Category: How I Write

Writing Yourself into Your Future

Christina Davidson, Writing Consultant

The start of a new year lends itself to thoughts of beginnings. The gentle rhythms inspired by the calendar year can be wonderful reminders of work we intend to do in our own lives. I’d like to use this space to invite you to do a little deeper work than just forming a resolution to meet a few goals. I’d like to suggest the use of writing as a way to dig into discovering what you want out of your academic career, where you want to go, and how you intend to get there. I’d also like to ask you to consider how using your assigned writing tasks can accomplish these purposes, too.

First, try to think back to one of your earliest writing projects. For me, I immediately think of my very first course in research writing that I took my freshman year. I was excited to take this class since I had always loved to write. However, after the opening class session of the course, I found myself full of anxiety about how to create a proper research paper. I remember thinking to myself, “What is APA exactly? – and how in the world do I format in-text citations?” This is certainly hilarious to me now considering my current position on our campus, but it illustrates what I’d like you to think about today. Everything you choose to pursue in life will have a beginning. And writing is a great way to take yourself into a new identity you’ve never held before.

Our Program Assistant, Maddy, as well as our Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, Kendyl, explored these ideas in recent posts, asking us to fully accept the identity of a writer. Today, I’m asking you to think of the other identities your writing may ask you to accept. In my earlier example, I decided to claim “researcher” as a title. In other courses it may have been “poet” or “essayist”, or in this instance, the title of “blogger” becomes something I can write myself into.  Each new writing task can provide us with an opportunity to step into a new future.

I’d like to turn to my original example of “researcher” because I think it is of particular relevance in the spring term. Many college freshmen will be taking ENGL 102 this semester and developing a research project for the very first time. If this pertains to you, I ask you to consider how you can take your class assignment and make it meaningful for your future. What kind of research interests you most? Where do you see yourself headed in your academic and professional career? Many times, we may feel we will assume some kind of professional authority once we graduate or achieve the job we desire in our field. I have certainly felt this way in my own professional experience. But in truth, our voices are developing now. The research work one does in an ENGL 102 course can begin to “write into” a new field and a new professional identity. And if we fully adopt this idea, suddenly all our coursework can achieve a profound relevance into the development of our futures.

Once you have embraced the title of “researcher”, I would like to invite you to take it one step further and to share your discoveries with others. You might be amazed at how your learning will deepen once you make this critical move.  One wonderful opportunity to do this is at the UofL Undergraduate Arts and Research Showcase. I was fortunate enough to serve as a judge for this showcase in the spring of 2022. I was so impressed with the work presented by UofL students, as well as the collegial spirit in the room. If interested, your chance to get involved will arrive soon; abstracts are due by April 17, 2023.

The University Writing Center is a great place to obtain feedback on any research project. If you are considering becoming a part of the Arts and Research showcase, please come in and talk with a consultant. We can help you to review your project, plan out your poster presentation, and even help with writing the application.

The new year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and to focus upon what you would like to accomplish in the next. Give yourself time to think about how your own writing, be it assigned by an instructor or personal writing, can be a way to lead into your goals. Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to make all the difference in how we view our writing. We can deepen the meaning in our assigned writing by considering how it fits into the larger picture of our future goals. At the writing center we look forward to working with all writers this semester as we aim toward our futures as writers, researchers, poets, essayists, bloggers – wherever writing may lead!

New Year, New You: Writing Resolutions for 2023

Annmarie Steffes, Associate Director

A few weeks into 2023, here at the University Writing Center, we are already abuzz with thrilling conversations about writing. I don’t know about you, but for me, the new year and the start of a new semester hold the wonderful promise of new beginnings. I daydream about being someone else, or at least a better version of myself: Annmarie 2.0. For instance, in 2022, I vowed to become chef Annmarie, whipping up unburnt baked goods weekly and, of course, using all the veggies in the fridge long before they wilt in despair.

If you wonder if I ever achieve these goals, the answer is no I do not. You probably saw that coming. Researchers could easily use me as one data point proving that New Year’s resolutions do not work.

But here’s the thing about creating these new identities: they do lead me to experiment with new habits. In my efforts to become a chef, I mustered the courage to roast a whole chicken, to make broth from the carcass, and then to concoct a soup (without a recipe no less). I could not have had the courage for those tasks if I had not first envisioned myself as a chef. The fantasy that I had of myself as a future Gordon Ramsey allowed me to take risks and venture into territory I would never have explored otherwise.

In the Writing Center, we often ask writers to imagine their audience for their text. Who are you writing to? What are the expectations of your audience? What background or experiences might they have and how does that influence their perspective? This sort of daydreaming has led me to write more compelling prose as I aim to foster a relationship with the person on the receiving end of my paper.

But, what if we as writers spent time imagining other identities for ourselves? In my appointments, I often hear people visiting us for the first time apologizing for being a “bad writer” or say, as Kendyl and Maddy said last year, that they are not writers at all. Believing that “bad writer” or “not a writer” is an unchangeable fact about us limits our writing strategies and narrows our ambitions.

And so, I encourage you to think about what new writing identity you might try adopting and performing this spring semester. You may not believe it yet but playing the part might prompt you to develop new habits, take more risks, and shift what you think is possible for yourself. Let’s say I am writing a research paper about climate change. How might my writing change when instead of seeing myself as an amateur determined to showcase all my knowledge to my professor, I imagine myself to be a climate change expert writing my action plan to a panel of key government and business leaders? I would state my views more assertively, treat sources as my peers rather than merely authority figures, and strive to make my proposal attractive to those in power. I approach my writing differently.

In addition to inspiring a dose of confidence, role playing writerly identities can help you understand other points of view, thereby cultivating a more empathetic attitude and writing more nuanced arguments. For instance: How might I write this essay if I positioned myself as an opponent of this social or political issue rather than an advocate for it? Or perhaps: What might I write if I imagined myself as a specific person in the debate or this one particular theorist? Everything we write does not have to be the end-all be-all of what we believe; we can embody different positions and attitudes, try them on for size, jump up and down, wiggle around in them, see how they fit.

Now, I do not advocate for inauthenticity, nor do I recommend never writing from you own embodied reality. What is considered formal or correct academic writing is often middle-class, standard white English and prizes certain evidence, experience, or support over other kinds. Higher education needs diversity of viewpoints and identities to challenge this hierarchy and offer important correctives. But reimagining your identity as an author can be a useful process to clarifying what your writing identity actually is, apart from what you believe your professor wants it to be.

As a teacher myself, I know that faculty play an important role in creating an educational environment that allows for students to play and explore who they might be as writers. In their 2015 book Hospitality and Authoring: An Essay for the English Profession, Richard and Janis Haswell challenge teachers to trust the student’s writing and imagine the singularity of the person behind it, reading the choices of text in a way that “seeks the conditions that might have understandably or humanely led to it” (92). When we see complicated and complex jargon, for instance, don’t assume that students cannot write; they are trying to embody the person of the chemist, the engineer, the humanities scholar using the examples given to them, and isn’t that what we want? Guide them on how to adopt that identity with more credibility or challenge them to write from a myriad of perspectives.

We might not be a Joan Didion, a Herman Melville, a James Baldwin, or an Isabel Allende yet—but we also might surprise ourselves.

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.

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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).