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.
Christy Metzger is the director for the Office of First Year Initiatives at the University of Louisville. In August 2006 she began her work in this field when she was charged to undertake the university’s more coordinated first year experience efforts. Christy earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Spanish and Psychology from Transylvania University and a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration from the University of Louisville.
How I Write: Christy Metzger
Current project: I’m working on my own This I Believe-style statement for Book-in-Common.
- What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
Since I finished my Master’s degree, the vast majority of my writing is business writing, which I undertake for my job. No matter what the task, it’s important that I’m mindful about how I craft my message; I do believe that attention to tone, language, clarity and a mistake-free end product makes a big difference in whether I’m successful in my work or not.
Email consumes most of my writing time, as it does for many of my colleagues. I think it’s harder to persuade, clarify, inform, activate, etc. over email than it is with an in-person audience, so depending on the subject matter and recipient it may be a quick email or it might be one I really have to draft and revise. (I do a lot more drafting and revising than I do quick emails.)For executing our programs themselves, I’ve written things like facilitation guides and instruction manuals, reading guides and tips, and classroom materials. And to promote and assess our programs, I will create program brochures, web content, requests for funding, surveys and annual reports.
- When/where/how do you write?
Usually I’m writing in my office at work. However, if what I’m writing feels like a more difficult task I might take that home to work on – perhaps nestled into a comfortable chair or outside on my deck when it’s warm.
When I was writing papers in graduate school, I found I was most productive at a coffee shop, where the ambient noise kept me alert but where I didn’t have the distractions (or beds) of home to sidetrack me.
- What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
I type faster than I write by hand now, so I much prefer to write on a computer. I enjoy having a cup of coffee nearby, whatever notes I need, and some sort of music in the background (right now it’s afternoon decaf with peppermint mocha creamer and Don Williams crooning old country standards). If I’m at home, it’s certain that my sweet dog is nestled right up next to me.
- What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
My best advice is to first be clear about the key ideas you are trying to convey. That way, you can focus your writing product around that. When I started writing longer papers with open-ended topics and many different sources, I found that it helped me to begin to put my notes about each article in an outline form in a Word document. Along the way, I’ll pop in key points and thoughts I am having in response to the reading, as well as important quotes I might want to use later. The Word outline format lets me group similar ideas and move things around, and it’s from these notes that my papers grow. Sometimes whole paragraphs practically write themselves because I’ve already done a lot of the thinking along the way. When at all possible, I have someone else read and proof my writing.
- What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received was about writing emails to my colleagues. I’m much more cognizant now that my main idea or request needs to be in the first few sentences of the email so that it’s quickly seen by the recipient. I have a tendency to want to provide a lot of context to help my reader understand why what I’m conveying is important. However, because of that my main thought or request often wound up at the bottom of a lot of writing, where it was perhaps overlooked. (I even moved my main idea up in this paragraph in case my reader lost interest to this point.) It’s a small point to make, but I do believe it can make a tremendous difference.