Writing can often feel like a solitary practice. It’s likely we’ve all had the troubling experience of staring into a blank page, searching ourselves for how to fill the void with our thoughts. And these lonely feelings have only been compounded by our collective public experience over the past few pandemic years. Yet during this time, I continually found comfort in the realization that when a writer sits in front of the page, they always bring others with them. We write to an audience, we engage with other voices in our field, and we collaborate with other writers to improve our practice. Indeed, when we are writing, we are not alone.
Writing, it would appear, is a much more social activity than we often think. With this truth in mind, I invite you to consider how further engaging in community as a writer may improve your practice. Here are a few benefits and advantages.
Everyone struggles with writing. Despite how it may seem, even the best writers experience difficulties or frustrations with their writing. But on the other side of struggle, progress awaits. When writing within a community, you’ll find others who not only understand what you are going through, but often they will share strategies that have worked for them in the past. One easy way to have a conversation about your writing is to make an appointment for a consultation at the University Writing Center. This free service invites writers to bring any piece of writing in, during any stage of the process. We’re also here for any writer, be that an undergraduate, graduate, faculty, or staff member. My own academic journey has been greatly impacted by writing center consultants. When I meet with a consultant, I feel heard, affirmed, and encouraged in my work. I like to think of it as a series of ongoing conversations about writing, which continually refine my practice and make me a better communicator.
One of the most treasured gifts a writer can receive is a reader. When writing in a community, we freely give each other this offering. When a person thoughtfully reads your work and responds to it, you receive perspective on your writing that will improve it. At the University Writing Center, we aim to provide students with useful suggestions they may take from our consultation to immediately bring their writing to the next level. We also welcome writers to attend multiple appointments on a single piece of writing. Our appointment sessions last 50 minutes and will always provide you with something to work on after the consultation is over. However, if you are looking for more feedback, we hope you will return to us for another chance to gain more insight. Communication in these appointments is key. Be sure to let your consultant know what you want to take from the session; they will do their very best to assist.
Another way to tangibly find community as a writer is to join a writing group. The University Writing Center offers multiple opportunities for writers to meet with other writers with similar goals. One such example is the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group which will begin again this fall. Another group starting soon is the Creative Writing Group, open to any creative writer seeking a group for growth and feedback. Groups like these, and many other events offered by the University Writing Center throughout the year, provide a chance for you to gain multiple perspectives on your writing, within a safe and helpful environment. Writing groups undoubtably help writers to set goals, maintain focus, and improve their work over time. You may also develop relationships with other writers, particularly with similar interests, that extend beyond your time in the group. Many of my lifelong friends are individuals I met during community writing events or retreats. Be sure to check in with the University Writing Center throughout the year to see when new groups or events are posted so you can experience these benefits, too.
While we have reviewed three important reasons to incorporate more community into your writing life, it is hardly a comprehensive list. Engaging in a community of writers certainly develops our technical skills, but also affects many of the more abstract qualities that make a good writer. I know my conversations with other writers have undoubtedly given me greater perspective, deeper empathy, and a wider awareness of the world. A good writing community can refine your purpose as a writer and push you towards bigger goals than you even thought possible. Maybe you hope to complete a novel, publish a poem, or conduct a new research study? A community of writers can help you achieve these dreams and will stand alongside you during the journey. It’s my hope we will see you at the University Writing Center soon to begin this process. Let’s get started today!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Returning to school terrified me. When I walked into my first undergraduate course at a local community college, I was certain I would fail, that I would not be able to act smart enough, or learn how to use the language of academia. Coming back to college was a lot like visiting a new location: it was similar to traveling to a new place, where I did not know the language, culture, and customs of the people. How does someone learn to live in a place they have never been before? By learning from their fellow travelers and the citizens who already reside there.
Education is not an individual experience, which judging by the number of times the first person “I” is used in the second sentence of this essay, is the way I perceived the endeavor when first returning to school. American academics, and American culture more generally, values individual effort and self-reliance. However, individuality only exists in relation to its difference from community: there is no “I” that exists without relation to the “we.” Thus, traveling through education means learning from your fellow passengers: it entails learning from the students who are traversing the new landscape with you. The relationships I built with my peers during my undergraduate journey—and now during my graduate travels—were possibly more important than much of the “education” I received from my classes. Indeed, lectures were important, but the real learning happened during conversations with others: a traveler can only read so many tourist pamphlets before asking someone what they know about the area. By creating study groups and book clubs with my classmates, my fellow travelers and I created communities that shared knowledge and put ideas into practice. It is these interactions, when I can articulate my thoughts in dialogue with other people, where I learn the most. Talking with fellow students, creating a dialogue between associate travelers, allows ideas and knowledge to collide into new forms of perception.
When arriving in a new location, the citizens who already reside there are the most knowledgeable of the culture. Building relationships with professors, tutors, and academic staff like librarians, not only made my travels through college easier, but showed me the “secret” venues that characterize the local experience: actively participating in the academic culture, instead of passively taking the necessary courses and exams—which resemble the cheesy tourist attractions in the travel analogy I am using—gave me a broader experience of college and the citizens (literally) living in it. During my journey at the local community college, I started visiting my favorite instructor’s office every chance I could. My relationship with my professor taught me the value of building academic relationships with faculty because our meetings introduced me to unique opportunities and made me feel like I was part of the campus community. Visiting with a tutor or meeting an instructor during their office hours, even only one time, can reshape intellectual interests and motivate new curiosities. Therefore, getting to know the colleges inhabitants, learning from who they are and not only what they know, makes the traveling expenses worth their value because the relationships create supportive, critical, and creative communities that will benefit any student in their travels that follow.
We hope that you will visit the University Writing Center and take away a souvenir that will last a lifetime.
This past Friday, February 21st, the University of Louisville Writing Center celebrated International Mother Language Day. This celebration offered me the chance to interact with students from different cultures and languages who are members of the university community, which opened my eyes to how diverse our campus is. If you are unfamiliar with this day, like I originally was, it has a fascinating history worth researching.
This observance was established by the United Nations in 1999 to promote multilingualism and language diversity across the world. The history behind this day has its roots in the Bengali Language Movement – a movement that emphasizes the stakes associated with multilingualism. On February 21, 1952, demonstration were head at Dhaka University, in what was then East Pakistan, against the adoption of a new state language at the removal of their mother tongue, Bangla. This event resulted in the killing of demonstrators who gave their lives to preserve their language. This event also lead to Bangla becoming one of the state languages of Pakistan. Until the writing center event this past week, I did not know the significance of this day, but I now have an entirely new perspective on the importance of multilingualism. As someone who grew up speaking English in America, the cultural significance of language was not something that often occurred to me, particularly not the impact that a loss of language can have on a culture.
As we celebrated on Friday, I realized that the relevance of this day within the university community and is crucial. As a university with over 700 international students and 200 scholars, recognizing and understanding the need for language diversity becomes even more significant, as language is foundational in preserving cultural tradition and diversity. The United Nations states that “When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.” These characteristics of language highlight the importance in preserving an encouraging multilingualism, especially within our university community.
Instead of seeing language as a barrier, the university allows us the opportunity to learn from other cultures through a variety of ways. Even though International Mother Language Day has passed, there are still a number of ways to interact with a diverse range of cultures on campus. The University of Louisville offers a variety of ways for students to connect with and learn from other languages, ranging from classes to clubs, such as the American International Relations Club, which is open to all students interested in multilingualism. There are also clubs like the Arabic Language and Culture Club and the Chinese Club, as well as events like the French Film Festival (showing films until 3/7!), which focus on particular languages and cultures. By participating in these clubs and supporting more language diversity on campus, we can help to create an environment that fosters and celebrates a variety of cultures, viewpoints, and opinions.
If you’re interested in finding a club, a list of UofL organizations can be found here.
If you would like to become more involved in the community, here are a few places to start:
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.
Last week I attended the University of Louisville’s commencement ceremony for doctoral students. As I looked through the program I noted the names of eleven of the graduates who had previously attended one of our University Writing Center Dissertation Writing Retreats. Several of them came up to me afterward to tell me again how valuable they found the experience of the writing retreat and the significant difference it made to them in their progress toward their degrees. As we talked about the jobs they were moving on to and their plans for future scholarship, it was gratifying to think that we had played some useful role in their graduate education.
This past week we once again were host to 14 Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the seventh year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spending their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff. Every day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunch.
The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented eight different disciplines at the University: Education, Engineering, Nursing, Rhetoric and Composition, Pan-African Studies, Pharmacology, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.
Tammi Alvey Thomas, Social Work. By far a fantastic experience! I would recommend this for anyone writing their dissertation. The staff at the Writing Center are extremely helpful and great to work with. Don’t miss out on this opportunity! I left the retreat much more organized, focused and energized.
Imelda Wright, Nursing. I had the privilege of attending the Dissertation Writing Retreat in May 2018. It was well structured with plenty of space for the occupants to write at their own pace without interruption. There was adequate support and structure throughout the day to help with specific questions. In addition, a personal writing consultant was assigned to each participant daily to assist with content, technique, and overall structure of writing.
Overall, the retreat was terrific. It was enriching and productive to be in a space surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals to each other. There was a cohesive sense of camaraderie and great ideas were shared. In addition, I loved that lunch and snacks were provided; this allowed and encouraged participants to remain in the general vicinity during the day.
Edward English, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This year’s dissertation writing retreat was energizing and helpful for me on a number of levels. I’ve just finished the first year of my PhD in English Composition and Rhetoric and when the Spring semester ended, my mind and body craved anything unrelated to school. I immediately took solace in long naps and hours of Netflix, in addition to enjoying trips like visiting the Red River Gorge and having one too many mint juleps at a very odd rainy Derby.
After a couple weeks of this leisure, however, I needed something manageable to get me back into the momentum of productivity. The dissertation writing retreat ended up being a wonderful balance of summer fun meets academic growth.
Interestingly, though I was the consultant, offering assistance to two awesome Experimental Psych. PhDs, I felt like I was the one who learned so much. Not having even started my own dissertation, reading through others’ work helped familiarize me with the types of challenges and rewards I can likely expect when I start running this academic marathon. What’s more, my two consultees were eager to absorb whatever questions or constructive criticism I had to offer—giving this Comp. 1 & 2 writing instructor a powerful (and much needed) inflation to his teacher ego and the satisfaction of feeling like he was truly helpful. I’m looking forward to being a consultant again next year, and am thankful that I’ll have this dissertation writing retreat available to me when I’ll need guidance and instruction on how to work through my own piece.
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. Having helped facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat in 2016 and 2017, I came into this week knowing that I could look forward to the excitement and energy that’s created when a group of writers come together. Each year, it’s so motivating to see people enjoy the shared experience of using writing to work through their ideas and scholarly identities. What starts on Monday as a gathering of individuals, each immersed in their own projects and challenges, ends on Friday as an interdisciplinary community of writers. What I noticed this time around, though, was how productive this interdisciplinarity can be–and, selfishly, how helpful it was for me as someone who is also working on my dissertation. Both of the writers I worked with this week were genuinely interested in hearing about my dissertation progress and offered feedback and resources that were so helpful. I walked away from each consultation feeling supported and valued by the writers I was working with, even though we were in different disciplines with different methods, theories, and goals. I was really reminded this week of what reciprocity looks and feels like, and how much we (writers) all have in common when we are approaching challenging–and rewarding–writing projects.
Jessica Newman, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. I’ve had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat both this year and last year. This year, as before, I was impressed with the writers as individuals (their commitment to sit down at 8 am each morning and write, and then continue to write) and as a community (supporting and learning from each other). But now that I am further in my own dissertation, the Retreat took on an even deeper resonance, and I appreciated the opportunity to myself take part—during group discussions, lunch and consultations—in the exchange of suggestions, ideas, commiseration and support. This sharing ranged from reviews of data analysis software to tips on how to use the vocabulary of your field to the often strong emotions evoked by writing those pesky lit reviews. I look forward to seeing the support, accountability and productivity from the Dissertation Writing Retreat continue in the Writing Center weekly Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer and this fall.
Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. As a consultant for the Dissertation Writing Retreat, I found that, in addition to helping writers, I personally got a lot out of the week. I was reminded of the power of talking about writing, working as a community of writers, and the importance of sharing research in an interdisciplinary context. My favorite parts of the week were the moments at lunch, or during workshops, when we got to chat about our research. Even when we were tired (or hungry) I still saw our eyes light up when talking about our research, and how often we found commonalities between research interests or methodology questions even when our fields were quite different from one another. I think that sometimes the frustration and daily grind of dissertation writing makes us forget that our research projects are really cool, and have the potential to make real impact on the world.
Rachel Rodriguez, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This week I had the opportunity to work with two writers from my own program, and our shared base of disciplinary knowledge helped us fast-forward into conversations about how knowledge is made and who “counts” as knowledge producers in the contexts of their research. Since both writers were focusing on the organization of their data chapters, we spent time playing with various options, envisioning how each schema might impact their overall message. I found myself getting really absorbed in the work they are doing, and our collective excitement made for a fun atmosphere where ideas could build off of each other as the week progressed. Getting a glimpse into both of their writing processes as well as strategies for goal-setting was personally rewarding, reminding me how attuned we are to our own way of writing, but how much we can learn by talking about how we write with others.
THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE
It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Layne Gordon, Jessica Newman, Caitlin Ray, and Christopher Stuck as well as the other fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who worked with the writers: Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Rick Wysocki. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.
It’s hard to shake the mythology of writing as a solitary activity. Over and over again, people talk about writing as something that geniuses do in inspired isolation. Yet our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat demonstrates each year what much of the research in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies shows, that successful writing is also very much a social practice. Sure, at some point a writer types out the words that convey individual thoughts. Before and after that moment, however, the power of community and
individual relationships can be essential to a writer’s success. The powerful presence and influence of others is at the core of our approach to our Dissertation Writing Retreats, and why we think they have been so successful for the past six years. There are two ways, in particular, that the social aspects of writing come into play during the week.
Writing is Contagious
Sitting in a room full of people writing inspires people to write – and to keep writing. There is an energy and accountability that comes from committing to writing, and to staying in your chair and working through the obstacles you might bump into as you write. Every year people tell us how the energy and focus of working in a group of writers propels them forward with their dissertations. Many writers also find the sense of mutual accountability helps them be productive with their writing. In addition to the Dissertation Writing Retreat, we will be continuing to provide the opportunity for accountability with our weekly Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer (for more information click here).
Another way we support community during the Dissertation Writing Retreat is through conversation. Every day we break for small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (How to Interpret and Respond to Committee Comments, Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Approach Literature Reviews). These conversations not only help with issues about writing, but the chance to hear from other writers with similar concerns – and different suggestions – reminds all the writers that they are not alone and that all writers need support. Then we break for lunch and have time to relax and socialize – also a valuable part of the writing process.
Relationships and Motivation
The other social aspects of writing that are invaluable during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are the relationships that develop between the writers and the University Writing Center consultants with whom they work during the week. Each writer is paired with the same consultant and they meet each day to talk about drafts, writing processes, organization, or just be a sounding board for ideas and brainstorming. The research on
writing and on motivation (including my own) shows that supportive relationships that offer constructive criticism, but also respectful listening, provide writers with the strategies and motivation to move forward once the retreat is over. What’s more, the consultants also learn from the writers, and that reciprocity is one of our key values in the University Writing Center.
The Dissertation Writing Retreat, while a lot of work for us at the University Writing Center, is one of my favorite weeks of the week. I always leave inspired. But, rather than tell you more of my thoughts about it, here are some reflections from the writers and consultants who made the day possible.
Katie Adamchik, Sociology. This week was what I needed to boost my productivity. The retreat designated time and psychological accountability for me to focus on my dissertation. The workshops and consultations helped me organize my work and gave me strategies for moving through issues that come up along the way. I appreciated being surrounded by a community of people working toward a similar goal – we commiserated, supported, brainstormed, and celebrated together. I highly recommend this to all students!
Cortney Armstrong, Microbiology and Immunology. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been an invaluable week for me. Coming from the health sciences campus, I thought I would feel like a fish out of water, however, I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable I felt and how productive I was. No matter what field or discipline you are coming from, this retreat will be of great benefit for you! Not only was I productive on my dissertation (I completed a chapter this week!), but I was also productive in using the tips and skills I needed to plan for writing the remainder of the chapters for my dissertation. It was a wonderful week spent with a community of brilliant peers, all who are focused and pushing towards the same goal, finishing! I highly encourage all graduate students to apply for this retreat and come prepared to be astonished with how valuable it is and how much you will accomplish. I can’t thank the Writing Center enough for giving me this opportunity!
Lily Assgari, Psychological and Brain Sciences. My experience in the dissertation writing retreat was nothing short of amazing. It was incredibly helpful to sit in a room with the intention to write for hours a day with little to no distractions. Our community of writers supported and encouraged each other. We would discuss our issues and share
our experiences daily. The accountability of having to talk about what I was had accomplished kept me motivated. The tool and tips that consultants suggest helped make a daunting process more manageable. While the week was definitely exhausting, the experience is well worth it. For the first time, I can honestly say that I am looking forward continuing to write. I would definitely recommend the dissertation writing retreat to any student that needs to write a dissertation.
Corey Boes, Social Work. My time spent at the Dissertation Writing Retreat was invaluable. I am in the very early stages of organizing and writing my dissertation and being able to learn different writing processes and strategies from my daily consultations and even from the other retreat goers was extremely helpful. The daily break out discussions were informative and helpful. They covered topics that were relevant both immediately and as I make progress through my project. I hope to be able to carry forward with the great writing momentum that I was able to gather through my time spent here this week.
Vasiliki Kosmidou, Entrepreneurship. I highly recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to everyone. It is very hard to summarize in a few sentences how valuable it has been for my dissertation progress. I came to the Retreat while still collecting my data, so I was able to use my time efficiently to write up my methods section and organize the overall structure of my chapters. Beyond the sense of accountability and community, I found extremely useful the small group discussions which gave me strategies for restructuring my dissertation for other purposes, such as conference presentations and journal submissions. I have also learned a lot from my writing consultant, who provided very useful feedback on my writing and resources that I could use beyond the writing of my dissertation. Lastly, as a graduate student, I always struggle during the academic year shifting my focus between research, teaching, writing my dissertation along with my other responsibilities. As a result, I certainly appreciated that the Retreat offered me not only an encouraging working environment, but also the luxury of writing for 8 hours every single day. By doing so, it has helped me build momentum and exceed my writing goals. Thank you for this wonderful experience!
Xiaohong Li, Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. Thank you so much for providing me and other students with such a great opportunity for writing our dissertation in the workshop. During the workshop, I can devote my time and concentrate on writing my dissertation. Working with the consultant in the workshop is also very helpful. I also enjoy chatting with or listening to other graduate students talking about their writing experiences in graduate school. Taken together, it is a wonderful experience and really speeds up the process for achieving my Ph.D. degree. I would like to recommend it to other Ph.D. students.
Keri Mathis, Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat gave me the designated thinking and writing time that I needed to make significant progress on my dissertation. I especially appreciated the structure of the morning writing time, discussion groups, and afternoon consultations. I left each day knowing exactly what I needed to do for the next day’s writing and left the retreat with tips for how to sustain my productivity
Jeanelle Sears, Social Work. Participating in the Dissertation Writing Retreat provided me a cognitive and physical space of accountability that was so needed after months of stagnation. It also came at the perfect time, as my committee was expecting a draft of my early chapters in only a few weeks following this retreat. I came in on Monday morning with a ten-page conceptual paper and am leaving with more than 30 pages of drafted material and a solid outline for how the rest of the chapters will evolve. I appreciated not only the quiet time for independent writing, but also the camaraderie of fellow students and the writing center consultants. Both equally advanced my thinking about this project overall, and offered smaller strategies I can engage in for editing and organization, including leaving some things alone in the short-term. After all, the best dissertation is a done dissertation, and I have new energy to get mine over that finish line.
Jaime Thompson, Social Work. The Dissertation Writing Retreat at the U of L Writing Center has been refreshing and motivating. It is indeed a “retreat” as it allows you to purposefully withdraw from the hustle and bustle of your daily life to devote an entire week to writing and learning. I highly recommend it to any Ph.D. student wanting to join a community and feel supported in the process of preparing your dissertation project, no matter what stage of the process you are in.
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. This week I was once again reminded of the power of talking through our ideas even as we’re struggling to form them. I think we still imagine the academic as someone who works in isolation–sitting in a room, at a computer, generating ideas that spring from her head alone. But this image ignores the fact that we need other people to talk to about our ideas and to encourage us when we’ve struck something good. This week, I learned every day from the writers I was working with because we shared so much as we were talking through their dissertation projects. For example, one of the writers I worked with this week came up with an excellent metaphor for her dissertation–nesting dolls. While talking about the scope of her work, she said it felt like she was starting with the baby: she had a very clear problem and research site in mind, but she had to find all the other contexts and conversations that surrounded that smaller, situated, local issue and describe those other contexts in her introductory chapter. I have found myself thinking about this metaphor all week, particularly as I have been working on my own dissertation prospectus. It has been so valuable to think about the conversations I am contributing to as nested. This metaphor encompasses so much about both the struggle and the excitement of creating a dissertation project, and it exemplifies just one of the many ways that my conversations with other writers this week have shaped how I’m thinking about my own work.
Rachel Gramer, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has helped me think about how easy it is to internalize academic and dissertation writing practices (and rather quickly). So much of what I could offer as a tutor came from my recent dissertation writing experiences, which include but also transcend the immediate acts of writing words on screen or page. I was glad to share my experiences about the diss writing process, working with committee members, and the larger purpose of the dissertation in academia, in specific fields, and in graduate education. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this week has been the privilege to create conditions for dissertation writers to feel heard and affirmed in their struggles and triumphs. It was such a pleasure to confirm for graduate student writers that yes, all writers make these mistakes; yes, all of us struggle with these issues; and yes, your writing is good, is clear, and is progressing. And yes, your ideas and contributions to your field are salient and needed–and writing your dissertation is the beginning of sharing your thoughts and findings with others, not The End.
Jamila Kareem, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. This summer marks my second year at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. As a consultant this year, I found that working with Ph.D. students in Sociology and Social Work exposed me to ways to examine my own work through new theories and methodologies. When I completed the retreat as a participant, I learned the importance of conversing about my own work to understand how it appeared to others. This year, I relied on the importance of understanding others’ work so that our experiences—personal, professional, and scholarly—may help each other through the research and writing process as we all continue in this field of academia.
Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. As the assistant director for graduate student writing, I have spent much of the fall and spring semesters speaking with graduate students about their prospectuses and dissertations, but it was not until working at the dissertation writing retreat that I had the opportunity to truly see the writing process in action. Over the course of each day, the sounds shifted from the silence of 14 writers hard at work to the hum of the discussion groups to the noise of the writers at lunch, talking about dissertations and anything but, and then back to quiet as the day ended with writing and reflection. As a Ph.D. student in the early stages of her dissertation, I found it motivating and heartening to see this community form in just a few short days, to see writers sharing strategies and emotional support. I myself learned a lot that will help me as I move forward in the dissertation process.