Category: How I Write

No Expectations: Writing for Comfort

Cat Sar, Writing Consultant

Late last night, I realized that in my cupboards, I had all the ingredients to make my mom’s pumpkin bread recipe. Naturally, today my kitchen is dusted in flour, and I may have ingested too much raw batter. But it’s not just the smell or taste of my favorite sweet treat, it’s the warm and comforting memories attached to each sensation. Verging on a year into the pandemic, most of us are still looking for comfort, and while I can’t imagine a world where I get tired of pumpkin bread, it doesn’t hurt to introduce a new coping mechanism every once in a while. 

Lately, I’ve sought comfort on the blank page. In the past, after I finished writing for others—school, work—the last thing I wanted was to find more words on my own time. I’ve also never been able to commit to writing regularly. But now there is only time and journaling’s appeal grows. 

Removing unnecessary expectations is an essential first step. You don’t have to be Carrie Bradshaw or Lady Whistledown—write anything! Sometimes you may feel particularly verbose and have the time and energy to really craft a story, while if you’re like me, lists, impressions, important words and phrases can also satisfyingly capture moments.

You are writing for yourself—there is such freedom in this! Write when you want and how you want. You might create a practice, or you might be scrawling notes at 3 am when you can’t sleep. Let this writing serve you where you are. We spend so much of our lives writing purposefully, which is necessary and helpful, but on your time, in your creative space, no such impetus need exist. There is no rubric or pressure, and best of all, no revision! 

On the other hand, this freedom allows for as much structure as you need or desire. I didn’t conjure up the pumpkin bread that’s baking in my oven without a recipe; a prompt might be the spark of inspiration you need. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • Pick a big idea: love, time travel, movies based on novels about dogs, for example. Set a timer for at least five minutes and write using the big idea as a starting point. 
  • Pick a person that you know and write about them as if they were a character in story. 
  • Find a word in the wild: the first interesting word or phrase you see (i.e. flyers, billboards, maps, signs, ads, art) is your starting point.

The Pandemic Project offers expressive writing information and exercises and Bullet Journaling is a cute and concise trend. 

Remember too, that journaling is similar to free-writing and brainstorming. You may write about one thing in order to realize or reach another, or start a thread and not complete it. The blank page belongs to you and the stakes are what you make them. 

Plus, who doesn’t love that new journal feeling? 

The 5 Love Languages as writing habits, or how to build a healthier relationship with your writing

Zoë Litzenberg, Writing Consultant

Among the many reasons to celebrate the month of February, it’s the month of love, and here at the Writing Center, we love writing! Of course, that doesn’t mean that we think writing is easy. I honestly believe that writing is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. At its worst, writing can be frustrating, emotionally taxing, and ultimately a negative, even traumatizing, experience. At its best, though, writing can be empowering, encouraging, liberating, and fun! Have you ever been frustrated with your relationship with writing? The more I thought about how much I have a love/hate relationship with my writing process, the more I realized that I talk about writing the way I talk about any person with whom I have a close relationship. I wanted to see if building out a framework of understanding my love/hate could help others love writing more and hate writing less! I’m starting with the idea that the better we know ourselves (our habits, our quirks, and the way we process the world), the more we can intentionally and kindly learn the best ways to improve our relationships with ourselves, our work, and the world. Ever the optimist, I turned to popular relationship resources to see what I could do.

A personality typing called The 5 Love Languages®, a tool created by Dr. Gary Chapman originally to help partners communicate more intentionally, breaks down the way that people experience and administer love into five main categories: quality time, physical touch, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Because people are dynamic and complex, the system explains that we all, in some ways, connect to all of these categories. However, it is not uncommon to gravitate towards one category dominantly or possibly have strong aversions to a couple of others. In light of this, applying The 5 Love Languages® to writing offers some exciting categories of contemplation!

Quality Time: Quality writing time is the time that you block out or set aside for the purpose of working or writing. Please hear this: it is not time where you are only producing quality writing! It’s choosing to sit with your work, even if the whole time it’s in front of an empty screen, because you are choosing to write as a labor of love. This might mean finding a favorite spot in the library where you can focus — just you and your words. Maybe it’s at a cute coffee shop where the buzz keeps you in the zone! If the idea of carving out special time to spend writing sounds like what works best for you, quality time might be your writing-love language! Find what “quality” means to you and pursue that intentionally. 

Physical Touch: Physical touch with writing has to do with the literal interaction we have with our writing instruments when engaging in work. Writing is a tactile, material experience. For some of us, there is nothing more generative than sitting down in front of our trusty keyboard and feeling the hum of our computer. For others of us, we need to hold a pen, or maybe it’s the aesthetic of graph paper that helps you, or one mechanical pencil that has the perfect-sharpness lead. Spend some time thinking: what’s your favorite way to materially engage with the writing process? If you find yourself resolutely finding a pattern between what you write with and how you feel about writing, physical touch might be your writing-love language!

Receiving Gifts: Maybe you feel most productive and generative in your writing when you know there is something waiting for you when the task is done. What if you arranged to give yourself thoughtful rewards for completing certain writing tasks? The focus then is on a sentiment attached to a gift you might give yourself. Maybe this looks like going to a coffee shop or planning to drink your favorite tea. Maybe it’s working for that really great cookie from the bakery down the road. What precious possessions around you make you feel generative? It could be buying a special pencil so you can finally get rid of the one whose eraser has been gone for a year or building in rewards for when you reach benchmarks or complete certain tasks. If there’s that one thing you can think of that gets you excited to write, receiving gifts might be your writing love language!

Words of Affirmation: Words of affirmation in the writing process, to me, seems most fitting when applied to how we take ideas and form them into words. So it could look like verbal affirmation we receive from others regarding our writing, or maybe we find that when we speak about our own writing, our ideas seem to clarify, or we get excited and want to keep working. Therefore, maybe this writing-love language might include sharing our essay outline or research questions with a trusted friend or professor. Sometimes when you’re brainstorming for a piece of writing, you just need to talk it out! Verbal processing can be very helpful; in fact, that’s why our virtual Live Chat option at the Writing Center is so powerful and popular. Additionally, there are so many cool multimodal resources — like Word’s dictate feature — to help if you need to talk out your ideas alone and make them into writing. Do you find your best ideas come during those great conversations with your roommate at 1 AM? Or maybe when you’re on the phone with mom? This might be your writing-love language!

Acts of Service: This one was the hardest for me to make into a metaphor, but this love language is all about taking care of responsibilities in order to put the object of your affection first. In a relationship, it might be taking out the trash (before you’ve been asked!). In writing, it’s all about taking care of the urgent work to prioritize the important work! Maybe it means that you tackle your weekend chores on Friday night so that you can get to work on that paper Saturday morning without the guilt of laundry piling up in your periphery. Maybe it means spending an extra hour researching for your assignment when you have the spare time so that when your week gets busier, you’ve gotten ahead. What’s a small task that present-you can do to take some of the load off of future-you’s plate so that they can write distraction-free? If this type of strategy gets you excited, I think acts of service might be your writing love-language.

This extended application is meant in good humor and for fun, but I hope that considering the different ways you engage with the (wonderful, crazy, complex) writing process leads you to a more confident, fruitful writing experience.I hope you have a lovely month. Happy February, and Happy Writing! 

Writing for Myself: How I’m Staying Sane in COVID

Maddy Decker, Writing Consultant

I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was ten. Somewhere deep in my bedroom closet at home, there’s an ancient white binder that holds two embarrassing stories, the first being a romance between “Princess Maddy” and “Prince [popular boy from my class],” and the second being a similar but darker romance, foreshadowing my imminent emo phase, between the same “Princess Maddy” and “Prince [my actual crush].” I can’t retrace the steps in my logic that led me to think that my pencil-written, notebook paper stories would be in such high demand that I needed a decoy story to cover the identity of my true ‘love,’ but looking back, I love that I put such an effort into writing for myself at such a young age. 

            Somewhere along the way to where I am now, looking ahead to graduating at the end of the spring semester, I think I lost some of what pushed me to write my own stories with only myself in mind. Getting published has remained one of my main goals, and to that end, I’ve been producing most of my recent creative writing with a general audience in mind, inviting strangers to sit in my head and eat popcorn with me while my words put on a show for us. It’s an interesting exercise to work within the constraints of their potential judgment, but while I don’t exactly feel like a sell-out (if you can be one before you’ve sold anything), I do think that I’ve self-censored and produced work that doesn’t truly fit what I want to go back and reread for my own enjoyment. 

            I think that I can pinpoint where something shifted for me in this regard: in my undergraduate senior seminar, we read and heavily discussed Speak, Memory. I struggled immensely with deciphering what Nabokov could possibly wish for his audience to get out of reading this collection of essays. It was a relief when my professor told us that Nabokov was writing for himself rather than for us, but the energy I lost to his work solidified within me the idea that I would commit to not writing or distributing such work of my own, work that takes intense personal knowledge to decode. 

            I’m happy to say that I’ve started to train myself out of this two-year-old commitment, and it’s been incredibly rewarding, particularly during the relentless monotony of my more isolated COVID schedule. Sometimes I start writing something down just because I got a phrase stuck in my head. It either ends up in my graveyard Word document, or it turns into a story that I run with. If I run with it, I find it calming to remind myself that just because I write something doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to share it or to turn it into my new life’s work. Taking the pressure off of myself allows me some wiggle room, and it’s turned my pandemic experience into a surprisingly productive one. 

From an idea I mentally ‘wrote’ as I cashiered over the summer, I started a short story that I will be revising for my culminating project towards my degree. From getting the phrase “trial by earth” stuck in my head and finally typing it out, I generated an experimental piece that helped me understand how I want to approach an idea for a novel I’ve been thinking about since undergrad. From just desperately wanting to write something, anything, in a gorgeous new notebook, I started writing a horrendous fairy tale romance, one that I intend to burn before my death so that no one else can ever see it…but I like it as a story just for me.

Why write for yourself? It’s fun! It’s indulgent in a way that lets you exercise your thoughts and your writing voice. It can let you create a world you can escape to when you find yourself needing a break from the increasing everyday academic, political, and medical stress, and, like journaling, it can help you work through how you’re feeling and what you’re reacting to. You might find yourself stepping back from what you write and being surprised by how proud you are of what you wrote, and it can be so rewarding to have something that’s made by you, with yourself in mind, that only you get to read. 

Writing in a Time of Uncertainty: Negotiating Anxious Thoughts Translating to Anxious Words

Emma Turner, Writing Consultant

Writing is hard. Most who write will tell you that. Those who say it is easy are either brilliant or lying. Writing is scary. Learning to write is often a series of trial and error, drafts, coffee, and tears (or that last part could just be me). Writing is vulnerable. When we write, we expose our innermost thoughts and feelings, and we reveal the inner workings of our mind. Writing is a process familiar to many of us, yet, in times of uncertainty, writing becomes uncertain too. 

Writing is even more challenging when it is done in the midst of social and cultural change. One finding their voice can be drowned out by the uncertainty faced in daily life. Learning to cope with living in a pandemic, living in the midst of necessary and justified civil unrest, and returning to a college campus where everything feels incredibly familiar yet unfamiliar is not conducive to creating one’s strongest work. Over the past several months, a feeling of increasing isolation and doubt has begun to take hold for so many. I’ve noticed even in my own writing the insecurity of current events bleeds through when pen is put to paper (or fingers put to keys, but you know what I mean). Mental health has become a feature we are acutely aware of. It is incredibly difficult to create a divergence between the anxiety of the everyday and the anxiety of writing. Despite the stress associated with the act of writing, it can serve as a practice that moves beyond the standard social construction of the act. Writing can be a tool that is incredibly reflective of the thoughts and sentiments of its author in a way that is liberating to the writer and impactful to its readers. Because of this, I choose to see writing as a positive instrument to utilize in times such as this when expression becomes a key in communication. I think, too, that this can be shown in many ways. 

Writing has many forms and functions, and there is a multiplicity of ways we can express our feelings through them. Outside of the academy, writing poetry, journaling, creating a piece of fiction you are passionate about—all of these and many more are forms of writing which can be employed. In these forms, one is able to explore their own emotional state and communicate it in a way that is legible to others whether this be through a number of poetic devices or through the experiences of a character. By participating in these artforms, one opens themselves to the possibility that others feel the same way too, and, perhaps, through expression the loneliness and fear that is ever so present can be overcome. 

Academic writing, too, is an opportunity to explore the margins modern society teeters on. Through research papers, personal narratives, and community presentations, we are able to explore the complex relationship between ourselves and the world we live in. Exploration can be demonstrated by researching important social justice issues and expounding on these through academic composition. Experiences within specific communities and as a certain person can be examined through narrative. Presenting relevant, important information through presentation is a subtle form of activism too. Each strategy one may take to address anxiety in academic writing approaches the issue from a different angle. The beauty of this is that there is no ONE way to do things. Ultimately, you must choose what is best for you. 

Although it is difficult to abandon our preconceptions of what writing is and how it traditionally functions, there is a certain power in the understanding of writing as a mode of catharsis and empowerment. In a time where things feel increasingly disconnected, writing is a mode that is universally linked. Largely, writing is an act of kindness. What you say when you write has the ability to impact how someone else views the world—or themselves. Be kind, and share your voice. 

Feel free to let those of us in the Writing Center hear your voice too. 

‘Twas The Week Before Finals…

Kayla Sweeney, Writing Consultant 

The December buzz of the UofL Writing Center filled our staff room with platters of cookies, Christmas music, and everyone’s holiday favorite—the crippling anxiety of finals season. While we attempted to cope through serenading one another with showtunes and clearing cookie plates, helping writers with their own final papers was a constant reminder of our own deadlines.

As an undergraduate English student at Western Kentucky University, I regrettably never darkened the doors of our campus writing center. While never claiming absolute knowledge over the art of writing, there was something in me that said, “you are an English student. You’ve got this.” *Insert overconfident hair-flip*

After a semester of working with a diverse population of writers, I was thoroughly humbled by the need for everyone to have others view and comment on their work. High schoolers taking dual-credit courses at UofL, undergraduates, graduate level and doctoral writers, and even an occasional professor came into appointments at the Writing Center last fall, all willing to take a step back from their work for others to give their perspectives. By December, I was asking myself why I was not doing the same thing.

Perhaps this was an epidemical feeling among the staff at the UofL WC because as finals week approached, we began to look to one another (frantically at times) for help. We were no longer just consultants, but writers in need of each other’s eyes, perspectives, and insight. Hour after hour, between our break-time duetting and snacking, we looked out into the main room of the writing center and saw sets of two staff members sitting together, not knowing who were the writers and who were the consultants. We have often talked about this dual-identity we each have at the Writing Center—only writers can be empathetic consultants, understanding the ups and downs, the victories and frustrations of writing. But finals week brought this reality to life.

I word-vomited over more than one fellow consultant about a Shakespeare paper that was 50% of my grade. How do I talk about Macbeth’s madness in a way that has not been done a million times already? How do I make sure I am not rambling? And just as I have hoped for the writers I worked with last semester, a sense of relief poured over me in these sessions. I gained new insights on sentences, paragraphs, and entire arguments. I was able to see issues I hadn’t before.

And as I’ve imagined others probably feel about their writing at times, my own stubborn defensiveness also arose over my writing. This sentence isn’t babbling—it’s part of my creative style! *Insert second over-confident hair-flip* That comma is definitely NOT necessary.

In the end, there were things I took from these sessions and things I left. I kept some of my stubborn stylistic flare; as for some of my babbling and comma issues—they became more obvious to me hours or days after my co-workers pointed them out (with a little bit of a sting).

Now, starting a new semester, I am entering both this workplace and the classroom with the knowledge that I need others to provide insight on my writing, just as we all do—from the high-schooler, to the undergraduate, to the professor who has taught for 10+ years. When you come into the Writing Center, you are not coming to a room of people who have learned to never make mistakes in their work (I’ll wait for your surprised gasp). We are not authoritarian figures who recite rules from your high school English class. Instead, we are fellow writers and thoughtful readers who will sit by your side, listen to your concerns, and give you a new lens by which to see your writing.

So, you should come stop by.

 

How I Write: Dr. Tracy E. K’Meyer

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.

Photo

Dr. Tracy E. K’Meyer is a Professor of History at the University of Louisville, specializing in the history of modern U.S. social movements. She earned her PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993 and taught at New Mexico State University for two years before coming to the University of Louisville. She is the author of five books: Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story of Koinonia Farm(1997); Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, KY, 1945-80 (2009); Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky (2009), with Catherine Fosl; I Saw it Coming: Worker Narratives of Plant Closings and Job Loss (2010), with Joy Hart; and From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville and Jefferson County, KY, 1954-2012 (2013). At the University of Louisville, she has served as Co-Director of the Oral History Center (1995-2017), Chair of the Department of History (2009-2015), and acting director of the Public History Program (2009-2010, 2019-present).

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project: I am completing two book projects in the next couple months: We the People: A Narrative History of the United States, with A. Glenn Crothers; and, To Live Peaceably Together: The American Friends Service Committee and the Open Housing Movement.

Currently reading: Wesley C. Hogan’s brand new On the Freedom Side: How Five Decades of Youth Activists Have Remixed American History from UNC Press.

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

I like to write books. Historians still prioritize the monograph for tenure and promotion, and in the field one’s reputation rests more heavily on books than on articles. But, more than that, I just prefer the long form.

I like the deep immersion and the room to explore rich stories in a narrative as well as persuasive format. Of course, when not working on research, I write lectures, proposals, committee reports, and letters of recommendation.

2. When/where/how do you write?

My best writing is early in the day. I am pretty sure I wrote my entire dissertation before noon. I love writing at home, in my office in the attic, when my kids are at school and I have the place to myself. In a pinch, I can write in my campus office. But, I shut the door to keep distractions and interruptions down.

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

Quiet and a big desk. I write on the computer, but I keep a notepad and pen next to me for free writing and “scribbling” down thoughts in preparation for writing. I have my research notes in files on the computer, but I also print out the sections most relevant for what I’m writing that day so I have them for easier reference.

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

I am a big fan of what I call “deep outlining.” I start with the big structure, then the chapter outline, then break that into ever smaller chunks. Often by the time my fingers hit the key pad, I’ve outlined even the individual paragraphs.

This helps me see where I’m going. When I start writing, I’ve already thought through most of what’s going to go on the page. Liberated from having to figure that out, I can have fun with the language and the story.

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

As Professor William Leuchtenberg told me in graduate school, “don’t get it right, get it written.” I’ve taken that to mean many things over the years. First, get something on paper. You are going to rewrite multiple times anyway so just get moving. Don’t worry about making all the sentences pretty. They can be fixed. In fact, fixing them later is half the fun. I think it also means, don’t wait until you think your work is perfect before you show it to someone else. Get it in shape that won’t embarrass you and send it to a friend (or in my case, I’m lucky to have a historian husband who is my first reader for everything).

Finally, I’ve always taken it as an admonition to meet deadlines, even if they are self-imposed ones. When I meet a deadline I feel confident, productive, and energized, and that helps keep the mental juices flowing.

 

Throw Me a Lifeline: How Outlining Can Save Your Paper and Ultimately Your College Career

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant

One of the hardest things to do when writing a paper for a class is actually writing the paper. Anna-Stacia HaleySometimes this difficulty stems from the fact that you may not have read the necessary book or article, but most of the time it stems from the widely known struggle of trying to organize your thoughts. What if I told you that there was a way to help you get off of the struggle bus?

There is: Outlining–you’re welcome.

But outlining is, outlining. How does that save your life? Well, it doesn’t really per se. But it can save your paper and a lot of time.

Outlining is extremely underrated, as many people automatically think of spider-maps, mind-maps and other oddly shaped or insect friendly methodologies. But au contraire mon frère, outlining is what you make it!  It can be as long or as short as you’d like. I have a great friend who’s version of outlining varies drastically from my own.

Her outline could be classified as an entire paper with pretty headings. My outlines start off with headings, then go into subheadings, and then I write a bunch of random stuff about the topic of those headings. It looks something like:

Big heading

  • Smaller heading
    • Blah
    • Blah
    • Blah

Looks easy enough right?

Throughout my educational career I’ve had to craft a plethora of different papers, ranging from a page to twenty plus pages. I found that the higher I went in page length, the more I needed an outline to stay organized. If I didn’t use the outline I’d jumble up my topics and the paper would become difficult to follow.

I also found that, when using an outline, when I ran out of words, I was able to go back and find areas that I could expand upon or that I missed during the rapid fire production of my rough draft. Now, as a graduate student, I dare not consider writing a seminar paper or any other paper for that matter, without at least some kind of draft.

Often times when our thoughts are jumbled the easiest way to make sense of them is by writing them out and taking the time to draw the connections between them–que flowchart. Outlining organizes your thoughts by giving you a map to follow. This map is essentially based off of your thesis statement. Which by the way, if you’re unsure of how to write that, the University Writing Center has a few great resources on our page!

Outlines are great for making sure that your major points stay in line with your thesis and can help highlight areas that needed to be expanded, especially when it comes to your thesis statement.

Outlining may seem like an extra step, extra work and not worth the extra time spent. However, I’d rather spend thirty minutes writing out a outline than waste three hours staring at my computer screen because I’m not sure where to go from there. Wouldn’t you?  Because let’s be realistic, the longer you stay up working on these papers, the more money you’ll be forced to spend on Starbucks. While the CEO of Starbucks might enjoy this, the average college student’s wallet does not.

Link to the thesis handout:

https://louisville.edu/writingcenter/for-students-1/handouts-and-resources/handouts-1/thesis-statements

Need more ideas about outlines? Here’s a Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEQlqWAPD9A

 

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).

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.