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How I Write: Sam McClellan

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

Sam McClellanAbout Sam McClellan

I am the Social Sciences Teaching & Faculty Outreach Librarian and an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library. My job encompasses helping faculty, students, and other patrons with their research, whether one-on-one or in a classroom setting. My research focuses on information literacy as well as librarians’ experiences with stereotypes about the profession.

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project: I’m currently working on a manuscript for publication with UofL Sociology Professor James Beggan on the strategies reference librarians use to enhance their approachability to help patrons use the library more effectively. This is in the editing stages. To transition into another project for eventual publication, I’m starting to read through and code some transcripts of interviews conducted by myself and a couple of my colleagues, focusing on library instruction assessment.

Currently reading: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

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

I work on peer-reviewed articles and conference proposals, both of which are usually geared towards practicing reference and instruction librarians.

2. When/where/how do you write?

To answer the question up front without too much detail, I start writing first thing in the morning, at my kitchen table at home, free from the distractions that comes with being in an office (e.g. e-mail, bothering my co-workers about random questions I have).

As a reference and instruction librarian, most of my time is taken up by doing the day-to-day aspects of my job. However, I find it difficult to write in the random hours between teaching and research appointments, so I usually block off half-days or entire days on my calendar when time permits so that I can work from home. My writing very much revolves around the times of year that I can take off those days here and there, though I realize that’s a luxury and that those days are fewer and further between than in my first few years as a librarian. This is something that will likely require to adapt my writing practice in the future, but in the meantime, I’m sticking to the 4-8 hour at my kitchen table, because it works!

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

I am a professional distractionista, so my space needs to have low sensory input – quiet, ambient music and no cell phone. I mentioned earlier that I write at my kitchen table because it’s desk-like and gets me in the mindset that I’m there to work and get some words on the page.

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

In terms of getting started, just start. It can be jumbled and not your best work, but seeing even a few sentences on the page is such a confidence-booster. You can always go back and fix it later, and it at least gets the idea of what you’re trying to write on the page.

When it comes to revision, especially the nitty-gritty stages where you’re starting to feel like you’re just about done, I try to break it up so that the page number doesn’t intimidate me. What I do is give every paragraph or few paragraphs a temporary heading that explains what those next few paragraphs are about. From there, I see if the headings I wrote down tell the story I want to, and then making sure the content falls in line with its heading. With that approach, I can take it roughly one page at a time. This usually entails a little more work up front, but it makes longer papers a lot more manageable and a lot less daunting.

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

I know I’ve bothered many of my colleagues about their writing advice (thank you!), but I don’t think I can remember any one individual piece of advice. I do like to assume I’ve utilized it all and integrated it into my writing practice, because on most days, it seems to be easier than it was several years ago, so I’m hoping it was something along the lines of “ignore your e-mail, turn off your cell phone, and start writing.”

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

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Silencing Self-Doubt

Taryn Hall, Consultant

As I write this, I am about seven hours away from giving a presentation for which I have been preparing for around a month. The research is done, the paper is written, yet I find myself doubting that my hard work has resulted in something worth presenting. If I’m not careful, I end up struggling with this same sense of self-doubt about many of my writing assignments. Usually, when I give in to the temptation to doubt myself, it devolves quickly into something which prevents me from being productive: Is this idea Tarynworth researching and writing about? Am I qualified to make such an argument? Am I bringing anything new to the academic conversation?

Feeling like an imposter in academia is often at the back of my mind when I am writing. And I know, from my work in the University Writing Center, that I am far from being the only one who feels this way. In fact, I’m sure most of us have experienced this at one time or another. We’re confronted with a new genre of writing, or with a particularly challenging prompt, and we respond by overthinking to the point of doubting ourselves. At its worst, I’ve seen this become something which stops the writing process in its tracks. Writers come to us feeling anxious or overwhelmed; they express doubt that they can pull off the assignment, and they say things like “I’m a terrible writer.”

Of course, as tutors and peers to the writers with whom we work, we know that they aren’t bad writers. That indeed, each writer who comes to us is approaching writing with a unique perspective and an individual voice worth adding to the conversations ongoing in their respective fields or majors. My goal as consultant is to help writers alleviate these anxieties and to silence the self-doubt of academic authorship. As Nicole discusses in her recent blog post, learning to locate one’s voice in academia can be challenging; we have to overcome our sense of not belonging in order to feel like members of the academic community.

This is a task which feels like something that we’re always in the process of doing. For a while, as I got close to finishing undergrad, I felt like I was finally starting to find my niche and had this whole writing thing figured out. And then I got to grad school, where I was the newest member of a whole new conversation. Back to square one. While this causes some level of anxiety when I approach new writing tasks, I also find that my newbie status helps me feel more engaged with actively learning new genres and new techniques. It’s okay to not have the conventions of graduate writing down pat, just as it was okay when I was in English 101 to not have the conventions of college writing mastered.

While I find some level of self-doubt instructive, as it encourages me to learn and to overcome, I have to beware of that anxiety becoming crippling. This is why I recommend to writers who express having similar feelings of doubt or insecurity a proactive approach to their anxiety. If you know that an upcoming paper is going to cause you to feel those feelings of self-doubt, talk to someone early in the writing process. Sometimes, the most beneficial thing you can do is just express your writing fears. The UWC can help you get off on the right foot before you ever have to commit pen to paper or fingers to keys.

This is a strategy which has been essential to my own writing successes. I say this as someone who has returned to writing this blog post after having given the presentation I mentioned earlier. The sense of relief is palpable—I’m much less fidgety now—and I know that working with other consultants at the UWC on this assignment was essential to my writing process, and ultimately, to the success of the paper. They helped me focus, to figure out what was important, and to locate myself within the conversation I was attempting to enter.

While I’m sure that the next new genre I approach will make me briefly feel like an imposter, trying to skirt the defenses of academia while the Mission: Impossible theme song plays somewhere in the distance, I also feel comfortable in my ability to respond appropriately to my self-doubt, and to seek help when I get stalled. As this semester begins to draw rapidly to its close, I hope that members of our university-wide community of writers can find similar solace. If you have a paper, presentation, application, or other writing project coming up which has taken up an uncomfortable residence in your mind, we’re here to help.

There’s More to Life than School

Carrie Mason, Consultantcarrie-m

This weekend my fiancé and I traveled down to my home for some family time. I’ve done a little schoolwork, but not much, and this blog is the last thing I’ll do. I’m learning a slow lesson: school work – or even regular work – does not define my life. It is just a part. I enjoy academics, but it’s not the most important part of my existence.

You see, the thing is, on May 27 I’m getting married. There’s a lot of stuffs that go into this wedding planning and most of it I hadn’t even thought about before being engaged. And since I live with family in Louisville, while my fiancé lives in an apartment with friends, we also have to find a place to live. But I’m not writing this blog to talk about all the things that I have to do, I’m sure you also have tons of things you also have to accomplish.

What I am saying is that sometimes school just needs to take a back seat.

Don’t misread me, doing well in school is still a good and right goal; it would be foolish to abuse the privilege and skimp through the semester. However, it is infinitely more important for me to continue building a deeper, stronger relationship with my fiancé as we work toward marriage.

You see, dear reader, life is not all grades and articles and books to read. There is more than an essay exam. There are trees to see and flowers to smell. If I get straight As in every class and write the most profound papers, but I fail to cultivate lasting relationships, then I have wasted time. And if I end my academic career with institutional laurels, but have a mind full of demerits because I did not take time to care for myself, then I am worse than when I started.

So, dear reader, take care of yourself and your relationships. Keep working to achieve your academic goals, but remember there are other parts of life that would be unwise to neglect.  It’s hard to learn and remember, because right now everything seems to be on the very top of the to-do list, but remember, the academic accomplishments are more enjoyable if you have people to share them with. Besides, an essay exam only lasts about an hour anyway.

How I Write: Dr. Kristi King

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

Dr. Kristi King is an associate professor in the Exercise Physiology (MS) and Community Health (MEd) programs in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Dr. King is the principal investigator on multi-year research studies that focus on the improvement of health, specifically through community-basedkristi-king2012 physical activity and nutrition interventions and policies.

Dr. King serves on local, state, and national health advocacy committees. She also collaborates with communities to educate their decision-makers on local, state, and national policies related to public health. Dr. King earned her PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, completed post-doctorate training in Physical Activity and Public Health Research with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist.

Location: Department of Health and Sport Sciences, Student Activity Center (SAC) East 105G

Current project: I usually juggle between a few articles from different research studies.

Currently reading: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, The Namesake by Jumphi Lahri, and Rolling Stone magazine

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

Since I’m an associate professor hoping to apply for full professor some day, I primarily write articles for peer-reviewed, health-related journals. My articles are based on my research with community-based health interventions and advocacy. I also get to write a Clinical Applications column for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.

2. When/where/how do you write?

Usually 1 day per week I get to stay home to write. My day always starts with a short workout and yoga video. Then the dogs and I go to my sunroom office for about 4-5 hours. We take lots of 10-minute study breaks to go outside get fresh air (rain or shine). If I’m lucky I get to write at work 1-2 days a week for about 1-2 hours each if I don’t have too many meetings. Again, I’ll take a few 10-minute study breaks to stroll around campus. I must get outside often to walk – it clears my mind so I can be more productive when I return to my computer.

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

The late mornings or early afternoons are usually when my mind works best. If necessary I’ll make a cup of tea for an extra boost. I am very careful to protect my writing time by keeping my phone, email, and other techy-distractions off when I write. I always write on my computer – never paper and pencil.

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

I usually start with a general outline of the headings I think I’ll use in a paper. Typically the mandatory headings are introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. From there I add other headings that may be specific to my project such as theory, interventions, and specifics about the communities, policies, participants, etc. When I save each version I title it with the date so I know which date is the latest version – then I email it to myself so I can work on it from home or work. Even if I just get a few sentences written per session, I feel like I’ve accomplished something big – very motivating.

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

Get words on paper. Until I see my thoughts in print, I don’t have anything tangible to edit or review or motivate me. Even if the words are messy and just thrown onto the page, at least it’s a start and will give me something to come back to later when I begin my revisions.

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

How I Write: Roman Yampolskiy, Professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science

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

Dr. Roman V. Yampolskiy is an associate professor in the department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science at the Speed School of Engineering. He is the founding and current director of the Cyber Security Lab and an author of many books including romanyampolskiyproArtificial Superintelligence: a Futuristic Approach. During his tenure at UofL, Dr. Yampolskiy has been recognized as: Distinguished Teaching ProfessorProfessor of the Year, Faculty Favorite, Top 4 Faculty, Leader in Engineering Education, Top 10 of Online College Professor of the Year, and Outstanding Early Career in Education award.  Dr. Yampolskiy’s main areas of interest are AI Safety, Artificial Intelligence, Behavioral Biometrics, Cybersecurity, Digital Forensics, Games, Genetic Algorithms, and Pattern Recognition. Dr. Yampolskiy is an author of over 100 publications including multiple journal articles and books.  Dr. Yampolskiy’s research has been featured 250+ times in numerous media reports in 22 languages.

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project:

Artificial Intelligence Safety

Currently reading:

Lots of research papers on AI Safety

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

I write research papers and sometimes books on Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity.

  1. When/where/how do you write?

In my office, during work hours and sometimes on planes as I travel a lot.

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

Standing desk, 3-monitor set-up, Endnote software for reference management, Spotify for music.

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

Start with an outline. Minimize revisions as most reviewers will not agree on changes anyway.

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

Write daily.

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

A Conversation with Recent MFA Graduate Martin Jennings About the Low-Residency MFA Experience

kevin-bKevin Bailey, Consultant

Have you ever considered pursuing a graduate-level degree in creative writing?  If so, you’ve perhaps heard of MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts in Writing).  An MFA in Creative Writing is a terminal degree (i.e. the furthest one can go in the field).  There are two main styles of MFA programs: high- and low-residency.  Despite this, information sessions on MFA programs tend to focus mostly, if not entirely, on the more traditional, high-residency programs.  I interviewed recent Spalding MFA graduate and writer Martin Jennings in order to get some insight into the less-frequently-discussed low-residency MFA experience and, thereby, open up new opportunities to creative writers seeking graduate study.   As a side note, writers can also achieve a terminal degree in creative writing by completing a PhD.  The following interview, however, is specifically about the MFA process with a special focus on low-residency schools.  Bear in mind that not all low-residency MFA programs are the same.

 

First off, why don’t you let us know what the difference is between a low-residency MFA program, like the one you recently attended at Spalding, and a high-residency program?

Sure.  There are some key differences.  The main one is that while you’re in a low-residency program, you do not stay on campus for two years and live in that area, as you would in a high-residency.   For low-residency, you do most of your work from home, while staying in touch with your professors and regularly turning in packets of new and revised work.  During the residency period, you have your lectures and workshops the same as you would at a high-residency program, except it occurs over a ten-day span, so it’s very intensive.

Early on into your MFA program, I remember you telling me that Spalding had helped you develop your own voice as a writer.  Do you still feel that way, and if so can you explain that in a little more depth?

Yes, I do still feel that Spalding helped develop my voice.  They were very encouraging in my low-residency MFA.   The instructors were particularly interested in seeing students experiment and try out different styles, themes, and perspectives in their stories.  And I was lucky enough to have had mentors who were very knowledgeable and able to point out new (to me) writers and books.  One writer whose work I was introduced to was Nicholson Baker.  He was recommended to me in my last semester at Spalding.  I remember thinking, “How haven’t I heard of him before?”  I saw my own voice, though much less refined, in his writing.  My mentors were very perceptive and able to take what I had written, show me my strengths about my particular style, and also instruct me about things I could do better, so as to make my work more cohesive.

Were there any other changes that occurred in your writing style/lifestyle while getting your MFA?

Yes, there were quite a few changes on both fronts.  As far as my writing style goes, I did a fair bit of experimenting with different types of stories and different narrators, subject matter, varying lengths (including a lot of flash fiction and longer stories) – just to get a feel for how you go about writing each type, what the differences were with each, and what they had in common.  I found myself somewhat favoring the smaller, more concise stories.

And as far as the lifestyle changes go, since I was responsible for turning in 35 to 50 pages of work each month, comprised of both new and revised work, I had to find a new way to incorporate writing into my everyday life.  And this was in addition to working a full time job and managing other responsibilities.  So writing became more a part of everyday life.

How did the low-residency program work for you in ways that a high-residency program might not have?  By contrast, is there anything offered by a high-residency program you feel you may have missed out on?

The volume of work that I produced in my low-residency program, based on what I hear from people who have done the high-residency, was much greater.  You get more specialized attention on your writing in a low-res program, and you’re producing so much material, you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  Spalding did offer experience in academic writing, but that was not the main focus – rather the creative writing work was.   I think you could say that low-residency MFA programs are designed for people who want to become better writers, as opposed to people who want to have careers in the teaching or in the academic world.  Generally speaking, high-residency programs seem to have greater teaching experience options – there seems to be more opportunity for it.  This can provide you with job experience.  There were workshops in low-residency that focused on creative writing pedagogy, but again, this was not the primary focus of the program.  And I would be remiss not to point out that low-residency programs are generally not as well funded, which means you often have to take out loans or pay out of pocket.  And it isn’t cheap!

What were some preconceptions you had about getting an MFA that didn’t pan out?

That I would graduate with sort of a collection of short stories that were ready to be published as such.  That by the time I finished – after two years – surely I would have enough pieces to flesh out a full collection and achieve great critical and financial success.  This wasn’t the case.  I did graduate with a lot of strong pieces that have gone on to be published, but it is a much more intense and lengthy process than you imagine going in.

I also had a fear that I would come out with cookie-cutter pieces of writing after having been exposed to a specific program and set way of doing things.  Fortunately, that didn’t come through at all, and I was allowed to experiment and find my own style of telling stories.

Finally, any cautionary words/suggestions for writers considering a low-residency MFA?

I do have some.  I would caution writers to make sure that what they want out of their program is to become a better writer, not to secure a set of marketable job skills.  The low-res program will teach you to be a better writer, and while it may offer some positive job-related skills, producing better writers is the primary goal of a low-residency program.  The focus is always on the writing, not on securing you a job.

Martin Jennings graduated from Spalding in the Fall of 2015.  His work has been featured in multiple publications since his graduation, most recently his story “Bodies of Water” in Sick Lit Magazine and “Hammer Space” in Under the Bed Magazine.  Martin writes, works, and lives in Louisville.

 

The Narrative Arc: Where Storytelling Meets Professional Writing

DSCN3636Emily Blair, consultant

Consider your favorite book or movie. You have probably been reading and watching TV since you were young. Some stories are more exciting than others; some have adventurers, travelling bands of heroes, or great villains that need conquering. Other stories place you within the mind of a character not so unlike yourself, showing how one person’s life unfolds in a realistic world

Now, think about an email to your professor. You likely don’t think it is as exciting as a blockbuster film; in fact, you probably don’t think about it as a story at all, but rather, a completely utilitarian writing assignment. However, it can be helpful and productive to think of your writing as an exercise in storytelling, with some relation to the narrative arc that you know from years of enjoying books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

Let’s take a professional email as an example. I need to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, which would be a great favor. I might be tempted, for brevity’s sake, to write something like this:

Dr. Smith,

Can you write me a letter of rec for grad school?

–Emily Blair

This style of email likely will not get the response you hope, not only because of its brief tone but also because there are ways to make this story more compelling in a way that allows my professor to see why their letter of recommendation would help me achieve my goals. Depending on the situation, you can employ different facets of storytelling, such as characterization, exposition, the building of plot, climax, and conclusion:

Dear Dr. Smith,

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for the University of Louisville’s Master’s program in English. I felt that your class in Southern Literature in Fall 2015 informed my understanding of current literary research in contemporary regional literature, as well as what my own place could be in the field. You had mentioned that my papers in your class were well thought out, and I consider you a mentor in this vein of literature. I would like to earn my MA at U of L because the work that Dr. Jones and Dr. Lakes are doing in Southern and regional literature before going on to a Ph.D. program with those focuses as well.

If you have any questions, or would like to see my resume, please let me know. Thank you for considering writing me a letter of recommendation for a graduate program.

Sincerely,

Emily Blair

The difference between these emails is not only length but also how I, as a student, could speak to a professor using a narrative. I have walked the professor, my audience, through not only why I am applying to this graduate program, but also why they, in particular, have the ability to help in my application process. I have drawn a direct line between this professor’s class and my future Ph.D. program, allowing the professor to follow the story of my path through a literature education. I have also made myself a unique person, or a “character,” in this narrative by reminding Dr. Smith of my performance in their class and setting myself apart with specific goals to attend U of L.

While most of the things you write in a professional setting won’t be as exciting as Lord of the Rings or as entertaining as Friends, you can use some creative writing techniques to better convey your narrative to others.

Make Word Work for You: Four Tips for Navigating Digital Writing Spaces

Alex Wasson, consultantalexwasson

As a graduate student, I often have numerous documents open on my computer for simultaneous editing. These documents are precious, the empty vessels into which I pour my scholarly hopes and dreams. I rarely give credit to the vessel (for me, Microsoft Word) for its ability to do more than just store all of my text. In fact, I pay no attention to the program unless disaster strikes; an unsaved document, a poorly formatted works cited page, or a pesky APA title page heading can derail an entire weekend or even an entire semester. So I thought I would take a moment to thank our digital writing spaces, whether it is Google Docs, Notepad, Microsoft Word, blogs, email, or anything in between, for all the good times we have together. To express my gratitude, here are four tips for navigating digital writing spaces.

1. Microsoft Word’s Brainstorming Feature

Did you know that you can easily create a brainstorming web on Microsoft Word? Double click anywhere on the screen and the cursor will follow you, allowing you to use the screen as if it is a whiteboard (see here for specific instructions). This feature is extremely helpful when mapping out ideas at the beginning of projects.

2. Visual Modes- Read, Print, and Distraction-Free Screens

If you are a visual person like me, switching up the screen presentation for reading and for editing may inspire a mental distinction between the two tasks. Many digital writing spaces offer a variety of different screen views. Microsoft Word, for example, provides read mode, print layout, and web layout screens underneath the view toolbar selection. In addition, if the toolbar itself is a distraction, you may hide it by selecting Ctrl+F1 on older software or the tiny arrow on the right side of the toolbar. An unobstructed view of the screen may just be the trick to jump start your writing assignment.

3. Reference-Keepers

Reference managers such as Mendeley and Endnote are fantastic tools that store all your citations in one place. This storage is extremely helpful when working on large research projects, and it integrates well with writing programs like Microsoft Word.

4. Graph Generator

I am not a numbers person. I am also not a master at Microsoft Excel. Therefore, when I am in need of a graph or chart in my writing project, I turn to the built-in graph feature embedded within Word and other writing programs. The graph feature offers step-by-step help and provides many different chart type options for your specific needs. A graph or chart can be a great asset to a project which compares two or more ideas.

One last note – SAVE whatever you are working on right now. Do it. Email it to yourself, keep a flash drive, upload it to the mysterious iCloud or type it on Google docs. Your future self will thank you.

Fighting Back Against “Writer’s Block”

Joanna Englert, Writing Consultant

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It’s February: it’s cold, the days are short, and there’s another holiday that gives cause for eating too much chocolate. Hard as you might wish, chances are your assignments don’t go on hold for the cold weather and short days. And with so much time indoors, it might be hard to find inspiration for that research essay on climate change or that memoir you keep meaning to get to, i.e., you might be struck by that fear-inducing nuisance known as writer’s block. Trust me, you’re not alone. We all know it: that blank page as empty as the branches outside, that trashcan filled with crumpled sheets of scribbles, and that forehead-to-the-desk sense of hopelessness. But don’t fear—you CAN get it done! I, too, have fought the battle against writer’s block, and with a few things in mind, I’ve learned it’s absolutely beatable. So, below are some of the most helpful tips I’ve discovered for breaking down the writer’s block wall and getting that paper done. Hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me!

1. Just Write!

The golden rule for overcoming writer’s block is simple: write. You might be thinking, easier said than done. I know, I know. But when I say write, I mean write anything. Anything! A stream-of-consciousness journal entry, a limerick about your cat, your favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Again, anything. Then, move on to writing something for your paper. Whether it’s the beginning, the middle, the end, or an outline, just remember that getting words down on paper, regardless of how good or bad they are at first (revision exists for a reason!), is progress. A lot of the time, just writing will get your creativity flowing and can remove some of the pressure to get the perfect idea down for your paper. It’s easier to go back and revise than to aim for perfection the first time around!

2. Quiet Those Distractions

Back away from technology for a minute. Shut down those computers, put that phone out of reach somewhere in the basement, turn off the TV, Spotify, etc., and just give yourself a moment of quiet to sit, reflect, and think. It may help clear your head and get you focused!

3. Find a Comfortable Spot

Virginia Woolf was on to something when she wrote A Room of One’s Own. To write, it truly helps to place yourself in a comfortable environment. For me, my favorite space is on my bed with nothing short of ten pillows, tea or coffee appropriately by my side, my cat on my lap, and my favorite moleskin notebook at hand. Want to get out of the house? (Because sometimes I just NEED to get out.) Find your favorite coffee shop and settle into a cozy spot in the corner. Coffee, quiet music and mumbling, space to spread out your work—trust me, it helps. At the very least, you’ll be able to devote brain power to your paper rather than to how uncomfortable you are!

4. Pace Yourself

One of the most helpful tips someone shared with me is to schedule working time and break time. Adopting the idea of writing anything, work for twenty-five minutes, and then enjoy a five or ten minute break. This gives you a chance to relax (and if you’re like me, reward yourself with that omnipresent Valentine’s chocolate) and an incentive to work.

5. Sleep On It

Okay, so this obviously doesn’t work if you’re in crunch-time mode, but if you give yourself the leisure of starting early, you can conquer writer’s block by stepping away and forgetting about it for a bit. Believe it or not, your mind knows you’ve been thinking about your topic. Even if you’re not consciously focused, your mind is working on it. You’d be surprised how something may just come to you if you step away and let it. In fact, if you’re really committed, keep a notebook and pen by your bed. Some of my ideas for creative writing or paper topics have come to me just before falling asleep. If you don’t have to get out of bed, you’re more likely to jot things down then!

6. Talk It Out

For some people, talking through a project is the best way to organize ideas and get creative juices flowing. As it happens, we at the Writing Center are happy to talk through your papers with you, so be sure to come and see us at any stage in your writing process!

Now that you’ve made it through this article, I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. So, dodge the weather, curl up with a notebook and some chocolate, and get going. Happy writing, everyone! (And be sure to stop by and see us at the Writing Center!)

How I Write: Joe Turner, Professor of English

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

Our featured writer this week is Professor Joe Turner. Dr. Turner is new to the Department of English at University of Louisville. He teaches courses in rhetoric and composition and has research interests in the history of rhetoric, Roman and Medieval rhetoric, and Medieval literature.

joe turner

Location: Bingham Hall, 317D

Current project: An academic article on perceptions of style in the late Middle Ages – plain, direct speech and complex, ornate speech, and what a person’s speaking style revealed about their character, social class, and education. There was, in the Middle Ages as today, a mistrust of people who speak well: behind their glib words could be any number of motivations.  Because rhetorical training (similar to what occurs in our English 101 and 102 courses today) was central to medieval educations, and few people received educations, using rhetorical figures was a marker of high status and education.

Currently reading: Kathy Davidson’s Now You See It, as many graphic novels as I can get my hands on, and texts related to my research (such as the Poetria Nova, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales).

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

I write articles, lesson plans, and short blogs (for my courses). In these blogs, for example, I outline the class’ structure and provide a digital record that students can review.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I write scholarship in my office and lessons/blogs at home. I find that my dog, Anya, is far too interesting for me to sustain work on any academic projects while at home.

I generally dedicate all day Tuesday and Thursday to writing scholarship. In the mornings I do my reading at home. First, I re-read my writing from the previous writing session. Then, I read a few articles/chapters that are pertinent to the article or the next section of the article. After that, I drive to campus and begin writing. If I get stuck, I normally start reading the piece from the beginning and try to chart out where I should go next.

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

Diet Coke. I have to have caffeine, and I don’t drink coffee. I also find that my office is conducive to writing in ways that my home is not.

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

Make a schedule and stick to it. I find that a dedicated space and a routine have become writing cues. Once I arrive in the office on my “writing days,” sit down and open my diet Coke, my mind automatically switches to writing mode. It’s become a habit and a ritual.

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

My PhD advisor told me to write every day because once you stop writing, it’s easy to make excuses to continue not writing. Writing is a learnable skill like any other. It’s not something that some people have and other people don’t. The only way to learn a skill is to practice it, over and over, and to make conscious efforts to improve.

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