Tag: communication

Writing as Hospitality: 4 Ways to Host Your Reader Well

Abby Wills, Consultant

Is it the way those freshly baked sentences melt in your mouth?Abby Wills

Is it the long, hair-frizzling hours it takes to make it?

Is it the satisfied, sleepy feeling after it’s gone?

I’m not sure either. But I do know that the act of writing is rarely done in isolation. When you write, you are almost always writing for someone. In a way, as the writer you are the host, and your reader is the guest, whom you must welcome into your home of paragraphs and feed with your long slaved-over words.

How does one host well? The practice of hosting is difficult enough when your guest is sitting face-to-face with you at your table, but what about when you don’t get to see your guest in person? What about when your guest is not coming to your house, but coming to your writing? How can your essay welcome, feed, and make conversation with your guest so that they feel like they have been hosted well and would be happy to come back?

This may seem an odd way to think about writing, but seeing your reader as your guest actually has practical implications. Here are four ways to host your reader well.

1. Know your reader.

It is embarrassing both for you and for your guest if you greet them at the door but can’t remember their name. On the other hand, if you ask your guest about their sick family member they mentioned to you once several days ago, then they will know you care since you remember such small details. Just as hosting well depends on your familiarity with your guest, writing well depends on your familiarity with your reader. Your reader—and therefore what they know, what they want to hear, what they are interested in, and what references they will get—will be different depending on whether you are writing a rhetorical analysis for class, an article for a medical journal, a personal statement for an application, or a short story for children. Knowing who you are writing for is the beginning of hosting them well with your words.

2. Know what your reader needs.

A good host is attentive to a guest’s needs. If the guest says, “I’m thirsty,” or “I’m cold,” or “I have a headache,” and the host doesn’t think to bring water, or a blanket, or medicine, the host has arguably failed in their host-ly duties. Although we can’t hear our readers speak as we are writing, a good writer/host will start to hear the needy reader’s voice in between sentences: “I need more information here,” “I want to know why this is important,” “I don’t understand the context of your argument,” “I don’t know where you’re going with this.” If you know your reader (see #1), you will know when they need more from their writer-ly host. And if you are an attentive host, then you will eagerly fetch that extra information your reader was missing–along with a blanket and some tea.

3. Give your reader clear directions.

Just as a guest will feel uncomfortable if they can’t find their host’s house—or the bathroom, or the kitchen, or the coat closet—your reader will also feel uncomfortable if you do not give them the directions they need to get smoothly through your paper. The kind of directions you give depends on knowing your reader (again, see #1). If your guest has been to your house several times already, you don’t need to tell them where to hang their coat. Likewise, if your reader is already in your field of study, you won’t need to define terms they already know. However, if your reader is unfamiliar with your field, your topic, or your argument, they will need clear signs in order to follow where you want them to go. The considerate writer—like the considerate host—points the reader in the right direction.

4. Be interested in your subject.

What does that have to do with hospitality? Why would my reader care if I’m interested in what I’m writing or not? I’m glad you asked.

You are a guest at a dinner with family friends. Someone brings up your host’s favorite hobby. Suddenly your host’s eyes light up. She smiles. She starts telling a story. She gestures excitedly. She raises her eyebrows. She laughs. The other guests laugh. They listen attentively. They ask for the rest of the story.

When your friend really loves something, you can tell. When they are fascinated by something, you can tell. And if they are really, really interested in something—often you can’t help but be interested in it too. Just as the above host tells a story that excites her (and thus excites her guests), the hospitable writer ought to write about what truly fascinates him—because the reader will know if the writer was bored with his subject, and the reader will be bored too. For the sake of his guests, the thoughtful host will not prepare a dinner he thinks is bland; for the sake of his reader, the thoughtful writer will not write an essay he thinks is boring.

Why does this matter?

It depends. If you want your guests to be glad they came, to want to come back, to exclaim, “This meal is so good!”—then you will make the effort to know them, pay attention to their needs, give them good directions, and foster interesting conversation. If you want your reader to enjoy your writing, to read easily, and to understand your argument, then you will practice thoughtful writing as you practice thoughtful hosting—with your guest in mind. When a guest is hospitably welcomed into someone’s home, they remember.

Keaton’s Adventures in Letter Writing

Keaton Price, Consultant

Every August in elementary school, my teachers would send out giant envelopes filled with information about the upcoming school year. Most importantly, these parcels contained the list of students who would be in my homeroom. Even though I knew I would not receive my school’s mailing until the 4th or 5th, on August 1st, I would excitedly wait for the mailman to arrive with any deliveries. Every day our mail would show up, and not wanting to seem like a crazy child who had been peering out her bedroom window obsessively since 8 a.m., I would wait until the mailman drove off to go search our mailbox. Normally, my much-anticipated envelope would take a few days to Keatonarrive; however, when it did finally make it to my house, I would excitedly tear open the parcel and eagerly scan all of the pages for my homeroom details. The wait was over, and I could stop stalking the mailman.

Today, in a world of texts and emails, all of which I am instantly notified about and receive electronically, I started to think about the last time I had received a physical letter in the mail that was meant solely for me. Of course, I get bills (unfortunately) and random advertisements; however, the only written, personalized correspondences I receive are “thank you” notes. Even those are pretty rare, though. I therefore decided to start writing more personalized letters, an activity that has undoubtedly declined in the wake of technological advancements.

To start my project, I chose to write to my friend who goes to school up at Notre Dame. Although we communicate every day through texts, snapchats, or messages on Facebook, I thought it would be nice to write him a physical letter. Since part of what makes receiving a letter so fun is the tactile aspect of getting an envelope and letter that one can hold and keep, I therefore started my adventure by picking out the perfect set of stationary at Carmichael’s Bookstore. As a notoriously indecisive person with a warped sense of time, I spent way too long searching for the perfect notecard and, once I selected one, barely made it to work on time. (PSA: Powerwalking from your car in 80 degree weather is not fun. However, I was quite impressed that I made it to work with four minutes to spare, so I will be entering the 2020 Olympics in Toyko as a highly ranked power-walker.)

Ok back to letter writing… In my actual note, I wanted my handwriting to be perfect, and I knew that if I had a bunch of scratched out words, I would not be satisfied. I therefore wrote out a draft of my note on another piece of paper first before transferring my ideas to the actual letter. While I was most certainly just overthinking things, I began to wonder during this drafting process about the authenticity of moving my ideas from my notebook to the notecard. If, for instance, in my draft I told my friend that I was writing my letter from UofL’s University Writing Center but then ended up copying my ideas onto the physical letter while at home, was I lying in my note? I was no longer at the Writing Center, so could I honestly tell my friend that I was writing from that location? While this moral predicament is ultimately absurd because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter where I wrote my draft or letter, it is still an interesting question to ponder and makes me feel sort of philosophical.

Once I’d finished transcribing the letter, I then set about addressing the envelope. Although this sort of writing is standardized by the postal service, in addressing my letter by hand, I continued to add a personal touch to the note. By writing out the address and the entirety of the letter, my friend could see that I had physically taken the time to craft each word. This personalization gave this letter an authenticity and sincerity that is rarely found in emails or texts.

With my letter finished and envelope addressed, I then found a stamp and dropped my sealed note in the nearest mailbox. The fun with letter writing doesn’t end here though! Since my friend has no idea I am sending him a letter, I cannot wait to see how surprised he will be when he receives his note!

How I Write: Siobhan E. Smith — Media Scholar

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Dr. Siobhan E. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Louisville. Her research interests involve minority matters in the media, and her single-authored projects explore portrayals of race and gender in reality television. She teaches Introduction to Mass Communication, African Americans in the Media, Television Criticism, and Reality TV. She is a proud graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, Louisiana State University, and the University of Missouri. Siobhan enjoys watching trashy reality TV and reading.

How I Write: Siobhan E. Smithsmith

Location: Now? At my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Collierville, Tennessee.  For my writing? Usually, on my couch, with trashy talk/reality/court TV on in the background. I have found Snapped marathons on Oxygen and Law and Order: SVU marathons on USA to be very stimulating background fodder.

Current project: Here’s just a few (!): I am very blessed to collaborate with several of my colleagues on very intriguing research. I am still working with my friends in Communication, Pan African Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology on our NIH-funded project, which explores healthy food habits in Louisville and Hopkinsville. I’m also revising a manuscript with my mentee that is an analysis of MTV’s The Shop, revising another with two awesome colleagues from Social Work and Sociology that explores Black men’s use of popular culture to make sense of their romantic relationships, and putting the finishing touches on yet another with my Communication colleagues which will hopefully go out before school starts. In my head, I’m kicking around some individual projects, but they are in their beginning stages and I’m too shy to share those just yet. 😉

Currently reading: Club Monstrosity by Jesse Petersen. It’s a funny and quirky read about modern day monsters (e.g., The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster) who have a support group, and then they start being murdered. Whodunnit?!

  1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

    As you can see from above, usually collaborative research projects. I will do my homework when I work with my friends because I don’t want to let them down. UofL is an AWESOME place for building relationships and friendships. I’m working on being as diligent for myself.

  2. When/where/how do you write*?

    I try to write a little bit every day. But I’ve gotten away from the idea of filling up a blank space with words every single day. Although, if you want to publish, that is a necessity sooner than later. I count meetings, discussions, etc. as time toward my writing. Anything that helps me get closer to that pub counts. Revising a manuscript, looking for literature, etc. When I answered “Location” above, I mentioned my love of my TV and my couch. While not good for my neck or my back, I’m too lazy to drive 20 minutes to campus to work in my office, and apparently too lazy to clean up the “office” in my apartment.

    On a good day, if I don’t have any distractions (the TV doesn’t count b/c it’s my friend), I can literally write for hours (eight or more), from early afternoon to early in the morning. I’ve read that this “binge” writing isn’t good, but I feel a supreme sense of satisfaction when I can see what I have accomplished – whether it’s several new pages of manuscript, many freshly read articles, etc. I admit to being frustrated when I get hungry or need a bathroom break, b/c I get into a groove and don’t want to stop until I get to a good stopping place.

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    My TV, my laptop, articles annotated and ready to go, and excitement for where a project might take me!!! Sometimes, if I get frustrated w/ a particular section or idea, I’ll write it out and then type it up.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    As one of my professors at Mizzou told me about getting started: Just start! Write a paragraph of the intro, do an outline, start reading the literature. Do it! Then you just have to finish it.

    For revision: Work on one section at a time and give yourself rewards before you go to the next. You can cat-nap, check your e-mail, call your friends, etc. Don’t get beside yourself w/ those rewards, however. Time them (15 minutes is probably enough).

    Give your manuscript to someone you trust. I have a few people I can do this with. It’s great to have another pair of eyes help you see things you couldn’t and help you think through things that were driving you insane.In general, set reasonable goals.

    And remember, whatever you’re doing ALWAYS takes longer than what you originally planned.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

    HA- I think ALL of these things I’ve mentioned came from someone else. For those needing to publish research, Belcher’s book (Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks) is a dream. But I would say, figure out what works best for YOU, and do that. If you like to work in a coffee shop every day, great. If you have to work quietly in a locked room, fine. Do you! Schedule time for your writing, and be good to yourself when you accomplish your goals.

    Best of luck to you in your writing endeavors! Don’t forget the little people when you strike writing gold…