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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”.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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!

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.

Write About Something Weird

Beau Kilpatrick, consultant

As a consultant at the University Writing Center, I have noticed a trend among many writers, including myself. The trend is that writers tend to struggle more with writing when there is a lack of connection between the individual and the content.Beau

Allow me to explain. We have all had moments when we are writing an essay for a class where the interest level is nearly nonexistent. Perhaps this has happened to you when you were a member of the class because it fulfilled a requirement, the class isn’t what you thought it was going to be, or you just simply lost interest about halfway through. This is a dangerous place to be when midterm essays quickly approach.

My own experiences with writing have been very gratifying. I have always practiced the philosophy that you have to understand your identity as a writer. For example, I know that I am argumentative by nature and I enjoy exposing the weirdness of a text. Also, if you trudge through boring topics long enough, you’re bound to stumble upon something interesting; but you have to keep your eyes open.

When a writer finds out how to make a topic interesting, that’s when the writing becomes much easier. It’s always easier to write about the things we enjoy or that interests us. For me, I enjoy exploring the abstract or grotesque in a text.

The best thing that I found to do in these situations is to make a connection, no matter how vague it may be, and channel your writing through that commonality. For instance, if you happen to find yourself dreading an essay for a Shakespeare class, try to find the one thing that is most interesting to you about the content that you’re working with. If you realize that a man wearing tights with a ruffled shirt is the most interesting facet of a Shakespeare play, then find a way to channel your thoughts through that frame of reference. Perhaps this will inspire you to write about Victorian fashion, gender roles at the Globe Theatre, or costume design and functionality during the theatrical fight scenes of Hamlet. This is just one example of how you can usually find some way to bend a boring topic into an interesting one.

The first step that I take when examining a text is to find contradictions and paradoxes. Once I have found the weak spot in the armor, I know where to attack. The next step is to figure out how to confront the text/author respectfully. Attacking a weakness makes writing easier and more exciting, but you must do so with class. Also, finding a good amount of sources will help in figuring out the right approach. Next, highlighting key passages of a secondary source, and annotating it, will make the writing much easier because you can essentially use your summary of the source in your paper. Once you have all of these things ready to go, it’s time to outline. I like to state the contradiction at the top of my outline and make a list of different ways to approach my target. Finally, I expand on all these points and find ways to link them together into a cohesive essay.

To sum it all up, find something weirdly fascinating about the text, relate it to your own interest, and explore the obscure. Don’t forget to create an outline with all of the odd topics you want to explore.

 

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” (Hunter S. Thompson).

A (Sort of) Defense of Procrastination

Isaac Marvel, consultant

For those of us in school, midterms are around the corner, or here in full force—the easygoing start of the semester, though it seemed so busy at the time, now feels like an almost forgotten dream. For me at least, this means a constant, looming presence of too Isaacmany papers, presentations, bibliographies, and so forth. Psychologically speaking, this kind of nonstop stress can be almost unbearable. So, I deal with it the same way everyone else does: just trying not to think about it. And for some reason, nothing feels as good to put off as writing. I may not be in the majority here, but I never really minded studying a bit for tests, or practicing presentations. But writing, satisfying as it may be, is a different kind of mentally exhausting. It requires all of this creativity and self-awareness, so I can never just auto-pilot my way through it. So, I procrastinate.

I’ve been avoiding the P-word, as its use has almost become cliché in college circles. There’s a reason for that: pretty much everyone does it. Is that a problem? I’m not sure. Organizational psychologist Dr. Piers Steel discusses here the primary criticism of procrastination: you’re lying to yourself. We tell ourselves that we need that adrenaline rush to get work done, or that we’re perfectionists and just don’t want to start before we know what we’re doing. And yeah, that’s a problem. So, Dr. Steel offers a partial solution: open communication about our motivations for procrastinating. If you’re putting off writing because you’re not sure you can write such a difficult paper, or even because you just despise writing, start by being honest about that.

In fact, I would go a step further than Dr. Steel, and say that sometimes procrastinating is the right call. So much of the time I, and I believe others as well, feel like you’re supposed to be in a constant state of productivity, or else you’re just wasting time. Then I feel guilty about not doing anything, so my mental health begins to suffer, and lo and behold, nothing gets done. It’s very much a self-perpetuating cycle, and writers understand this better than anyone. There are constant deadlines for us to meet, true. But maybe if we just told ourselves that, hey, maybe it’s okay to not be doing something every second of our life, then that could lead to a state of mind that can be honest with itself about why we wanted to procrastinate so badly in the first place. If I can’t find a way to take care of myself emotionally, I usually make life infinitely more difficult for myself. So, sometimes I just need to take some time for myself. Accepting that without guilt is a struggle, but I think reaching that level of acceptance is necessary if we’re going to learn how to manage our time.

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

Taryn Hall, consultant

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

A Thin Line Between Love and [Redacted]

Brent Coughenour, consultant

Someone once told me—it could’ve been my very wise mother—that every song we heard on the radio was about love, or something like it. This was around the time that the songs “Cry Me A River,” Justin Timberlake singing sardonically about his lost love Brentwith Britney Spears, and “Everytime,” Spears’ response to Timberlake, were all over the air waves. Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” appeared prominently in Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird, a film very much about the love between a mother and her daughter, creating this circle of overlapping Items-of-Popular-Culture-About-Love. Love (or lost love) figures so prominently in our day-to-day intake of pop culture that, when you really sit and think about it, it’s a little odd that we dedicate an entire holiday to it like it’s some kind of prominent mythical deity. Valentine’s Day, which falls in 2018 on a Wednesday—this Wednesday!—is so ubiquitous to American culture that it isn’t surprising to us when parades of red and pink, often accompanied with an uncomfortable amount of hearts, invade our department store aisles pretty much the day after Christmas. This year, I’ve taken some time to reflect about the pervasive nature of love and I ask myself the question: what do we talk about when we talk about love? (A shameless reference, sorry.)

Even if we avoid using that terrifying word “love with a capital L,” it’s hard to avoid feeling, especially when we sit down to write. An oft-repeated mantra in creative writing is “write about what you know.” This can certainly be limiting, and there are numerous variations on the prompt, but it can be particularly helpful to do this when you’re stuck on something. American short story writer Raymond Carver did this often: he was an alcoholic who had been divorced, so he wrote characters who were alcoholic and who had been divorced. This is what Carver knew in his life, but it is also what he loved, as he wrote about often in autobiographical essays. Carver stayed so strictly within these realistic guidelines that he set for himself because he could write about them, and write about them well. This leads into something that I tell writers in any kind of brainstorming that we work on in the Writing Center: if you have been given freedom to write about whatever you want then that’s awesome, you can write about what you know! And more often than not, something that the writers know is something that they love, at least in a roundabout sort of way—and it’s fun to write when filled with love!

Even if they don’t love a topic, though, writers can probably write strongly about something that lies on the other end of the spectrum. The emotion on the other end—which is equally powerful but shall remain unnamed here because, c’mon, this is a Valentine’s Day-themed blog post—can also elicit some pretty strong emotions, which can lead to some powerful writing. True crime authors do this often; it’s not likely they love the often horrific things they’re writing about, but these stories bring from them such a wide array of wicked emotions that give them the urge and the drive to write about something and keep writing. Going even further I’d wager to say that, in many cases, the emotion of love and the emotion of [redacted] are conflated with one another. Carver was probably not too happy that he was a divorced alcoholic, and in fact may have really not liked this fact about himself, but it made him who he was and it eventually led him to the life that he loved for himself where he could write feely (and probably drink, too) with his second wife. Greta Gerwig has spoken about not being so happy with the relationship she had with her mother when she was a teenager, yet undoubtedly love was there too, and that relationship was the genesis of Lady Bird which has now yielded her two Oscar nominations (and you should see that film, because it’s wonderful). If a writer is writing an argumentative essay in the Writing Center, I’ll often tell them that it’s great to write about something that really irritates them—it’s fun to write when filled with anger!

Loving something you write about can be important, but it’s also important to love the writing process. These two things ideally go hand in hand, and I personally find it difficult to do one without the other. Love is a peculiar emotion—it’s overused and trite, unique and effervescent, and sometimes true love can only be directed at furry critters like the two cats staring at me while I write this. Still, love or something like it (like [redacted emotion]) is an incredibly strong feeling, and one that can elicit some really skillful writing. This Valentine’s Day take in the love that you receive from others, but, if you’re feeling [redacted emotion], that’s okay too. Be like Raymond Carver and write about both feelings, because they go hand-in-hand and both are vital to a healthy love of writing. But don’t be an alcoholic. Consider that your Valentine’s Day Public Service Announcement.

Giving Voice to Dirty Words

Tim Phelps, Consultant

In 1991, an era still rampant with fears and misinformation about HIV and AIDS, the hip-hop group Salt-n-Pepa released a song called “Let’s Talk About Sex,” which celebratedTim Phelps safe and responsible sex through healthy and honest communication.  The song found success, not only for its catchy beat, but for its unashamed use of the word “sex” itself—the message being that the only useful way of handling the subject was to talk about it clearly and openly.  “Let’s Talk About Sex” argued that the first step in tackling a difficult subject was to not be afraid to say its name.

In that frame of mind, we should consider another word that can also bring up difficult conversation, one that is sometimes considered a dirty word.  It’s a word that really deserves a fair chance, and one that we can’t ignore if we are going to improve our writing.

Let’s talk about manipulation.

Yes, I’m about to argue that manipulation can be a good thing.  I know, I know.  The word has a pretty tough connotation to overcome from the start—it automatically brings about all the negative experiences we’ve had with bosses, parents, friends, and significant others.  If we hear a description of someone being called “manipulative,” we automatically know we don’t want to be around that person.

But if we can distance the word from its negative associations for a moment, we’ll see that almost everything we do is manipulation.  Looking at the professor while you’re really thinking about what to have for lunch?  Using certain words around your friends that you wouldn’t use around your grandma?  Wearing nice clothes, or putting on makeup, or fixing your hair before you go out in public (even though your three-days-dirty pajama pants would be super comfortable while sitting in class)?  These are all manipulative, and we are doing this all the time.  What I hope you’re beginning to understand is that manipulation is not automatically negative.  Plenty of our day-to-day lives are filled with us manipulating each other, and most of the time, we wouldn’t be able to say it’s exactly bad.  While there are certainly nefarious and selfish uses of manipulation, it all boils down to how it’s used.

Manipulation is crucial for quality writing.  If we can’t find ways of manipulating our various audiences, then we simply won’t be effective with our arguments.  We usually talk about manipulation in high school or college English classes using nicer words such as ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos, but rarely recognize these persuasive appeals for what they really are.  Writers who can expertly deliver what the reader needs to hear at that certain moment can convince others of almost anything.  To write well is to have control over your message, and to have power over your audience.

As I’ve said before, this shouldn’t imply an automatic negative connotation.  Sure, I could potentially use that power and control for my own selfish needs.  Or, consider the alternative: I could use that power and control to fight for what’s right in the world, to help people up when they are down, to support the emotional, physical, and financial goals of those I care for.

In order to do that, in order to have even a chance at that positive power, we have to be willing to consider our writing from our audience’s viewpoint—ideally, a viewpoint that does not agree with us.  By taking this approach, we can start to see where our efficiency breaks down, where changing the organization of logic makes it easier to follow, where adding an emotional appeal might make it easier for that audience to agree.  As you practice more and more, you’ll find individual words that could make all the difference between success and failure.  This becomes just as true for writing that isn’t even (technically) an argument.  If I’m reading fiction or a poem, I still need convincing that what I’m reading is worth my time.

None of these skills are easy as a writer, but we can begin by not being afraid to admit that effective writing is really just effective manipulation.  Salt-n-Pepa manipulated a new generation positively by giving voice to a word that plenty of households considered a dirty topic at the time.  Once we reach the same step of awareness with manipulation, we can experiment with ways of making our manipulation stronger, and by extension, our writing more powerful.

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