Everyone knows that writing is difficult. And writing, especially creative writing, has become quite difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing during the pandemic has posed several different challenges, and this still feels unusual to me. Every aspect of our lives has seemingly been interrupted or altered due to the outbreak of COVID-19, so why should writing be any different? For me, writing during the pandemic has become more difficult because there is no end in sight and every related action becomes increasingly polarized in the news each week. Writing is the last thing I can think about right now, and access to support networks is gone. While the pandemic has posed a unique challenge, it also offers us the opportunity to help us grow, hopefully both as writers and as people.
Although the act of writing is usually thought of as being done in solitude, which can, obviously, be done during the pandemic, this still feels as though certain aspects of the writing process are being left out. I have always viewed getting feedback as a vital part of writing – from friends, colleagues, and peers,for any piece of writing that I do, whether that is a piece of academic or creative writing. While emails, texts and other forms of long distance communication have been beneficial, this is still not a substitute for discussions of the piece as a whole in person with someone whose thoughts and opinions I value. Even this very blog post, I intend to have someone proofread.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected other aspects of writing as well. It is now much more difficult to write with anyone and in any public space. Although these difficulties are the result of measurements taken for our safety, knowledge of this fact does not make these challenges any less difficult to work with. In fact, knowing that some people have openly violated such measurements has, for me, at times, made focusing on the prospect of writing all the more difficult. When thinking about how the pandemic has disrupted life and how long it has lasted, to see or hear of someone openly not care about precautions for one’s own safety, as well as the safety of those around them, can add another topic of distraction from any activity, including writing of any kind.
Creative writing can also function as a therapeutic act. However, as the pandemic has continued, with no end in sight due to the U.S. government’s current administration’s lack of leadership on this issue, this raises the question as to what writing during the pandemic can accomplish, as the pandemic is still ongoing and all of the trials and tribulations will continue, even after one has finished writing something. If writing can be seen as a potential way to come to terms with something or to make sense of something, what can be accomplished when the circumstances keep changing due to the pandemic?Ideally, any act of creative writing would provide some form of catharsis, even if the difficult circumstances under which that writing was produced continue for the foreseeable future.
Working as a Writing Center consultant for the first time, I have found that, despite any technological issues and doubts that the writers have had with their writings, they still desire feedback from the consultants. This has shown, to me, that all writers value feedback, even if this feedback is for assignments and academic writing. Something that I had not expected was that working with other writers, from a variety of different areas, and in different stages of drafting, has improved my own academic writing skills. I’ve found that working with other writers can be beneficial to both the writer and the consultant. As a consultant works with a writer to improve their draft, so too does the consultant’s understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of writing.
Finally, since I have been in graduate school, I have found patience to be the greatest asset to writing during the pandemic. Whether this be patience with technology working or patience in waiting for inspiration in writing, the pandemic has shown that patience is an incredibly valuable character trait to have during this time. The pandemic has led to us all making adaptations in our work and patience is a necessary component when learning something in an environment that is new to everyone. Additionally, developing more patience is something that would seem to be only to one’s benefit. Hopefully, everyone has developed more patience since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Hello! Welcome to the writing center blog. I’m Ash, and today, I’m going to talk about writing poetry.
I am something of a formalist as a poet. I dislike writing free verse, and all of my poems are meticulously constructed. This is not, however, a commentary on the quality of free verse poetry. I am no Robert Frost to scorn free verse as playing tennis with the net down. No, I dislike writing free verse not because it is bad, but because I am bad at it.
The blank page, to me, is a yawning void that I have no words to fill. There is no muse inspiring me with images to paint with letters, there is no quiet artistic voice in me whispering the secrets of beauty. My poetic inspiration, inexorably, comes from having rules. If I am given none to work within, I will give them to myself, either by requiring rhymes, meters, or syllabic restraints. When I know the rules within which I must work, it engages me to find creative ways to fill those restraints and stretch them out. Working within them, I have been forced to learn subtleties of poetry.
Let us take enjambment. Academically, I knew that enjambment meant ‘the continuation of a sentence beyond the line.’ Perhaps a professor could have explained that it also serves to place special emphasis on the last word in one line or the first word in the next, or to create a doubled meaning. Knowing these things intellectually, however, was nothing to feeling the practice of them in my first sestina.
The sestina form forgoes rhyme or meter. Instead, it is a six (plus one!) stanza poem of six lines each (except that plus one), where the same six words are repeated in each stanza. They always sit at the end of the line, and they change which line they sit at the end of over the course of the poem. It creates a unique and cyclical rhythm to a poem, with words sometimes repeated quickly and other times languidly distant, and a spoken sestina often carries a dreamy way about it from that curious pattern.
To try and write each line as self-contained would require making a poem functionally formed of 36 short sentences, which is at best awkward and at worst comic. Instead, a sestina demands considerable enjambment, and the repetition makes words want for re-interpretation. Words with more than one definition, or that can serve as noun or verb both, make for powerful additions, and weave the lines together.
I’ll admit freely, my first sestina was terrible. It was about a firing squad, and I exploited the six stanza structure to talk about the five men firing and the one being fired at. It was not terribly elegant and it was certainly not beautiful, but by the time I had finished it, I understood the meaning of enjambment. If we end a line on a weak or meaningless word (a ‘the’ or an ‘an’ or a ‘such’) the reader can flow through and only take one reading from it. If we end a line on a word that carries implications (‘blossomed’ or ‘flew’ or ‘saw’), that word is briefly embedded in the reader, and then we can either build-upon or subvert that embedded word with the subsequent line.
Of course, explaining this is an irony. I have already expressed that I learned by doing, and so explaining is not helpful. Instead, I encourage everyone who writes poetry to grind through at least one sestina or two as a challenge to the self. It will be frustrating, but it will also be rewarding. If you’re quite irate at me for making you write one after finishing, you can bring it by the writing center and make me read it as a punishment. If that’s the price I have to pay for spreading a bit more poetry into the world, I pay it gladly.
I don’t write sestinas anymore. Lesson learned and all that. While I have a sprawling list of these strict forms of classic poetry, in truth I rarely use them as they stand. I borrow pieces of their rules and bend them together when I’m facing the blank page, I give myself restraints to make my game exciting. I have the net down, as Frost might say, but on my court I have added an extra ball, a playful dog, and a large rotating fan.
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.
Are you a creative writer? Are you part of the University of Louisville Community? Are you part of the larger city of Louisville community?
If so, this post is for you. Miracle Monocle, the literary journal published through the University of Louisville, is hosting a variety of events this semester, in addition to accepting submissions for publication in the journal (set to re-open at the end of the semester for the next upcoming issue).
Our first upcoming event is our Valentines’ Day open-mic event hosted in the University Writing Center inside Ekstrom Library on the first floor. The event will be on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 5:30pm-7:00pm. Come share your poetry about love or a lack of love (in any of its many varied forms).
In addition to this, we will be hosting events later this spring for both University of Louisville students and the larger metropolitan Louisville residents, including a writing workshop toward the final third of the semester. You can bring in your creative work for class, work on getting a final portfolio together. You can bring in work you’d like to submit—either to Miracle Monocle or elsewhere—and get feedback from peers and some of the editors at Miracle Monocle.
Or, you can just come in to take the time to write in a productive atmosphere amongst other writers. Details will be announced later this semester. Submissions for the fall issue of Miracle Monocle will re-open after classes conclude for the semester, after the spring issue, Miracle Monocle 12 premieres. The editors will also be starting a podcast soon, either streaming readings of past work published in the journal or else performing the readings themselves.
So, if you write, no matter what you write, stop by for a visit at one or all of our events. You’ll have a good time, and you can meet the editors and other writers in your community. For more information, you can follow us on one of our social media pages, with the links and handles listed below. We’re looking forward to exciting semester of writing and literature with you all.
Don’t forget, you can stop by the University Writing Center to speak with a consultant if you want some help with your story, poem, play, script, or essay (or any other writing project, school-related or otherwise). We have consultants here to help with whatever you need, in a variety of focus areas, including creative writing. See you soon!
Paradoxical to the title of this, many people seem to enjoy creative writing because it often does not confine to the sometimes strict, regimented boundaries of an academic essay. Writing affords an allowance of freedom and imagination that sometimes feel prohibitive in the standard research paper. However, conducting some research for your creative writing can make your piece more vivid, interesting, and overall stronger than before.
In a creative writing class at my undergraduate university, my favorite professor ever required us to undergo and document research for our various pieces. Because, at the time, I was working on my now-finished historical fiction novel, I felt certain that research would bring my characters and story to life even more.
Starting at Half Priced Books, I gathered up some informative and very interesting texts that directly related to my fictional world, such as Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, Children of the Wild West, and multiple others. Many of the specific details of my writing come directly from information I have learned from these books. After beginning my collection of texts that related to my novel, I began to hunt through antique stores, looking for artifacts of the time period I was writing in to try and put myself in the scenes more. One day, I even found and purchased a McGuffey’s Primer published in the time period my characters exist.
Lastly, I began taking trips to a local museum called Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth. I nerded out every time I walked in with my pen and notebook, writing down facts I found interesting from posted information and asking the museum curators various questions, such as how a lower-class family of the time might get by (people who couldn’t afford beeswax to make candles could instead use the fat of sheep, by the way). I walked through the various set-ups and took pictures, envisioning my characters dwelling in the buildings.
Even if your creative writing work isn’t historical in nature, it can still benefit from research. If you’re writing a mystery, researching the tactics of real criminals can be insightful and also very interesting. A novel about life working in a circus can be made more believable and interesting if you read (both fiction and non-fiction) books and watch movies about circus performers. For one particular scene in my novel, my professor suggested that I go to a fire station to ask a firefighter about specific details pertaining to a house catching on fire.
When writing any type of creative piece featuring characters or events that you’re not personally familiar with, research can only serve to enhance your fictional world. Not only will you learn a tremendous amount through various forms of primary and secondary research, but you will more than likely have a great time doing it and be inspired to keep writing.
Around Halloween, secrets and spirits loom around, hiding behind every corner where you’d least expect it. Ghouls and goblins lurk, hoping to turn you into a snack., in particular, are the sneakiest, waiting to spring upon you from every darkened hallway, even lurking in the wiring of your phone, speaking through the mouths of the unlucky souls they possess.
Outside of the context of Halloween, however, what exactly is a ghost…writer? Well, a quick Google search will define it as someone who is “hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author.” Although it often involves doing a bit of detective work to figure out if a ghostwriter was the writer, many well-known books have been ghostwritten. These include many of those in the James Bond series, dozens of autobiographies (including An American Life by Ronald Reagan), technical and business books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner, as well as works of literature like the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keen (a pseudonym used by multiple ghostwriters to publish the series).
What is the purpose of having a ghostwriter? Many authors of popular series would begin with so much success that the demand for books became too high, causing them to hire ghostwriters to speed up the process of churning out so many novels. Celebrities and politicians use ghostwriters because they may not have the time or inclination to actually write their own autobiographies, but still have a desire for their story to be known. Leaders in technical fields may feel they are too close to the knowledge at hand to translate it effectively for a larger audience to understand. In the case of the Nancy Drew books, a pseudonym was established early and agreed upon by the many ghostwriters who wrote the series.
During my time as a ghostwriter, I wrote for informational technology (IT) professionals who did not have the time or inclination to write pieces meant for a larger, more layman-based audience. As someone with very little knowledge of IT concepts, I interviewed the experts and wrote marketing-based blogs that someone with very little IT experience could understand. These blogs were published on the company website under the experts’ names.
Ghostwriters do not write simply so the other person receives all of the credit. Rather, the author has the original idea, and the ghostwriter transcribes it. Ghostwriters help the author publish and spread their ideas, messages, and story, helping the author put words to their original ideas. Ghosts aren’t so scary after all!
So there is a rather large and close literary community here is Louisville, especially within the university, and this is something I was very happy to find here when I moved from rural Northeast Ohio. There are a whole bunch of things I could post in this blog concerning writing, but I wanted to focus on something that would be especially useful to the future endeavors of the writing community here and at large. It’s a topic I didn’t have access to or knowledge about accessing until well into my own academic and creative writing career: submission and publication.
Publishing is the aspect of creative writing that is perhaps most daunting, especially for newer writers and/or writers trying to get their work out into the world for the first time. The Internet is HUGE, so how do you go about finding places looking for submissions? How do you go about finding an agent for your novel? I’m going to provide the links to a few resources to help you find the right home for your short story/poem/personal essay or whatever writing form you call your own.
First, we have Newpages.com, which is a news, information, and guide to calls for submission from contests to literary magazines, and all kinds of publishing options in between. You can set the filter parameters to whatever genre the piece of writing you’re looking to publish fits (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, art, photography, cross-genre, comics, reviews, interviews, and more), and then you can set the kind of publication you would like to publish in (book, chap book, magazine, anthology, literary website). This resource is a free guide to and compilation of calls for submission, including deadlines and costs for submission.
A second resource is Duotrope. This is another guide to publication for writers and artists. This resource, according to their website, offers “submission trackers, custom searches, deadline calendars, statistical reports, and extensive interviews.” Duotrope is a more detailed and more user specific resource, so if that is of interest to any writers or artists out there, it is more than worth checking out. However, because of their status and reality as a more detailed and interactive resource, this one is not free. There is a free trial for users, but after that, anyone who finds it useful and wishes to continue using it will have two options for subscription. There is the $5/month subscription option or there is the $50/year option for those who know they plan to utilize the resource long-term.
A third option I want to let you all know about is less directly about publishing and more directly about writing, though there are publishing opportunities that can extend out of this resource. The resource I am talking about is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. This annual event is best summed up by there website which describes the event as such: “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” I have a friend who participated in this event a couple of years ago, and she told me it was the single most productive month she ever had in the three years (at that point) she’d been working on her novel. It is definitely worth checking out, and the writing you’ll get done…well nothing else compares. The event sets you up to crank out words and pages like you never thought you could.
Some last minute advice on seeking publication: Always read VERY carefully the guidelines the publisher has set for their submissions. Check their word count, page count, line count (for poetry), check whether they want blind submissions, check how they want the manuscript formatted if they specify, and make sure to include a proper cover letter if they request it. These publishers likely receive thousands of submissions when their call goes out. They have a limited budget for paying staff to read pieces and will take any reason to have a few less to read. Not following their specified guidelines could get you thrown into that “not getting read” pile.
I hope you find this helpful toward getting your work out into the world, because you have a voice and the world should hear what you have to say with it.
Have you experienced getting into your car, and while driving to a familiar destination you start thinking about all the things you need to do, or even just start daydreaming? Suddenly, you snap back to the present and realize you are at your intended location but have no recollection of the actual drive. It’s amazing how we can become so familiar with the way we do something that we can actually can execute the activity on autopilot. Our brains are amazing objects that can run millions of processes at once. While one “system” is working through our schedule, another is thinking about summer vacation, and yet another is executing turns down familiar streets (hopefully one is watching for pedestrians). When the path we are navigating is so familiar to us, we can easily “switch off” and let the brain make all the decisions in default mode. But, if we are checked out of the process, are we really getting the best experience?
I gave the above example as a way to talk about the process of writing. By the time you have reached the level in academia where you would be interested in reading this blogpost, you have most likely been asked to do a lot of writing. Often, we are given a writing task and, just like driving, we set our brain to autopilot, or “writing mode,” and let come what may. We see our end destination (our “completed writing task”), hop in our mental smart cars, activate cruise control, and are on our way. The problem with this is that we only have one way of getting to the destination programmed into our mental maps. When we only allow for only one way of doing things, we ultimately produce the same type of writing, just with different topics. This doesn’t only apply to class papers–we can fall into the same rut with our creative writing as well.
To be completely honest, in the busy world of academia, writing on autopilot is convenient. It always gets us safely to our destination and conserves our valuable brain energy for the thousands of other demands that come on a daily basis. However, it does not help us develop into better writers. To produce better work, we have to mentally show up for the process. We have to switch off the autopilot and challenge ourselves to consider that there are valuable alternative routes to getting to our final destinations. Understand, however, that the goal in switching off autopilot and taking control of the wheel is not necessarily to get to the destination more quickly, although that may happen, but rather to truly immerse yourself in the writing process and gain insight to tools that you may be missing out on.
If you are like me, my cruise control looks like this: I get an idea for a paper, lock on to it with a death grip, think about it until the night before its due, word vomit on the paper, and then spend the wee hours of the morning its due making revisions. This process works for me and I am comfortable with it; however, I have realized that I am cheating myself out of being a better writer by not exploring other processes. Recently I have been trying to add practices that other writers use into my repertoire. I started with reverse outlining, now I’m committing myself to writing down my favorite thesis and then writing two more possible theses that either invert or challenge the original as a way to enhance my critical thinking of the topic. This has been immensely beneficial and has positively affected my writing skills.
If you feel like your writing has become stale, or that you are not meeting your full potential as a writer, I challenge you to see if you are still in the driver’s seat. Consider pulling out your old writing guidebooks and going back to the basics. Look to other writers for inspiration. Take time to go through the process. You’ll be amazed at how much of the beautiful scenery you have been missing.
If your situation is anything like mine at this point in the semester, you are struggling to keep up with class readings as you begin drafting your final papers, and of course, this has you dreaming about summer. Summer when, yes, you still have to work (we are all adults here, after all), but when you also have time to dedicate to fun activities that you don’t get to do during the semester – like actually sleeping!
While doing “nothing” can seem like an enticing way to spend your three-month vacation from academia, this time can be much better spent on improving yourself in some way – and the best part is that YOU get to choose what this looks like. For some, it’s finding time to be active, and for others, it’s getting through a reading wish list. But for most of my peers studying English at UofL, summer is a time for writing.
As I have gotten older, I have struggled increasingly to find time to free write and, as a consequence, I sometimes feel out of practice when writing outside of academic genres. Summer gives me the chance to really stretch and work those creative muscles that, if we’re being honest, are often bound up by the constraints of higher education. In the summer, I get to write about what I want, how I want to: no prompts, no criteria, and no deadlines.
Like anything else, writing takes on a different tone, a new pleasure, when it is done out of inspiration and free will, rather than in answer to requirement and obligation. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is finding something you’re passionate about. And thanks to digital and new media, it’s easier than ever for you to share your passions. The greatest thing about this technological age is that people now have the power to connect to one another from across the globe, but most people don’t realize that this link is often forged through (you guessed it!) writing.
Even if you don’t plan on sharing your personal thoughts with the world, there are still plenty of benefits to writing. I for one sometimes need a private place to vent, and journaling (which I wrote about in my last blog post) is a convenient and safe place for me to get any stresses off my chest. And the best part is that paper can’t grade (or judge) you!
So, while it may seem too early to start thinking about it and perhaps even exhausting considering current circumstances, I would encourage you to find excuses to write this summer: take note when an intriguing thought strikes you, record your dreams (or nightmares), write a drinking chant, compose a goofy poem, or describe the feeling of the sun on your skin, lest you forget it when the cold snow returns.
Most importantly, have fun while you write and have a great summer!
In 1991, an era still rampant with fears and misinformation about HIV and AIDS, the hip-hop group Salt-n-Pepa released a song called “Let’s Talk About Sex,” which celebrated safe and responsible sex through healthy and honest communication. The song found success, not only for its catchy beat, but for its unashamed use of the word “sex” itself—the message being that the only useful way of handling the subject was to talk about it clearly and openly. “Let’s Talk About Sex” argued that the first step in tackling a difficult subject was to not be afraid to say its name.
In that frame of mind, we should consider another word that can also bring up difficult conversation, one that is sometimes considered a dirty word. It’s a word that really deserves a fair chance, and one that we can’t ignore if we are going to improve our writing.
Let’s talk about manipulation.
Yes, I’m about to argue that manipulation can be a good thing. I know, I know. The word has a pretty tough connotation to overcome from the start—it automatically brings about all the negative experiences we’ve had with bosses, parents, friends, and significant others. If we hear a description of someone being called “manipulative,” we automatically know we don’t want to be around that person.
But if we can distance the word from its negative associations for a moment, we’ll see that almost everything we do is manipulation. Looking at the professor while you’re really thinking about what to have for lunch? Using certain words around your friends that you wouldn’t use around your grandma? Wearing nice clothes, or putting on makeup, or fixing your hair before you go out in public (even though your three-days-dirty pajama pants would be super comfortable while sitting in class)? These are all manipulative, and we are doing this all the time. What I hope you’re beginning to understand is that manipulation is not automatically negative. Plenty of our day-to-day lives are filled with us manipulating each other, and most of the time, we wouldn’t be able to say it’s exactly bad. While there are certainly nefarious and selfish uses of manipulation, it all boils down to how it’s used.
Manipulation is crucial for quality writing. If we can’t find ways of manipulating our various audiences, then we simply won’t be effective with our arguments. We usually talk about manipulation in high school or college English classes using nicer words such as ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos, but rarely recognize these persuasive appeals for what they really are. Writers who can expertly deliver what the reader needs to hear at that certain moment can convince others of almost anything. To write well is to have control over your message, and to have power over your audience.
As I’ve said before, this shouldn’t imply an automatic negative connotation. Sure, I could potentially use that power and control for my own selfish needs. Or, consider the alternative: I could use that power and control to fight for what’s right in the world, to help people up when they are down, to support the emotional, physical, and financial goals of those I care for.
In order to do that, in order to have even a chance at that positive power, we have to be willing to consider our writing from our audience’s viewpoint—ideally, a viewpoint that does not agree with us. By taking this approach, we can start to see where our efficiency breaks down, where changing the organization of logic makes it easier to follow, where adding an emotional appeal might make it easier for that audience to agree. As you practice more and more, you’ll find individual words that could make all the difference between success and failure. This becomes just as true for writing that isn’t even (technically) an argument. If I’m reading fiction or a poem, I still need convincing that what I’m reading is worth my time.
None of these skills are easy as a writer, but we can begin by not being afraid to admit that effective writing is really just effective manipulation. Salt-n-Pepa manipulated a new generation positively by giving voice to a word that plenty of households considered a dirty topic at the time. Once we reach the same step of awareness with manipulation, we can experiment with ways of making our manipulation stronger, and by extension, our writing more powerful.