Tag: identity

Why We Call Everyone a “Writer”

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Kelby Gibson

“Well, I don’t write.” I’ve heard that sentence about 100 times over the last six months. People come into the Writing Center looking for some help because they think they have no idea what they are doing, when, in fact, they do. In today’s world, we’re surrounded by technology –  which has both advantages and disadvantages. A lot of people, myself included, get sucked into the world of social media and can lose hours of their day watching videos of cute animals, reading about their hometown drama, liking photos of the celebrities they follow, etc. It can be addicting. In having a phone glued to a hand though, people are also doing something else. People are constantly writing. Composing text messages, replying to a tweet, commenting on a post, captioning their photo for Instagram, posting ads on resale apps, typing in delivery directions for DoorDash. The list could go on. People fail to realize that they are writing – in some form – every single day. Just because it isn’t ‘academic’ doesn’t mean it isn’t writing.

When communicating through written text, most people still try to be effective. If they give bad directions to the delivery driver, they may not get their food. If they don’t pay attention to wording, they could upset their friends, or potentially create chaos on social media with family. An ad needs to appropriately represent the product, otherwise it may not sell. These are all reasons people carefully and intentionally use writing in their day to day lives, even they do not realize they are using their own writing processes for these seemingly mundane actions.

I often urge writers to take what they know about all of these types of writing and apply it to the writing they are struggling with. Sometimes this works, sometimes it takes more explanation and practice before the application of it sticks. To be fair, this is way easier said than done. I think we all could take care to be more thoughtful and aware of the writing we are doing on a daily basis. The more we practice both the writing itself and reflecting on the skills and tools we are employing in doing so, the more we can improve ourselves as writers, whether it be seemingly simple social media posts or for a grade at school. Chances are everyone will use writing at some point in their chosen career field. The greater capability they have of being an attentive, thoughtful, and reflective writer, the more likely they are to be able to transition to new types of writing and be more effective writers in general.

When we more carefully approach our everyday writing, we will learn more from it. We will learn more about ourselves as writers, as well. I know a lot of people do not think of writing as vital to their fields. Maybe they want to be nurses, police officers, biologists, zookeepers, engineers, personal trainers, etc. They may not be thinking about how important their writing skills will be in taking down patient information, writing incident reports, note-taking on studies, scheduling routines for employees to follow, applying for grants, personalizing meal plans and workouts, etc. But these things will be important! Being clear in your position, intent, meaning, and more will make all the difference for those the writing is about and those it is meant for. In other words, writing pops up everywhere all the time. It may not involve writing full papers, writing for publications, or other instances where one’s writing will be graded or ‘judged’ for a lack of a better word, but they will still likely have to write, and it matters how understandable that writing is. When we start to think about how we are practicing this writing every day, the better chance we have at making that practice matter.

After the Election: The Work of the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Franklin Roosevelt, in 1938 in face of the rise of fascism around the world, had this to say about the role of education in politics:

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest. To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy.

This quote has been on my mind the past few days in the run up to, and in the wake of, the recent presidential election. I’ve been thinking about the role of education in civic and political discourse and, more specifically, the role we should play in such issues in thedscn2185 University Writing Center. We have always welcomed and worked with writers from every political position, and that will not change. Our goal will continue to be help each writer become a stronger writer, but also to create writing that reflects ethical critical thinking and a commitment to civil discourse. Still, I think there is more to be said, and more to be done, on our part. Although it may seem that an organization of fewer than 20 people in a large university and larger city is limited in the impact it can have on such issues, I believe that the daily work of small groups of committed people is one essential way that education – and by extension, change – happens. At this moment, then, I want to make a more explicit, more emphatic statement about the principles we hold in the University Writing Center and the actions we intend to take to support those principles.

An Inclusive, Safe Space: The University Writing Center Mission Statement says that “The Writing Center is dedicated to being a safe, inclusive environment. We work to make the Writing Center a welcoming place where writers feel comfortable bringing the diverse range of perspectives found in the university community.” There is nothing wrong with that statement. Yet, I want to be clearer about what it means today when friends and colleagues whose identity positions – whether by race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, or others – are making them feel further marginalized, silenced, and threatened. We need to be more than welcoming. We need to be advocates. We need to be activists. We will renew our commitment to making the University Writing Center a place were writers can express their identities and be assured that they will receive a respectful and supportive response. Trust and safety are key elements to writing and teaching and we will continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We will also work harder to get the word out about this aspect of our work in University Writing Center sessions.

Supporting Writing on Campus and in the Community.  We will commit ourselves to more events and activities that support the writing and voices of people who feel silenced and marginalized in our culture and that engage conversations about the political nature of reading and writing. We have been engaging in these kinds of activities through our LGBTQ Writing Group, our events during Banned Books week, and our plans to celebrate International Mother Language Day in February. We will continue with our plans to engage in literacy tutoring in the community through Family Scholar House and the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library to support the writing and expression of ideas of people in the city. At this point I do not know what other events we will be planning. I want to listen to the community, in and out of the university, to think about how best we can support literacy practices that are empowering on both an individual level and community level. We will also renew our commitment to be part of conversations about the role of writing in culture and politics.

Education and Civil Discourse: Finally, we will continue to do what we do best: Educate. Our mission statement also says that we consider “writing to be an indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university as both a vital means of communication and an essential tool for learning.” What is not explicit in that statement, but is part of our mission and identity is a commitment to critical thinking and civil discourse. We will work with all writers, from all political viewpoints, to help them learn how to create arguments that are evidence-based, nuanced, and engage respectfully with opposing points of view. We will work with all writers to encourage a discourse that, even when in opposition, is respectful of the humanity of others. We will engage in conversations that help writers understand the influence of culture and systems of power on issues of education, language, and learning. We will work to help writers understand how their identities are positioned by larger cultural ideologies and narratives and help them explore options on how to communicate their ideas most effectively to their intended audiences. We will continue to believe in and advocate the value in listening, and responding, thoughtfully to the ideas of others. We regard empathy as a strength, not a weakness.

We will do our part, small though it may be, to keep communication and conversation going. We will continue to work toward writing that connects our minds and our shared humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

On Early Writing Advice

Jessica Winck, Assistant Director

This week’s feature was adapted from an earlier post on Jessica’s blog Daily Inventions, which focuses on writing, teaching, and the teaching of writing.

DSCN1660As I work on finishing my M.A. project, I’ve been thinking about how my views on writing were shaped when I was younger. After studying rhetoric and writing for the past two years, I’ve become more conscious of how some of my own views, behaviors, and habits suggest something I learned early on that stayed with me. In other words, I’ll become aware of something I’m doing, and I’ll say (sometimes out loud), “Where did that come from?”

Throughout my teens I saw myself as a fiction writer, and the writing of fiction was Writing to me – so people who wrote it were Writers. I got a sense of this in so many of the books about fiction writing that I read. There was a sense in these books – this discourse – that good writers have a gift. Certainly they work hard, but they have an indefinable quality, so at best, advice about writing for people who don’t have this gift can only help them artificially replicate what gifted writers possess naturally.

Now I see this as a flawed assumption, but I bought into it when I was younger. When I was 20 or 21 I showed a short story to a guy I worked with who also wrote fiction. His initial response was, “Well, you can write!” On one hand, that’s just stating the obvious. On the other hand, that’s not what he was talking about at all. He meant I had some kind of ability beyond competence.

There were consequences for this kind of view of writing and writers. Though my undergrad curriculum consisted of several creative writing workshops, collaboration wasn’t a major priority – in fact it was discouraged because it was seen as a distraction. Someone once told me that writers who work at coffee shops or with others just want distractions because they aren’t committed to their craft. Real writers toil alone, if not for concentration’s sake, then because their gift for writing – all that genius – leads to bad social skills or neuroses. The Writer/Suffering Genius was a persona more than anything else, and my peers and I all desperately ached toward it.

peter elbowClearly I disagreed with these “truths” to some extent, otherwise I wouldn’t have been so frustrated by their limitations at the time. But they weren’t my only influences. When I was in high school, I read two important writers: Peter Elbow and Natalie Goldberg. Something distinguished them from the other people I read during that time and later in undergrad: they didn’t tolerate the view of “Writing” that I’ve elaborated here. For them, improving as writers is first a matter of writing more and being more methodical about how you use your writing time (ie., scheduled or timed writing). Though I read Elbow and Goldberg early on, they stayed on my shelf all through undergrad as I worked through developing an identity as a writer. I thought that improving as a writer couldn’t possibly be a matter of persistence, which is available to everyone.

As I work on my Master’s project now, I’m realizing in really profound ways that at a fundamental level, apart from other factors and forces that bear down on me in this process, that I will finish my project in a reasonable amount of time if I just persist methodically. This isn’t to say that challenges won’t come up, or that I won’t ever feel like it’s hopeless, but it’s to say that there is plenty of evidence that says I should have faith in this process.

There are also benefits for teachers and writing consultants to examine early influences on our views of writing. This is a view of writing that leads us to assume that everyone can write, as Peter Elbow suggests, and that doing well and “being successful,” however defined, is a matter of persisting, not of innate talents or gifts.