Writing Center Talk, Part 2

Adam Robinson, Associate Director

We give writers thoughtful response and engage them in meaningful dialogue, both of which are aimed at helping writers think about their writing differently and which also hopefully provide these same writers with a bit more confidence to try new things in their writing.  I’d say that’s goal one.  But I can tell you that there are lots of other ways that we help the writers who visit us.

AdamEvery time I write one of these blogs, I can’t help but think back to when I was a student at U of L visiting the Writing Center.  After my first appointment, I was hooked.  I valued my consultant’s feedback, and I appreciated the kindness of the people working there.  But I got something else.  Probably something I didn’t really notice at the time—at least not consciously.  The Writing Center was a place where I felt like a writer, not simply a student who was asked to write something for class for a grade.  I feel like I inhabited both mindsets in college, and my chosen mindset was usually based on how invested I was in the writing I was doing at the time—and that feeling of being invested was determined by many internal and external factors.  Either way, the writing still got done.  But I do find value in being mindful of the fact that if you write, you are a writer.

I like to think that the people who visit us think of themselves as writers when they are in our space—though I hope they feel that way all the time.  We make an effort to remind them of that fact that they are writers.  Consultants treat the writing seriously; that writer’s writing is the subject of conversation.  And the craft of writing is emphasized, meaning that writing is treated as something that can be honed, played with, improved upon—where writing is considered a necessary and lifelong activity.

But I’d like to shift focus away from our consultations.  I’d like to think that students enter that writerly mindset before they even begin their consultations.  I realized this the other day.  My office is right next to the lobby where those who have signed in for appointments are waiting for their consultants to greet them.  I love being near this space.  I get to meet a lot of people and continue conversations with those who regularly visit the Writing Center.

But I also get to hear interesting conversations among students, among writers—and that’s what I want to highlight here.  One of these conversations happened the other day—and when they happen, they generally look the same: writers who don’t know each other sitting around talking about the writing they are doing.  The conversations almost always start with a “what are you here for” type of question but so often move to writers summarizing their projects for each other and sharing their ideas and frustrations.  I think the take-away for those participating in these conversations is that they are reminded that other people are writing too—and are experiencing ups and downs and moments of clarity and confusion.  And an equally important take away is that writing takes on many shapes and sizes at the university.  I’ve listened to doctoral students explain the process of writing a dissertation to a freshmen who has brought in an introduction to college writing paper.  Or an engineering major lay out the details of a technical report to an English major writing a literary analysis.  Or an international student talking about his native language to a native English speaker and sharing his experience of writing in a new language.  When I count these conversations, it makes me realize that the writers who visit talk a lot about their writing when they come—they also answer questions about their writing when they make appointments and of course talk extensively about their projects in their consultations.

I suppose this blog has me wondering how we might have more of these conversations—though the ones that happen organically are the best.  I remember thinking similar ideas when I was an academic advisor.  I’d have conversations all the time with students about their work.  What I found was that students didn’t have many opportunities for talking about the work they were doing in class—or they didn’t take the opportunity.  Among friends they may have been having conversations about what they were learning or reading—or about an interesting idea that their professor mentioned in a lecture.  But they didn’t seem too practiced in talking about their own work—their own projects—which happen to be where they do the most learning.  So I guess it goes without saying that I’m thankful we can provide space for these types of conversations.  If anyone has thoughts, please share!  Thanks.

One thought on “Writing Center Talk, Part 2

  1. What a wonderful post, Adam! Very thought provoking.
    One of the things that comes to my mind is an open house kind of event where writers can come socialize; this may or may not prompt conversations about writing, but t could help make the writing center feel like a place you can go to even when you are not under the pressure of a deadline, to do something assigned by a professor, etc. Another situation when writers could meet other writers (and in this case, they could exclusively focus on their writing) is minor/major writing retreats. A third kind of situation (which may be more ideal than practical) could be created by inviting writers who want to work on non-class related, no-deadline, no-grade, non-required types of writing–-like creative writing, personal blogs, even personal statements for graduate school or cover letter for a job. Yet another situation would be one where you invite international students to a workshop with a fancy title like “How to Write Straight A Papers” and teach them some of the fundamentals of academic practices (which especially new international students tend to learn after suffering long and often terrible learning curves); especially new international students don’t know how to read the assignment prompt, that they can go see the professor when they’r stuck, that they need to situate the paper within the context of the course’s objectives, and they must also develop skills like time management and researching and reading efficiently and note-taking toward developing their own ideas for the paper.
    Now, if you combine elements from approaches like the above, you might be able to situations where students come to the writing center for general conversations about writing, while leaving it open for participants to bring ideas, drafts, already published work, etc, if they like.

    The visible incentive for making the event successful would be, of course, pizza!

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