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Community Literacy and the Writing Center: Building Foundations

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director Amy N

For the past two years, the Writing Center has been working to build a commitment to community literacy into our activities. While writers from all over the university come to us for help with course assignments and beyond, writing centers constantly inhabit a liminal space where personal, academic, and professional writing collide. To honor this fact, we also wanted to expand our offerings to value writing that may happen off-campus, whether connected to higher education or not. While the role of writing centers and community engagement is still relatively new to writing center scholarship, we are excited about the potential benefits that what we might call writing center values, with their focus on listening and building trust over time, may have for the way university entities approach community partnerships.

Amy Picture1In Summer 2015, we began conversations with academic support staff at Family Scholar House to find out how our skills might be of use, and started offering workshops and tutoring hours for student writers on FSH campuses. This year, we expanded those hourly offerings and began allowing some of our trained consultants to volunteer as well. Three accomplishments we are particularly proud of this year:

  • Working in conjunction with Bronwyn Williams’ Spring 2017 Community Literacy course, we have been able to expand our spring hours to offer hours on multiple FSH campuses throughout the week, meeting a long-term FSH goAmy Picture2al of providing more in-house academic support for student writers.
  • Assistant Director Amy McCleese Nichols led families in a set of “Story-Making Workshops” during Fall 2016, which focused on composing for fun using family (or imagined) stories. This 3-day set of workshops had a total attendance of 81 adults, 52 children, and 48 hand-sewn booklets with individualized covers were made for participants to write stories in and take home.
  • This spring, we have also added another community partner: the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Also working with the Community Literacy course, we are providing writing help every Tuesday for K-12 students.

Throughout these conversations, we have kept several values in play: showing up, listening, and building partnerships gradually for continuity. In Bronwyn’s words, we begin by simply “showing up.” Showing up in our context has meant keeping a sense of flexibility when setting up programs and plans. While we have put time and effort into making sure our work is meeting a need articulated by our partners, we also save room for the moments when no one shows up – and then we show up the week afterward. By building our relationships and a sense of trust gradually, we have found ourselves more able to have conversations when offerings need to change for the mutual benefit of both organizations.

We are also creating logistical structures within the Writing Center to support long-term partnerships. As the first Assistant Director working with community literacy, I brought a unique skill set from my previous work as a nonprofit volunteer coordinator. As I have worked with our partners, I have written manuals, kept records of previous conversations, and passed that knowledge on to other staff in the Writing Center so that our partnerships are not bound entirely to a semester-by-semester schedule. While our offerings and volunteer numbers will ebb and flow over time as partnerships evolve, we hope that having a consistent contact who stays in touch from year-to-year within the university will provide a sense of continuity for us and our partners while also providing opportunities for graduate student assistant directors to gain experience in the logistics of managing partnerships.

We look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library. This fall, we are partnering with the English 508: Literacy Tutoring course, taught by Dr. Andrea Olinger. The course will cover teaching writing individually and in small groups in academic, professional, and community contexts, and students that have taken it will be qualified to complete internships and volunteer work through these partnerships.

Ultimately, we hope that what Tiffany Rousculp has termed a “rhetoric of respect” will define our community literacy efforts. By putting our partners’ voices first in the conversation, keeping elements of our partnerships consistent, and strategically partnering with service-learning courses, we look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library.



Pulling Together a Portfolio

Ashleigh Scarpinato, Consultantashleigh-s

There are so many help systems and articles designed to help you write a research paper, but what about all us Creative Writers out there? Who is going to guide us through the chaos that is a printed rough draft with a coffee stain in the center or a Cheetos smudge on page seven? If you have taken any Creative Writing classes, chances are you have had a chance to workshop your pieces in class, but where do we go from there? What pieces make it into our portfolios, and how do we make all the peer reviews when they are often telling us differing or conflicting suggestions?

Here are some notes about my method for pulling together a portfolio:

Phase 1: What to Include

Drafting a poetry portfolio is going to be different from drafting a short story portfolio, but the method can be the same. Start small, go through and pull out your best pieces. Look at your feedback, what did you peers identify as your strongest work? When deciding which pieces I want to include, I always look back at the speaker’s voice. I start by identifying which speakers are the most honest or believable. I had a peer in undergrad that would say, “I am not buying this line,” and it became my goal in writing and revising to ask myself: is this believable, will my reader buy this? And I challenge you, reader, to do the same.

Phase 2: Making Revisions

After pulling together the pieces you (and your peers) identify as your strongest pieces, collect all your peer reviews on each of them (hopefully, you still have them hanging around somewhere). I put all the peer revisions and notes in one pile and have a freshly printed copy in the other. Now, begin reading more thoroughly through those comments, noting which ones you like and find most effective. As you identify which changes you would like to make, write them onto your clean copy. This helps give yourself a base while also eliminating some of the chaos.

Phase 3: More Revisions (they never truly stop)

What if some of your peers recommended you change something in your piece? Do you have to listen to them? Although this might depend on their suggestion, please do not feel the need to change something that you do not feel comfortable with. As the writer, if you feel as though you are not doing the writing justice, that might be a sign to leave that detail, image, or word. Most importantly, if you do not change something, make sure that you can justify that choice.

Phase 4: What Time is it?

Get some sleep. I promise you will make more errors and have more typos on a lack of sleep than you will well rested. Along with lack of sleep may come lack of motivation, and you might find it difficult to convince yourself to read back over your revisions. I repeat, get some sleep. Your work will still be there in the morning—provided you didn’t forget to save it while surviving on coffee and Cheetos. When you come back to it in the morning, try reading your work aloud. This can help you hear how something sounds and allows you an opportunity to locate the typos you may have glanced over while skimming the piece.

Phase 5: Come to the Writing Center

We love Creative Writing pieces, and we do not get enough in here! Creative Writing work can be more personal, but as writers ourselves, we understand that the speaker’s voice does not necessarily coincide with the author’s voice. As tutors, we do not need to know if a piece is non-fiction or fiction, and we can help you through whatever part of the writing process you need help with.

I hope you found these notes helpful as you go forth into the world of revising and editing. Stand strong; you can do this.

Writing Center Staff Accomplishments – Fall 2015

The consultants and administrators who work in University Writing Center work to help people become more successful writers and to create and support a culture of writing on campus. Yet it’s important to remember that our consultants (who are all first-year MA students) and our assistant directors (who are PhD students) are also active in their scholarly and creative work. It’s time to take a moment and recognize their accomplishments for the Fall 2015 semester.

Emily Blair had a proposal accepted to present at the Southern Studies Conference in February, 2016. Her presentation will be titled, “The Universal Redneck: Representations of Rednecks and Hillbillies in Contemporary Country Music.”

Cassie Book, Associate Director of the University Writing Center, presented at the International Writing Center Association conference in October. Her presentation was titled, “(W)Centering Multiliteracy: An Unexpected Journey.”

Stephen Cohen, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, will be presenting at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication on “The Rhetoric of Patients: How to Access Care in an Epidemic.”

Cheyenne Franklin had her article, “Quintilian Education and Additive Bilingualism,” published in the journal Queen City Writers.

Jenny Kiefer had her poem, “Between Our Legs: On Women of the Warren County Jail,” published in the journal White Squirrel. Jenny was also selected for an editorial internship at Louisville Magazine for Spring 2016.

Jessica Good was selected for an editorial internship at Louisville Magazine for Spring 2016.

Jamila Kareem, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center, was awarded a Scholars for the Dream Travel award to the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Her presentation is titled, “Transitioning with Civic Acts of Writing: For Black Students, an Alternative to Pre-College Credit Models.” Jamila also presented at the Feminisms and Rhetoric Conference in October on “Womanist Rhetorical Pedagogy.”

Amy Nichols, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center, has been accepted to present at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Her presentation is titled, “The WPA Course: Pursuing Miller’s Intellectual Bureaucrat.”

Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center, had a coauthored article (with Bruce Horner) titled “Translation as (Global) Writing” accepted by the journal, Composition Studies. Laura also presented at the Feminisms and Rhetoric conference in October on  “Queer Women’s Slam Poetry as Embodied Performance” and will present at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication on “Queer Action in the Extracurriculum.”

Reflecting on the 2015 Week-Long Dissertation Writing Retreat

We just finished our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University Writing Center. Last week, May 18-22, several writers from various disciplines met every day to push their dissertation projects forward – and to learn some new things about writing practices and strategies at the same time. Some of the DWR participants were in the early stages of their projects, working on dissertation proposals or their first chapters. Others were nearly finished with their dissertations. The retreat provided them with the time and space to write as well as feedback on their writing in daily consultations. In addition, the DWR hosted daily workshops on topics such as organizing a large writing project, writing a literature review, and leveraging dissertations for future uses.

The consultants who work during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are experienced writing teachers who are also PhD students currently working on their dissertations. After the 2014 DWR, the consultants offered some insightful reflections, and here is what this year’s consultants had to say:

On being in the company of other writers:

The dissertation writing retreat this year reminded me of the power of surrounding yourself with other writers. I’m always so impressed by the camaraderie across the disciplines that happens during the retreat, but also by how much more work these writers are able to get done in this space simply by being around other writers who are all going through the same process. Some writers at the retreat used this opportunity to give each other feedback, comments, and share advice, but there were also times when sitting in silence together was just as productive. Whether you use the time around other writers as a chance to share ideas or as a quiet work time to be around others in order to keep focused, writing groups are valuable opportunities to grow as a writer as well as a great way to keep yourself accountable.

–Meghan Hancock

On goal-setting and rewards:

As always, this past week at the Dissertation Writing Retreat was a true joy. My fellow dissertating comrades and I talked deeply about how to stay on track with the book-length project that is “THE Dissertation.” We were really focused on how to negotiate and renegotiate the kinds of working routines necessary to get through this seeming behemoth. We talked about a few really important ideas:

Set a low goal that keeps you motivated but that is easy to reach, like – “Write 100 words per day,” or “Read1 article per day.”

Then, when you reach the goal, give yourself a gold star (or even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sticker) – just something to acknowledge the success!

  • Periodically revisit what you see as the whole scope of the dissertation, but don’t worry if that scope changes dramatically.
  • Figure out how to work effectively with each individual committee member, and the committee as a whole. Make sure to develop a comfortable working relationship with your director, above all.
  • Remember, it’s your dissertation!
  • And, finally, always take some time off for self-care!

It was a wonderful week, and I’m feeling fully energized to get back to my dissertation, 100 words at a time.

–Brittany Kelley

On habit-building:

The Dissertation Writing Retreat espouses many of the principles that writing centers value, among them making writing a daily habit. This principle resonated with me while I talked to DWR participants last week, especially because I am writing my own dissertation and working on meeting word count goals every day. If writing is a habit – and by writing I mean sitting down, opening a new document or one in progress, and making words in a row happen – then it is like brushing my teeth, looking over my shoulder before I change lanes, or feeding my cat in the morning. I don’t even think about whether writing will happen if it’s a habit. This is one reason why the DWR is a valuable experience for those participating in it. The retreat can teach the habit of daily writing, such that participants go on to continue the practice of writing every day even after the retreat ends.

–Jessica Winck

On being a member of the graduate community:

Over the last week, I’ve been thinking about mentoring. I had the privilege of working with two students in the Biology program who were at very different stages of the process at this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat. One student was working on drafting her introduction while the other had completed and revised all of her chapters, and was working on further revision to turn one chapter into an article. While I learned a great deal about the growth of invasive honeysuckle plants in our area and colonies of bacteria, I learned even more about the value of mentoring. Throughout our time together, I was able to help the student who was further along with revising her article about bacteria, and she in turn was able to provide insight into the expectations that faculty in the department would have for an introduction on invasive honeysuckle. In this way, we all spent the week learning from each other, and I was reminded what a great opportunity graduate school is to be in a community of scholars, and that valuable help and advice is available from my advisor and committee, yes, but also from others who are at different stages of the process.

–Stephen Cohen

On commitment to our projects:

It’s hard to believe this is the 4th time I’ve consulted for the week-long Dissertation Writing Retreat. I’m thrilled that the Writing Center has been able to consistently offer this resource thanks to the support of many offices and departments across campus. While I’ve always been impressed with the work the writers do during the retreat, this year, perhaps more than any other, I was lucky to work with two writers who blew me away with their commitment to producing good work every day. Each took advantage of the writing time, guest talks, consultations, and other resources so that they were able to walk away with tangible progress on their projects. Their commitment was inspiring and reminded me of how much can be accomplished with a bit of consistent focus. It is my hope that they recognize the hard work they did this week and that it inspires them to keep writing just as much as it inspired me to return my own projects.

–Ashly Bender

Much to Celebrate as the Writing Center Year Comes to a Close

Bronwyn T. Williams

Director, University Writing Center

When we get to the end of an academic year, we always feel there is a lot to be proud of at the University Writing Center. We can look back over a year in which we’ve worked with members of every college in the university, on both campuses, ranging from first-year students to faculty. If you can imagine a day where, in the course of three hours you might work with writers on an English 101 paper, an engineering dissertation, DSCN2410 - Copyand a business plan assignment – and be able to help all three writers with their projects – you can understand the talent and flexibility of our consultants. By the end of the academic year we will have had more than 5,000 visits to the University Writing Center. The consultants here do great, great work, every day. We may be a bit tired by the end of the spring semester, but we enjoy the work and feel as if we’ve worked hard to help develop better writing and better writers at UofL.

I want to take a moment to thank the writers who came to us to work on their writing and also all the faculty and staff who supported our work by recommending us to their students.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 11, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

Other Reasons to Celebrate

In addition to our daily work of teaching of writing through one-on-one consultations, there are other events and activities that we organize, and other plans we are making. It’s worth taking a moment to point to some of the accomplishments, and to talk about what they are going to allow us to do in the future.

New Writing Center Projects:

Our Move to the First Floor of the Library: During the summer, as part of the renovation of the first floor of Ekstrom Library, the University Writing Center will be moving from the third floor down to the first. This new location will make us much more visible (and easier to find) and allow us to create new programs and initiatives that will help us develop and sustain a culture of writing in the University. To see a video about the move, see this previous blog post.

WCOnline Scheduling Software: We are finishing the first year of using our new scheduling software and we’ve found it has been a significant improvement in making it easier for students to make their own appointments online. The software has also made our online, Virtual Writing Center Appointments more effective. To make an appointment, follow this link to our website.

Faculty Writing Groups: This year we organized our first faculty writing groups, one in science/engineering/mathematics and one in humanities/social sciences. These groups have gone very well and we plan to keep them going next year. If you’re interested in taking part, contact the Writing Center.

The Growth of Ongoing Writing Center Projects:

Writing Center Website: We expanded parts of our website, such as our Common Writing Situations – which are our responses to frequently asked questions about undergraduate DSCN2359and graduate writing – and our handouts on everything from strategies for revision, to writing better introductions and conclusions, to issues of grammar and style. We have also added resources for faculty who want to develop their approaches to teaching writing.

Writing Center Social Media: We continued to communicate our ideas about writing and the teaching of writing through our presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as our blog.

Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our Dissertation Writing Retreats remain popular and we are having the pleasure of seeing 90 percent of the students who attend the retreats complete their dissertations.

Workshops: Our Writing Center staff conducted a broad range of writing workshops in both courses and for student organizations on issues such as revision, writing a literature review, citation styles, and resume writing.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center, in addition to its teaching mission, 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.

Mariah Douglas – Internship at Louisville Magazine with 11 published pieces.

Joanna Englert – Published poems in the Miracle Monocle and the Kentucky Poetry Festival and presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

University Writing Center Staff - 2014-15

University Writing Center
Staff – 2014-15

Harley Ferris – Co-editor and writer of KairosCast for the journal Kairos. Presented at Computers and Writing. Forthcoming publication in Computers and Composition Online.

Taylor Gathof – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Meghan Hancock – Presented at National Conference on Peer Tutors and Writing/International Writing Center Association Conference; the Conference on College Composition and Communication; and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference

Kristin Hatten – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture; Internship with Commonwealth Center for the Humanities.

Jamila Kareem – Presented at ACES Symposium; Conference on College Composition and Communication; Forthcoming chapter in the collection: The Good Life and the Greater Good in a Global Context

Tara Lawson – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association

Ashley Ludewig – Presented at the Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; The Western States Rhetoric and Literacy Conference; and the Research Network Forum at the Conference on College Composition and Communication

Amy Nichols – Presented at Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Haley Petcher – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference

Bobby Rich – Published poems in Hobart Magazine and the Kentucky Poetry Festival; Internship/Poetry Editor of Miracle Monocle

Adam Robinson – Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference

Chris Scheidler – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference; Association of Professional and Technical Writers Undergraduate Conference, Computers and Writing, and Conference on Community Writing

Stephanie Weaver – Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; Conference on College Composition and Communication

Jessica Winck – Co-authored publication in Kairos. Presented at National Council of Teachers of English Conference; Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference.


Welcome to Fall 2014!

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The start of every academic year always involves new encounters. Students and faculty meet for the first time in classes, many students have new roommates, and many faculty have new colleagues. I think for everyone the anticipation – and uncertainty – is exciting and adds to the buzz around campus when the new semester begins. I always feel the excitement of the new semester when our pre-semester orientation at the University Writing Center takes place the Thursday before classes start. Writing Center Orientation is the

University Writing Center Staff - 2014-15

University Writing Center
Staff – 2014-15

day when I get to meet the new graduate students who will be working as consultants for the coming year. While I know about these new graduate students from what I’ve seen in their application files – where they went to school, for example – I don’t really know them at all. One of the things that is fun about the year ahead is getting to know these people, as people, as tutors, and as scholars. You can take a look at our website to find out about our staff for the coming academic year. It’s what I’ve yet to learn about the new consultants that will be part of what will make my year ahead interesting.

The new consultants all take a graduate course with me on Writing Center Theory and Practice and, through that I know that there are some foundational ideas about teaching writing that they will learn and use during their appointments with students. We talk about the need to work in dialogue with students and not edit their papers for them, for example, and the importance of not just helping students make their current drafts stronger, but also helping the students learn writing skills and strategies that will help with future writing challenges. Yet, while all the consultants are expected to adopt these foundational ideas, I also realize that everyone will develop an individual style as a tutor. Some consultants work quietly, others more effusively. Some consultants develop a talent for instructive metaphors, while others are masters of reaching and reassuring more reticent students. For me, seeing how these different approaches to tutoring develop is always fascinating and enjoyable. The one thing I do know, in meeting our new staff, is that all of the consultants are talented teachers who, grounded in theories of effective writing pedagogy, will provide thousands of UofL students, faculty, and staff with effective feedback and advice on their writing.

So, the University Writing Center is open for the semester. Make your appointment today and meet our great new staff in person.


The Week-Long Dissertation Writing Retreat: Notes from the Consultants

We just finished our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat at the University Writing Center. During the week of May 19-23, 14 writers from nine different disciplines took part, meeting every day to write and talk about writing. While some writers were in the early stages of their project and others were close to finishing, they were all provided with time to write and feedback on their writing. Each day the participants had several hours set aside for writing and then time for a one-hour consultation about their writing with a member of the Writing Center staff. In addition there were daily writing workshops on topics such as organizing a large writing project, writing a literature review, and working with committee comments.

Writing Time

Writing Time

The consultants who work during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are experienced writing teachers who are also PhD students currently working on their dissertations. Here are some of their thoughts about the work that took place during the week.

On developing writing strategies, aside from just making time to write:

While the dedicated writing time is often the benefit participants say is most helpful, another important benefit that I think often goes unnoticed until after the retreat is the development of writing strategies. Aside from developing dedicated writing time, it is important to have a plan, and more often multiple plans, for approaching writing and approaching the different tasks of a dissertation. The writing consultants work with retreat participants to practice and develop different techniques and strategies and for thinking about others that might work. For example, this year I worked with one participant on creating outlines both before and after writing. Starting with an outline can help you identifying which pieces fit into a chapter, but sometimes when we’re writing we get stuck thinking about what fits or not and end up not writing anything. In that case, it’s a good idea to just write what you have and then see what needs to stay, what needs developed more, and what belongs in another chapter or maybe even a different publication. So, while the retreat’s immediate reward may be time and more words produced, we hope–or I hope, at least–that the more beneficial reward is the writing strategies that can be applied to the dissertation and future writing projects.  ~Ashly Bender

On remembering to take care of yourself while dissertation:

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertation, but, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

~Brittany Kelley

On how academics really manage to complete projects:

During a late morning workshop on Thursday, I talked with participants about ways to maintain the habit of writing after the retreat. What they said reminded me of several important principles around completing academic writing projects. Many of the participants appreciated how the DWR structured a set time and place for writing. Committing to this routine meant that writing would not be an irregular event, but rather a habit. Participants also mentioned how they appreciated the group dynamic of the retreat as a form of accountability. Surrounded by other academic writers who were similarly working toward a set of goals provided motivation to continue – and at least one small group in the retreat committed to maintaining regular writing together in the weeks to come. And finally, several participants noted the value of talking to others about their writing. In reference to the daily afternoon meetings with writing consultants, the participants said that talking one-to-one about their projects became an important strategy for addressing challenges and setting goals. This rewarding discussion reminded me that completing academic projects has much less to do with how “smart” we are as academics, and much more with committing to working on a regular basis, developing and using strategies when we get stuck, and making sure to build in time for regular discussions with others about our work.

~Jessica Winck

Consultants and Participants Talking about Writing

Jessica discussing writing with one of the retreat’s participants

On project planning and the early stages of dissertation work:

I worked with two math education dissertation writers. Both were working on their proposals, which are due in August. I liked working with them at this stage as they are still making their way through the literature and methodologies. This was different than past retreats which participation stipulated a defended proposal. I liked this earlier stage in the process because I could help talk them through the lit review as well as scheduling out short and long term goals. The proposal stage is all about getting your bearings and this is what they needed help with most. As someone who is in the same boat as them, the beginning stages of writing this document, I learned a lot just from talking with them about their writing fears and challenges. And I think that talking helped them get writing.

~Jennifer Marciniak

On writing in a collaborative atmosphere:

This past week at the Dissertation Writing Retreat has taught me a surprising amount about the collaborative side of dissertation writing—a concept which I think contradicts what many of us think about writing, and especially in this rather peculiar genre. As a consultant, I began the week with few assumptions about the work ahead of me, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself paired with two students who had remarkably clear ideas about what their projects entailed, and what thoughts would need to go into the writing to get their arguments across. These students, it seemed to me, didn’t need a lot of coaching to get the work written, or even a lot of effort to make their writing read easily. Both brought that to the table on the first day. What they did need was just someone to receive those ideas as an uninitiated reader (uninitiated, at least, to their specific fields and projects), who could then bounce back the most salient ideas to them. I’m fond of automobile analogies, and to me this process felt very much like taking these projects for a “test drive” every day—I would take up whatever new ideas they had presented for the day, do a spin around the block in them, and then report back to their authors what was working and what might need more tweaking.

As a student currently working on my own dissertation, this test drive process was both enjoyable and informative. I was always happy to take a break from my own project for a few hours; to get out of my car and try a new one for a bit. I also learned quite a bit from seeing the process play out in someone else’s shoes. When,–after a day that saw a lot of suggestions on re-organization of points with both of my clients–I met with my own director and was given the same feedback, I realized pretty quickly how necessary it is to have a “test driver” on your team, who can exist outside of your project until you bring them in for specific testing.

“Test-driving” the dissertation with colleagues and consultants

We often think of writing as a solitary practice, and I feel like the drafting of a thesis or dissertation often feels even more so. But this week has made it abundantly clear to me that we all need a team to help us out from time to time; that we are, in fact, engineers who are designing a kind of textual machine that needs to work on the road, or in the field. I was happy to serve on two such teams this past week, and going forward with my own project, I feel more certainty about how to use my own.

~Benjamin Bogart

On the joys of the retreat:

One of the best things I saw this year at the Retreat was how much the graduate students enjoy interacting with each other.  I loved to see them share their advice about how they handled certain steps in the writing process, from organizing all of their research to how to structure certain chapters.  We do a lot as consultants, but I think a lot of the benefits of the Retreat for graduate students is how much they can learn from each other’s experiences as well.

~Meghan Hancock

The Benefits of Writing across Different Surfaces

Dan McCormick, Consultant

Some writing happens all at once and on only one “surface”—a text, a to-do list, an email, or a short-answer response on a biology test. You have an idea, you write, and then you’re done. But lots of writing happens on more than one surface. A reporter might take notes on a pad during an event, and then refer to those notes as she types her article at a computer that afternoon. A magazine writer might type notes as he researches, write an outline of ideas in a notebook, and refer to both as he writes his feature. A novelist might jot down ideas in a moleskin notebook (or on cocktail napkins), type out character sketches and plot summaries on the computer, and write notes to herself in the margins of printed drafts.

Writers sometimes think that a piece of writing is supposed be only one piece—one document, one computer file—but’s that’s not the case. There’s no rule that says writing has to happen in isolation from other writing. After all, most student writing is in direct response to a specific piece of writing: the assignment prompt. Why not take advantage of the same variety of surfaces that professional writers use?

DSCN1636For myself, I find it helpful to have different writing in different places, on different surfaces—all for one piece of writing. I typically write down ideas in a notebook, write little margin notes in books and articles as I research, type notes and outlines in a Notepad file, and (as I refer to all of these) type my “paper” in a Word file. What’s helpful about all this different writing is having different empty surfaces where I can focus on different aspects of my writing—the ideas, the organization, the research. I can then guide my attention while I write by putting different surfaces in front of me. As I write this post, I’m switching back and forth between a Word file, where I type the post itself, and a Notepad file, where I’ve typed out an outline of ideas and examples.

I’m fascinated by the way these different surfaces do different things for my writing. Paper gives me a certain feeling of freedom (the “empty page”) and of permanence. Digital media give me the ability to re-arrange my thoughts and, of course, to copy and paste from my typed notes. And scribbles in the margins of books and articles—marginalia—let me compose mini-thoughts as I read or review, putting ideas in my own words while giving me quick access to where in the text those ideas came from.

It’s natural to think of these other surfaces as “process” and the final document itself as “product”—but I don’t think that’s necessary. Certainly these different individual surfaces can build up into one—but I don’t think the process is totally separate from the product. Writing notes on a pad, or in the margins of a book, requires thought and volition, just as writing a “full piece” does. And ideas change between these different surfaces, not only because time passes but also because each surface supports a slightly different way of expressing those ideas. So the final document that is turned in for an assignment or for a scholarship application or for publication is, in a sense, one more iteration of ideas and language that has developed out of other ideas and language. You might say that process turns into product only when you decide it does.

4 Resolutions for Spring 2014

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

For many people, Ashly_Version_3January is a time for new resolutions, a time to set goals for ourselves over the next 12 months. Our director, Bronwyn Williams, has written in the past about how “new year’s resolutions” for those whose schedules are governed by the school system generally come in August. I fully agree on that count, yet this Spring semester is unique for me. Hopefully by August I will have finished and defended my dissertation—meaning this may be my last semester as a student, in the official sense. Even if I don’t manage this grand feat, this is certainly my last semester at the University Writing Center. A fact I lament, even as I put up a new Texas landscapes calendar next to my desk. Because endings are looming on the horizon, I find that this Spring, more so than those in the past, I’m thinking about the things I hope to see accomplished by myself and others in the coming months.

  1. Most of our tutors will be finishing up their first year of graduate school, and one of them will be graduating. One of the great things about working in the writing center is seeing people grow and learn, and hearing them talk about all the interesting ideas they develop. This is true with our clients and our tutors. So I’m excited to see and hear about all the projects and ambitions for the future our tutors hold.
  2. We are continuing to get more readers and followers on our blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Across our social media, the Writing Center hopes to offer resources and advice for writers at all levels, and also a bit of humor. Also, on our Twitter, we post in the afternoons about upcoming availabilities, something that is especially helpful during mid-semester and finals when we get busy. On our blog, our tutors discuss in more depth about particular writing concerns, habits, practices, and experiences. Also, we’re excited to have our first full semester of our new How I Write series, in which established professionals from a range of fields discuss their writing practices; we’ve already heard from a couple creative writers, an engineering professor, and a law professor. I hope we continue to get more readers, and that our readers spread the word about our sites.
  3. The Writing Center had a record number of appointments last year, and we’re eager to continue serving the diverse UofL population. For many semesters in a row, our number of appointments has been growing. We fill nearly every available appointment, and our Virtual Writing Center is popular as well. Our staff and tutors work hard to be responsive to our clients’ various concerns, and we’re constantly brainstorming ways in which we can be more helpful and available. Our survey results from last semester showed that:In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (72%) or “Agree” (25%).

    In answer to the statement: “What I learned during my Writing Center consultation will help me with future writing projects,” more than 94% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (64%) or “Agree” (30%).

    In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 94% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (74%) or “Agree” (20%).

    In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (80%) or “Agree” (17%).

  4. Finally, no surprise, I’m looking forward to making progress on my dissertation. Writing a dissertation can be a difficult, circuitous, and sometimes just overwhelming task. Working with other graduate students in the Writing Center—at the Dissertation Writing Retreat and otherwise—has helped me to understand this process better and to just keep trying new strategies when I’m feeling stuck. Still, as with any large project, the process is marked by ups and downs. Thus, one of my major goals is to keep myself working and progressing toward my defense and being able to call myself “Doctor.”

As your Spring begins, what sorts of goals (or resolutions, if you prefer) are you hoping to achieve over the next few months? Over the next year? At the Writing Center, we are versed in developing processes, strategies, and plans for tackling writing projects, and we’re not only happy but eager to work with you on those projects. Together we can achieve our goals for this semester, this year, this/these projects.

Imagining and Developing Writing Centers: A Reflection on SWCA-KY 2013

Dan McCormick, ConsultantDSCN1636

What does a writing center look like?  Does it look like rows of tables and desks?  Couches?  Computers and projectors and marker boards? Does it look like Legos and Play-Doh and glass walls and Ab-Ex décor?

The Noel Studio at Eastern Kentucky University does.  This was the site of the SWCA-KY Statewide Fall 2013 conference, which I attended on Friday September 20th along with the rest of the U of L Writing Center delegation.  Fitting that we should spend our day in a space that brings that aforementioned question to life, because broad questions of what a writing center looks like—in terms of space, technology, methodology, and campus finance—were on everyone’s minds.

The view from above Noel Studio at EKU

The view from above Noel Studio at EKU

Our ADs Adam, Ashly, Jennifer, and Jessica delivered a presentation on the U of L Virtual Writing Center, which serves students and faculty via email consultation or video chat.  The description of our online pedagogy was not new to me, but it was really cool to hear staff from other centers weigh in.  We discussed the challenge of identifying and addressing each writer’s needs without seeing a face or hearing a voice. (You can read more about our VWC here.)

Participants discussing approaches to virtual consulting

Discussing approaches to virtual consulting

In another session I attended, we discussed research questions on topics such as why students visit writing centers, how to increase visitor numbers, and how to best measure writing centers’ success.  I spoke to one man who was part of team in the process of developing a writing center at Hazard Community and Technical College in Jackson, Kentucky; we discussed how a writing center can best serve the needs of students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds who are interested in trade-programs, nursing, and technical writing.  The conference administrators encouraged all of us to develop our research ideas and submit abstracts for the SWCA regional conference in February 2014.

The conference’s keynote was a conversation with Kentucky singer/songwriter Daniel Martin Moore and EKU-alum/producer Duane Lundy, who discussed the collaborative aspect of creativity.  Along with a few songs, Moore shared his thoughts on what makes for the best time and space for writing.  If you’re in a hotel room in Costa Rica and the muse descends, Moore said, it’s time to clear your schedule and focus.  Lundy, on the other hand, described the importance of creating a safe environment for experimentation and creativity while making records at his studio, Shangri-La.  The two agreed that sometimes it’s best to take hold of whatever creative spark the situation offers, and sometimes it’s best to engineer the space and atmosphere to your advantage.  They also discussed how technology has made the process of creating music much easier—that could mean smart phone recording apps, pitch-shifting programs, and even moveable walls.  Drawing parallels between collaboration in the music studio and collaboration in the writing studio, Moore and Lundy emphasized that all creativity has its genesis in the bridges that art builds between people from different times, communities, and experiences.

SWCA-KY '13 Keynote Presentation

SWCA-KY ’13 Keynote Presentation

In sum, I found that writing centers all over Kentucky are asking the same question—what should a writing center look like?  How does technology fit in?  How can we ensure our place in the university’s budget?  How do we meet the needs of students from all economic backgrounds?  And, perhaps most importantly, how do we change the perception of a writing center from fix-it-shop to build-it-studio?  At EKU, it looks like comfy chairs and bright colors.  At U of L, it looks like iPads and an increasing online presence.  What does it look like at your writing center?

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