Category: Working in the Writing Center

What Seems Inevitable?

 Ian Hays, Writing Consultant

   A couple months ago I was playing poker at my friend’s new apartment. He and his girlfriend met at Vanderbilt, and we were celebrating because she’d just passed the bar. As the evening grew thin and wine continued to flow, our thoughts and the topics of conversation grew broader and more existential. Eventually we found our way to higher education, with my friend ruminating “what if we’re the last generation who will have the conventional university experience?” 

His concern is fair. If COVID has done one thing, it’s shown that in the internet age, there’s no good reason why most types of work must prescriptively happen in an ordained location. If you have the connection, it really doesn’t matter where you’re doing what you’re supposed to.

On its face, this sort of development seems entirely positive. Frankly, being able to do my Writing Center work from wherever I am has allowed me much more time to attend to the things that I should, if I’m being healthy and moral, attend to; things like my family, or my mental health. 

But this development—this untethering from the workplace—has also forced a magnifying glass upon the necessity of many institutional conventions integral to the generation of wealth. Last semester, for example, my brother was forced, abruptly, to leave Cuba, where he was studying abroad. For months all he could talk about was how excited he was to go, and when he arrived messages poured in about the therapeutic nature of being in a place like that; one where (in spite of a looming material circumstance we would qualify as massively underprivileged) there is social cohesion; one where even “the enemy” doesn’t need to worry about healthcare. 

When the disease struck he was ripped home, and spent the remainder of the semester negotiating with his, admittedly reputable, university. All told, he ended up receiving a 10% refund. A 10% refund for a full semester’s tuition, one spent in a place where higher education is free. 

That 10% number carried over to this year, because, still, all of his and his peers’ classwork has been forced online. Speaking with my father, he posited: “I guess this is how much [my brother’s school] actually values getting to use its facilities, or being within handshake proximity to all the ‘experts’ they employ.”

What my father and my friend were getting at is clear: if tuition has nothing to do with the physical experience of university—if that part of the equation, for example, is valued at 10% of a figure higher than a year’s average household income—and if literally all learning can take place online, then what the hell are we paying for? 

But this reevaluation—this disturbing reification of that arbitrary nature of institutional life—doesn’t stop at university. If you really think about it, superfluous structures meant to generate wealth are everywhere, and—it seems—they’re always one crisis away from being dispensed with. 

Thus, it can seem very sensible to believe that constant dissolution is inevitable. For those of us within the humanities, this kind of thinking is par for the course. 

Almost daily I wonder about why it is I’ve decided to go down this path, to learn about expression, and the infinite variability of the human experience. What the United States values at the monetary level is clear; we want products you can hold in your hand, we want to improve material comfort, because comfort is easy to measure and because everyone wants it. We “care” about exploring the human condition, but if you can’t illustrate on a graph how it is you’ve contributed to capitalist wellbeing—or if that wellbeing, and how much you’ve contributed to it, varies from person to person—you’re not going to get paid. 

It’s been said before that the great sin of putting earring-potential first is that what motivates action is superseded. Institutions can no longer put their primary purpose first. University, for example, is about learning, it’s about helping students learn how to think about the world; but as long as students pay for college—and as long as that money is integral to administrative functioning—the real goal of the institution has to be to keep students paying. Now COVID has made this process seem all the more untenable. 

But I want to suggest something. 

Years ago I was listening to a debate between Steven Pinker and Alain De Botton on progress. As is usual, Pinker’s argument centered around the notion of material progress, and he had numerous metrics to illustrate how far we’ve come. But he made another, more philosophical point, one meant to be divorced from any such graph. He spoke about nuclear weapons, and about how, for 80 years, it has seemed we’re always one mistake away from nuclear winter. “This is true,” he said, “but yet, still, even after the cold war—even after mass nuclear proliferation—no more weapons like that have been used against people. It’s seemed inevitable, but it’s never happened.”

The other day in class my professor spoke about how, while there is upheaval within the humanities, the discipline soldiers on; that this upheaval is actually a wellspring of creativity, an  important decoupling from the rigidity seen elsewhere. My professor is right. We were discussing New Criticism, attacking the prescriptiveness of what I perceive to be call for a more methodological approach to criticism; one meant to insulate the humanities from the march of capitalist progress which would—according to their camp—inevitably render the humanities a hobby in the face of harder subjects like physics and biology. 

But that’s never happened—years ago it seemed inevitable, but it hasn’t. Even as philosophical schools written expressly in opposition to codified rule sets—in opposition to things like objectivity, and truth—have become more mainstream, the humanities have not dissolved. 

Now is a moment of immense unsureness for millions. It’s a moment where nothing is certain, where it seems every pillar we might attach ourselves to is crumbling at its base. But when we look upward from our screens, we see that many things which will inevitably fail, haven’t, and at the practical level really won’t. Last year, for example, consumption of “traditional” media was higher than its been in years; now that’s a discipline everyone has been sure will die any minute now.

In the Writing Center this fear, for me, has been pronounced. I’ve found it hard, often, to really allow myself to get “into” the work. I love what we do, but I’m afraid that if I permit my passion to swell, that if I lose my peripheral vision, the next time I look up it’ll be because the cart I’ve been riding in has lost the momentum to move. It’ll be too late when I realize what we do is fading away. 

But that’s simply paranoia speaking, and nothing more. Last semester I walked into a room, for the first time, covered with art, and a poster at the front with a picture of the whole space packed with people diligently working on their craft. I’ve never seen such a thing, and I’ve worried that’ll never take place again. But then I look at the figures—about how we’ve actually had a pretty good year in spite of everything—or at the fact that even within a capitalist machine, the confluence I spoke about earlier—between institutional purpose and practical goals—is alive and well in the Writing Center.

Permutations of Passion: How Writing Helped Me Grow

Ian Hays, Writing Consultant  

Passion is what makes an artist wake up in the morning. It’s the gas in the tank, the fuel rod in the reactor. If you’re the glass half-empty type, passion is akathisia—chronic, subjective restlessness—forcing you to attack whichever medium is gripping you by the throat, if only so you can go to sleep that night.

This is what I’ve been told, anyway.

When you enter the Writing Center you can sense the passion. The room is bookish, nestled in the library—there are computers and paintings wherever you happen to look—and in the back of the first room sit two professors, enjoying their domain. I’ve heard rumors of years past, before COVID, where you couldn’t enter the WC easily because there were so many consultants hard at work with their students.

Most of my colleagues have expressed that writing was the first thing they felt good at; that writing is the cornerstone of who they are. I find this a bit alien, since the past five years, for me, have been an exercise in re-evaluation. An exercise in re-forming my identity.

For the first twenty years of my existence Baseball was my passion. During these formative experiences I relished in mornings when I didn’t have to wake up early and hit the field. On the days when I did, I’d be cranky, and in the car I’d list every reason from soreness to apathy to quit. All that would change, though, when I pulled up to the field and smelled the dew, or looked out into the depths of whichever cornfield I was in, to see the fog floating upward as it does during cold and humid mornings of early spring.

When I’d open the passenger door of Dad’s car, and he’d turn off Neil Young—the artist of choice to soothe my nerves—and the first audible smack of ball hitting glove pierced the calm, all of the nerves and soreness and apathy melted away; I was in my domain, and my domain was poetry.

Years later, I still feel frisson when I catch a game on cable, in the same way my heart flutters when I catch a glimpse of an ex. The passion, to its fullest degree, is gone, but the grooves left on my soul remain; I am one of pavlov’s dogs; my heart conditioned to leap even though the bell has long since passed.

Much like love, one’s relationship with passion changes as he or she grows. The first time you feel passion, like the first time you feel love, is blinding; it dominates your thoughts, what you’re passionate about defines who you are.

For years, my answer to the most important question — “who are you?” — was always an immediate — “Baseball player” — because that’s who I thought I was. I’d had mentors in the past tell me I was good with words and that I should cultivate an interest in writing, but I never did. I thought about it a bit, in earnest, but back then I was blind—Baseball would be what chose where I went to school, it would fund my life, why would I consider anything else?

And then it happened; late fall, 2013; I got a call from our head-coach to come take a seat in his office. After I sat and looked back into his mechanical gaze he said what no one ever wants to hear: “you know the thing you’ve worked toward your entire life? Well that ain’t gonna pan out, sorry.”

I shuffled outside, for the first time bereft of the walls and strictures which provide the shape any functioning life needs.

For four years I walked aimlessly, doing just enough to get by. I loved my English classes, sure, but not in the blinding, awe-inspiring way I felt about ball. For years I was just fine, slinking along assuming identity after identity—fraternity member, creative writer, landscaper, print-shop employee—hoping one would stick. None did.

I love to write, but it never felt as good as executing the perfect pitch, or of squaring up the ball so nicely you don’t even feel it rattle the bat—it just flies outward, forever. Maybe my problem was that I’d forgotten how much work I’d put into Baseball; once you’ve gotten good at something it’s hard to remember approaching it with apprehension. By that point I’d transferred home, and was living with my parents again.

But then it happened. On a whim, after a semester with my favorite professor, I decided to audit another of her classes—it was on the essay as a genre. I’d been beating my head against the “creative writing” wall for a long time, and had convinced myself I wanted an MFA; completely fruitless. In the class we read essays by many important contemporary writers, one of which was Fail Better by Zadie Smith; an essay I recommend to anyone who loves to write but can’t seem to get their butt in the chair. By that time I could string sentences together, I could craft stirring imagery, but my lack of being able to coherently produce a story, or a poem, was—I thought—just another example of how this skill wasn’t for me.

In her class we always wrote with another student in mind; we’d talk before each assignment was due in order to “figure out” who exactly we were writing to. It felt like good-walls were raising around me.

One of the students I wrote with was an economics major—she was getting a minor in English, that’s why she was in the class. Our discussion was about capitalism; about how any abstract concept can become a form of currency in a capitalist system. The essay born from that conversation was titled Love, Money, and Appearance; it was about how my first relationship was defined by looking good on the internet. For the first time in years I felt energized, I felt like I wanted to push through the difficulty to get to a finished-product.

Before the class was over I’d applied to MA programs—and here I am.

When you’re young every experience assaults you, because you haven’t had many of them. Like love, fear, anger, anxiety; passion—true guttural passion—decreases over time, our threshold numbed by an endlessly expanding compendium of experiences. Everyone remembers their first love, how powerful it felt, and how difficult it was to let go. And everyone remembers the stark realization that love might never feel that good again. It’s disturbing, and sad, but important.

For years, I messed around because I expected that I’d find something so powerful, so enthralling, out there, that it would be impossible to ignore—I’d feel it like I felt for Baseball. But that hasn’t come. What has comes in flashes, brief moments of clarity, which allow me to write a paragraph or two which make sense, that feel great; cleanly expressed. I’ve decided that’s what life is, and I’m okay with it; bouncing from moment to moment, now motivated more by the heft of duty than the expectation of passion.

This is why, when I have those moments, I cherish and act on them; because it’s rare when they come. Working in the Writing Center, being asked each week to write and write—to help students with their writing—about research topics, theory; opinion; has illustrated, to me, that even if the passion isn’t always there I can keep pushing, and when I do, I always uncover enough to keep chugging along.

For the first time in awhile—thanks to the WC—I feel some security in who I am, even if that security is quieter and more mature.

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.

 

Good Writing Response Stays the Same: How We Will Work with UofL Writers This Semester

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

It would be easy to start this post by talking about all the things that are different this year in the University Writing Center, from online tutoring to adapting to daily lives of masks, disinfectant, and physical distancing. Yet, by this point, we are all familiar with those aspects of daily life. Instead, I want to focus on the continuity of this year in the dscn2185University Writing Center. This past week, our new consultants met for our orientation and began to plan for the year ahead. Just as in years past, this year’s new consultants are a talented, dedicated group of graduate students who are eager to start working with UofL students, faculty, and staff to provide them with feedback and strategies that help them become stronger and more confident writers. Our consultants remain committed to helping writers at every stage of writing – from brainstorming to revising drafts – and with every form of writing, be it academic, professional, or personal. And, as in the past, we plan to work collaboratively with writers, listening carefully to their concerns and working together to create plans for revision to make their writing more effective and engaging.  Some things don’t change.

As you can imagine, however, we are making some changes to adapt to the pandemic. The most significant change is that all our appointments for Fall 2020 will take place online. We have two kinds of appointments from which you can choose – live video chat or written feedback. A live video chat is a real-time video chat with a consultant. Our live chat format, which is part of our online scheduling system, includes a video chat capability and a shareable digital whiteboard where both the writer and consultant can make notes on the draft. Live video chat appointments allow for conversation between the writer and consultant.  Written feedback appointments are asynchronous. Writers upload a draft and receive a  typed, written response by email.  All our appointments are 50 minutes long. Before your first appointment, visit the our website to learn more about the two appointment types to decide which best fits your needs. http://louisville.edu/writingcenter/appointments-1.

Tips to Make the Most of Your Online Appointment

The online appointments we are using this year may be new to you, and so here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience.

When you make your appointment: For all appointments, the more you can tell us about the assignment, and your concerns, the more we can help you. It it a huge help to us if you upload a copy of your assignment prompt to your appointment form when you make your appointment. If you don’t have a prompt to upload, please tell us everything you can about the assignment or writing task you are working on. Along those same lines, the more detail you can give us on the appointment form about your top concerns about your draft, the more able we are to respond effectively to those concerns. If, rather than just list a few words, you can write a detailed note about your concerns, we’ll be better able to give you suggestions and advice to address your concerns. It is particularly important to provide detailed information and writing prompts for written feedback appointments, because the asynchronous format means we can’t ask you direct questions.

As you revise your writing: If you’re not sure where to start in using the written comments to revise your draft, we recommend out handout on “Using Written Feedback When Revising.” You may also find our other handouts that cover writing strategies from writing introductions to citation to grammar and usage issues helpful when revising.

Other Online Resources to Help You with Your Writing

In addition to our appointments, do keep in mind that we have a wide range of online resources to help you with your writing that are available to you at any time..

  • We have Video Workshops on issues such as citation styles and formatting and how to use sources effectively.
  • We also have more than 35 handouts online with advice about writing processes, grammar and usage, strategies for approaching different parts of a draft, and more.
  • We also have Writing FAQs that cover the kinds of questions that come up often in our work and offer you suggestions on how to approach common writing situations.
  • We will be using our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Our Blog) to post ideas and resources about writing, and some things just to brighten the day.

Writing Groups and Events

Our writing groups will continue this semester to provide a supportive and productive environment for UofL writers. This fall, all our writing groups will be meeting online through Microsoft Teams. Please visit our website if you would like more information about our Graduate Student and Faculty Writing Group, our LGBTQ+ Writing Group, or our Creative Writing Group.

Unfortunately, we have had to suspend our usual fall events, such as open mic nights and panel discussions about writing. We look forward to resuming them when we can so safely.

Flexibility, Patience, and Caring

One other crucial thing that has not changed at he University Writing Center is our commitment to treating all UofL writers with respect and empathy. We are writers, just as you are, and we are living through unnerving and stressful times, just as you are. We know that getting through this difficult time will require flexibility, patience, and caring, on all our parts, and we commit ourselves to those values in working with all writers.

We look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.

 

Our Commitment to Antiracism

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Black Lives Matter.

The University Writing Center stands with our staff, colleagues, students, and community members who are protesting for social and economic justice and against White supremacy. We condemn systemic racist and violent oppression of Black people both in our community and nationwide. We recognize and pledge to act against historical and ongoing inequitable treatment of Black people.

In our own work at the University Writing Center and in our community partnerships, we reaffirm our commitment to antiracist education. Like the University and the community, our consultants, staff, and the writers with whom we work, come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some experience the direct effects of racism in their daily lives, while others benefit from systems of white privilege. We recognize that, as an organization, we must do more than simply respect diversity. As we say on our Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, we “commit to critiquing and speaking out against individual and structural oppression in an effort to create a safer, more just university for all students.”

We also see our role as an educational institution as reaffirming our ongoing commitment to antiracist education. As our statement says,

We approach this work by listening to voices that are experiencing racism and oppression and by continuing to work to educate ourselves about systems of power and inequality. We continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We understand issues of inclusion and diversity require ongoing, daily work that is never finished.

Such work requires listening to and reading the work of those whose voices can educate us on both systems of racism in our culture as well as the pain, injury, and inequality such systems perpetuate. Such work requires honest reflection and ongoing conversation about our roles in institutions shaped by ideologies of White supremacy.  The work is ongoing and we can and must do better.

In an effort to promote and continue antiracist education and activism, I am including links below to a few of the many resources that I hope people will find useful. My thanks to those who have done the work of putting these resources together.

Black Lives Matter Resources including teaching toolkits

Statement and Resources from UofL from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Directors

Prioritizing Antiracism inWriting Tutor Education: How We Teach Writing Tutors

Praxis: Special Issue: Race and the Writing Center

Anti-Racism Resources for Students, Educators, and Citizens

Scaffolded Anti-racism Resources

Black Lives Matter Louisville

Showing Up for Racial Justice

M4BL

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

It Has Been a Year Like No Other – Yet Some Things Have Not Changed

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

This is the time of year, when the dogwoods are in bloom and classes are drawing to a close, that I usually draft up a blog post to look back on our University Writing Center accomplishments over the previous year. If you read over those posts from the past, you’ll find some common threads about what we value and what we’ve done. This year, however, though the dogwood in front of my house is reliably spectacular, this end-of-year blog post is unlike any of the others I have done in the past decade. As with all of us, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down – or at least sideways – in the middle of the spring semester. In two days we had to turn our entire University Writing Center operation, with two physical locations and one virtual schedule providing hundreds of appointments each week, into one, large integrated online Writing Center. What’s more, we had to develop a system to coordinate the daily work of a staff of almost 20 people who would now all be working at home. At the same time, our consultants, all students themselves, and our writers were all scrambling to adjust to a new environment of online learning and sheltering in place.

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University Writing Center Staff, 2019-20

Yet, when people ask why I say we have the best Writing Center staff in the business, it is for moments like these. Cassie Book, our associate director, and Amber Yocum, our administrative associate, worked fast and flawlessly to make the transition to the online schedule made for writers making appointments and for our tutoring staff. We didn’t miss a single appointment in the transition to the online schedule. Since that transition, our consultants, all working from home and balancing family and their own courses, have continued to provide exceptional feedback to writers from across multiple departments and disciplines. I am always proud of the people who work in the University Writing Center, but this year’s staff has been something special. I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with them and the University community has been fortunate to have them to help support and strengthen writing at UofL.

Even with the disruptions that have affected all of us in the past six weeks, however, much of what we have done, and continue to do, has not changed. Our consultants have continued to offer insightful advice about writing, as well as thoughtful support and suggestions about how to navigate the challenges of writing in such a rapidly changing and deeply unsettling time. We continued to believe that not only is every person who writes a “writer,” but that careful listening, thoughtful response, and creative collaboration can make everyone a more effective and confident writer. And, as always, we appreciate the trust that writers from across the UofL community display in letting us work with them.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 11, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Beyond Tutoring – Events and Community Writing

Before the pandemic, we once again worked to fulfill our commitment to supporting a culture of writing on campus and in the community.

Writing Groups, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our popular Creative Writing, LGBTQ+ and Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups continued to give UofL writers supportive communities through which they could create and talk about writing. We again held our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat in May. We will be holding the Retreat next month as a fully virtual Retreat. We plan next year to continue all of these groups, so be sure to check our website for information and dates.

Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events, including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, Kick Back in the Stacks, a

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International Mother Language Day Celebration

Valentine’s Day Open Mic and International Mother Language Day. The open mic nights were thanks to our ongoing partnership with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine.

Community Writing: We also continued our work with our community partners, the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library 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.

The Best Writing Center Staff in the Business

I am proud of our staff every day. They work consistently with care and intellectual insight to support the work of writers in the University. They also make me laugh and enjoy coming to work each day. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassie Book, Administrative Associate Amber Yocum, and Assistant Directors, Megen Boyett, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, and Rachel Rodriguez. Also special thanks go to Writing Center Intern and HSC Consultant Liz Soule. Our consultants this year have been Olalekan Adepoju, Ash Bittner, Michelle Buntain, Tristan DeWitt, Rose Dyar, Kendyl Harmeling, Kelby Gibson, Catherine Lange, Shiva Mainaly, Lauren Plumlee, Hayley Salo, Cat Sar, and Kayla Sweeney. Our student workers were and Milaela Smith and Jency Trejo.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director, is now Dr. Cassandra Book after defending her dissertation “Students at a Crossroads: TA Development Across Pedagogical and Curricular Contexts” from Old Dominion University. In addition she was awarded the 2020 UofL College of Arts & Sciences Outstanding Performance Award for Staff. She presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference and was accepted for the College Conference on Composition and Communication (which was cancelled because of the pandemic).

Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, was accepted at the Conference on Community Writing and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (that were cancelled because of the pandemic).

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Reparative Leanings of Haiku Aesthetics: Ways of Knowing and Reading in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s A Dialogue on Love,Juxtapositions: A Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship Issue 5, December 2019. Two poems in ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN: 365 Days of Haiku for Children Young and Old. Brooks Books, 2019. Three poems in All the Way Home: Aging in Haiku. Middle Island Press, 2019.

Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center was accepted at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (cancelled because of the pandemic).

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the IWCA Ideas Exchange and was accepted to present at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Rhetoric Society of America (both canceled due to COVID19). She co-authored a CompPile WPA Bibliography on Translingualism and published “The Unique Affordances of Plainness in George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Middlemarch,” in the forthcoming volume 72, no. 1 of George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies.

Consultants

Ash Bittner, defended his MA Thesis Long for Death will enter the UofL Humanities Ph.D. program in the fall on a University Fellowship.

Michelle Buntain, did a reading of her poetry at the Bard’s Town in Louisville.

Tristan DeWitt, chaired a panel at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture.

Rose Dyar, was accepted to present at the AEPL’s summer conference.

Catherine Lange presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication Virtual Conference.

Hayley Salo, will be the Morton Chair Research Assistant for Dr. Deborah Lutz next year.

Cat Sar, was awarded a Department of English Creative Writing Scholarship

Liz Soule, presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in October and will enter the UofL Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D. Program next year on a University Fellowship.

Jency Trejo, one of our student workers, also passed her U.S. Citizenship Exam.

 

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.

Writing in the Time of Corona

IMG_2993Cat Sar, Writing Consultant 

Since the Writing Center has gone online along with most of UofL, it seems timely to share some tips about virtual writing center appointments, and how to get the most out of them.

  • Be as specific as possible when filling out your client report form. Anything that you want your consultant to know should be included. Remember, virtual appointments do not provide the luxury of real time communication, so the appointment form is even more important than usual.
  • Attach all necessary documents by 12 pm EST the day before your appointment. Similar to #1 on this list, you will not be able to pull up any additional documents in the virtual session. Consider either including the assignment guidelines or rubric either in the text of the appointment form, or as an attachment. This information is also incredibly important because it provides consultants with a sense of what your instructor is looking for and grading you on.
  • Before you make an appointment, take some time to peruse our website, especially the videos and handouts page. These are excellent, easy-to-navigate educational resources. Some questions may be answered without the need for a full appointment. Of course, we are happy to help you in whatever way we can, but we would also like to make best use of the time and attention we have.
  • Take a deep breath. As our fearless director says, “there is no such thing as a composition emergency.” Not even COVID-19. Your friendly neighborhood writing consultants are here to help. This page is intended to help you make the best use of the Writing Center during this time.  I also recommend that you check our Facebook, Instagram (@uoflwritingctr), and Twitter for updates! Our front desk is staffed from 9-5 p.m. and you can either call us at 502-852-2173 (please leave a voicemail) or email us. For any technology issues, you may called UofL’s IT HelpDesk at 502-852-7997.
  • Be patient and be well. We are all in the same boat, figuring out how to navigate in this weird time. Your professors, colleagues, friends and family are all feeling the stress of uncertainty in their personal and professional lives. Make sure to treat yourself with the same compassion you offer them. Wash your hands, clean your keyboards and your workspaces, and check in with your community. We hope to see you soon at the WC!

How We Will Work With You Online During the COVID-19 Campus Closure

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

During this extraordinary moment when UofL courses have moved online, we, at the University Writing Center, have been working to implement a plan that will continue to offer UofL writers a way to get thoughtful responses to their drafts. All University Writing Center dscn2185consultants and administrative staff will be working from home. Below I will explain our plan to work with writers online and point you to other online resources about writing effectively that we have available for you. I will also offer suggestions for how to make the best use of online writing response. In the weeks to come we will offer more blog posts about how to work effectively from home and tips for completing your assignments successfully. Although the coming weeks will clearly often be a stressful and uncertain time for all of us, we maintain our commitment helping you with your writing in a spirit of collaboration and generosity.

The Details of Our Online Tutoring System

While the University is delivering courses online in the coming weeks, the University Writing Center will be offering only online appointments in which you upload a draft and receive written comments in response. You may use the University Writing Center or Virtual Writing Center schedules to make a written feedback appointment. Both schedules will be available for appointments starting Monday, March 16. For detailed instructions on how to make your appointment, including a how-to video, and what to expect from written feedback, follow this link.

Here are some details about how appointments will work during this time:

  • We will offer only written-response online appointments. There will also be no online live-chat appointments.
  • If you have a face-to-face appointment already scheduled between March 18-April 4 on either the University Writing Center or Health Sciences Writing Center schedules, your appointment will be automatically converted to an online, written feedback appointment. However, you will need to upload a draft to your appointment if you would like feedback. Please cancel your appointment if you do not want written feedback.
  • When you make an online, written response appointment, you must upload your draft by noon the day before your appointment, or your appointment will be cancelled and the time made available to other writers. We do this to make sure that as many writers are able to use appointment slots as possible.
  • Writers will be limited to two appointments per week during this period.
  • We also have online resources on our Handouts, Video workshops, and Writing FAQs to help answer your questions and concerns about writing.
  • If you have questions about how to make an appointment, please email writing@louisville.edu or call 502-852-2173.

Some Tips to Make the Most of Your Written-Feedback Appointment

If you have never made a written-response appointment with us before, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience. In these appointments, because we can’t have a conversation with you during the appointment, there are some things you can do before and after that are helpful

When you make your appointment: In addition to uploading your draft, please upload a copy of your assignment prompt. The prompt is a huge help for your consultant in responding effectively to your draft. If you don’t have a prompt to upload, please tell us everything you can about the assignment or writing task you are working on. Along those same lines, the more detail you can give us on the appointment form about your top concerns about your draft, the more able we are to respond effectively to those concerns. If, rather than just list a few words, you can write a detailed note about your concerns, we’ll be better able to give you suggestions and advice to address your concerns.

When you receive your draft with comments: You will receive your draft with your consultant’s comments as an email attachment within one business day of the appointment’s start time. (You can also access your draft with comments from your appointment in the scheduling system.) Your consultant will write a note at the top of your draft that summarizes the suggestions and insights the consultant has about your draft and how best to approach revising your work. In the margins of your draft you will find more detailed questions about your draft and suggestions for revision. Keep in mind that, as with face-to-face appointments, our online appointments are 50-minutes long. Our consultants will comment on as much as they can within that 50-minutes. If they can’t reach the end of draft, they will note where they had to stop.

As you revise your writing: If you’re not sure where to start in using the written comments to revise your draft, we recommend out handout on “Using Written Feedback When Revising.” You may also find our other handouts that cover writing strategies from writing introductions to citation to grammar and usage issues helpful when revising.

Other Online Resources to Help You with Your Writing

We have a wide range of online resources to help you with your writing.

  • We have Video Workshops on issues such as citation styles and formatting and how to use sources effectively.
  • We also have more than 35 handouts online with advice about writing processes, grammar and usage, strategies for approaching different parts of a draft, and more.
  • We also have Writing FAQs that cover the kinds of questions that come up often in our work and offer you suggestions on how to approach common writing situations.
  • We will be using our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Our Blog) to post ideas and resources about writing, and some things just to brighten the day.
  • Finally, over the past eight years, the consultants in the University Writing Center have offered, in their posts in this blog, a wide range of advice about writing issues. You can browse the blog for a lot of good advice and, in the coming weeks, we will highlight some posts we find particularly useful for writing advice.

In the Weeks to Come

We are all in uncharted waters with this current situation. We know that, as writers, you may at times feel stressed, isolated, and unsure how your assignments and courses are going to work now that they are online. Our consultants, who are also graduate students, are going through the same experiences and are both sympathetic to your situation –  and feeling some stress on their own. As always, however, we will respond to your work as thoughtful readers and do our best to offer you helpful suggestions, questions, and encouragement.

We have an special community in the University Writing Center, both among our staff and with the writers who trust us with their writing. The best way to get through this current extraordinary situation is with the support and help and empathy of others. We all need to show patience and generosity to each other. Even if we’re working in different places, we are still a community and still stronger together. We look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.