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Looking Back at the Year in “Our Community” at the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Earlier this year, Edward English, one of the assistant directors in the University Writing Center, suggested that we create a new promotional video drawing on the perspectives of our writing consultants about what they find meaningful in their work teaching writing. I agreed that it was a great idea and, this spring, Edward and consultants Michelle Pena and Jacob DeBrock, created the video you see here, titled, “Our Community”.

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University Writing Center: Our Community

What I appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy, about this video is what they captured about the intangible, but essential, role that caring and community play in the work we do at the University Writing Center. On our website and in our presentations we always foreground, and rightly so, the expertise we have in teaching writing that can help students, staff, and faculty become stronger writers. Yet, just as crucial to our approaches to writing pedagogy is the work we do to create a culture of caring and empathy. We do this through a focus on listening, starting where the writer is, and, most of all, always remembering that we are responding to a person, not just a set of pages. You can see this commitment, and the pleasure it brings, in the words of the consultants in this video.

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The University Writing Center Staff for 2018-19

Empathy, listening, and caring, are not qualities that will show up in any official end-of-year reports. Emotions and ethics are typically not assessed by university administrators or accrediting agencies, or always considered appropriate ideas for discussion on a university campus. Still, these are the ineffable qualities that make our University Writing Center a distinctive and successful place for learning on campus. Because we focus on working with writers, not just on drafts, we know that we help writers develop a stronger sense of agency and confidence about their work. Because we listen first,  and then respond, we also engage in conversations about how writers are shaping their identities, and how those are negotiated in the systems of power in the University and culture.

We did, in fact, work with an impressive number of writers this year – more than 5,000. Out of those visits came stronger drafts and more confident writers. We are grateful for the trust that writers from across the UofL community show in bringing their writing here and letting us work with them to make it stronger. What the numbers can’t show that the video gives a glimpse of is the care, compassion, and that vital sense of community that the consultants build every day with each other and all the writers who walk through our door.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 6, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Beyond Tutoring – Workshops, Events, and Community Writing

Our commitment to working with writers and supporting a culture of writing extend beyond our daily consultations. Here is a just a glimpse of what we have been working on this year.

Workshops, Writing Groups, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our staff did more than 220 presentations about our University Writing Center services and more than 40 workshops about writing that took place both in and out of classroom settings. Our popular Creative Writing, LGBTQ+ and Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups continued to give UofL writers supportive communities through which they could create and talk about writing. We again held a our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat in May. We will be continuing all of these groups and workshops, so be sure to check our our website for information and dates.

Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events,

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Kick Back in the Stacks, August 2018

including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, the Celebration of Student Writing, Kick Back in the Stacks, and International Mother Language Day. Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the UofL Creative Writing Program, we again hosted a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series as well as two open-mic nights and one workshop in collaboration with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine.

Community Writing: We also continued our work with our community partners, the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House. Once again we are grateful for the participatory and collaborative partnerships with these organizations . You can find out more about these community writing projects, including how to get involved with them, on our website.

The Best Writing Center Staff in the Business

Amber YocumThe most important staff news of 2019 was the addition to the University Writing Center staff of Amber Yocum, as our Administrative Associate. Amber is in charge of our front desk, our scheduling system, office management, and supervising our student workers. She is brilliant and innovative and we’re lucky to have her as part of our community.

The new “Our Community” video also shows the community that our staff create among themselves. They do exceptional work as consultants and as full-time graduate students, but they also find time to take care of each other, and to laugh. I’m proud of them for that and think the university and the world can use more of it. It is the inspired and tireless work of all of our staff that, day after day, allows us to support UofL writers and create a culture of writing on campus and off. They also make this a fun place to work. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassandra Book and Assistant Directors, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Christopher Stuck. Our consultants this year have been Quaid Adams, Brooke Boling, Josh Christian, Jacob DeBrock, Nicole Dugan, Katie Frankel, Anna-Stacia Haley, Rachel Knowles, Catherine Lange, Michelle Pena, Liz Soule, Jon Udelson, Abby Wills, and Adam Yeich. Our student workers were Taylor Cardwell, Wyatt Mills, and Jency Trejo.


Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Bronwyn Williams, Director I had two Writing Center-related publications this year, co-authored with former University Writing Center associate and assistant directors. One was “Find Something You Can Believe In”: The Effect of Dissertation Writing Retreats on Graduate Students’ Identities as Writers.” with Ashly Bender Smith, Tika Lamsal, and Adam Robinson in Re/Writing the Center: Approaches to Supporting Graduate Students in the Writing Center. (Utah State University Press. 2019). The other publication was “Centering Partnerships: A Case for Writing Centers as Sites of Community Engagement,” with Amy McCleese Nichols, in Community Literacy. 2019. I also presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in with Cassie Book, Layne Gordon, and Jessie Newman, from UofL.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director published “Digital Curation as Collaborative Archival Method in Feminist Rhetorics.” with Pamela VanHaitsma. in the journal Peitho,  spring 2019. She also gave the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Josh Christian and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. In addition, she presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, and the International Writing Centers Association Conference.

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Final Transmission.” in Little Fiction. 2018 Flash Issue. She gave a reading at “Live at Surface Noise,” in December 2018. She was also awarded the UofL Creative Writing Graduate Student Award for Poetry, 2019

Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Rhetoric & Religion in the Twenty-First Century Conference and Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition.

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Christopher Stuck, Assistant Director For Graduate Student Writing presented at the Rhetoric Society of America Conference and served as Graduate Student Coordinator for the Discourse and Semiotics Workshop Series.

Consultants

Quaid Adams presented at the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research Conference, the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference, and served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

Brooke Boling served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

Josh Christian presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. He also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Liz Soule. He was awarded a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship and will be a Graduate Program Peer Mentor Coordinator next Year.

Jacob DeBrock presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900.

Nicole Dugan completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Writing the Self: First-Generation Students, Personal Statements and Textual Authority.”

Katie Frankel presented at the Indiana University Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference and had a book review of Sons of Blackbird Mountain published in Interstice. She also received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.

Anna-Stacia Haley received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.

Rachel Knowles completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Talking It Out: Towards Interdisciplinarity in Online Organizational Crisis Response”

Catherine Lange presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference.

Michelle Pena presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference

Liz Soule presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Josh Christian at Asbury University in April 2019. She also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Josh Christian.

Jon Udelson published a short story in Juked titled “Out & Elsewhere” and had a A book chapter accepted into the edited collection Style and the Future of Composition Studies. He presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition. He was named a board member of the Creative Writing Studies Organization. In the fall he will start a job as an Assistant Professor of English at Shenandoah University.

Abby Wills presented at the Uofl Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the University of Cincinnati English Department Interdisciplinary Conference.

Adam Yeich was named the Assistant Director of Creative Writing for 2019-20. He presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. He served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle , where he had a book review published, as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.

 

 

 

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

Writing as Self-Reflection: A Personal Writing Process

Josh Christian, Writing Consultant

When most people write, they do so with a goal in mind. Employees and employers write emails to communicate dates and quotas. Josh ChristianFamilies write texts to make dinner plans. Journalists write to meet a deadline. And students write to meet the requirements of their assignments.

Rarely is any form of writing done without some sort of purpose, to achieve or gain something. This is why not all forms of writing are valued equally by all people. If writing as an employer of a company or a journalist of some big-name paper, your writing will be valued over the student, who is only writing for a grade. What about writing that seems to have even less of a purpose, that isn’t done for a grade or paycheck?

Journaling is a perfect example. It is a form of writing that seems to have no purpose at all. It doesn’t exist to be seen or shared with anyone outside of the writer. So why do it? Here, I would argue that while journaling doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything, it very much is. And the product of journaling is of endless value. If this is true, a personal writing practice adds to one’s life.

So why journal? Most think journaling is for the dreamy school-girl or angst-filled teen. However, these people don’t consider the benefits of journaling. When journaling, a person is choosing to reflect on a moment, maybe traumatic or joyous; they reflect on their day or the possibilities of a decision they have to make. Journaling is then a form of self-reflection, which is defined by google as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, or motives.” Self-reflection can be found in most religious faiths, as they promote meditation as a religious practice.

The value of self-reflection has even been noted by major cooperations and business conglomerates, as they have integrated it into their various training programs to insure the making of responsible and effective leaders capable of learning and growing from their mistakes. At a personal level, self-reflection enables one to think over their past choices, words said and actions taken, becoming aware of how their actions or words affected others. Past decisions that caused broken relationships could go unnoticed if not for self-reflection. Journaling enables this form of self-reflection, as it allows one to write about their day, often in a narrative form, which allows for the assessment that leads to personal growth.

Similarly, journaling about an impending decision one has to make enables this form of self-reflection. When a person needs to make a decision about their future, say attending a specific university or taking a job, journaling enables them to reflect on their own characteristics and assess whether they are or are not a good fit for the university or position. Not only does journaling help one process their thoughts, it also helps one cope with the anxiety of the decision.

Sometimes it can feel like so much is at stake in making a decision, the anxiety is paramount, making it impossible to sleep or think. Journaling helps relieve this tension. As one writes out their thoughts and feelings, they process this anxiety and get space from their feelings, enabling them to think objectively. Thus, even in moments where one has to make a difficult decision, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many possibilities and weighty pros and cons. Journaling makes this process a bit easier.

Thus, journaling is not useless. It enables self-reflection that generates tangible results for people in their everyday lives. So if you are one of those people who think writing is just about achieving something, either commercially or academically, think again. Begin to incorporate journaling practices into your everyday life and watch as the benefits of self-reflection manifest. It only makes sense that a regular, personal writing practice that incorporates journaling would multiply these benefits. So, journaling, as a personal writing practice, is for everyone. It isn’t only for the journalist, novelist, student or businessmen. And writing does more than make profit. It adds infinite value to your life.

So, if you are thinking about beginning a personal writing practice, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What did you say or do for someone to make their day better?
  • Did you say or do anything that could have hurt another person? If so, what?
  • What made you feel good, today? What made you feel bad?
  • Are you more anxious than usual? What is different that could be causing your anxiety?
  • How might you change something you have done or said today to have a more desired impact tomorrow, or in the coming days?

Taking Research Assignments One Step at a Time

Michelle Peña, Writing Consultant

Research projects can seem daunting to many students new to collegiate style work. This type of writing requires a certain degree of commitment, that many aren’t familiar with yet. Oftentimes, new students finish their work in a hurry, without proper research, and without forming an analysis around their research.Michelle Pena

Why this method for approaching projects has failed in the past is because students feel unprepared to grapple with the work they have set before them. I have seen this occur multiple times as a writing tutor. Students, who have not had experience writing a paper of this style, approach me with a forlorn look in their eyes begging me to help them figure out a way to use outside sources to support their thesis. My answer to them, if they are trying to write an essay that makes sense to an observant professor, is I can’t.

What many people who haven’t written academic work do not realize, until far too late in the writing process, is that the focus of their work needs to come from their accumulated research. Actually doing the research as a way to formulate your ideas is necessary toward completing these types of assignments. I understand that many students feel intimidated by the prospect of acquiring that much data for a single piece of writing.

So, as a way to counteract any feelings of uneasiness, I have listed a few ways you can approach this work without getting overwhelmed.

1. Give yourself time to think about what type of work you want to do and why:
Many rush into deciding what they should focus on. This is usually because it is seemingly the easiest or most interesting option available. What I would suggest would be to take your time looking at all of necessary information. If you are writing a research paper for an ENGL 102 class and are given an assignment that asks you to analyze a text, look at that text from multiple perspectives. Later, cater your research to these perspectives and use them to guide what you read through.

2. Actually read what you find:
This step kind of speaks for itself. But actually try to understand the material you find. You don’t want it to come down to crunch time and find out that none of what you gathered works.

3. Spread out your research time:
Try to avoid doing things last minute. I know we have all been warned about procrastination before but heeding those warnings when approaching research papers is actually pretty helpful. Try allotting a specific amount of time for preparing your work. Instead of trying to do every part of an assignment on one night, give yourself multiple days to do the research. Maybe one day you find two to three sources and another day you find a few a more. This way you don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

4. If you are assigned an annotated bibliography, utilize it properly:
If you are assigned to do an annotate bibliography, take advantage of it by finding sources that are applicable to one another and your topic. Don’t try to find sources with an applicable word in the title; find sources that actually have material that you can work with. I would even go as far as to say you could write an annotated bibliography even if you aren’t assigned one. An impromptu annotated bib that includes the parts of the article that make it applicable to what you’re working on.

5. Pre-Organize your outline using your sources:
I understand that some people don’t like doing outlines, so if you are of the type that avoids outlining like the plague, this step may not apply to you. (But I would urge you to open your mind for a moment.) Once you have collected all of the necessary pieces of your research and you have decided what points support what you want to say, write them down in the order they will appear throughout your work. After you have done this, write where your sources will be listed underneath them. This process will help with bringing everything together in the end.

Remember, research assignments aren’t designed in the hopes that you will fail; they are designed so that you might learn. So don’t get overwhelmed and take your research one step at a time.

“I Don’t Know What I Want to Do With My Life”: Writing as a Personal and Spiritual Guide to Decision Making

Quaid Adams, Writing Consultant

Some people have definitive ideas of what they want to be from an early age and will stick to that path throughout their educational careers and into their chosen field without any hesitation. Quaid AdamsHowever, for those who, like me, have wanted to do a little bit of everything since they were a child, the question, “what do you want to do with your life?” sends shivers down your spine regardless of how confident you are in your career decisions.

This may seem familiar to many people in and out of college these days as our world gets more and more chaotic and the job market gets more and more uncertain. The choices we make may seem like the right one at the time, but when we get started, it is not quite what you hoped for.

I want to stop here for a moment and put your mind at ease—you are not alone in this struggle, it will get better, and it is okay to do what you love.

However, while that’s all well and good, what happens when you do not really know what you love and with so many options how do you choose? Never fear, I am here to offer you some advice, and from where this blog will be posted, you can guess what that advice will entail—writing. To put things into perspective, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has been struggling with not knowing what career path he wishes to pursue a lot as of late.

When he got to college, like many of us, he had ideas of what he thought he might want to do, but as his first semester went on, he became unhappy in his original choice of major and leading to a major change by the end of the Fall. Unfortunately, his new major is not meeting his expectations either, causing him unnecessary stress and anxiety about what he really wants to do with his college career and ultimately his life. The conversation was actually useful for both of us, but one part of it that stood out to me was a suggestion given by our advisor who happened upon us chatting. He suggested that my friend write about it and see if it helps.

While I’ll admit that when he initially suggested this, I thought it seemed a little undeserving of such a big decision. However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made and the more I appreciated the sentiment in our advisor’s suggestion. Writing is a process, and, in that process, a writer can learn a lot about themselves. It is for that reason that I chose to write about it here.

For those who are followers of our blog, you may remember the entry I did in October of 2018 which talked about the Writers’ Notebook and how this multifaceted tool can serve whatever purpose the writer needs it to. While I still believe in that piece, for the purposes of my friend’s predicament, an entire notebook keeping experience may not be the best use of time, unless it was something he chooses to continue to use, then by all means, check out my last post. However, if he just chooses to use a couple of exercises, the writing aspect serves the same role in providing organization of thought, anxiety easing, and providing a sense of accomplishment when it comes to working toward a solution.

The first exercise was one provided by our advisor. His recommendation was that my friend think about what they want out of a career and write it down. Did he want to work in an office setting with people or would he prefer work that is more solitary? Would he like to work with numbers or words? People or animals? The opportunities are endless, but what is important to this exercise is to actually think about what you want out of a career and how you work best.

It is important here to think about the type of work you want to do as well, even if its just something you think that you might like, writing about it has no repercussions and it will allow you to process your thoughts as you narrow down the field of careers. This is also an opportunity for you to look inward and figure out how you work best. Do you like doing tasks where you get to be creative? A career in journalism might be better for you versus one in accounting. It is important to know how you work best and what you need to be successful in your work when

making decisions about your future career.

Once you have your potential career field narrowed down, it is important to do more research into these jobs. If you’re thinking about a job in marketing, consider trying your hand at writing a sales pitch or creating an artistic campaign and write about the process. How did it make you feel doing this work? Does it spark joy? That was something for the Marie Kondo fans out there, but her message rings true even in this instance; if it does not bring you joy, get rid of it.

Writing in these no-risk situations can really give you a glimpse into how you may potentially feel about the potential work of your chosen careers and it allows you easily comparable criteria for what you want when you write about other careers. Like the Writers’ Notebook, you can also just write about your anxieties surrounding your decision-making process and the career such overall. While it won’t make the decision for you, it will allow you to work through your concerns and identify exactly what parts of the search is causing you the most anxiety. Once you identify these concerns, you can work on finding ways to deal with those side-concerns in an effort to alleviate some of the stress about the larger goal of finding your passion.

Although writing about your potential career or the anxieties you are feeling about making these big decisions are not going to actually make the decision for you, the process can be incredibly useful. Never underestimate the power of seeing your words and ideas manifested and organized in front of you as well as the thought process that brought those words to life. Writing is grounding and sometimes finding something to hold on to in this crazy world is essential to righting yourself and making sense of the chaos.

My final piece of advice in this is that it is ok to take your time in finding what you love. This is your life and that there is no one else’s timeline you must follow as you figure things out. Take the time to write about your ideas, explore as many different paths as you can, and above all else, find your happiness.

How I Write: Dr. Suzanne Meeks

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

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

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

Location: 111 Life Sciences Building, Belknap Campus

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

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

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

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

2. When/where/how do you write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Miracle Opportunity

Adam Yeich, Writing Consultant 

Are you a creative writer? Are you part of the University of Louisville Community? Are you part of the larger city of Louisville community?Adam Yeich

If so, this post is for you. Miracle Monocle, the literary journal published through the University of Louisville, is hosting a variety of events this semester, in addition to accepting submissions for publication in the journal (set to re-open at the end of the semester for the next upcoming issue).

Our first upcoming event is our Valentines’ Day open-mic event hosted in the University Writing Center inside Ekstrom Library on the first floor. The event will be on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 5:30pm-7:00pm. Come share your poetry about love or a lack of love (in any of its many varied forms).

In addition to this, we will be hosting events later this spring for both University of Louisville students and the larger metropolitan Louisville residents, including a writing workshop toward the final third of the semester. You can bring in your creative work for class, work on getting a final portfolio together. You can bring in work you’d like to submit—either to Miracle Monocle or elsewhere—and get feedback from peers and some of the editors at Miracle Monocle.

Or, you can just come in to take the time to write in a productive atmosphere amongst other writers. Details will be announced later this semester. Submissions for the fall issue of Miracle Monocle will re-open after classes conclude for the semester, after the spring issue, Miracle Monocle 12 premieres. The editors will also be starting a podcast soon, either streaming readings of past work published in the journal or else performing the readings themselves.

So, if you write, no matter what you write, stop by for a visit at one or all of our events. You’ll have a good time, and you can meet the editors and other writers in your community. For more information, you can follow us on one of our social media pages, with the links and handles listed below. We’re looking forward to exciting semester of writing and literature with you all.

Don’t forget, you can stop by the University Writing Center to speak with a consultant if you want some help with your story, poem, play, script, or essay (or any other writing project, school-related or otherwise). We have consultants here to help with whatever you need, in a variety of focus areas, including creative writing. See you soon!

Miracle Monocle Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/miracle_monocle

@miracle_monocle

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miraclemonocle/

@miraclemonocle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/miraclemonocle/

Miracle Monocle

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

Liz Soule, Writing Consultant

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

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

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

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

What am I being asked to do?

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

How do I do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally: Talk to your professor.

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

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

For more help, check out the following resources:

How can I better understand my assignment?

Common keywords in assignment prompts

Five tips for interpreting writing prompts

How I Write: Ron Whitehead

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

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

Ron and Rainbow copy.jpg

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

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

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

Location: Louisville, KY & Clarksville, IN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry and prose.

2. When/where/how do you write?

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

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

Pen, paper, tablet.

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

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

14 Suggestions for Aspiring Poets and Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate To Do List!

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

         To-Do List

1. Embrace the fact that your first to-do list is only a draft. You won’t like your handwriting, so you’ll rewrite it on a clean post-itRachel Rodriguez

2. Write “write to-do list” on the to-do list

3. Adopt a skewed sense of the passage of time as you envision bewildering productivity, and amass a semester’s worth of tasks to accomplish that day. Feel great.

4. For good measure, add a few freebies, like “take out trash” and “return Redbox movie” so if the worst comes, at 11:48pm you could still get 2 things accomplished.

5. Think about the to-do list in the shower, while you’re stirring oatmeal, as you apply mascara. Add to the to-do list about 70% of the tasks that occur to you during this time, and save the rest for existential dread dream-material.

6. Break down large projects into small tasks for more check-off-ability. Long lists are impressive and convince you of your own work ethic, and checking off items frequently is vital for kindling the small fire of hope in your breast. If at all possible, this must be an eternal flame.

7. Once you’re satisfied with the list as it stands, transfer to new post-it in perfect handwriting and cross off #2.

8. Keep the list nearby as you work, like a little nagging buddy, like a cute kitten who wants to sleep on your laptop keys.

9. Watch about 28 minutes of kitten videos. Once you reach Sarah McLachlan, stop.

10. Check in on the list at lunch, and feel panic encroaching. Add “take shower,” “make oatmeal,” and “relax with virtual cats” to list, then promptly cross off.

11. Savor the delicious tug of the pen as it swipes across the items that no longer exist as things you need to do. They are behind you now, cities in your rearview.

12. After a good bout of work, sense the futility of your long list. Adjust as the boundaries of actual space and time demand. Start tomorrow’s draft list.

13. Much more satisfied, allow yourself to accidentally fall asleep in the warmth of the Saturday afternoon sun, which is of course, the best kind of sun.

14. Wake suddenly from a fathomless sleep and immediately add something incredibly pressing and completely clear to “current-you,” yet enigmatic for “future-you” to decipher. See #5. Example: “Beavers and Ducks!”

15. Work diligently.

16. Return the Redbox movie. You only rent movies anyway so you can return them. Both renting and returning are valid reasons to drive around outside and see humans.

17. At the end of the day, acknowledge the stragglers on your list. There will, of course, be several items that have managed to linger through multiple iterations of lists, perhaps even for weeks. These are things you are avoiding. Probably important emails to write, or meetings to schedule. Try to confront at least one scary thing, and reward yourself by moving all other avoidances to tomorrow’s list. At the top, of course, for added visibility and guilt.

18. Save perfecting tomorrow’s list for tomorrow, to give yourself an easy start.

19. Always end your to-do list on an even number of tasks. For luck.

20. Breathe.

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