Category: Working in the Writing Center

Rewriting How We Think About the Writing Center Experience

Katie Frische, Writing Consultant

Imagine that one English teacher back in your school days that everyone always affectionately called Mrs. Red Pen. I bet this brings you back to some fun moments of dropping your paper on the desk of the teacher and walking out as she starts to work her magic with that red pen, and you can’t help but feel a little bit bitter as that was your hard work. It’s this Mrs. Red Pen that we all seem to have in our memories, be they good or bad, which has led us to think that our college University Writing Center is the same way: full of Mr. And Mrs. Pens.


However, as one who works currently in a writing center, I have to say this stereotype is a little bit silly, and I can promise that you won’t find a red pen in sight of our writing center. In fact, marking with a red pen is often known as editing, which takes away ownership from the writer’s work and puts control into the hand of the editor, which is always frustrating. This frustration isn’t something you will find in the smiling faces of the consultants within a writing center as they help you learn how to become better writers by tossing away the old idea of editing.


Within our writing center, you are the one who gets to take control of where your story goes, of what you think needs changing in your work, and we are always here to help suggest strategies that will turn your first draft into a final draft. While we are not miracle workers, and it’s always best to bring your writing in early, we are always happy to work with anyone who needs help with their writing, be it personal such as poems, creative writing, or an academic paper that is just putting you through the wringer. These are all things a writing center can help you with because ultimately, we are here for you. The true purpose of the writing center is to be there for the campus community as both a guide for writing and as a friendly face to help you take on the college experience.


It’s this idea of a friendly face, one of your peers, that makes the writing center what it is and what it is not: the growling old teacher voice of Mrs. Red Pen back from your school days. I promise you we are not here to relive your old haunts but to share a few of our own stories of Mrs. Red Pens and help you to take your voice to the next level through writing. Your voice is important, and our goal at the University Writing Center is to make that voice heard through your work so that people can better understand what you value. As people begin to understand you through your writing, you will find that this opens up a lot of opportunities for you. Written communication is of the essence, and developing that within a cheerful space is why I encourage everyone to visit a writing center.


And while I know there are many opinions about what goes on in a writing center, I must tell you the “red pen experience” is one that most of us don’t want to relive. We want to see a smiling face greet us upon opening that door on the way to becoming better writers. As such, I encourage you to think positively about the writing center experience and realize that we are always going to be here for you.

Always reflecting,
Consultant Katie Fritsche

That’s All She Wrote

Braydon Dungan, Writing Consultant

We write to forge and connect the thoughts we can’t seem to verbalize aloud. We write to shield ourselves from the stinging winds that exists in our minds. We write to thrive in a world different from ours, a world controlled by the fingers that eagerly smack into the different squares on our keyboard. Yet, possibly most importantly, we write to bring attention to issues we view as unjust and unsatisfactory. Political and social engagement isn’t solely attained through protests and marches; in fact, one of the easiest and most impactful ways a concerned citizen can make their voice heard is through a medium with no audible voice at all: writing.

One area of life I am especially interested in is women’s sports, specifically women’s soccer. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has consistently been ranked as the number one team in the world for many years now. Not only that, but they’ve also been the winners of the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cup. Compared to their male counterparts, who have never won a World Cup, the women have exceeded expectations year after year to continue their reign as the queens of women’s soccer.

However, despite their continued dominance, the women have been severely underpaid compared to the men. Despite support from millions of Americans, including United States President Joe Biden, U.S. Soccer continually denied the women’s claim to equal pay, and even took the women to federal court in an effort to settle the dispute once and for all

One of the most effective ways the U.S. women garnered worldwide support in their fight, aside from their multitude of impressive performances they displayed, was a public letter to the U.S. Soccer Federation in response to a letter from former U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro. In this response, the USWNT tackled the untrue claims spewed by the federation and publicly announced their support for a new presidential candidate, Cindy Parlow Cone. In this letter, the USWNT utilized language that was firm, confident, and demanding of respect. Although women in our society are expected to be docile, socially submissive, and unaggressive, the letter from the USWNT showed their prowess and their desire to achieve equal pay. By publicly stating their discontent with the U.S. Soccer President, and instead announcing their support for a female candidate, they secured a big boost in morale in the fight for equal pay.

After the votes were tallied for the U.S. Soccer Presidential Election, the results indicated that Cindy Parlow Cone would replace Mr. Cordeiro as the presiding official of soccer in America. Just six months after the letter was released to the public, the USWNT were finally given what they’ve deserved for many years now. After years of mediation and negotiating, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the newly appointed President agreed to sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the USWNT to ensure equal pay for both American male and female national team players. After the USWNT’s game against Nigeria on September 6TH, the Federation and the women’s team signed the CBA in front of thousands of fans who cheered and chanted along with the players.

The letter the USWNT wrote to publicly take a stance on the issue of equal pay was a defining moment for women’s sports around the world. In response to the USWNT, many European teams also sent letters to their federations demanding equal pay. Following in line with the U.S., nations such as Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and more demanded in writing that they be paid the same as their male counterparts. Instead of negotiating behind-the-scenes, these women publicly announced their discontent, further gaining support from fans around the world.

By writing these letters in a demanding, assertive tone, the women have been successful in voicing their opinions and forcing responses from their federations. Finally, after many years of fighting, the U.S. Women have finally secured what they’ve deserved since the beginning of the USWNT: equality. The question, now, shifts to something else: why did it take this long to achieve equal pay? We’ve seen the power of writing to force those in power to make important decisions. Writing allows us to take the time to methodically select the words that carry the most power while organizing the structure to best illustrate the issues at hand. Women, specifically, have been expected to remain complacent for centuries; let us all learn from the tenacity of the USWNT and recognize the power behind writing to achieve equality for all.

Morgan, Alex. “USWNT Endorsement of Cindy Parlow Cone.” Twitter, USWNT, 4 Mar. 2022, https://twitter.com/alexmorgan13/status/1499880750224535553.

The Importance of Community

Christina Davidson, Writing Consultant

Writing can often feel like a solitary practice. It’s likely we’ve all had the troubling experience of staring into a blank page, searching ourselves for how to fill the void with our thoughts. And these lonely feelings have only been compounded by our collective public experience over the past few pandemic years. Yet during this time, I continually found comfort in the realization that when a writer sits in front of the page, they always bring others with them. We write to an audience, we engage with other voices in our field, and we collaborate with other writers to improve our practice. Indeed, when we are writing, we are not alone.

Writing, it would appear, is a much more social activity than we often think. With this truth in mind, I invite you to consider how further engaging in community as a writer may improve your practice. Here are a few benefits and advantages.

Support

Everyone struggles with writing. Despite how it may seem, even the best writers experience difficulties or frustrations with their writing. But on the other side of struggle, progress awaits. When writing within a community, you’ll find others who not only understand what you are going through, but often they will share strategies that have worked for them in the past. One easy way to have a conversation about your writing is to make an appointment for a consultation at the University Writing Center. This free service invites writers to bring any piece of writing in, during any stage of the process. We’re also here for any writer, be that an undergraduate, graduate, faculty, or staff member. My own academic journey has been greatly impacted by writing center consultants. When I meet with a consultant, I feel heard, affirmed, and encouraged in my work. I like to think of it as a series of ongoing conversations about writing, which continually refine my practice and make me a better communicator.

Real-Time Feedback 

One of the most treasured gifts a writer can receive is a reader. When writing in a community, we freely give each other this offering. When a person thoughtfully reads your work and responds to it, you receive perspective on your writing that will improve it. At the University Writing Center, we aim to provide students with useful suggestions they may take from our consultation to immediately bring their writing to the next level. We also welcome writers to attend multiple appointments on a single piece of writing. Our appointment sessions last 50 minutes and will always provide you with something to work on after the consultation is over. However, if you are looking for more feedback, we hope you will return to us for another chance to gain more insight. Communication in these appointments is key. Be sure to let your consultant know what you want to take from the session; they will do their very best to assist.

Accountability

Another way to tangibly find community as a writer is to join a writing group. The University Writing Center offers multiple opportunities for writers to meet with other writers with similar goals. One such example is the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group which will begin again this fall. Another group starting soon is the Creative Writing Group, open to any creative writer seeking a group for growth and feedback. Groups like these, and many other events offered by the University Writing Center throughout the year, provide a chance for you to gain multiple perspectives on your writing, within a safe and helpful environment. Writing groups undoubtably help writers to set goals, maintain focus, and improve their work over time. You may also develop relationships with other writers, particularly with similar interests, that extend beyond your time in the group. Many of my lifelong friends are individuals I met during community writing events or retreats. Be sure to check in with the University Writing Center throughout the year to see when new groups or events are posted so you can experience these benefits, too.

While we have reviewed three important reasons to incorporate more community into your writing life, it is hardly a comprehensive list. Engaging in a community of writers certainly develops our technical skills, but also affects many of the more abstract qualities that make a good writer. I know my conversations with other writers have undoubtedly given me greater perspective, deeper empathy, and a wider awareness of the world. A good writing community can refine your purpose as a writer and push you towards bigger goals than you even thought possible. Maybe you hope to complete a novel, publish a poem, or conduct a new research study? A community of writers can help you achieve these dreams and will stand alongside you during the journey. It’s my hope we will see you at the University Writing Center soon to begin this process. Let’s get started today!

Charting the UWC’s Path in a Changing World: News and Accomplishments in Academic Year 2021-2022

Cassandra Book, Acting Director

August 23, 2021. It was a big day for us. After seventeen (yes, I counted) months of 100% online services, the University Writing Center opened its doors again for in-person consultations for the Fall 2021 semester. While we were hesitant about what consultations would be like with masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant spray, we soon found that the opportunity to talk to writers face-to-face was worth the stress of figuring out how to come together.

Hopefully it goes without saying that our proudest accomplishment this year is our successful transition (back) to in-person consultations in the midst of the ebb and flow of COVID-19 cases and our feelings of personal and collective safety. In other words, this year’s consultants didn’t miss a beat in jumping in to work with writers, both in-person and online. Our staff maintained a shared commitment to working with a wide range of UofL writers. They were first-year composition students hesitantly writing their first annotated bibliographies. They were Southern Police Institute students composing academic research papers after many years away from the classroom. They were seniors writing essays for Fulbright applications (that they would later receive). They were pre-nursing students writing personal statements for their nursing applications. They were PhD students getting started on their dissertations in Education, Engineering, Business and Public Health. They were even a few elementary school students writing poems about unicorns and universes. They were all writers whom we served this year.

University Writing Center staff in December 2021. Top row (from left) Kylee Auten, Eli Megibben, Bronwyn Williams, Brice Montgomery, (Grogu), Curtis Ehrich, Mikaela Smith, Ben Poe, Maddy Decker, Cassie Book, Melanie Tang. Bottom row (from left) Justin Sturgeon, Zoë Donovan, Yuan Zhao. Not pictured: Tobias Lee, Derrick Neese, Olalekan Adepoju, Todd Richardson, Michael Benjamin, Elizabeth Soule

News and Accomplishments in Academic Year 2021-2022

Staffing Updates

In November, after the departure of Amber Yocum for the School of Education, we welcomed Maddy Decker as the Program Assistant, Senior! Since she started, Maddy has been indispensable in keeping our appointments and front desk running smoothly. She has kept our appointment schedule up to date, often making last-minute adjustments for sick consultants and constantly monitoring the virtual schedule. She is often the first face or voice that writers interact with; she provides a calming and reassuring presence daily to consultants and writers. We are so happy she decided to join our team!

Bronwyn Williams earned a sabbatical for the Spring 2022 semester. He is working on a book about the experiences of university students during the pandemic and is a visiting scholar at the School of Education at the University of Bristol. I (Cassandra Book) am currently serving as the Acting Director during Bronwyn’s sabbatical. As one consultant kindly put it, I am “keeping the ship upright and sailing smoothly through the general upheaval of these times.”

Beyond Tutoring – Writing Groups, Community Writing, and More

Our work extends beyond the writing consultation. Our administrators, like Maddy, help create the logistical infrastructure and supportive environment so that our consultants can do their jobs. In addition, our administrative staff leads outreach, including conducting presentations, facilitating workshops, leading writing groups, maintaining community partnerships. Our Assistant Directors, Olalekan Adepoju, Elizabeth Soule, Todd Richardson, and Michael Benjamin helped to ensure that mentoring and outreach work happened professionally and with a strong disciplinary base.

Our popular LGBTQ+Faculty and Graduate Student, and Creative Writing writing groups continued to give UofL writers supportive communities through which they could create and talk about writing. A big thanks to Elizabeth Soule and Aubrie Cox for volunteering their time to support LGBTQ+ and Creative Writing Groups this year. Olalekan Adepoju, as the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, has led the Graduate and Faculty Writing Group for the past two years and will pass on the baton in June.

Our commitment to community writing remains strong at the University Writing Center. This year Elizabeth Soule led our collaborations with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) and Family Scholar House. Once again we are grateful for the participatory and collaborative partnerships with these organizations. You can find out more about these community writing projects, including how to get involved with them, on our website.

We worked with our partners at Family Scholar House to offer their participants an online writing laboratory. This would not have been possible without both the constant correspondence and support from our partners at Family Scholar House, in particular Nia Boyd. Additionally, it was only due to the kind contributions of this year’s volunteers that we were able to offer these hours. Thank you to: Ayaat Ismail, Emma Turner, Morgan Blair, Cecilia Durbin and Michael Benjamin. The time that you committed to working with students means a lot to all of us.

We also worked with the Western Branch of the LFPL to organize and hold the 2022 Cotter Cup, a K-12 poetry contest. Last year, we worked with Western Branch to revive the 100-year old tradition. University Writing Center volunteers worked with K-12 writers to brainstorm, draft and revise their poems for the contest. Over the course of two weeks, our volunteers worked with 28 separate individuals in 30-minute sessions. A cast of all-star judges are reviewing poems as we speak, and we look forward to finding out the winners in May. We’re grateful to the contributions of our volunteers: Eli Megibben, Maddy Decker, Aubrie Cox, Brice Montgomery, Cassie Book, Kylee Auten, Yuan Zhao, Zoë Donovan, Ayaat Ismail and Liz Soule. 

We are also proud of the work our staff does as academics, professionals, researchers, and, honestly, people, beyond the University Writing Center. Please take a moment to read over their individual professional accomplishments and, if you see them or know them, congratulate them on their hard work!

Olalekan Adepoju presented at both the 2021 National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and International Writing Centers Association conferences. He received an Academic Merit Award from the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. He also chaired a panel session at the 2022 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. Finally, Olalekan was accepted into the class of 2022 Bedford New Scholars Advisory Board and reviewed proposals for 2022 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention.  

Kylee Auten presented “Waves of Friendship: Posthumanism in Jules VS. the Ocean and Swashby and the Sea” at the 2022 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 . She also accepted an internship with the Children’s Literature academic journal.

Michael J. Benjamin presented “Antiracist and Inclusive Conferencing: Co-Constructing Access, Attending to Power, and Practicing Accountability” at the 2022 College Composition and Communication Conference and “Modal Responsivity: Ethical Pivots to Meet Pandemic-Induced Distance Education Challenges” at the 2022 Computers and Writing Conference. He also served as the inaugural 2021-2022 The Big Rhetorical Podcast Fellow, his work discussed in Episode 92.

Cassie Book presented at the 2021 International Writing Centers Association conference (with Bronwyn Williams, Ayaat Ismail, and Amber Yocum) and the UofL Engaged Scholarship Symposium (with Elizabeth Soule).

Tobias Lee presented “Composing Decoloniality: Translingualism in Transnational Composition” at the 2021 conference for the Latin American Association for the Study of Writing in Higher Education and Professional Contexts.  

Derrick Neese accepted the position of Assistant Director of Creative Writing in the University of Louisville English’s department for 2022-23.

Eli Megibben published an article an a book review in the Miracle Monocle.

Ben Poe chaired two panels at the 2022 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, represented the English department on the Graduate School Council, and served as the student representative on the School of Art’s and Sciences’ Faculty Assembly.

Melissa Rothman received a position as a library specialist for undergraduate research with Ekstrom library.

Mikaela Smith earned a summer internship with the IT department at Humana. She also served in a leadership role with the UofL Chinese Scholars Union (CSU), hosing various successful events. She has been elected Vice President of the CSU for 2022-2023.

Justin Sturgeon presented “Jumping Over the Wall: How Lanchester’s The Wall Calls for New Perspectives on Boarders in an Era Dominated by Climate Change” at the 2022 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 190 and “Postmemory As Cigarettes in MAUS” at the 2022 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention.

In addition to his sabbatical projects, Bronwyn Williams will be presenting at the 2022 European Writing Centers Association Conference. He also published “Writing Center Consultations as Emotional Experiences: How Different Learning Experiences Shape Student Perceptions of Agency.” In Pedagogical Perspectives on Cognition and Writing.

Yuan Zhao chaired the session “D6 -Constructing Art” at the 2022 Louisville Conference On Literature & Culture Since 1900. He also published one Chinese essay about the movie “Columbus (2017),” titled “Becoming Father, Becoming Mother” in P-articles, a Hong Kong-based literature online platform.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 9, from 9-4 every weekday. In May, we will again hold our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat; it will be in-person for the first time since 2019. You can find out more on our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Positive Vibrations

Tobias Lee, PhD Candidate and Writing Consultant

One of the things I love about working in the University Writing Center is the exposure I get to so much fascinating and important work.  I’ve read about entrepreneurship among Rohingya refugees, the impact of sexual health on longevity, green building practices in sports venues, what Afrofuturism tells us about our history….  Pardon my childlike gushing, but it’s so cool!  This is why I love academia.  People are creating knowledge here!  Aaaand that leads me to what I’ve been writing about.  Yep, knowledge.

What, really, does it mean to create new knowledge?  What is knowledge?  Wait!  Don’t go away yet!  I promise, it’ll be interesting.  I won’t put you to sleep.  Well I might… but you’ve been needing to catch up on sleep, haven’t you?  Knowledge… well, let’s begin with a bromide: they say “knowledge is power.”  Get the knowledge, then you’ll have power.  Go to school, learn some stuff, and now you’re Captain America.  We all want to feel powerful.  Nobody’s angling to be powerless.  Well yes maybe but…  But let’s think this through a bit.  Power is the ability to do something, it’s potential.  You learn some stuff to empower yourself to do things.  But it won’t mean much if you don’t actually ever do.  So it’s the doing that matters.  You might “know” some things, but it’s what that does, it’s how that shapes your behavior and creates material effects in the world, that has any importance or value.  You might know what the capital of Georgia is or how to juggle five balls, but unless and until that brings you glory at your local pub quiz or impresses everybody at the party including that certain someone, it’s uh, purely academic.  It’s just information, neutral and inert, until its usage has material effects.  And the imperfect predictability of these results and the results of those results and of everything is what elevates knowledge over information.  

So maybe the phrase, “knowledge is power,” while pithy, doesn’t quite get us there.  A focus on material effects, on application, urges us toward a different understanding of knowledge.  I think Wanda Orlikowski (2002, 2006) gets it right when she talks about knowledge as practice.  Ah.  So it’s doing something.  It’s in the doing.  Knowing about car engines versus actually getting that car right there to run again.  Knowing physics versus actually getting someone to the moon.  

Orlikowski elaborates.  “Know-how” is a capability generated through action.  And this requires repeated actions.  These sustain the “know-how” while also, of course, adapting it, improving it, expanding it, in some way changing it.  So the idea that knowledge is some inert, stable thing or repository of things is an illusion.  It looks that way because we keep repeating it.  It’s a bit like how a movie looks real because our mind does that little trick of stitching all those individual images together into a fluid whole.  Except in this case the individual images are events, actions, each very similar yet slightly different from the last.  Or it’s like how an insect wing looks like it’s not moving but is actually flapping a zillion times a second.  Just remember that the wing itself is not stable either.  It’s also changing, growing, aging.  Did you know that trees vibrate?  Knowledge, then, is like a tree, always changing, or okay but really more accurately, knowledge, as practice, is change.  There is nor was there ever no stable thing that then changes slightly.  It’s always changing.  Indeed, this is how we know change, and recognizing change is how we mark time, and for that matter, space.  How you like them apples?  But let’s not bite off more than we can chew in one blog post…

What does this mean for knowing how to write?  That’s what you tuned in for, right?  I thought knowing how to write was, basically, you know, learning some vocabulary and nailing down the grammatical rules.  That would be nice.  Then it’d be a simple matter of collect all twelve!  Buy the Happy Meal, get the toy, put it on your shelf, repeat.  Trade them with your friends.  Trade them for money!  But surely thou didst know that language changeth over time and space.  Aye, ’tis ne’er so stable a thing as me lord thus willeth thou what okay nevermind.  No it doesn’t work that way.  The rules are mere conventions, and dig a little and you’ll find considerable disagreement about and variation even within those conventions.  Word meanings are always changing (read the etymology of your favorite word on the OED or spend five minutes browsing the Urban Dictionary), sustained through practice and but also thereby always changing.  This isn’t a movie, no nice tidy plots.  Knowing how to write, like all knowing, is an “ongoing social accomplishment, constituted and reconstituted in everyday practice” (Orlikowski, 2002, p252).  

So when you’re learning to write (or more accurately, when you’re writing), you’re participating in and contributing to the way things are (more accurately, appear to be) for a given context (or to be fancy, discourse community), such as your discipline.  An interesting little thought exercise, no?  It calls into question all sorts of things that we take for granted, and it’s massively inconvenient.  It gums up the works.  How do we know what’s right any more?  Goodness me.  But on the other hand and at the very least, it also means you should stop berating yourself, if indeed you were.  That whole impostor syndrome.  That anxiety.  That feeling of inferiority.  You can dial that back a bit.  You’re not “bad at writing” and they are not always and everywhere good at it.  You’re joining a community (such a nice-sounding word), and that community has a way of doing things.  They’re a bit anxious to keep it that way ’cause it seems to work, to produce some desirable results.  But it is nevertheless changing, a living thing, and it lives, in part, because of you.  


References

Orlikowski, W. (2002). Knowing in practice: Enacting a collective capability in distributed organizing. Organization Science, 13(3), 249-273.


Orlikowski, W. (2006). Material knowing: The scaffolding of human knowledgeability. European Journal of Information Systems, 15, 460-466.

Listening to Learn: Tutoring Unfamiliar Writing Genres

Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

“The job of writing centers is to produce better writers, not better writing.” This assertion by Stephen North is, surely, a familiar maxim to most writing center practitioners. But, has anyone also considered how writers can help writing centers produce better tutors? I believe the goal of every tutor is to develop their tutoring skill using every available means; that is why I think, as consultants, by listening to learn from writers, especially those writing in genres we are unfamiliar with, we have the unique opportunity develop our tutoring skills.

Listening is paramount to the tutorial work we do in the writing center. Generally, the tutor tends to listen to several things during tutoring session: you passively listening to your inner thoughts about the draft and, more importantly, listening to the writer’s comments or questions. Moreover, writing center scholars and practitioners admit that listening is essential to achieving an efficient tutoring in the writing center. They submit that listening is not only a means of developing a tutor’s understanding of the current session but also a means for working from, with, and across differences, becoming increasingly aware of those differences rather than flattening or ignoring them. This submission means that listening is a tool for making tutors become better at their tutoring craft. Hence, tutors interested in advancing their craft must be open and willing to listen to learn (from the writers) specific ways to develop their level of awareness.

In listening to learn, we move beyond attempting to adjust our knowledge of the generic needs of writers, especially when dealing with unfamiliar writing genre, to learning to become more aware of this unfamiliar writing genre in efforts to achieve a successful tutoring session. Listening to learn does not entail knowing (or pretending to know) about the subject matter. Rather, listening to learn helps the tutor to achieve meaningful awareness of subject matter necessary for some sense of comfort during the session. Such subject matter awareness would, for instance, help to clear up certain confusions; move past genre-specific jargons and develop interpretive questions, thereby ensuring that the goals of the tutoring session are efficiently met.

In my work with science writers, for example, I continue to practice the ‘listen-to-learn’ approach because I want to be more aware of the means to navigate the seemingly unfamiliar writing genre. From these writers, I have learned ways to not only guide them effectively during their session but also become a better tutor for future work with scientific or related writing genre. For instance, one of the science writers I work with always provides an overview of their essay using visual aids such as diagrams. My sense is that the writer assumes I’m not a specialist in science-related concepts and describing their work in abstract terms might confuse me, and indirectly lead to a tutoring breakdown. So, to make me aware of the subject matter of their writing project, the writer explained concepts to me with the aid of diagrams. While they do not expect me to become knowledgeable of the topic, by listening to the writer’s explanatory context, this subject-matter awareness afforded me a good level of confidence to meaningfully engage the writer and their writing. Additionally, beyond subject-matter awareness, tutors can also become better tutors by being learning to be interculturally aware, especially when working with multilingual writers. Intercultural awareness helps the tutor become more sensitive to processes, situated contexts, and particular situations that influence what and how a writer writes.

Ultimately, while our goal as writing tutors is to utilize every available strategy to help writers hone their writing ability and become better writers, we should not disregard how writers can make us better tutors. As we prioritize listening to learn about the subject matter of the writer’s writing project or non-writing related information the writer willingly shares with us, we generally become more aware of the best means to approach these seemingly unfamiliar genres of writing.

Navigating Burnout

Eli Megibben, Writing Consultant

Hi, my name is Eli and I am burnt out. I hear my alarm go off in the morning and I say “no”. My loved ones ask me how much work I have to do before the end of the semester and I say, “I’m not comfortable answering that question right now”. As much as I want to lay down right this very minute and take a big fat nap for five or six or seven days, that’s not really an option right now. Instead, I have to write. I like writing. I’m good at writing. As a general rule, writing brings me joy. At this moment in my life, writing has become a chore. My joy from and talent for writing are still there, but I’m having a hard time sifting through the stress and exhaustion from a particularly rough semester (both academically and personally) to find them. As much as I don’t want to write today, but I have to. It’s nonnegotiable. In the spirit of this, I thought I’d take this blogging opportunity to share three ways I try to manage my own burn out and get writing done even when I don’t feel like it:

  1. Pace yourself with structured work time and break time.

 When I’m staring down the barrel of a very homework-y day, I organize my time in 20- or 30-minute chunks. 20-30 minutes of reading for class, 20-30 minutes of reading for fun. 20-30 minutes of writing an outline, 20-30 minutes doodling. 20-30 minutes of writing a blog post for the University Writing Center website, 20-30 minutes of taking a walk. Pacing myself and strictly limiting both my work and break time helps me keep my energy up for the day. Also notice that I didn’t say anything about “20-30 minutes on Facebook reading about that person from high school’s really messy breakup” or “20-30 minutes of looking up ‘how long until they finish cloning that Wooly Mammoth they found in Siberia last year?””. I know that once I start goofing off on the internet, then all of the nice discipline I’ve observed throughout the day will go out the window and suddenly four hours will have elapsed, and I’ll still be texting my friends screenshots of articles quoting arrogant biologists claiming that we shouldn’t try to bring back prehistoric mammals with the caption “can you believe this chump?’” And then I will wonder where my day has gone and why I haven’t gotten anything done. Maybe you’re better than me and know how to use the internet in moderation when tasked with something you don’t have the energy to do. Or maybe you and I are more alike than either of us want to admit.

2. Establish physical boundaries between you and your work

Ah, “boundaries”. My second-favorite “b-word”. I don’t know about you, but I love a good boundary. Whether its boundaries with work, friends, or even the cashier at CVS who felt compelled to tell me about what life was like leading up to her most recent colonoscopy, I use boundaries to protect my (waning) energy and (frail) emotions a lot these days. Unfortunately, this this current cultural moment doesn’t really support my affection for boundaries. And that pesky plague we’ve all been surviving for almost 25 months has made the issue worse. Possibly the most effective boundary I have with work is determining where I do my work. I let myself work on the computer or read wherever I’m comfortable –in my office, in my yard, at a coffee shop, even on the couch if that’s what I need that day— while also establishing a few spaces as “no work zones”. My bedroom is one of those places. By making my room a “rest only” area, it is easier for me to shift out of work mode and have more meaningful and effective rest. I know some folks don’t have the luxury of being able to spread out enough to make their entire bedroom a “no work zone”, and when I was in that position as an undergraduate, I made my bed the “no work zone”. Even in a cramped dorm room, I made these boundaries work by dropping $30 on trampoline chair that I could fold up and slide into a corner when not in use. Separating work spaces from break spaces is a trick I have employed since I was in high school and it has helped me to make the most out of my rest, even when I am not getting very much of it.

3. Let yourself be kind of a smart aleck

The other two tips are pretty general “navigate burnout” tips. This one is specifically for writing. Have you ever found yourself staring glassy-eyed at the blinking cursor of a blank Microsoft Word document wondering how the hell you are going to write a paper about an assigned reading that you absolutely despised? A reading that made your stomach spasm a little? A reading that made you question if learning how to read was even worth it? I know I’ve had plenty of those readings in my life as a student and they usually leave me with nothing nice to say. And in those cases, I let the bitterness out. I write the snarkiest intro paragraph I can muster. And by the time I have something vile written down, I’m not staring at a blank Word Document anymore and I’m able to proceed with the paper. Being a smart aleck during the preliminary writing stages doesn’t necessarily get you any closer to hitting your page count, but it will help you exorcise some of your frustration and can help you power through and get it done.

*Please note that your smart-aleck interludes should not be included in your final draft. Do not turn in something rude and unpleasant to your professor. It’s not cute and they are not paid enough to deal with that.


Burnout is a monster. It is also transient and won’t last forever. When I am at the very end of my rope, I like to remind myself (or, more often, let someone else remind me) that being in school is a blessing. An education is one of the few things in the world that nobody can take from you. It is an investment in yourself. This experience is stressful and overwhelming, and we are all so tired. And it’s manageable. Pace yourself, make you physical spaces work and rest-friendly, trust the process and don’t be afraid to indulge in some silliness along the way. Friendly reminder that you’re here for a reason, even if that reason isn’t clear yet. Read your readings, write your papers, and manage your burnout the best you can. I’m right there with you, and I’m rooting for you.

Theory Writing/Writing Theory

Ben Poe, Writing Consultant

“The task of critical reflection is not merely to understand the various facts in their historical development (…) but also to see through the notion of fact itself, in its development and therefore in its relativity.”
― Max Horkheimer, 
Eclipse of Reason

Theory provides a critical language, argumentative framework, and stylistic approach to writing. Working in the field of critical theory—a genre of writing developed by thinkers like Frederic Jameson, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, and the academics of the Frankfurt School—blends critical analysis with artistic inquiry. Critical theory combines the creative and critical by capturing abstract ideas in linguistic concepts, while also depending on intertextual reference to convey is meaning—making a unique academic form for writers. Moreover, the dialectical foundation of theory enables clearly delineated rhetorical structures that depicts the associations between seemingly separate ideas. Thus, theory’s creatively critical genre asks for a writing style that questions exactly what style is—illustrating its unique position between the margins of academic objective analysis and creative expression.

Critical theory offers a specialized language that blends objective criticism with creative intertextuality. Language is obviously an essential characteristic of writing: the unique language of theory not only conceptualizes abstract ideas that help writers articulate difficult thoughts, but the concepts of critical theory also depend on an intertextual history—intertextuality being an artistic device closely related to parody or satire that means to use a word, name, or image in an artistic creation that refers back to a previously created artistic form, generating a new meaning in the reference (like when Anthony Hopkins quotes Shakespeare in HBO’s Westworld)—of cultural criticism that pluralizes the meaning of its concepts, making theory resemble an art form like poetry that requires close attention a multitude of literary devices. Indeed, a term like “logocentrism,” a word coined by Jacques Derrida to illustrate the hierarchy of speech over writing, exemplifies a concept that contains a radically abstract idea that allows academic writers to articulate specificity in their argument. However, feminist and queer scholars developed a special interest in the term (also coined by Derrida) “phallogocentrism,” which indicates the patriarchal occupation of spoken language. By adapting “logocentrism” to a feminist and queer focused analysis, scholars have pluralized the meaning of the term by multiplying its reference points: the definition of the term “phallogocentrism” not only refers to the research of the feminist and queer thinkers who developed it, but also to Derrida’s philosophical work. The adaption of the terms illustrates the intertextual dependence of critical theory concepts, making the genre of theory a unique field of academic criticism and artistic creation. Thus, theory’s combination of objective analysis with poetic intertextuality to interrogate language and convey ideas that simple denotation cannot express illustrates a unique writing style that makes theory critical and creative. The style of theory writing transforms academic research into a version of artistic commentary that expresses profound ideas in a creative form. 

The dialectical foundation of critical theory enables abstract associations to be formulated in an understandable written organization. Dialectical argumentation has been performed for thousands of years—Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to advocate dialectical techniques in rhetorical analyses. It was Frederick Hegel and Karl Marx who developed the dialectical model to a critique of culture, then carried on by Jameson, the Frankfurt School, and Derrida as a core characteristic of their philosophies. The most basic dialectical model is the thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure, which takes one phenomenon (like the content of a story) and compares it with another seemingly different phenomenon (like the form or medium of a story) to show that the meaning of an artwork depends on a relationship between its content and form. In argumentative writing, dialectics works by comparing one claim to its opposite in order to (synthesize) illustrate the similarity between the two ideas. If someone wants to claim that wealthier individuals should pay higher taxes, a dialectical argument will point out the benefits of the claim, but also the (antithetical) claims supporting the opposing side who believes taxes should be lower. The dialectical synthesis, therefore, combines the two ideas to illustrate how the original claim supplements the arguments of the opposing side—not simply how one side is better, but how both sides combine to create a new understanding of the problem. Thus, structuring essays dialectically creates a roadmap for nuanced analysis, as well as a consciousness for how the meaning of a written work is conditioned by its presentation in a particular form. The dialectical model illustrates the creative and the critical aspects of the theory genre because it asks writers to be aware of the metaphysical aspects that inform interpretations of their work, while also acting as a structure for argumentative analysis.                                                     

Theory lives on the margins of objective analysis and creative inquiry, making it a unique style of academic writing. Critical theory twists the supposed difference between academic criticism and creative production because it is a writing style that blurs categories. Theory blends the poetic with the positional, which creates a distinctive style of academic writing that questions the separation of objective analysis and subjective understanding. Critical theory is creative because it steeps in the ambiguity of language and relies on pluralized, intertextual association to convey the meanings of its ideas. It remains critical, however, because the subject of its inquiry is cultural conditions and phenomena. Thus, theory writing embodies a unique writing practice—conveying truths in a decentered form.      

Titles: Topics and Subjects at the Top of the Page

Curtis Ehrich, Writing Consultant

If you couldn’t already tell, this blog post is all about titles. How to make ‘em, what to do with ‘em, and what they are for. Ever since high school, titles have been one of the most effective ways I get myself to care about my writing. In undergrad, I would come up with all sorts of fun titles, usually a pun or pop culture reference, just to get my creative juices going, and to get myself thinking critically about the material. It was one of the ways I made academic writing—which I hate—more interesting and (frankly) more bearable. Some of my favorite’s included references to Star Wars’ terrible dialogue writing (“Now this is podracing”) when I wrote a paper for a film study course analyzing the podracing scene from The Phantom Menace, and a reference to The Princess Bride’s RUSes in a paper for my Linguistics course all about agglutinative languages (languages that make new words by tacking on more and more suffixes and prefixes), that I cleverly titled “Words of Unusual Size.” While making fun titles is a great way to get the gears turning creatively, it doesn’t always do much to describe your paper to your reader, especially if you are like me and are in grad school and don’t get to have fun anymore.

The University of Michigan has a great resource for how to create compelling academic paper titles. The academic title consists of three parts: the hook, key terms, and a location. The hook is the part of your title that will give you the most creative freedom. It is the element of your title that draws in your reader, what makes them want to read your paper in the first place. Try to pick out the most interesting part of your paper or try to distill your paper down into one or two words to help guide your hook. I wrote a paper last semester about Moll Cutpurse, a fascinating character from Renaissance England. The paper was all about how Cutpurse represented gender presentation that was inherently transgressive in just about every way imaginable. For my hook I chose “Transgressive Sexuality.” Key terms are helpful for describing what your paper is about to your reader. They are usually terms essential to the topic of your paper, and if you are looking to publish, using key terms in your title will make your paper easier to find in a database. Think of your title as a sort of logline of your paper, the briefest of elevator pitches. They should give your reader an immediate understanding of what the purpose of your essay is, and the concepts you will be discussing in your paper. These are very rarely interesting, and typically very literal describers of the contents of your paper. For example, returning to my Moll Cutpurse example, for my key terms, I chose “Cross-dressing and Transvestitism.” The location gives context for the concepts being discussed and the scope of the paper all at once. What you use as your location will vary depending on what you are writing about, the genre you are writing in, and the discipline you are writing from. For an English paper, this might look like the time period in which a text was written, or if you’re taking a New Critical approach, it might just be a character’s name and the title of the text in which they appear. If you are writing a more scientific paper, it will probably look more like the data sample you are studying. For my Moll Cutpurse paper, my location was “Jacobean London”

As an example, a full title might look something like “The Imperialist Adventure of a Lifetime: Robinson Crusoe and Postcolonialism in the Context of Defoe’s Puritanism.” Something like that, if you were to write a paper on Robinson Crusoe. Of course, my full Moll Cutpurse title was “Transgressive Sexuality: Cross Dressing and Transvestitism in Jacobean London.” Or, if I were to draft a scientific paper, it might look something like “AI Doctors: Cancer Screening and Machine Learning in Patients 65 and Up.” In the first example, “The Imperialist Adventure of a Lifetime” acts as our hook, describing the basic premise of the paper in an interesting way. “Robinson Crusoe and Postcolonialism” are obviously our key terms, and “Defoe’s Puritanism” is the location, giving us all the context, the reader needs to understand exactly what this paper is going to be talking about. In the second example, the locations of the hook, key terms, and location are in the same place, performing all the same jobs.

This method of academic title creation is clearly a versatile and useful tool to keep in your back pocket if you ever get stuck. I’ll be using it myself on my final papers this semester. But don’t let this method stifle your creativity! This method is just one of the many ways to create a title, and it is by no means the “best” way. There’s an adage in writing pedagogy that says, “the best way to learn to write is to read.” That be made even more specific for titles: “the best way to write titles is to read titles.”  But sometimes, if you just need to get yourself interested in writing, just coming up with a creative, fun title does the trick.


Works Cited

Writing, Sweetland Center of. “How Do I Write a Great Title.” University of Michigan https://lsa.umich.edu/sweetland/undergraduates/writing-guides/how-do-i-write-a-great-title-.html. Accessed 10 March 2022.

Wait, How Can I Make the Most of My Group Writing Experience?: Co-Writing About Co-Writing Part 2

This post is the second in a two-part series on co-authorship from different perspectives. In this second post, we’ll discuss ways to use writing center sessions as a model for negotiating the co-writing process and reflect on the experience of co-writing this blog. The first part addressed key cognitive and pedagogical considerations in co-writing projects.

Left: Brice Montgomery, Writing Consultant; Right: Kylee Auten, Writing Consultant

Group writing is present in all levels of the academic community. There are informal co-writing opportunities, like a group chat that helps you better understand your discussion board post, but there are also the formal, much more nerve-wracking co-writing projects that, as we discussed last week, cause frustration and anger despite their benefits. Perhaps establishing productive group dynamics is the most harrowing aspect of a co-written project. Each participant will have to put forth their contributions and then, together, the group will have to decide in which direction they will take the piece. Both before the project begins and throughout the duration of the writing process, collaborators will have to manage and negotiate workloads and responsibilities that allow each party to reach their goals. A writing center appointment is kind of like that, too, in that the writer and the consultant have to balance their contributions in order to meet their goals. There is (hopefully) mutual effort and negotiation in every writing center appointment. In this post, we are going to explore facets of writing center practices that correlate to group writing. To do so, we’ll reflect on our own experience writing this series of blog posts. 

Negotiating Boundaries

            One thing that has to be negotiated in every writing center consultation, whether overtly or not, is the role each person will play in the consultation. The writer and the consultant must work together to determine who is responsible for what during the appointment. This is rarely an explicit process, but it will become clear throughout the session that each person takes on certain tasks. Likewise, co-authors must agree on their responsibilities regarding their project, but these roles do not always have to be as clearly defined as they are in a writing center session. For example, when writing this blog series, we did not set strict tasks other than taking on the main responsibility for one post and providing in-depth feedback and revisions for the other post. Other than that, we wanted to remain flexible when it came to “assigning” roles. For instance, one role co-writers might want to establish is a dedicated note taker, but we found it more productive to both take notes since we tended to pick up on different ideas during our meetings. Additionally, we both performed research related to the project, and we both had an active role in developing the outline and structure for the blog posts. This fluidity and casualness that we established may not be possible for every group writing project (for sure, I’m almost certain these blurred boundaries could complicate an actual writing center session), but as long as the boundaries, or lack of boundaries, are negotiated and agreed upon by all parties, then the work should be smooth sailing.

Maintaining Ownership

            Ownership is a tricky thing in a collaborative writing project. In writing center appointments, consultants always aim to provide helpful feedback without pushing the writer to make unwanted changes–we want to ensure writers maintain ownership of their document. A co-authored project, however, does not have the same clean break between who is in charge of the piece. Each person contributing to the project should have a vested interest in the process, content, and product. Yet, even when all parties are invested in the project, there can still be some tension, or at least misunderstanding. For this project, ownership became tricky when we were dividing the workload. Together, we separated our content into two complementary posts, but then we had to decide who would write the first draft of each post. When Brice suggested we each “write a draft,” Kylee thought he meant we would each write a draft of both posts, but that’s because she worked under the assumption that we held dual ownership over the whole project. Brice, on the other hand, had perceived that we were individually taking ownership over one half of the project. Besides this breakdown in communication, we did feel like we had equal control over the project when it came to making suggestions or revisions to the other person’s writing. Without this shared sense of ownership, we would not have learned as much from this writing process. 

Instruction and Feedback

            As co-authors, you have to be willing to learn from each other. John Hedgecock, in his book chapter “Reflections of Coauthorship and the Professional Dialogue: Risks and Rewards,” encourages those interested in co-authoring to partner with someone whose skills will balance and complement your own (114). This is true, as well, of writing center appointments, because successful sessions also rely on complementary skills and knowledge. For instance, consultants should know the mechanics for how to write an argumentative essay, but they rely on writers to bring the content knowledge needed to successfully make their argument. So, in a way, there is mutual instruction and feedback happening in every appointment; the consultant instructs the writer on writing practices while the writer instructs the consultant on content. In co-authorship, there may be less instruction on practical writing topics, but each person is going to have different knowledge to add to the project, which they will inevitably have to teach to their partner. We each had two different takeaways regarding what we had learned from each other. For Brice, he learned about accountability from Kylee, as she regularly reached out to make sure the project was still moving forward. Kylee, having no experience with co-writing, though, gained practical knowledge from Brice about the best way to approach our drafting phase. 

Establishing Trust

Trust may be the toughest thing to manage in both writing center appointments and co-writing projects. In a writing center consultation, writers have to trust the consultants are giving them accurate, helpful information that will make their writing and their writing process better. Consultants, on the other hand, have to trust writers are engaged with the project and are invested in implementing the strategies discussed during the session. A writing partnership, likewise, must be formed by people who trust their co-author’s advice and know they are both equally interested and invested in the project For us, we felt confident taking on a co-authored project because we had multiple, informal and formal opportunities to work with each other’s individual writing assignments. Additionally, we had previously met for a writing center appointment over one of Kylee’s class assignments, so we were familiar with how our dynamic would play out. We knew, through experience, that we could trust the other to provide honest, productive feedback, even when it meant taking our ideas in a new, unexpected direction. 

Conclusion

            Like we said last week, group projects probably aren’t going away anytime soon. We hope, though, that this two-part blog series has provided tools and frameworks to help make future co-writing experiences more fulfilling and productive. Focus on what can be gained from the process, not just the project. Chances are, each member in a co-writing project might feel some hesitancy or discomfort, but rely on establishing healthy boundaries, take ownership of the project, delight in the new information being learned, and find trustworthy people to collaborate with.


Works Cited

Hedgecock, John. “Reflections of Coauthorship and the Professional Dialogue: Risks and Rewards.” Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education, edited by Christine Pearson Casanave and Stephanie Vandrick, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003, pp. 113-127.