Those of us in colleges and universities often feel like the energy and anticipation of starting a new year happens every August, rather than in January. We draw up new plans for the year ahead, make hopeful resolutions, and take part in the rituals, both formal and informal, that mark new beginnings. At the University Writing Center one of our important, and always energizing, rituals takes place when the new group of consultants show up for the coming academic year. This past Thursday we all met as a group for the first time at the our orientation. That day we began the conversations, that will continue throughout the year, about how best to support the writing of all members of the UofL community. Central to our values and practices are seeing our work with writers as helping them strengthen the drafts they bring to an appointment, but also to offer strategies and advice to help them be stronger, more confident writers in the future.
The best way to support writers and strengthen their drafts, writing processes, and skills, is to engage in collaborative conversations. We’re excited to be able to have our schedule available again for in-person appointments. Both my experience as a writing teacher, and research in writing studies, make it clear that the best way to help a person improve as a writer is through dialogue. In our appointments, writers tell us their concerns about their drafts, we tell them what we see as strengths and areas of concern, and then we have a conversation about different strategies available to improve their drafts. Throughout our appointments there is time for both writers and consultants to to be able to ask questions and explore new ideas. Through listening to writers and asking questions, we can help them discover for themselves how best to improve their writing. These in-person conversations are collaborative and energizing for everyone involved, and they are what make writing center work so rewarding for those of us who do it. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that many people in the UofL community have not had the experience of an in-person consultation, but I hope people will give it a try this fall and see what a difference such a conversation can make in terms of their writing, now and in the future.
We are, as always, committed to work with any writing, with any member of the UofL community, at any point in the writing process. People are welcome to come in and brainstorm ideas about how to respond to an assignment, or bring in a draft to develop strategies for revision. For all writers, our work will continue to be grounded in an ethic that draws from principles of hospitality, service, care, empathy, patience, and respect. We are also always committed to be a safe, inclusive, and equitable space for all writers on campus. It’s these principles that help consultants and students work together to create more effective, critical, and creative writing.
On Monday morning, we will begin to a new year of working with writers to make their writing stronger. Those Monday appointments will be the first of thousands we will hold in the year to come. We’re excited about sharing the journey ahead with all of you as we all work to being a positive focus and force for all the writing, in all its many forms, that takes place in this university community.
This post is the first in a two-part series on co-authorship from different perspectives. In this first post, we’ll discuss key cognitive and pedagogical considerations in co-writing projects. The second part will both address 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.
Ah, the dreaded group project, known for its ubiquity and the frustration it inspires. Few assignments elicit opinions as strong as those which require co-writing, but through this post, we’ll argue that the severity of those opinions—while perhaps not unavoidable—can be softened by recognizing features of co-writing projects.
To go about this task, we have opted to get a little meta in our approach and co-write about co-authorship. Using both external research and the lessons learned from our experience, we hope to shed some light on several considerations to keep in mind when approaching a co-authoring project, whether you are a student, instructor, or potential co-writer.
1. Co-authoring is valuable. No, really!
First, it’s necessary to answer the question on every student’s mind—“Is there even a point to all of this?” Research suggests the answer is yes, and not just because it makes grading easier for a TA.
James Reither and Douglas Vipond found that collaborative writing is a complex social process, and beyond the surface-level act of writing something down, it offers a unique form of “knowledge making,” positioning collaborative texts not as a product, but as a testament to the collaborative process. Unfortunately, despite other research indicating similar values, the average instructor may be hard-pressed to explain why they use group writing projects. For frustrated students, vague discourse on the importance of collaboration may not feel like sufficient justification for these exercises. Thankfully, there are several other reasons to value the practice.
2.The co-authoring process is procedurally different from a solo write.
During the process of writing this blog, we found that co-writing is anything but linear. Even though we chose this project of our own volition, the initial enthusiasm waned, and early meetings resulted in a great deal of work from Kylee and a few stray sentences from Brice. The project moved forward in fits and starts, and it became clear that the effort would be weighted towards planning and revision, with the initial draft quickly becoming an afterthought. Suffice it to say, our anecdotal experience suggests co-writing requires a different set of metacognitive skills, and research agrees.
Helen Dale found that in student co-authoring assignments, the additional input from peers created a kind of feedback loop that eliminated the archetypical brainstorm-draft-edit process. Projects also had more logical structures because it was necessary for co-writers to plan in detail before beginning, simply to maintain coherence. Ultimately, co-writing can be a more extensive and intensive writing process, but it has the potential to transform what ends up on the page.
3. Collaboration succeeds when collaboration is the point.
Louth et al. compared both student scores and attitudes on individual papers and collaborative papers in a college freshman English course, and while they found no statistically significant difference between the scores, there was a markedly positive difference in attitude, with collaborative groups being more satisfied than their individual counterparts. The authors suggest that dissatisfaction arises when collaboration is elevated as a pedagogical value rather than a theoretical one; it works when the focus is on what is gained through the collaborative process.
In the case of this blog project, is the writing inherently better? Not necessarily, but it did push our approach in directions that might otherwise have gone unexplored. In the early stages, we riffed and asked each other questions about possible ways to broach the subject of co-authoring, and we challenged each other’s expectations about the goals and parameters of the project. For example, the initial draft of this post was specifically directed towards instructors planning co-writing assignments, but Kylee wisely pointed out that it was too narrow of a focus to be very helpful, and it negated the relevance of our own co-writing process. By shifting our attention to more general principles, the post opened out into something more accessible for different types of readers.
4.Successful collaboration as a learning process may largely be a matter of personality.
If you’re one of the many individuals who resents collaborative writing, fret not—research indicates that group work will not be universally beneficial or enjoyable for everyone. Utilizing attachment theory, Shiri Lavy studied whether there was a correlation between personality types and performance in group projects. While it’s difficult to say how metacognitively beneficial the practice was, Lavy found that students’ self-reported satisfaction was influenced by their attachment style, with anxious and avoidant students both expressing dissatisfaction with group work compared to individual work, despite performing well. Some people just won’t enjoy collaboration, and that’s okay.
Ultimately, group projects aren’t going anywhere, and while it may seem reductive to point out that co-writing may not be for everyone, recognizing that reality may help reluctant co-authors re-evaluate their approach.
Check back next week for a deep dive into the lessons we learned by co-writing as well as how writing center sessions can model the skills necessary to be effective co-authors.
Lavy, Shiri. “Who Benefits from Group Work in Higher Education? An Attachment Theory Perspective.” Higher Education, vol. 73, no. 2, 2017, pp. 175-187, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26447599.
Louth, Richard, et al. “The Effects of Collaborative Writing Techniques on Freshmen Writing and Attitudes.” The Journal of Experimental Education, vol. 61, no. 3, 1993, pp. 215-224, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20152373.
Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing
‘Hanging in there’ is a common expression at our weekly writing group. It is an expression that resonates with both graduate students and faculty participants as they seek to navigate the plethora of writing demands as well as other academic and life anxieties. Mostly, the expression is not out of frustration; rather it is made to describe how this group of people are progressing along in their academic activities, specifically graduate-level writing, despite its attendant challenges and struggles. Hence, they are not only ‘hanging in there,’ but also consistently taking ‘baby steps’ toward the completion of their various projects. And the weekly writing group has thus become a safe environment for writers to connect with, encourage, and motivate each other along the way.
A brief overview: the weekly writing group, which is organized by the University Writing Center, invites graduate students and faculty at the University of Louisville to come together during a dedicate time to work on any writing project at their own pace. The primary goal of our writing group is to provide support, community, and accountability for participants working on research or scholarly writing. Hence, it is not surprising that participants are open to discussing writing struggles, offering strategies working for them and sharing writing resources beneficial to everyone. Below are perspectives anonymously shared by some of the writing group participants on the importance of the weekly writing group:
“I appreciate having a space in which I can be a part of a community of writers and also can be held accountable.”
“It gave me the structured time to write with a group of people and see their progress in their writing journey and also see my own progress.”
“The writing group was a supportive group of peers steadily working on their individual writing goals.”
From participants’ reports above, we see that the writing group not only provides an influential support to the writers, but it also facilitates a sense of belonging to community working toward similar goals. To these participants, the writing group becomes a literal representation of ‘hanging in there’ because the group promotes significant actions that encourage them to forge ahead despite the difficulties. These significant actions invariably become a means for collective motivation that incentivizes participants to accomplish their writing goals as much as possible. Some of the significant actions peculiar to our writing group include:
Respectfully listening to writing concerns, needs, and struggles.
Discussing both writing related and non-writing related concerns: From work-life balance to organizing literature review, to self-care, among others
Celebrating milestones and success stories: Be it completing the day’s writing goals, completion/defense of dissertation, submission of articles for publication or conference abstract
Sharing relevant writing (and non-writing) resources such as blogposts, productivity planner, and yes, movie recommendations
Setting a week-long, specific writing goal to keep everyone accountable
Research has shown that writing groups help writers to improve their writing, establish a good writing habit, and be more productive in and confident about their writing. In addition to these benefits, the participants at our weekly graduate students and faculty writing group continue to affirm how the group encourages them to hang in there and take consistent baby steps toward accomplishing their writing projects.
If you are a University of Louisville graduate student or faculty member and are interested in participating in our supportive writing community, please e-mail email@example.com for more information.
Liz Soule, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center
The first time I was introduced to a writing group was in the spring of 2016. As a way to welcome more students to the writing center, one of my friends and co-workers proposed the “Creative Writing Jam.” This was a series of creative writing groups held at the writing center, in which writers would come in, and amongst a community of like-minded individuals, get to work drafting their latest piece.
I hung posters advertising the event on the walls of my residence hall. I remember looking at the posters and feeling a mixture of confusion, anxiety and curiosity at the sight of them. Who would want to write in a big group? Wouldn’t that be distracting? Or worse, what if my writing wasn’t like theirs — and they judged me for it? Due to my trepidation, I never attended the Creative Writing Jam.
Now, as the facilitator of the LGBTQ+ writing group, I often wonder if these same questions keep folks from attending our group. This blog post is written for all those who stare at our whiteboard and wonder. In what follows, I’ll explore what our LGBTQ+ writing group is, why we offer it, and offer a window into what a typical group meeting looks like. My hope is that this begins the process of answering some burning questions and alleviating anxieties, and maybe opens our doors to more writers across campus.
What is the LGBTQ+ writing group? Why do you offer it?
The LGBTQ+ writing group is a gathering of writers that meets monthly in the University Writing Center. This group welcomes writers that self-identify as LGBTQ+ or as allies to join together to write in a communal space. Any kind of writing is welcome in this group (professional, personal, creative or course-related). During group meetings, participants have the opportunity to get to know others in the community as they actively write alongside their peers.
The LGBTQ+ writing group, like all of the University Writing Center’s writing groups, exists to promote a culture of writing across campus. An additional reason why we offer the LGBTQ+ writing group is to foster a supportive community of queer writers and their allies. This means that the identities of LGBTQ+ writers are respected (and, when appropriate, celebrated) and their writing is welcomed. By carving out a space for LGBTQ+ writers, the University Writing Center makes it clear that our growth as writers matters, and that we belong.
I would argue that we are working to effectively serve that purpose, too. At a recent meeting, I asked the attendees of the group what their reasons for attending were. One writer said they were looking for a “judgment-free,” or supportive community of writers. Another writer, who often writes queer romances, said they sought a space where the content of their writing would be welcome. For others, it came down to basic math – likeminded queer people to befriend plus writing to share and enjoy. In other words, a supportive community that fosters a culture of writing.
What happens in a typical meeting?
In this next section, I’ll try to illustrate what a typical writing group meeting looks like. While my description might not be as dynamic as the real thing, I hope that it can help reduce any anxieties that come with the unknown.
At the start of each LGBTQ+ writing group, the University Writing Center door is wide open. Everyone signs in, grabs a snack, and finds a seat amidst the circle of tables. Once we’ve all settled in, we share our names, our personal pronouns and the kinds of writing we’re working on.
Then comes the fun part: we write! For the majority of our hour-long meeting, we all actively write. And there is really no wrong way to do this. Some of us complete homework, while others write creatively. Some even complete personal writing, like daily journaling. During this time, some of us chat, others listen to music, and most of us get seconds on snacks.
To wrap our meeting up, we talk about the kind of writing we’ve completed–and what we hope to accomplish in the near future. Some writers like to share recent writing during this time, but no one is ever forced to do so. Those that do receive thoughtful, positive responses. Afterwards, we say our goodbyes and I close the doors of the University Writing Center for the night.
This sums up most of our LGBTQ+ writing group meetings. There are some variations to meetings, but they’re usually small and always optional. For example, next time we meet, I’ll be bringing some prompts for the creative writers in the room to respond to, if they so choose. Also, a couple of our writers are also thinking they might workshop as a pair.
Some final thoughts
If you’ve been on the fence about attending this–or any–writing group, I hope this guides you to our doors. In the event that you have more questions, please, feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will happily discuss our groups with you.
More importantly, I hope that you know you are always welcome in our space. I’ll be glad to have you in the LGBTQ+ writing group, and we are excited to have you in the University Writing Center.
For the first time in almost 18 months we have been arranging tables, stocking up on handouts, and dusting off shelves in anticipation of once again holding in-person writing consultations. On Thursday we welcomed our new group of writing consultants for orientation and once again the University Writing Center was full of conversations about how best to help writers in the UofL community learn strategies for being more effective writers as well as gain a stronger sense of confidence and agency about their writing. One thing we have missed in the last year, given the kind of collaborative dialogue that is at the foundation of teaching writing the way we do, is the kind of nuance and richness that comes from in-person conversations. Though we value the online video chat and written response appointments we held last year – and will continue to hold this year – we are also excited at the opportunity to talk to writers face to face again.
Of course, the fact that only half of each face will be visible is a reminder of the range of physical, logistical, and emotional challenges we all continue to confront. We are returning to a campus where masks are mandatory, in a city and state were delta variant cases among the unvaccinated are skyrocketing. Though all of our staff are vaccinated, we are not immune to anxiety or the distraction that comes from the ongoing uncertainty all around us. We will be adopting myriad modifications and practices to do our best to keep everyone safe. It’s certainly not a return to 2019.
Even so, our plan is to move ahead and, whether in person or online, do the best we can to use constructive dialogue to help writers address their individual concerns about their work. We will continue to listen carefully during appointments and respond with suggestions that writers can use to rethink and revise their work to make it as engaging as possible. And we will do our best to create a safe and supportive space where writers can try out new ideas – and sometimes make mistakes – and then be able to try again. There may be many uncertainties ahead in the coming year, but we will – as always – be committed to starting where writers are, with their concerns, and working toward honest, constructive conversations about writing that emphasize collaboration and creativity.
We are excited about the year ahead and the chance to help writers do the important work of communicating the ideas they are passionate about to the world around them.
I’ve been struggling with how to start this version of my annual, end-of-year blog post. Every attempt to find words to convey how the extraordinary events of the past nine months, from pandemic to protests to political insurrections, have affected us in the University Writing Center quickly crumbles to cliché. At the same time, just a proud listing of accomplishments doesn’t seem appropriate to capture what has happened in the past year. So I think I’ll leave the big themes to someone else and just keep it simple.
I am always proud of the people who work in the University Writing Center and often tell people we’ve got the best Writing Center staff in the business. Yet it would be hard to overstate how special this year’s staff has been. As you may know, we have a completely new staff of MA Graduate Teaching Assistants as consultants each year. Despite the challenges of having to learn how to conduct all their consultations online, under the public health protocols of the pandemic, this group of consultants were consistent in their commitment to helping and supporting UofL writers. Whether they were working, in their masks, from our on-campus space, or from their homes, our consultants continued to listen carefully to writers and to provide excellent advice about writing, and empathetic support about how to navigate, and respond, to writing in such deeply unsettling times.
The less visible, but every bit as essential, part of our work happens behind the scenes with our administrative staff who kept everything organizationally running smoothly given the unprecedented challenge of having both writers, and often consultants, scattered all over the city (and beyond). It is a testament to their creativity, patience – and tenacity – that the organizational aspects of the things ran splendidly, allowing the consultants and writers to focus on issues about writing. This year, as in every year, the work done by Associate Director Dr. Cassandra Book, Administrative Associate Amber Yocum, and Assistant Directors Edward English, Olalekan Adepoju, and Nicole Dugan was simply indispensable to everything we accomplished.
Though it may be hard to appreciate from the outside, conducting all writing consultations online is a far more challenging teaching context than conducting appointments in person. For our consultants and our administrative staff, having to work completely online, while dealing with taking their own courses online, technological glitches, screen fatigue, physical isolation, students in the Library not wearing masks, and the political turmoil all around us, really has been truly extraordinary. It has also been exhausting. Like everyone else, we’re tired. It’s been hard on all of us and that is important to acknowledge. What I am proud of – and moved by – is that all of the University Writing Center staff, weary as they are, have done their best to remember that the writers bringing their work to us are also weary and stressed and worried about their writing. We have done our best all year to keep the writers’ needs at the forefront and to provide the individual, one-to-one response that is the core of our work in the University Writing Center. It’s been amazing to watch.
Thanks to the Best Writing Center Staff in the Business
Our superb, dedicated, and brilliant consultants make such a significant difference in so many UofL writers’ lives. Our consultants this year have been Michelle Buntain, Lauren Cline, Maddy Decker, Amanda Dolan, Chuck Glover, Ian Hays, Andrew Hutto, Ayaat Ismail, Zoe Litzenberg, Demetrius Minnick-Tucker, Cat Sar, Spenser Secrest, and Emma Turner. Also special thanks go to Writing Center Intern Kendyl Harmeling. Our amazing student workers were Mikaela Smith and Jency Trejo.
We want to give our special thanks and congratulations to Jency Trejo, on her graduation with her BA in English. Jency joined us as a student worker during her first semester at UofL and has been a central and important part of the University Writing Center ever since. We wish her all the best in the future.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 10, 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 – Writing Groups, Retreats, Community Writing
We were particular excited to collaborate with the Western Branch Library on re-establishing the “Cotter Cup” competition. In the early 20th Century Louisville poet and educator Joseph Cotter established a storytelling competition for local youth called the “Cotter Cup.” We worked to support Western Branch Library in re-establishing the Cotter Cup as a poetry contest. As part of the contest, local K-12 students had individual writing consultations with our University Writing Center consultants. The contest entries will be judged by local poets with an awards celebration next month. We hope that this will become an important and vital part of writing in the community going forward.
Writing Center Staff Achievements
The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship and creative work. 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, gave a presentation on “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference.
Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, gave a presentation titled,presented a paper on “Discursive Practices in Recurring Asynchronous Consultations: Implications for Peer Tutoring” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference. He also published the essay, “Rethinking Tutor-Writer Engagement in Asynchronous Consultations: A Conversational Approach to Recurring Witten Feedback Appointments” in The Dangling Modifier .
Michelle Buntain completed her MA Culminating Project, titled,”To Listen is to Witness: Discovering Suffering Through Literary Analysis.”
Maddy Decker was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine in Spring 2021 and served as editor of reviews. She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Register 16.”
Amanda Dolan was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and will have a book review published in the upcoming issue. She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Precipitated.”
Kendyl Harmeling completed her MA Culminating Project titled, “Circumventing Self-Destruction: A Study on Imposter Syndrome, Affect Dissonance, and the Power of Hospitality in a first-year Graduate Program.” She gave a presentation, “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference . Kendyl also was a Writing Center Administrative Intern in Fall 2020 and will be joining the UofL Rhetoric and Composition PhD program next year.
Ayaat Ismail was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and published a book review with poet Steve Kistulentz in the current issue. She also became managing editor of the Miracle Monocle’s mini anthology called MONSTER.
Demetrius Minnick-Tucker completed his MA Culminating Project, titled, “Sho Baraka’s The Narrative: Hip Hop and the Social Role of the Church.” He will also be joining the Georgia State University Literature PhD program in fall 2021.
Cat Sar completed her creative MA Culminating Project titled, “Ghosted.”
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 University 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Monsters, Choke,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.
Sharing writing can be challenging, especially when you’re joining an established community like a writing center or creative writing group.
It can be difficult to navigate the established norms and find just the right niche for your writing. Yet, every writer in the community has gone through those same experiences. It’s also okay to shop around a bit. Each writing community is unique, and some may be more or less accessible than others.
When I was a teenager, I started looking for an online, forum based, play-by-post fantasy role playing game (we’ll just call it an RPG). I wanted a place to create my own characters and explore their lives with the characters of other writers. Much to my dismay, some of the communities had hundreds of members, book-length lore files, and thousand-word posts. You could even be kicked from the community for being inactive for a week or two. Nope! Too scary. I ended up joining a very low-key forum, specifically picked for its small community and short posts.
I didn’t say very much at first. I would sign in, post, and leave for the day. That was about all of the social writing interaction I could handle; I did not, in any way, want to be around when the other members read my post. But guess what: no one complained. The stories continued on their merry way. I did not, in fact, derail the writing community.
Encouraged by this turn of events, I started talking to the other members through the forum’s chat box. The chat box took the stress out of socializing because it was so informal. There was no sense of finality when hitting the submit button like there was with a regular post. It also humanized the other members; they stopped being their characters and became themselves, and gradually they became friends, too.
At this point, the RPG really became fun. The social relationships improved the stories we were writing. We got to discuss where we wanted the stories to go and how we were going to get them there. Or, we complained when our characters refused to cooperate. We also started to recognize each other’s writing styles and got to watch as everyone’s writing naturally improved. We never set out to become better writers, though. It happened naturally, through time, practice, and experimentation.
I’d like to say that this experience made it easy to join new communities later on, but it didn’t. However, that didn’t stop me from going through the process again. I continue to make friends and learn through all of the writing communities I’m part of. There will always be some degree of anxiety when entering a new group, and that’s okay. Just try to keep in mind that writing communities tend to be very open and welcoming; we all have the same anxieties and reservations.
Earlier this year, Edward English, one of the assistant directors in the University Writing Center, suggested that we create a new promotional video drawing on the perspectives of our writing consultants about what they find meaningful in their work teaching writing. I agreed that it was a great idea and, this spring, Edward and consultants Michelle Pena and Jacob DeBrock, created the video you see here, titled, “Our Community”.
What I appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy, about this video is what they captured about the intangible, but essential, role that caring and community play in the work we do at the University Writing Center. On our website and in our presentations we always foreground, and rightly so, the expertise we have in teaching writing that can help students, staff, and faculty become stronger writers. Yet, just as crucial to our approaches to writing pedagogy is the work we do to create a culture of caring and empathy. We do this through a focus on listening, starting where the writer is, and, most of all, always remembering that we are responding to a person, not just a set of pages. You can see this commitment, and the pleasure it brings, in the words of the consultants in this video.
Empathy, listening, and caring, are not qualities that will show up in any official end-of-year reports. Emotions and ethics are typically not assessed by university administrators or accrediting agencies, or always considered appropriate ideas for discussion on a university campus. Still, these are the ineffable qualities that make our University Writing Center a distinctive and successful place for learning on campus. Because we focus on working with writers, not just on drafts, we know that we help writers develop a stronger sense of agency and confidence about their work. Because we listen first, and then respond, we also engage in conversations about how writers are shaping their identities, and how those are negotiated in the systems of power in the University and culture.
We did, in fact, work with an impressive number of writers this year – more than 5,000. Out of those visits came stronger drafts and more confident writers. We are grateful for the trust that writers from across the UofL community show in bringing their writing here and letting us work with them to make it stronger. What the numbers can’t show that the video gives a glimpse of is the care, compassion, and that vital sense of community that the consultants build every day with each other and all the writers who walk through our door.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 6, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Beyond Tutoring – Workshops, Events, and Community Writing
Our commitment to working with writers and supporting a culture of writing extend beyond our daily consultations. Here is a just a glimpse of what we have been working on this year.
Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events,
including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, the Celebration of Student Writing, Kick Back in the Stacks, and International Mother Language Day. Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the UofL Creative Writing Program, we again hosted a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series as well as two open-mic nights and one workshop in collaboration with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine.
The most important staff news of 2019 was the addition to the University Writing Center staff of Amber Yocum, as our Administrative Associate. Amber is in charge of our front desk, our scheduling system, office management, and supervising our student workers. She is brilliant and innovative and we’re lucky to have her as part of our community.
The new “Our Community” video also shows the community that our staff create among themselves. They do exceptional work as consultants and as full-time graduate students, but they also find time to take care of each other, and to laugh. I’m proud of them for that and think the university and the world can use more of it. It is the inspired and tireless work of all of our staff that, day after day, allows us to support UofL writers and create a culture of writing on campus and off. They also make this a fun place to work. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassandra Book and Assistant Directors, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Christopher Stuck. Our consultants this year have been Quaid Adams, Brooke Boling, Josh Christian, Jacob DeBrock, Nicole Dugan, Katie Frankel, Anna-Stacia Haley, Rachel Knowles, Catherine Lange, Michelle Pena, Liz Soule, Jon Udelson, Abby Wills, and Adam Yeich. Our student workers were Taylor Cardwell, Wyatt Mills, 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.
Bronwyn Williams, Director I had two Writing Center-related publications this year, co-authored with former University Writing Center associate and assistant directors. One was “Find Something You Can Believe In”: The Effect of Dissertation Writing Retreats on Graduate Students’ Identities as Writers.” with Ashly Bender Smith, Tika Lamsal, and Adam Robinson in Re/Writing the Center: Approaches to Supporting Graduate Students in the Writing Center. (Utah State University Press. 2019). The other publication was “Centering Partnerships: A Case for Writing Centers as Sites of Community Engagement,” with Amy McCleese Nichols, in Community Literacy. 2019. I also presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in with Cassie Book, Layne Gordon, and Jessie Newman, from UofL.
Cassandra Book, Associate Director published “Digital Curation as Collaborative Archival Method in Feminist Rhetorics.” with Pamela VanHaitsma. in the journal Peitho, spring 2019. She also gave the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Josh Christian and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. In addition, she presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, and the International Writing Centers Association Conference.
Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Final Transmission.” in Little Fiction. 2018 Flash Issue. She gave a reading at “Live at Surface Noise,” in December 2018. She was also awarded the UofL Creative Writing Graduate Student Award for Poetry, 2019
Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Rhetoric & Religion in the Twenty-First Century Conference and Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition.
Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Quaid Adams presented at the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research Conference, the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference, and served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.
Brooke Boling served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.
Josh Christian presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. He also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Liz Soule. He was awarded a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship and will be a Graduate Program Peer Mentor Coordinator next Year.
Jacob DeBrock presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900.
Nicole Dugan completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Writing the Self: First-Generation Students, Personal Statements and Textual Authority.”
Katie Frankel presented at the Indiana University Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference and had a book review of Sons of Blackbird Mountain published in Interstice. She also received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.
Anna-Stacia Haley received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.
Rachel Knowles completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Talking It Out: Towards Interdisciplinarity in Online Organizational Crisis Response”
Catherine Lange presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference.
Michelle Pena presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference
Liz Soule presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Josh Christian at Asbury University in April 2019. She also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Josh Christian.
Jon Udelson published a short story in Juked titled “Out & Elsewhere” and had a A book chapter accepted into the edited collection Style and the Future of Composition Studies. He presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition. He was named a board member of the Creative Writing Studies Organization. In the fall he will start a job as an Assistant Professor of English at Shenandoah University.
Abby Wills presented at the Uofl Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the University of Cincinnati English Department Interdisciplinary Conference.
Adam Yeich was named the Assistant Director of Creative Writing for 2019-20. He presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. He served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle , where he had a book review published, as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.