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How I Write: Dr. Suzanne Meeks

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.

Suzanne Meeks, Ph.D. Professor, Psychological and Brain ScienceMeeks headshot 6-19-18 (1)

Dr. Meeks has worked at the University of Louisville for nearly 32 years. She conducts research on mental health and aging. She has received grants from the AARP, National Institute of Mental Health, and Kindred Foundation. Dr. Meeks teaches doctoral courses in ethics, assessment, and geropsychology, and an undergraduate course in tests and measurement. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist, a multidisciplinary journal dedicated to research and scholarship on aging and care for older people. In her years at the University of Louisville, she has mentored 25 honors students in thesis work, and 33 doctoral students (28 of whom have achieved their Ph.D.). When not teaching, editing, or writing, Dr. Meeks enjoys reading literature and mystery novels, knitting, attending theatre, horseback riding, and doing crossword puzzles, among other things.

Location: 111 Life Sciences Building, Belknap Campus

Current project: I am between major projects; my students and I are collecting data on end-of-life care in nursing homes, and I have data from various other projects that I need to analyze and write up. There is a grant proposal pending review in the VA on which I am a collaborator, and I am collaborating with two of my U of L colleagues on a federal training grant proposal.

Currently reading: I am catching up on research journals that piled up during my 9.5 years as chair of my department. I am focusing on research about leisure activity and positive affect in late life, hoping to design a study on this theme before the end of the semester. I am also reading a book that I recommend for all would-be science writers:
Writing Science: How to Write Papers that get Cited and Proposals that get Funded, by Joshua Schimel. Oxford University Press, 2012. On Audible: Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. On my bedside table: Native Son by Richard Wright.

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

Scientific journal articles, grant proposals, email (yes, that is writing!) and other professional writing, article and grant reviews, letters of recommendation.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I write in my faculty office, and in my home office. I try to write at home one day a week. I write constantly, but many of the things I write relate to my editorial work – correspondence with authors, correspondence with remote staff, and article reviews. When I am working on a journal article I try to allocate larger chunks of time, most of which are at home. I spend as much time crafting emails and letters of recommendation as I do sentences in scholarly products. I never send an email without rereading it. If it is at all controversial I read it a minimum of 3 times. I edit and re-edit my own scholarly writing before submitting. Often it is easiest just to write anything that comes quickly, and then go back over it, rearranging, adding, and subtracting, until it works.

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

Both my writing spaces are personalized and comfortable. A comfortable desk chair, two screens (monitor + laptop – if I am writing a result section I need to have the statistical results up on one screen while I write about them on the other), and pictures that please me (of my grandchildren, e.g., other family, beautiful places I wish I could be). I type everything, so I do not have much need for any tools but a computer, though I might need a pencil to mark something in an article that I am writing about, or to make a list of numbers from my data. I like it quiet, but I take frequent breaks. These might involve jumping up and pacing, filing my nails, playing with my cat (when working at home), getting a cup of tea. A tea kettle, tea mug, and good tea are essential implements for writing. So is dark chocolate. I try not to multitask but I do check email in my breaks.

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

For getting started: just get something down on the proverbial paper. If you cannot write the first paragraph, write the second one, or write whatever section is easiest. You do not have to write things in order, but you should not walk away from a writing session without getting something written, even if it is just a few sentences. I agonize the longest on the first sentences and so I sometimes consider it a sufficient triumph in a session just to have written the first and second sentences of a paper. This of course assumes I have not waited until the last minute to write it.

For revision, you have to leave yourself enough time, so you cannot procrastinate the initial draft. You must read your own work critically and revise. All of us tend to use way more words than we need (see my answer to #5 below), so think about saying the same thing in fewer words. Pay attention to those blue squiggly lines that Word has placed under your words and phrases. What is it that the grammar editor did not like? Writing with colleagues is a blessing because then you get help and multiple perspectives. If you are writing a grant proposal, the more eyes the better.

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

My parents both implicitly taught me to edit/revise my work by editing all of my juvenile products. By instilling a love of poetry and literature, they taught me another crucial piece of advice: to be a good writer, read lots. Recently, Sir Harold Evans has challenged my writing with his book Do I make myself clear: A practical guide to writing well in the modern era (Little, Brown, 2018). It is funny and inspirational; it will send you back to your writing with a ruthless editor’s pencil. (A shorter, less fun, but still very helpful alternative: Writing science in plain English by Anne E. Greene, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2013).

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Beyond Following Directions: Getting the Most Out of Your Assignment Prompts

Liz Soule, Writing Consultant

Have you ever read the instructions for an assignment and felt totally stumpedLiz Soule

You’re not alone. Last semester, dozens of students came to the University Writing Center to talk with me about their assignment prompt. Given how common this issue is, I thought it might be helpful if I share some of my tricks of the trade. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing methods any writer can use to decipher prompts and demystify assignments. We’ll begin by looking at the different features of a writing assignment prompt. To do this, we’ll review an assignment prompt I received in my English 102 class.

For your analysis of fiction essay, you want to choose a story and provide an analysis of some aspect of the story (a character, a theme, a metaphor, foreshadowing, or catharsis, for example). Your thesis should state specifically what aspect of the story you are analyzing and then HOW you will analyze it. The body of your essay should break down into 4-6 supporting sections. The conclusion of your essay should place your thesis in a social context.

The first step to understanding any assignment is to understand the task at hand. To do this, we look at the assignment prompt for certain understandings. We should find out what actions we are being asked to take, how we should go about it, and what the requirements of our assignment are.

What am I being asked to do?

Looking at the first sentence of my assignment, it becomes clear what kind of paper I am writing: an essay about fiction. The question is, what am I to do in this essay? By looking for keywords in my assignment, I come to understand what action I’ll need to take. As you can tell by the words I’ve formatted in bold, there is a trend regarding the word analyze (and related words, analysis and analyzed). This tells me that the focus of my essay is to analyze fiction.

How do I do it?

How am I to go about doing this? My professor laid out some breadcrumbs for me to follow in the form of essay parts: thesis, body and conclusion. In the thesis, I should lay out what aspect I am analyzing (e.g., a theme), and how I will do it (e.g., evaluating key plot points). The body needs to include 4-6 supports, which means that there will be 4-6 body paragraphs, each including their own unique story-related evidence that supports my thesis. Finally, the conclusion has to tie my overall point into a social issue.

But what if you’ve gone through this process and you’re still not sure? What if the assignment instructions are vague or unclear? What then? Sometimes, you need to think a little deeper, beyond the instructions, and look to the outcomes. Although they might not feel like it in the moment, writing assignments aren’t meant to torture you. Professors assign them so that you can practice skills, and show what you know.

What are you supposed to learn by writing this? (What is the course supposed to teach you?)

One of the ways a professor might teach you about discipline-related information (e.g., concepts in sociology) in your course is through the process of writing. This is known as “writing to learn”. Essentially, it’s thought that writing helps us engage with ideas more actively than reading might. You might be putting concepts together through writing, or coming to understand a text or topic better through the process of writing about it.

In other cases, writing assignments are utilized to help students hone their writing skills so that they can tackle more complex tasks. Many assignments in English 101 and 102 both connect together and build upon one another. For instance, in English 101, you might be asked to write an argument, then summarize another’s argument, and finally write an argumentative essay. In English 102, you may analyze an artifact, which leads to an annotated bibliography, which culminates in a research project.

In both of these cases, you can show what you know by engaging as best as you can with the skills or content areas you are supposed to be learning. This not only help you complete your assignment, but will help develop your knowledge and abilities overall.

 What knowledge can you show through your writing? (What is your professor hoping to assess?)

This leads us to the other goal of writing assignments: student assessment. This might seem like an obvious statement, but in the midst of writing the assignment, we can lose track of what exactly this means. As we write, we often focus heavily on how clear or eloquent our writing is, or how close we are to meeting requirements. In times like this, it’s important to step back and think: what have I learned in the course? How can I use this assignment to show what I know? This often leads to a more authentic assignment.

Finally: Talk to your professor.

If you’ve completed all these tasks, and you still aren’t sure, then it’s time to approach your professor. Try and think of specific questions you have about the assignment. For instance, if the format of the assignment wasn’t clear, you could ask about that. Likewise, if you’re not sure how it connects to what you’ve learned, you can always ask.

As always, University Writing Center consultants are here to help you in breaking down assignment prompts and getting started. We’re happy to help you read through your assignment prompt and answer these questions.

For more help, check out the following resources:

How can I better understand my assignment?

Common keywords in assignment prompts

Five tips for interpreting writing prompts

How I Write: Ron Whitehead

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

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

Ron and Rainbow copy.jpg

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

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

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

Location: Louisville, KY & Clarksville, IN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry and prose.

2. When/where/how do you write?

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

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

Pen, paper, tablet.

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

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

14 Suggestions for Aspiring Poets and Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Support a Writer (When You Don’t Work in the Writing Center)

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center

On this blog, we talk a lot about writing from the perspective of the writer–preparations for writing, how to navigate writing, research for and revision of writing, etc.Aubrie Cox  But as writers, we have to remember that sometimes we’re also asked to be readers, and sooner or later, someone we know will ask us to read their writing. Within the University Writing Center, we have certain practices and pedagogies we follow, but even if you’re not a writing center tutor, or in a peer review setting, there are things you can do to support the writers around you

Read Closely and Attentively

If a writer asks you to read their writing, it’s because they trust you. The best way you can honor that trust is by reading what they’ve written. Read closely. Be attentive. You might be the first person the writer is willing to share with, and sharing one’s writing can be unnerving. Even if you feel you can do nothing else, you can commit to what the writer has asked and be present for their words. Let them know when you finish.

Consider What Kind of Feedback the Writer Wants (and You’re Willing to Give)

While some writers will want honest, critical feedback, others may just want to share, or a few kind words. Before you start reading, ask what the writer is looking for. Not only will this help you to prepare, but it will show the writer that you are taking their writing, and their feelings, seriously.

A writer has the right to ask for a specific kind of feedback, but you’re also not obligated to give it. If what the writer is asking for may be hard for you–either because of the amount of work, or you have a hard time not commenting–be honest about it. The writer will decide whether or not they still want you to read their work.

Be Honest in Your Feedback

Even if someone is looking only for encouragement and positive feedback, don’t praise anything that doesn’t deserve to be praised, or be hyperbolic in your reaction. You may want to be nice, but undue praise isn’t going to help anyone. A self-aware writer will know their writing isn’t perfect, and your comments may seem as though you’re not taking it seriously; a less aware writer may be slower to work if they don’t know there’s room for improvement. You can be honest and still be kind. Find at least one thing you like about the work. If the writer does want constructive feedback, read knowing the work is in progress. Don’t forget, constructive criticism means reading with the question: What does this writing have the potential to become? How can the writer build upon what they’ve started?

 Go to Events the Writer Participates In

 If a writer you know participates in an open mic or reading, show up. Your presence as a friendly face will mean the world. Sharing writing with an individual can be intimidating; sharing with a full room can be potentially overwhelming. Or worse: sharing with an empty room can be disheartening. This goes beyond reading the writer’s work, but it’s the kind of support that will help any writer feel acknowledged.

 If the Writer Gets Published, Share Their Work

 Like attending a reading, this can encourage and support a writer beyond giving them feedback on their work. If the writing is available for purchase and you can afford it, that’s great, but if you’re on a budget or the work is free, the next best thing is to share their work on social media. You can combine this with some of the other tips. For example, consider pulling your favorite quote to post with a link to the work. This can help encourage others to read as well.

Supporting a writer isn’t just about celebrating the work they’ve done, but encouraging the work they’ll continue to do.

The Writing Session Process: How Preparation Helps Us Help You 

Catherine Lange, Writing Consultant

Have you ever gone to class feeling underprepared? Yeah, I have too. It’s a scary feeling to walk into a classroom and hope that you will not be called upon to talk.Catherine LangeIn some ways, a Writing Center session requires preparation, though not necessarily in the same way. When you have a session at the writing center, your consultant is there to help you create the best piece of writing you possibly can. Being prepared for your session helps us to help you. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your writing center session: 

  1. Have the requirements for your piece of writing at hand for the session. 

This suggestion helps your consultant know what they should focus on in the session. If your text is due to your professor immediately after the session, then it would be counterproductive to suggest reframing part of the text. Closer deadlines mean that the session is better spent fine-tuning the piece at the sentence level.  

Having the requirements for the piece means that your consultant can also help you meet all of the specifications for the submission. Some requirements include multiple objectives, and we can best help you meet those objectives when we know what they are. Class assignments frequently will include specific questions that must be answered in the text, and I have had consultations before where looking at the assignment prompt allowed me to point out where a writer needed to address another part of the prompt. 

2. Tell your consultant what you want from your session. 

As a consultant, I rarely know what my writer will have when the consultation begins; we assist with written pieces from brainstorming to finalization. With this in mind, we sometimes have consultations where the writer has received a request for significant changes to the written piece and the writer is frustrated. This is a natural reaction to such a request, and it is one that we can help with. However, a consultation functions best when your consultant know what will help you make the required changes. Brainstorming, outlining, and talking through the prompt objectives are all particularly productive ways of addressing feedback to writing, and knowing what you think will help can maximize the efficiency of your consultation. 

3. Give feedback to the Writing Center after your appointment. 

The Writing Center wants to provide writers with the best experience possible. One of the ways we seek to improve consultations is by adjusting to feedback from our writers. If you have a suggestion for how we can improve, tell us by taking the post-consultation survey. Just as writers become better at their craft by using feedback, consultants give better consultations by using writer feedback.  

These tips will help you get the most out of consultations at the Writing Center. Your consultant wants to help you leave your session with writing tips that encourage your development as a writer. From brainstorming to finalizing, we can help you with your writing. Don’t forget to have your writing requirements at hand, communicate with your consultant what you want to achieve during your appointment, and give feedback on your consultation.

Youtubin Your Way Through Literary Theory

Edward English, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

Years back, I began my freshman year at The University of Oklahoma knowing I would be an English major. Edward English Why not? English classes were my favorite in high school. I did well analyzing literature, waxing philosophy during class discussions, writing compelling essays about how Rasknolnikov’s struggles to combat guilt were not too unlike my own teenage worries that I wouldn’t find a prom date.

But as I began my college-level courses, something emerged in my English classes which I felt ill-equipped for—literary theory. Literary theory was, and still is, difficult for me for a number of reasons. While a single piece of literature may have little to no variance in its written composition, the theoretical framework(s) we use to extrapolate meaning from that same text can be seemingly infinite. So where do you begin? And which theoretical lenses are worth valuing and why?

What’s more, the philosophers/theorists canonized in contemporary literary criticism frequently appeared to me little more than a random amalgamation of scholars from various fields at numerous historical periods used to propagate particular political interests. Not to mention that many of these writings are incredibly dense and difficult for a beginner to absorb. I can recall making my way through the deconstructionists and thinking I might as well be reading a foreign language.

In time though, my disposition towards literary theory has shifted dramatically. As a current graduate student in English here at the UofL, it now feels like half of my life revolves around geeking out with my friends and colleagues about various theoretical takes on a piece of writing. There is one resource, however, that I wish would have had in my undergrad (had it been available): the YouTube channel The School of Life.

With relatively short videos (5-10 minutes), this channel entertainingly distills the main ideas of various literary theorists, as well as explicating the life and writings of specific famous writers. Watching these videos can be helpful on several levels. Maybe you’ve read through some literary theory but want to know how well you understood a given theory. Perhaps you’d like to prime yourself beforehand with an overview before you jump into the denser theory itself. Or, could be you just want to watch an engaging, and often silly, video that will expand your mind on how you can read a text. Either way, check them out! They are well worth your time.

Some of the major literary movements, theorists, and authors available on The School of Life:

Jacques Derrida
Michel Foucault
Karl Marx
Friedrich Nietzsche
Jane Austen
Leo Tolstoy
Virginia Woolf 
Marcel Proust
George Orwell
Romanticism

What To Do Before, During, and After Your First Writing Center Appointment

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

We’ve all been there. We’ve got a paper that we’re working on that’s puzzling us in some way or that we want someone else to look over. You might have heard about the Writing Center from other people, but you’ve never been there before, so you don’t know what’s like. How much information do I need to bring?Jacob DeBrock Is the tutor scary? Will they put my paper in a shredder if they think it’s bad? The answers are, respectively, at least some, only before 11, and no… for now.)
This blog post should hopefully make your first writing center appointment a less stressful and helpful experience by just learning a few simple tricks in advance, whether you’re a freshman or in your last semester.
1) List as much information as you can when you sign up for an appointment
First things first: you have to sign up for an appointment. While there are quite a few things you have to fill, the two most important things are what you are working on and your concerns are.
For the former, you don’t have to state every single aspect of the work; rather, this helps to give us an idea of what tactics and structure we will use in our appointment. The way we tackle a personal statement will be different from a research paper or a creative work. By knowing this in advance, we are able to get started quickly on the meat of the paper or other material.
Concerning concerns, if you are not sure about what they are in advance, that’s fine; sometimes, you only notice things odd once you hear them through the voice of another. However, if you are able to think of any concerns, this will help us to direct the appointment in a targeted approach to get at the heart of these issues.
2) Bring any and all materials relevant to the task at hand
Syllabi, assignment prompts, previous notes, texts that you’re working off of: your paper goes beyond your words. Having these materials with you provides us with a map to make sure that we understand what it is that you are working on and that, if you have any questions about it, we have something to look at for any potential answers.
3) Use your voice
Oftentimes, I get the feeling that people see our words as the final verdict to a paper’s issues and problems, but that’s not our purpose. We’re not editors; our main goal is to help improve you as a writer now and in the future. As such, we’d like you to speak up any moment that you are unsure about why we are asking you to do something. This way, you will leave the center with a better understanding of what exactly it is you need to better about yourself and how you can do it.
4) Think about your writing center experience
Your appointment doesn’t end after 50 minutes. After your first appointment, take the time to think about your appointment. Was there something that your tutor did that you really liked? Was there something you wanted to ask them, but didn’t get the opportunity to? Asking yourself these questions will not only help you to become a better writer, but to make sure that your next writing center appointment will be just as good as the first.
Going to the writing center can be a stressful experience. There’s a vulnerability, that you are letting someone look over your words and critique them. Yet we serve a vital purpose to the college community. We offer a service that cannot be found anyone else, solely dedicated to helping writers grow and become stronger. So, when you’re walking through our doors for the first time, know that we’re not here to judge or scorn or look down upon you; we’re here to help, to nurture, to strengthen.

Research in Creative Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Paradoxical to the title of this, many people seem to enjoy creative writing because it often does not confine to the sometimes strict, regimented boundaries of an academic essay.Katie Frankel Writing affords an allowance of freedom and imagination that sometimes feel prohibitive in the standard research paper. However, conducting some research for your creative writing can make your piece more vivid, interesting, and overall stronger than before.

In a creative writing class at my undergraduate university, my favorite professor ever required us to undergo and document research for our various pieces. Because, at the time, I was working on my now-finished historical fiction novel, I felt certain that research would bring my characters and story to life even more.

Starting at Half Priced Books, I gathered up some informative and very interesting texts that directly related to my fictional world, such as Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, Children of the Wild West, and multiple others. Many of the specific details of my writing come directly from information I have learned from these books. After beginning my collection of texts that related to my novel, I began to hunt through antique stores, looking for artifacts of the time period I was writing in to try and put myself in the scenes more. One day, I even found and purchased a McGuffey’s Primer published in the time period my characters exist.

Lastly, I began taking trips to a local museum called Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth. I nerded out every time I walked in with my pen and notebook, writing down facts I found interesting from posted information and asking the museum curators various questions, such as how a lower-class family of the time might get by (people who couldn’t afford beeswax to make candles could instead use the fat of sheep, by the way). I walked through the various set-ups and took pictures, envisioning my characters dwelling in the buildings.

Even if your creative writing work isn’t historical in nature, it can still benefit from research. If you’re writing a mystery, researching the tactics of real criminals can be insightful and also very interesting. A novel about life working in a circus can be made more believable and interesting if you read (both fiction and non-fiction) books and watch movies about circus performers. For one particular scene in my novel, my professor suggested that I go to a fire station to ask a firefighter about specific details pertaining to a house catching on fire.

When writing any type of creative piece featuring characters or events that you’re not personally familiar with, research can only serve to enhance your fictional world. Not only will you learn a tremendous amount through various forms of primary and secondary research, but you will more than likely have a great time doing it and be inspired to keep writing.

Poetic Clickbait

Michelle Pena, Writing Consultant

I, like many of my peers, have found myself regularly distracted by what is posted on various social media platforms. Whether that be the witty quips developed by particularly clever comedians on Twitter or the seemingly flawless lives of influencers and models on Instagram.Michelle Pena Like many English majors and lovers of the written word, I actively search for poetry through those social media sites.

This tendency has caused me to not only discover a new area of online distraction but also a new subset of writers and their work. A few such poets are Rupi Kaur, Atticus, and R.M. Drake. Their work exemplifies a newer form of poetry unique to our society’s emerging group of social media writers. This type of writing can be identified by its short and concise messages, which are usually obvious in their intended meanings.

These poets have cultivated a lively and devoted following through their social media accounts, some of which have led to the publication of their varied works. The social acclaim achieved in those instances is by no means unattainable for those interested in this genre. It is simply the application of a formula which many, once unknown, social media “celebrities” have utilized to attract the attention of the general public.

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Instagram poetry of r.m. drake

So reader, if you see yourself approaching the prospect of social media publication, there are a few things you must consider. The first being your choice of platform. All websites are not created equal because, dependent on what you want to write and how you are trying to write it, the medium you select is crucial. Some important questions to pose to yourself at this point would be: Are you writing poetry? Is it short? Does it convey a certain aesthetic? If not, would you want it to? If any of your answers to these questions are yes, then you may fair better on Instagram.

The typical audience you will encounter through Instagram will be looking for something to scroll by and enjoy briefly, versus a long descriptively complicated piece. If you are more inclined to write long style poetry, short stories, or sample pieces from a larger work, you may want to take a look at Tumblr. There are entire writing communities devoted to reviewing and responding to various works in any style and genre you might have interest in. Twitter, while not exactly the ideal place to post your writing, is an excellent platform to market your work from other places, using hyperlinks and witty sayings to draw people in.

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Instagram poetry of rupi kaur

It sounds easy, when laid out in that manner. Just upload your work, get feedback and notice, and in the blink of an eye, you’ve earned recognition. But in order to have your work seen and recognized by a mass number of people, you will need to catch their attention and acquire their devotion. Identifying the time when your posts will be most effective may seem daunting and exhaustive, but it is relatively easy information to acquire.

After quickly Google searching the best times to post on Instagram, I was able to discover multiple articles that posit what times are best depending on where you and your audience are located. One article published by Later.com, an online Instagram partner, details useful information about time scheduling and operating within the app itself. Another article on Forbes.com, called, “50 Free Ways to Increase your Instagram Followers,” aims to give you exactly what the title implies: advice on things such as what to use as a hashtag and what filter would be most effective for a photo (btw, its Mayfair).

Now the last bit of info important to consider are the pros and cons of participating in online publishing. Notice how I refer to posting your work online as “publishing,” this is because if you post your fully produced poetry online, there is a chance that traditional publishing companies may not consider it. According to Kidlit.com potential publishers want, “new, never-before-seen content,” and putting your entire collection of poems online may ruin any prospect for you to traditionally circulate your work. On the opposite end of this lies the possibility for internet notice and recognition.

By building an online following, the consideration for your writing increases as do your chances of being published. While it could be an amazing opportunity to get feedback and gauge how well your writing does in the public eye, your work might also be stolen or misattributed by others. Also, it is important for you to keep in mind that obtaining literary notice through the internet and otherwise takes time. This span of time is not the judge for how talented you are as a writer; it is simply part of the process of publishing. So, never lose hope that you can establish yourself and your work. It will just take some patience, determination, and the perfect hashtag. 😉 #writeon

Writing as Hospitality: 4 Ways to Host Your Reader Well

Abby Wills, Consultant

Is it the way those freshly baked sentences melt in your mouth?Abby Wills

Is it the long, hair-frizzling hours it takes to make it?

Is it the satisfied, sleepy feeling after it’s gone?

I’m not sure either. But I do know that the act of writing is rarely done in isolation. When you write, you are almost always writing for someone. In a way, as the writer you are the host, and your reader is the guest, whom you must welcome into your home of paragraphs and feed with your long slaved-over words.

How does one host well? The practice of hosting is difficult enough when your guest is sitting face-to-face with you at your table, but what about when you don’t get to see your guest in person? What about when your guest is not coming to your house, but coming to your writing? How can your essay welcome, feed, and make conversation with your guest so that they feel like they have been hosted well and would be happy to come back?

This may seem an odd way to think about writing, but seeing your reader as your guest actually has practical implications. Here are four ways to host your reader well.

1. Know your reader.

It is embarrassing both for you and for your guest if you greet them at the door but can’t remember their name. On the other hand, if you ask your guest about their sick family member they mentioned to you once several days ago, then they will know you care since you remember such small details. Just as hosting well depends on your familiarity with your guest, writing well depends on your familiarity with your reader. Your reader—and therefore what they know, what they want to hear, what they are interested in, and what references they will get—will be different depending on whether you are writing a rhetorical analysis for class, an article for a medical journal, a personal statement for an application, or a short story for children. Knowing who you are writing for is the beginning of hosting them well with your words.

2. Know what your reader needs.

A good host is attentive to a guest’s needs. If the guest says, “I’m thirsty,” or “I’m cold,” or “I have a headache,” and the host doesn’t think to bring water, or a blanket, or medicine, the host has arguably failed in their host-ly duties. Although we can’t hear our readers speak as we are writing, a good writer/host will start to hear the needy reader’s voice in between sentences: “I need more information here,” “I want to know why this is important,” “I don’t understand the context of your argument,” “I don’t know where you’re going with this.” If you know your reader (see #1), you will know when they need more from their writer-ly host. And if you are an attentive host, then you will eagerly fetch that extra information your reader was missing–along with a blanket and some tea.

3. Give your reader clear directions.

Just as a guest will feel uncomfortable if they can’t find their host’s house—or the bathroom, or the kitchen, or the coat closet—your reader will also feel uncomfortable if you do not give them the directions they need to get smoothly through your paper. The kind of directions you give depends on knowing your reader (again, see #1). If your guest has been to your house several times already, you don’t need to tell them where to hang their coat. Likewise, if your reader is already in your field of study, you won’t need to define terms they already know. However, if your reader is unfamiliar with your field, your topic, or your argument, they will need clear signs in order to follow where you want them to go. The considerate writer—like the considerate host—points the reader in the right direction.

4. Be interested in your subject.

What does that have to do with hospitality? Why would my reader care if I’m interested in what I’m writing or not? I’m glad you asked.

You are a guest at a dinner with family friends. Someone brings up your host’s favorite hobby. Suddenly your host’s eyes light up. She smiles. She starts telling a story. She gestures excitedly. She raises her eyebrows. She laughs. The other guests laugh. They listen attentively. They ask for the rest of the story.

When your friend really loves something, you can tell. When they are fascinated by something, you can tell. And if they are really, really interested in something—often you can’t help but be interested in it too. Just as the above host tells a story that excites her (and thus excites her guests), the hospitable writer ought to write about what truly fascinates him—because the reader will know if the writer was bored with his subject, and the reader will be bored too. For the sake of his guests, the thoughtful host will not prepare a dinner he thinks is bland; for the sake of his reader, the thoughtful writer will not write an essay he thinks is boring.

Why does this matter?

It depends. If you want your guests to be glad they came, to want to come back, to exclaim, “This meal is so good!”—then you will make the effort to know them, pay attention to their needs, give them good directions, and foster interesting conversation. If you want your reader to enjoy your writing, to read easily, and to understand your argument, then you will practice thoughtful writing as you practice thoughtful hosting—with your guest in mind. When a guest is hospitably welcomed into someone’s home, they remember.

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