Category: Process

Patience and Productivity: What I’ve Learned About Writing and Working During the Pandemic

Spenser Secrest, Writing Consultant

Everyone knows that writing is difficult. And writing, especially creative writing, has become quite difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing during the pandemic has posed several different challenges, and this still feels unusual to me. Every aspect of our lives has seemingly been interrupted or altered due to the outbreak of COVID-19, so why should writing be any different? For me, writing during the pandemic has become more difficult because there is no end in sight and every related action becomes increasingly polarized in the news each week. Writing is the last thing I can think about right now, and access to support networks is gone. While the pandemic has posed a unique challenge, it also offers us the opportunity to help us grow, hopefully both as writers and as people.

Although the act of writing is usually thought of as being done in solitude, which can, obviously, be done during the pandemic, this still feels as though certain aspects of the writing process are being left out. I have always viewed getting feedback as a vital part of writing – from friends, colleagues, and peers,for any piece of writing that I do, whether that is a piece of academic or creative writing.  While emails, texts and other forms of long distance communication have been beneficial, this is still not a substitute for discussions of the piece as a whole in person with someone whose thoughts and opinions I value. Even this very blog post, I intend to have someone proofread.

            The COVID-19 pandemic has affected other aspects of writing as well. It is now much more difficult to write with anyone and in any public space. Although these difficulties are the result of measurements taken for our safety, knowledge of this fact does not make these challenges any less difficult to work with. In fact, knowing that some people have openly violated such measurements has, for me, at times, made focusing on the prospect of writing all the more difficult. When thinking about how the pandemic has disrupted life and how long it has lasted, to see or hear of someone openly not care about precautions for one’s own safety, as well as the safety of those around them, can add another topic of distraction from any activity, including writing of any kind.

            Creative writing can also function as a therapeutic act. However, as the pandemic has continued, with no end in sight due to the U.S. government’s current administration’s lack of leadership on this issue, this raises the question as to what writing during the pandemic can accomplish, as the pandemic is still ongoing and all of the trials and tribulations will continue, even after one has finished writing something. If writing can be seen as a potential way to come to terms with something or to make sense of something, what can be accomplished when the circumstances keep changing due to the pandemic?Ideally, any act of creative writing would provide some form of catharsis, even if the difficult circumstances under which that writing was produced continue for the foreseeable future.

            Working as a Writing Center consultant for the first time, I have found that, despite any technological issues and doubts that the writers have had with their writings, they still desire feedback from the consultants. This has shown, to me, that all writers value feedback, even if this feedback is for assignments and academic writing. Something that I had not expected was that working with other writers, from a variety of different areas, and in different stages of drafting, has improved my own academic writing skills.  I’ve found that working with other writers can be beneficial to both the writer and the consultant. As a consultant works with a writer to improve their draft, so too does the consultant’s understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of writing.

            Finally, since I have been in graduate school, I have found patience to be the greatest asset to writing during the pandemic. Whether this be patience with technology working or patience in waiting for inspiration in writing, the pandemic has shown that patience is an incredibly valuable character trait to have during this time. The pandemic has led to us all making adaptations in our work and patience is a necessary component when learning something in an environment that is new to everyone. Additionally, developing more patience is something that would seem to be only to one’s benefit. Hopefully, everyone has developed more patience since the outbreak of COVID-19.

On Distance and Embodied Writing

Amanda Dolan, Writing Consultant

Prior to the pandemic, I wasn’t very attentive to the body’s role in writing. Because of my background in both visual and performing art, I largely saw the world as impressionistic. This perspective carried over into my literature studies and ultimately led me to consider writing a predominantly mental discipline. I found myself not only fixating on ephemera and reminiscence within my research, but also only writing to articulate, recreate, and relive the past. Worst of all, I idolized and sought —always unsuccessfully— an incorrect/reductive/harmful conception of the notorious, transient “flow state”. 

I realized just how skewed my perception of the flow state was shortly after lockdown began. Time drastically slowed down, but that effortless focus never occurred and I almost entirely lost the urge to write (certainly academically). For years I had written about and through nostalgia, but strangely I could not put pen to paper during the first several weeks of lockdown even though these were so filled with nostalgic feelings. 

I now think this initial inability to write stemmed from confronting the fact that, contrary to my long-held belief, the space/time separating our memories from the events in our lives is perhaps the least tragic form of distance. Many, even those of us who previously felt loved ones were reassuringly distant, started to wish for nearness. Naturally, this physical distance and the resulting virtual interactions made embodied experiences much more important for a significant percentage of the population —myself included. Like many others, I started spending more time exercising, cooking, and residing outdoors. These healthy habits, however, were joined by the new (to me) practice of doomscrolling. Even though this latter habit is often ultra destructive and the former are generally quite beneficial, I noticed a commonality between all of them: immediacy. While doomscrolling isn’t as directly an embodied process (although the anxiety it frequently creates can definitely pull you back into your body), it is certainly similar to one as it’s also a matter of immediacy —instead of distance. 

Because the libraries were closed, I started going through my backlog of owned books. One of the books I finally (“finally” as in “the English version was published in 2009”; this was one of my first quarantine reads) got around to reading was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The book discusses the reciprocal relationship between running and writing, and, although I am not much of a runner, it provided a lot of insight about distance versus immediacy and embodied writing. I realized after this read that because writing was, for me, so much about processing impressionistic, past information, it naturally became difficult to write during a time when (because of uncertainty) all most of us could do was preserve information in a largely unprocessed state. I think this inclination to preserve the feeling of ideas before we understand them contributed to the increased interest in Twitter (and, consequently, doomscrolling) during this time. Of course some —or even most— of this pull to social media was a result of needing incessant communication for the sake of connection, but I think the immediacy of semi-unprocessed information was oddly comforting during a period marked by physical distance. 

In closing, I just want to share what this shift away from distance and pure mental processes and towards immediacy and physicality forced me —with the help of Murakami’s book— to recognize about writing. Firstly (though these points are very much related), it relies on both the body and the mind, and it benefits from being fortified through physical activity/patterns just as much as mental. I actually achieved a proper (refer to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for this) “flow state” after developing small habits —like snacking, stretching, and playing very familiar music or white noise— that establish a physical, sensory space for writing. Secondly, the process is located in both physical and temporal spaces, whether immediate or distant. Although my interest in memory has returned since school has resumed, my academic writing/processed information can now be suddenly immediate —just as my prose/semi-unprocessed feelings can be distant. Together these two discoveries have, during a time of uncertainty and physical insulation, helped me value writing other futures —everywhere and all the time.

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. 

A Penny For Your Thoughts: The Real Value of Writing in a World That Prioritizes Capital

By: Chuck Glover, Writing Consultant

There is nothing capitalistic about the process of education for an individual. Education, of course, takes time, and time is money that could be well-spent. What is capitalistic is education’s outcome: the skills to participate as a cog in the machine that is society, and therefore attribute some monetary value to yourself and the economy. What happens between birth and that participation is simply preparation, to be completed as swiftly and mess-free as possible.

            These values — whether we like them or not — are internalized by writers. We write and rewrite until we find satisfaction, and maybe even eventually pride, only to look back on our work years later and feel embarrassed by it. We frustrate ourselves for not writing enough, or for writing too much of what we perceive to be garbage; we attempt over and over to emulate writers we want to (but can never) be. The problem lies in the fact that writing never stops being an education in and of itself. Writing relies on you being the best you are in the moment; and, because we are human beings who grow and learn and change, your best will vary day to day.  There is no equation to becoming the next Shakespeare. And, because writing also functions as an ongoing education, no writer will ever wake up and suddenly be the best they will ever be. (Even if they did, it’s not like they would know it.)

            Writing is so rarely about capital gain (if it is, it almost never starts that way). Yet, we continue to maintain capitalistic values when looking at our own. How many years has that novel been a work in progress? How long have you been struggling with that essay? How many times have you rewritten that poem? When we have not moved from Point A to Point B with efficiency, when we have not produced content we deem “good enough,” it is frustrating at best; a perceived waste of time at worst. Key word: perceived

            How do we change that perception? Well, the question we should really be asking ourselves is: why do we write? I write to feel joy. I write to inhabit new worlds. I write to feel heard, even if nobody else reads it. Maybe those aren’t the reasons you write; that’s okay, too. Whatever the reason, I think the key to engaging our students and ourselves in writing is to emphasize it as a process, not a product. Writing has inherent value because of the labor that was put into it — because of the voice that lies within it — because of the skills learned in its making. How exciting it is to see each new page as an opportunity to be better, as opposed to far more daunting steps to completion.

            We put so much pressure on ourselves to participate in our writing the same way we are pressured to participate in society: with blinders to the finish line. But, outside of the deadlines we face in academia and our careers, there is no real finish line to the writing process. You will never be Shakespeare. You will never wake up and suddenly be the best writer you will ever be. (Even if you do, you won’t know it.)

            So why, pray tell, do you write?

Writing Center Tutoring in the Time of Pandemic: A Focus on Written Feedback as a Conversational Space

By: Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

Writing centers, like many other private and public workplaces, felt the unprecedented impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as much of the work in the centers had to be readjusted for remote operations. In the wake of this pandemic and remote operations, writing center tutoring necessarily had to also take a different and creative turn to ensure that writers have a space to discuss their writing processes and concerns. Hence, instead of meeting face-to-face with consultants, tutoring was transferred online either synchronously (over videoconferencing) or asynchronously (via written feedback). Unsurprisingly, both approaches continue to record remarkable success as writers’ goals and concerns are satisfactorily addressed. It is, however, important to discuss the dynamics of the written feedback approach to ensure that both writers and tutors are maximizing the low-hanging opportunities this approach affords, especially seeing that it is the most used appointment option.

The written feedback approach, which mainly requires the tutor to read, review and provide written comments on writers’ draft bearing the writers’ concerns in mind, does seem to lack the dialogic exchanges that make for a typical, productive tutoring session. Nevertheless, this does not make the approach less productive. In fact, it appears that the peculiarities of written feedback in terms of its un-dialogic exchanges make the approach very effective in writing center tutoring. Written feedback approach allows writers to establish the writing concerns they require help with––as it would obtain in a face-to-face tutoring. (The appointment forms writers fill require that they provide a detailed description of their writing project and writing concerns). And this serves as the premise for the kind of conversation/un-dialogic exchanges the tutor engages in with the writers’ drafts.

In a discussion on how comments and feedback on writers’ draft can be viewed as conversational, Busekrus (2018) explains that the art of asking thoughtful questions is one significant tool for instilling a conversational lens in feedback. Questions like: “Can you say little more about how you managed this situation rather than just hinting at it?”; “I’m not sure how this sentence connects to the purpose of the paragraph. Could you make that connection clearer or move this sentence closer to paragraph 3, or what do you think?”; “would an example be appropriate here?” among others. Busekrus, quoting Kjesrud (2015), further describes conversational questions as including those framed as non-interrogative (give more information about this point.); leading (isn’t this approach too simple?); tags (The author does not give facts to support it, does she?); and open-ended (How does the author further this discussion throughout the book?).

A cursory look at these questions shows the tutor in a dialogic mode with an ‘imaginary’ writer as if it were a face-to-face interaction with the aim of extending the conversation to the writer for their thoughtful responses and opinion to the questions through revision. This goes to emphasize the point that, though asynchronous, a written feedback properly done not only helps the tutor engage in a productive exchange with writers (and their drafts) but also provides writers with viable nuances to help make revision to their drafts and avoid similar issues in subsequent drafts.

The written feedback approach, thus, provides a conversational space for both tutor and writer to converge and exchange valuable revision ideas: the writer, in their appointment forms, leads the exchange by pointing the tutor’s attention to primary areas of concerns while the tutor enters into the draft with these concerns in mind for their interaction with the draft, asking thoughtful questions. Since the success of the conversation depends greatly on how much detail the writer provides in their appointment form, it is recommended that writers are encouraged to see the written feedback approach as conversational.

As we navigate the unnerving period of this pandemic, written feedback approach seems to have afforded writing centers an opportunity of a different and creative approach for continuing in the task of producing better writers.

Work cited

Busekrus, Elizabeth. (2018). “A Conversational Approach: Using Writing Center Pedagogy in Commenting for Transfer in the Classroom.” Journal of Response to Writing, 4(1): 100–116.

Writers & Consultants: Meeting in a Virtual World

By: Amber Yocum

Today marks the third week of the semester and so much of how we operate – as a university, as a writing center, as faculty, staff, students, and humans  –  has changed and continues to change as everyone adapts to different teaching and resource modalities.

This semester, along with many other university resources like REACH, the Career Center, and the Counseling Center, we decided to offer virtual appointments in order to keep you and our staff safe. Admittedly, it’s been difficult for us because seeing you as individuals and writers and getting to interact and collaborate with you in-person is one of the aspects of writing center culture we value so much.

Our goal this fall is to ensure that you, as writers and members of the university community, do not lose that connection. And to continue to assist you with your writing and writing processes in ways that reflect our consultants’ commitment to provide individualized feedback.

Whether you visit the Writing Center one time or multiple times over the course of your academic and professional careers, our consultants are here to learn about you as writers and people, as well as to help you with your writing. So much of their own academic and professional experiences, as well as interests, contribute to that process. As you navigate how to adjust to a more virtual environment, we hope that you take the time to get to know our consultants whose aims are the same as if we were meeting you in-person: to listen and to help you become a better writer.

 

 

Decker
Maddy Decker

Writing Tip: “Write with the mindset of telling a story, even if you’re working on something like a research paper. Finding the story you are telling is often an approachable way to work through your own thinking, and it can help you make sure that your reader will follow the argument and reasoning in your writing.”

Madelaine “Maddy’ Decker is interested in producing fiction as well as researching topics related to 18th century literature and African American literature. She earned her BA in English and Anthropology from the University of Kentucky. Her favorite book is The Thief Lord, and her outside interests include knitting, Irish archaeology, 2010’s pop punk, and the Muppets.

Dolan
Amanda Dolan

Writing Tip: “Try not to make unreasonable rules about what your process should look like or how long a piece of writing should take you to finish.”

Amanda Dolan is a second year MA student whose research interests include memory, literature and other art forms, and the syncretization of myth. Prior to her return to academia, she worked in education research.

Glover
Shelbi “Chuck” Glover 

Writing Tip: “Just start writing. you can always improve it later, but if you spend all of your energy worrying that it will be bad, you’re cheating yourself.”

Chuck Glover completed her BA in English at the University of Louisville. Her academic interests include creative writing, screenwriting, and the study of feminist, socialist, and LGBT literature. Her favorite TV shows are King of the Hill and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and her favorite movies are Parasite and Gone Girl.

Hays
Ian Hays 

Ian views language as the practical analogue to conceptual expression, and, while working toward his degree, hopes to expand his understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and world view. His interests include low-fiction, creative non-fiction, and identity as defined in a media saturated age. Outside of university, Ian enjoys biking, hiking, and writing essays on contemporary culture; as well conversations with everyday people throughout whichever community he finds himself in.

Hutto
Andrew Hutto

Writing Tip: ‘Write every day. Even if it is just a few lines, the practice will pay dividends.”

Andrew received his BA in English from the University of Louisville. His critical research focuses on 17th-century British literature as well as René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire. Presently he serves on the Pine Row Press editorial board. His poetry appears in Thrush Poetry Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press, Math Magazine, Poet Lore, High-Shelf Press, Twyckenham Notes, and elsewhere.

Ismail
Ayaat Ismail

Writing Tip: “After getting the assignment and starting your writing process (whatever that might be) jot down all the thoughts you have forming in your head on to the paper. I say this because it is astonishing how many of those quick ideas will become improved concepts later in your paper.”

Ayaat received her BA in English from the University of Louisville. Her interests are in sociolinguistics and British Literature with a focus in feminism and social class. Her love of language was developed at a young age having been raised in a bilingual household. She is from Chicago, Illinois and loves watching baseball as an avid Cubs fan, and spends the rest of her free time reading and writing.

Litzenberg
Zoë Litzenberg

Writing Tip: “Your best friend in the writing process is time. There are a few exceptions, but in general more time you spend on a project (and the sooner you start it!), the less stressful it is to work on it and the better your work ends up. Sometimes I procrastinate because I don’t know where to start; that’s where talking with a friend or visiting the writing center to flesh out your ideas is a great use of time!”

Zoë, a San Diego native, is joining the Writing Center with a background in Humanities and Creative Writing. A true enthusiast for all facets of academia, Zoë loves how the writing process can empower and embolden any student of any discipline to be more effective in their field. Right now, her research interests include children’s literature, the pedagogy of leadership, the writing theory for the student-athlete. When not in the Writing Center, Zoë is probably working out, dancing, watching movies, laughing, or doing all of four at the same time.

Minnick-Tucker
Demetrius Minnick-Tucker

Demetrius hales from Atlanta, GA and received his undergraduate degree from Boyce College. He loves reading the literature classics and played college basketball. Friendships are really important to him. His favorite event in Louisville is attending summer-time Shakespeare in the Park plays. His favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. His favorite line in poetry is from George Herbert: “Love Bade Me Welcome/ Yet guilty of dust and sin I drew back.”

Secrest
Spenser Secrest

Writing Tip: “Do not doubt yourself, as even the best writers need to edit and revise their works.”

 Spenser is from Lancaster, PA and received a BA in English with a history minor from McDaniel College in 2019. While at McDaniel, he served as an editor for both the college’s newspaper and literary magazine. His areas of interest include modernism, 20th Century American literature, and Marxism, with an emphasis on cultural hegemony. Outside of the classroom he enjoys reading, creative writing, hiking, and binge watching movies on Netflix.

 

Turner
Emma Turner 

Writing Tip: “Try to invest yourself in whatever you are writing about. Whether you love or hate the topic, find a way to connect to it so it’s more than just an assignment.”  

Emma received her BA in English and Women’s and Gender Studies from Lindsey Wilson College in May 2020. From 2018-2020, Emma served as a peer Writing Center Consultant in the Writing Center at her undergraduate institution and began to develop an ever-growing writing pedagogy. During this same time, Emma published several papers in undergraduate research journals on topics ranging from Greek literature, Wuthering Heights, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Dolly Parton. Her research interests have continually been a mixed bag; however, she always loves what she is studying.

 

Building a Community of Writers – Wherever They May Be: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Every  May since 2012 the University Writing Center has held a Dissertation Writing Retreat  during which we have welcomed a group of doctoral scholars into the Writing Center for a week focused on writing and talking about writing. It is one of the highlights of our spring and one of the great pleasures every year is the way a group of individual scholars who have never met before coalesce into a community of writers. I had always thought that part of the recipe that helped that happen was the physical presence of the writers in the University Writing Center space. Talking with other writers, sharing lunch, and even just being in the same room writing together, created an environment in which a supportive community of writers developed, and often carried on well after the Retreat.

When we knew six weeks ago that in-person events would no longer be allowed on campus this spring and summer, we decided that we would go ahead with the Dissertation Writing Retreat as a virtual, online event. While there was much to work out

DWR Day 1 2020
Our morning check-in meeting with all the writers.

about logistics and planning to make this change, one of our concerns was also whether we would be able to foster a sense of connection and community in a virtual retreat.

Still, we planned the Retreat to have essentially the same elements as before. The Retreat offers writers working on their dissertations time to focus on their writing and the chance to get feedback on their writing and to talk about issues connected to dissertation writing. In this year’s Retreat, as before, we provided daily, individual writing consultations for each writer. In addition, each day had morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments. We also had daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, staying motivated, responding to committee feedback, and writing during a pandemic. While the elements were the same as in previous years, there is no doubt that the dynamic was not always the same. Even so, what did not change is that people were still engaged and excited about working and talking about their projects and had productive weeks, both in terms of what they wrote and in terms of refining their writing processes and strategies. By the week, everyone was tired, but part of a community of writers. This year’s Retreat illustrated that it is the commitment and openness of the people involved that determines how a community will grow, more than their physical proximity. It was heartening and exciting to see.

The credit for the success of the Retreat, as always, goes to the hard work of the writers – 14 doctoral students from nine different disciplines – as well as the hard work Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and all of the University Writing Center staff who planned and took part in the week. In addition, our thanks go to The Graduate School for once again providing funding for the Retreat. My thanks to them all.

It’s always best, though, to hear from the people involved about how the Retreat went for them. Here are a few thoughts from writers and consultants about the week.

First, the writers:

Aubrey Mojesky, Biology: During the dissertation writing retreat, I learned to be more intentional with my writing by looking at the function of a piece of writing, not just the content. The retreat also connected me to a community of writers with similar goals and an understanding of this unique and challenging project. The retreat allowed me to feel more supported in writing my dissertation, particularly during a very difficult and isolating time.

Diane Zero, Public Health: Thank you very much for this experience. I learned so much from my consultant; on how to improve the technical   aspects of the writing process, and to see the big picture of my dissertation. Working with Liz helped me visualize the ‘so what’ part of the dissertation. It helped me articulate need for my proposed research and possible important changes in practice stemming from my work. Because of this, my dissertation is much improved. Since social distancing began, I have struggled as a student and as a member of the University of Louisville community. By the end of this week, both are back- I am excited to move forward!

Sunita Khanal, Biology: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020 was very helpful to me. I participated in this retreat during my final semester. That’s why, I was a bit worried when I joined thinking if this will be supportive for me or will it just chew away my dissertation writing time. However, this retreat ultimately proved beneficial to me. So, I can say that you can participate in this retreat, irrespective of the phase of dissertation writing you are in. Even though the retreat was held virtually this time, writing center staff worked around the clock to make this a beneficial experience. Their dedication is not only seen in technical arrangements, but also through their eagerness to address any questions/concerns. Workshops held at noon as well as one-on-one consultation were very helpful and interactive. Overall, I had very productive week. Big thanks to writing center faculty, consultants, staff and all the team for the opportunity.

Greg Clark, Comparative Humanities: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was very helpful to me.  The overall structure for the week and daily tasks allowed me accomplish important work.  I will also be able to take skills I gained from the workshop and apply them to the remainder of my work on my dissertation.

From the consultants:

Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: I came into the week a little nervous about a virtual set-up. I love working with writers face-to-face and seeing the community that forms during the week. I knew that this week wouldn’t be that, and even though I said to other people “this will just be different; it’ll have different strengths,” what I meant was “this will be better than nothing.”  In fact, a virtual retreat does have different strengths. Where the joy of an in-person retreat is the in-person community and solidarity, during the virtual retreat, I had a chance to connect deeply with writers as individuals. I saw their workspaces and discussed literature reviews as they fixed lunch for kids. Our talk about writing processes felt placed: rather than being in the writing center, which can feel like a “break” from the outside world, writers were in their homes, and so our discussions included the material things in their day-to-day lives, like mealtimes, toddler and spouse schedules, and nap breaks. Each person took the writing work of the week seriously, accomplishing astounding amounts of work in a five-day span. I wonder if, as they move out of “retreat” mode, it won’t actually be easier to implement the practices they started in this virtual space, having already done the work of integrating “real life” and intensive writing.

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center: This year’s retreat, my third working as a consultant, was unique to say the least. In some ways, the retreat looked nothing like my previous ones, but in other ways, it felt like returning once more to a fitting conclusion to another academic year. Much of this year’s retreat was unprecedented, on both a global and a personal level. My writers were dealing with unexpected changes to their research plans and writing timelines because of COVID-19, and I never anticipated that as a consultant I’d one day help writers figure out how to discuss a global pandemic in the methods section of their dissertations. This year we were also working from home, which meant glimpses into the chaos of our quarantining lives. For me, this looked (and sounded, sometimes noisily) like the presence of small children, significant others, and even maintenance workers. Still, in the end, tutoring with a three month old baby in my arms to the staccato banging of construction workers re-roofing my writer’s apartment building resulted not in frustration or anger, but in patience, grace, and empathy. No matter the circumstances, these emotions always resonate in each dissertation writing retreat: writers learn the balance between endurance and self-care, and a community of emerging scholars both commiserates and lifts each other up. How wonderful that a retreat without a space or even the physical presence of others can still create that magic.

Olalekan Adepoju, incoming Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was a satisfying experience for me (and my assigned writers) as it practically connected me to the varieties of struggles encountered during the dissertation writing phase of doctoral program. One of the many concerns that came up during consultations was the need to establish authorial identity in writing, which most graduate students struggles with because of the student-scholar identity crisis. Discussions between me and my assigned writers highlight that one of the possible strategies to resolving this is to consciously produce drafts that are written in active voice (even if such draft has to go through multiple revisions). We concluded that it is imperative to approach dissertation writing from this perspective as it will help to cultivate writerly confidence and establish authorial stance.

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center: For the virtual version of the dissertation writing retreat, writers were asked to write and post their daily goals and a recap each day. Any other year, this would be a verbal sharing, which created a sense of immediacy; however, as the week went on, it was powerful to scroll through and see the accumulation of everyone’s goals and accomplishments. They had created an archive and record of their work and experience throughout the week. Having worked with writers in-person during last year’s dissertation writing retreat, I saw the way lunch hour and breaks helped people to form bonds and connect. It was something I had worried would be lost this year–it’s hard to form fast bonds in virtual spaces–but every writer I interacted this week with commented on the sense of community and working together helped them to focus. I think it speaks to an innate part of what the dissertation writing retreat is–it creates a sense of solidarity, both among their UofL peers and in the writing dissertation process.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing for Sanity’s Sake: A Quarantine Companion

IMG_3633Edward English, Assistant Director 

When considering strategies for staying emotionally and physically healthy during these times of closed borders, social distancing, and toilet paper depletion, for most people writing would be an unlikely choice. Writing does, after all, carry a reputation for being a solitary enterprise.  I do, however, believe that writing offers great potential to help many navigate these tough times and here’s why.

The importance of having projects. For those with an ample amount of free time, having a project, or projects, can be a fun and rewarding way to learn and stay occupied. My wife, a junior high science teacher now instructing entirely online, has a loom and is in a weaving frenzy.  I’ve started gardening a bit and trying to get better at home repairs.  It seems I’m not alone in taking on these tasks either—yesterday while driving around, I noticed what seemed to be a Louisvillian ghost town suddenly transform into a dense expanse of cars parked in front of Lowe’s.

For many attracted to writing, the biggest obstacles can be a perceived lack of time and difficulty overcoming writer’s block.  Now, however, free-time is no longer in short supply for the bulk of us.  Also, for myself, I feel that writer’s block is often a product of feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of a project.  Perhaps now is the time for you to start that novel you always wanted to write, but something of a more manageable size might be a better strategy: a short story, a screenplay, or a thoughtfully crafted letter or e-mail to connect with loved ones, offer consultation to those in a difficult place, or express appreciation to those who are working so hard and acting bravely—particularly those in the medical field.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that writing can often be an activity that requires slowing down and thoughtfully managing your time, as former writing consultant Abby Wills explains: Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

The importance of working through emotions—especially uncomfortable ones.  These are anxious times—especially to someone in tune with the current headlines.  As many people have little communication with others during this unprecedented time, it might be challenging to process through difficult emotions. For some in these and similar situations, writing can serve as an outlet. In my own life, I’ve found that writing, especially journaling and poetry, can be an excellent way to give definition and clarity to fears, questions, and concerns.  And while these steps don’t necessarily eliminate problems, more often than not they help foster much clearer, and more pleasant, headspace.

For fun insight into journaling, check out former writing consultant Rachel Knowles’ piece: The Writing Center Diaries: Dispelling Myths About Journaling

The importance of exercise and creativity.

If you have the ability to responsibly exercise, jog, or take walks, it’s likely a good idea. The benefits are numerous: physical health, increased serotonin levels, vitamin D to name a few.  But also consider that exercise could be a great way to improve your writing quality and overall experience.

In a recent interview, acclaimed fiction writer Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible MonstersChoke, Fight Club) detailed how much of his writing process actually revolves around lifting weights—arguing that the physical movement and circulation were conducive to helping him feel creative and organize his thoughts. While weight lifting might be a limited option for most—particularly with the closure of gyms—the sentiment is clear, and alternative ways of exercising indoors abound with a simple Google search.

Along similar lines, a few years back Psychology Today published “To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker” exploring significant benefits walking can give to writers.  As the article explains, avid walkers abound among great literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau.  Furthermore, walking can lead to increased creativity, provide inspiration, and hone one’s observational skills.

The importance of staying connected.

While a successful writer is frequently imagined as sitting hunched over a laptop typing away in a disheveled apartment, sterile office, or library, more often than not some of the most successful writers I have met put great effort into figuring out alternative and creative methods that work better for them, and this often incorporates social connection as a significant part of their writing process.

And, as many are discovering creative ways of connecting online, it might be worth considering that writing could be a useful means to get feedback or just brainstorm ideas with friends or people with similar interests online.  If you happen to be a faculty member or graduate student at the UofL and are interested, we are still our offering writing group online.  For more details, check out: Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group

For many, these various options and suggestions might not be feasible. But either way, we at the University Writing Center hope you stay safe, healthy, and connected.  So happy writing…or whatever it is you do to help during these strange times.

Works Cited

“To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Mar. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201603/become-better-writer-be-frequent-walker.

How a Writing Center Consultant Prepares for the Next Appointment

Writing centers are one of the few places in a university setting where every single Michelle Buntainstudent can be assisted. Every student has to write, and every kind of writing is welcome at the University Writing Center. But, given all the variables that come with working at a university of over 21,000 students, how does a writing center consultant prepare for their appointments?

At the University of Louisville Writing Center, we pride ourselves on our accessibility to every writer we encounter. We have trained, studied, and practiced our skills to make sure that your experience in the writing center is the best it can be. This includes:

  1. Taking a class on Writing Center studies: Consultants take a class that teaches us about writing center theory, ethics, and strategies for the teaching of writing.
  2. Reflecting on appointments with our colleagues and our supervisors: We have formal and informal reflections on appointments with our fellow consultants as well as our supervisors, including the Director of the Writing Center.
  3. Discussing new ways to approach the teaching of writing: We are always sharing new ideas about how to approach our sessions with writers. Our best tips and strategies are often the result of what we have learned from each other.
  4. Staying up-to-date on citation methods: Citation methods can be confusing, especially since they are updated every few years. We study the new versions and update our handouts on different citation styles. Just last week our Associate Director gave a lecture on the 7th edition of APA!
  5. Mentally preparing ourselves before each appointment: Before the day begins, we open WC Online and look over the scheduled appointments. Each appointment form tells us what the writer wants to work on, so we make sure that we are comfortable with addressing the writer’s particular concerns before the appointment. If the writer is working on a kind of assignment or genre of writing that is less familiar, we will do research and ask our colleagues for advice. This preparation helps us begin a session with a good sense of what the end product should look like.

When a session is over and we return to the consultants’ office, we like to share our successful strategies and ask each other for advice. No session goes perfectly, but we take our work seriously and we constantly strive to do better. When you come to the University Writing Center, know that we are prepared and excited to help every writer achieve their goals!

Love, Generosity, and Attention: How Do You Tend to Your Writing?

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.Rose Dyar

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: I do?

Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: I was just describing it.

Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thinglove and attention?

 

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film, centers on the experiences of a young woman as she goes about her senior year of high school. It’s about growing up and coming to terms with where you are from. It is also, at its core, a film about paying attention. The quote at the top of this post comes from a scene in which the titular Lady Bird reviews her college application essay with her advisor, Sister Sarah Joan, who notices the particular care Lady Bird treats her hometown with in her writing. The devotional attention Lady Bird has paid to a place translates into her writing and helps her to recognize a love that she was not able to name before the writing. Writing, love, and attention— these things are linked. Sometimes we just need a companion to help us to see that. Once that link is made clear, though, it is hard, at least for me, to not think of that relationship each time I sit down to write.

It is no secret that writing can be hard work. Sometimes, it is taxing. Sometimes, it is a struggle. Sometimes, it is just confusing. That is why places like the Writing Center exist. But hard work can also be joyful work. A theory of attention, I believe, can help to make the hard work of writing a practice of love.

Deciding to write means to deciding to attend to a topic or an idea. It requires committing to a process of discovery and showing up for the words that come out of it. There are many ways to begin this process. Maybe for you it starts with a daily journal and a singular prompt. Maybe it looks like a free-writing session that concludes by scanning for the sentence that worked and moving forward from there. Or maybe it’s an outline that helps you to see what you are writing toward. All of these rituals help us to turn our attention to our words, and ultimately, to our ideas.

When we turn our attention to an idea, we have the opportunity to devote our entire selves to it. It’s a lot like intentional presence in sitting with another person. When we do these things, we learn and listen. These are activities that make room for the possibility of transformation.

“Attention,” French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil wrote, “is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” I think of this quote often, especially when I am writing or thinking about writing or procrastinating from writing. It strikes a chord with me because of its recognition of the difficulty involved in the desire to pay attention. We try, but it doesn’t always work. So we show up again— a lot like writing. The practice of writing requires attention, so what has captured yours lately? Have you noticed anything special or mundane or strange today? What do you need to say? And, can you write it down?