficult time revising because it takes the pressure of a word document off. It also works because it does not feel permanent.

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

Make writing an appointment in your calendar just like a doctor’s appointment or meeting, and stick to it. Do not schedule anything during that time and if people ask for that time, say you have an appointment. During that appointment, set a maximum of three goals to achieve. If you achieve all three, then great, and if you achieve only one, then you know what you are working on next time. Then when your appointment is done, make your three goals for the next session so you know where you are starting.

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

Reading to Write and (Hopefully) Enjoying It

Nicole Dugan, consultant

Reading and writing are always intertwined. When asked about how they write, authors almost always mention how much they read and how it’s crucial to their process. They read for enjoyment, inspiration, and, most importantly, a purpose. In academia, it’s easy to spend our reading time searching for understanding and utility, speeding through the Nicoletext with little to no enjoyment in the process. Even those of us who have histories of devouring books in single sittings can come to dread the reading part of the writing process. I currently have 36 library books sitting on my desk, and they definitely aren’t radiating enjoyment. Instead, I’ve been sneaking chapters of the books I keep buying on Amazon (even though I have no more room on my bookshelves). I spent the first few days of my spring break trying to build momentum and jump into my various research projects with very little success. Sometimes the absence of motivation is the main issue, but reading for research can also be alienating and stressful. So, as the numerous stacks of books about working-class literacy and monsters in medieval literature stare at me, I’m going to write about reading instead. Hopefully it helps me and anyone else facing the spring semester procrastination virus.

During the last few weeks, writers have been coming into the University Writing Center with assignments focused on reading and annotating sources. This is a foundational and crucial skill in academic writing as we work to weave our own ideas and voices into conversation with existing scholarship. Learning how to read is often relegated to primary school, where we learn the alphabet, spend time working through pronunciation, and take reading quizzes to assess our comprehension. When we move to college, it is understood that we know how to do all of this, even if the ways we’re expected to read are changing.  The current push for teaching reading in writing courses is a necessary one, as evidenced in recent publications like Deep Reading: Teaching Reading in the Writing Classroom. This is a renewal of previous attention given to the importance of teaching reading strategies in first-year composition classes.

In 2009, Julian Hermida published a study on reading practices in legal studies; however, the findings and suggestions put forth are applicable across disciplines. Most of us don’t turn to academic texts for some fun, leisurely reading; we’re reading it for a purpose, to accomplish some kind of goal for our future projects. Knowing this purpose and remaining conscious of it is the first step Hermida outlines for “expert” reading: “(i) reading purpose; (ii) context; (iii) author’s thesis; (iv) deconstruction of assumptions; (v) evaluation of author’s arguments; and (vi) consequences of author’s arguments” (23). In the face of intimidating scholarship, those new or uncomfortable in academia often “adopt a surface approach to reading and learning” (Hermida 28). It is easy to underestimate the time and effort that reading to write requires; however, developing and using strategies that work for your needs is important and can help you to streamline your research and general reading process.

Hermida suggests several practices that can help to increase comprehension, especially in relation to employing research in writing as they encourage critical thinking and engagement. Some of these include double entry journals, concept mapping, and keeping a structured reading journal for projects. In 2015, University Writing Center consultant Taylor Gathof wrote about some of these strategies and more options in her blog post. The UWC also has a handout on writing about reading as well.

Knowing your purpose in reading and having strategies on hand to efficiently and successfully approach texts are super helpful, but even with all of this in your toolbox, you may not be very enthused about the process. If you have the opportunity to choose projects about topics you’re already excited about, this could help immensely. However, this is, of course, not always the case. One part of reading academic texts is assessing the argument and methodology. This means you have the flexibility of agreeing or disagreeing based on the rest of the research you’ve done. Who doesn’t enjoy critiquing other people’s arguments? You fit the sources into a conversation with each other, and you enter this conversation as well. It can be a little nerve-wracking to find your footing in the realm of academic writing, but practicing reading strategies helps to build familiarity and confidence within your discipline.

Something that isn’t often suggested, at least not in my experience, is the value of reading outside of academia as a way to improve academic reading skills. Make time for reading stuff you care about, whether it’s graphic novels, young adult fiction, a news article, or some think piece. Applying academic strategies, like identifying the main thesis and critiquing the author’s methodology, to these things can help you flex your reading muscles in a community in which you are already a comfortable inhabitant. While I’m stuck in the world of monsters and medieval literature, I still managed to read half of Text Me When You Get Home (my current nonfiction obsession). The semester is winding down, meaning the big research projects are imminent. As I face final projects that will bring my second semester of grad school to a close, I’m feeling overwhelmed and uneasy about it all. I’ve had quite a bit of practice in this field at this point, but I still get nervous and feel unprepared. The first step to conquering the mountains of reading is finding what strategies work best for you and giving yourself the time to do it. Everyone navigates the research process differently. Talking to friends and meeting with consultants at the University Writing Center can introduce you to new techniques to make it a little easier.

I have sticky notes in six different colors, fresh coffee, looming deadlines, and a gaggle of helpful, encouraging writing center friends to propel me forward. Honestly though, I’m probably going to finish my “fun reading” book first. I spent too much of spring break stressing about all of the things I have to do after spring break ends, which of course didn’t help much. Spend some time taking Buzzfeed quizzes or watching the new season of Jessica Jones on Netflix (it’s pretty great by the way). Above all, maintaining your sanity and coping with stress is crucial as you approach the end of this semester. Whatever you have to do to accomplish that should be first priority, and it’ll make the reading and writing easier.

Works Cited

Hermida, Julian. “The Importance of Teaching Academic Reading Skills in First-Year University Courses.” The International Journal of Research and Review, vol 3, 2009, pp. 20-30, https://www.mansfield.edu/fye/upload/Academic-Reading-Skills.pdf. Accessed 15 Mar. 2018.

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