Tag: getting started

Titles: Topics and Subjects at the Top of the Page

Curtis Ehrich, Writing Consultant

If you couldn’t already tell, this blog post is all about titles. How to make ‘em, what to do with ‘em, and what they are for. Ever since high school, titles have been one of the most effective ways I get myself to care about my writing. In undergrad, I would come up with all sorts of fun titles, usually a pun or pop culture reference, just to get my creative juices going, and to get myself thinking critically about the material. It was one of the ways I made academic writing—which I hate—more interesting and (frankly) more bearable. Some of my favorite’s included references to Star Wars’ terrible dialogue writing (“Now this is podracing”) when I wrote a paper for a film study course analyzing the podracing scene from The Phantom Menace, and a reference to The Princess Bride’s RUSes in a paper for my Linguistics course all about agglutinative languages (languages that make new words by tacking on more and more suffixes and prefixes), that I cleverly titled “Words of Unusual Size.” While making fun titles is a great way to get the gears turning creatively, it doesn’t always do much to describe your paper to your reader, especially if you are like me and are in grad school and don’t get to have fun anymore.

The University of Michigan has a great resource for how to create compelling academic paper titles. The academic title consists of three parts: the hook, key terms, and a location. The hook is the part of your title that will give you the most creative freedom. It is the element of your title that draws in your reader, what makes them want to read your paper in the first place. Try to pick out the most interesting part of your paper or try to distill your paper down into one or two words to help guide your hook. I wrote a paper last semester about Moll Cutpurse, a fascinating character from Renaissance England. The paper was all about how Cutpurse represented gender presentation that was inherently transgressive in just about every way imaginable. For my hook I chose “Transgressive Sexuality.” Key terms are helpful for describing what your paper is about to your reader. They are usually terms essential to the topic of your paper, and if you are looking to publish, using key terms in your title will make your paper easier to find in a database. Think of your title as a sort of logline of your paper, the briefest of elevator pitches. They should give your reader an immediate understanding of what the purpose of your essay is, and the concepts you will be discussing in your paper. These are very rarely interesting, and typically very literal describers of the contents of your paper. For example, returning to my Moll Cutpurse example, for my key terms, I chose “Cross-dressing and Transvestitism.” The location gives context for the concepts being discussed and the scope of the paper all at once. What you use as your location will vary depending on what you are writing about, the genre you are writing in, and the discipline you are writing from. For an English paper, this might look like the time period in which a text was written, or if you’re taking a New Critical approach, it might just be a character’s name and the title of the text in which they appear. If you are writing a more scientific paper, it will probably look more like the data sample you are studying. For my Moll Cutpurse paper, my location was “Jacobean London”

As an example, a full title might look something like “The Imperialist Adventure of a Lifetime: Robinson Crusoe and Postcolonialism in the Context of Defoe’s Puritanism.” Something like that, if you were to write a paper on Robinson Crusoe. Of course, my full Moll Cutpurse title was “Transgressive Sexuality: Cross Dressing and Transvestitism in Jacobean London.” Or, if I were to draft a scientific paper, it might look something like “AI Doctors: Cancer Screening and Machine Learning in Patients 65 and Up.” In the first example, “The Imperialist Adventure of a Lifetime” acts as our hook, describing the basic premise of the paper in an interesting way. “Robinson Crusoe and Postcolonialism” are obviously our key terms, and “Defoe’s Puritanism” is the location, giving us all the context, the reader needs to understand exactly what this paper is going to be talking about. In the second example, the locations of the hook, key terms, and location are in the same place, performing all the same jobs.

This method of academic title creation is clearly a versatile and useful tool to keep in your back pocket if you ever get stuck. I’ll be using it myself on my final papers this semester. But don’t let this method stifle your creativity! This method is just one of the many ways to create a title, and it is by no means the “best” way. There’s an adage in writing pedagogy that says, “the best way to learn to write is to read.” That be made even more specific for titles: “the best way to write titles is to read titles.”  But sometimes, if you just need to get yourself interested in writing, just coming up with a creative, fun title does the trick.


Works Cited

Writing, Sweetland Center of. “How Do I Write a Great Title.” University of Michigan https://lsa.umich.edu/sweetland/undergraduates/writing-guides/how-do-i-write-a-great-title-.html. Accessed 10 March 2022.

Wait, How Can I Make the Most of My Group Writing Experience?: Co-Writing About Co-Writing Part 2

This post is the second in a two-part series on co-authorship from different perspectives. In this second post, we’ll discuss ways to use writing center sessions as a model for negotiating the co-writing process and reflect on the experience of co-writing this blog. The first part addressed key cognitive and pedagogical considerations in co-writing projects.

Left: Brice Montgomery, Writing Consultant; Right: Kylee Auten, Writing Consultant

Group writing is present in all levels of the academic community. There are informal co-writing opportunities, like a group chat that helps you better understand your discussion board post, but there are also the formal, much more nerve-wracking co-writing projects that, as we discussed last week, cause frustration and anger despite their benefits. Perhaps establishing productive group dynamics is the most harrowing aspect of a co-written project. Each participant will have to put forth their contributions and then, together, the group will have to decide in which direction they will take the piece. Both before the project begins and throughout the duration of the writing process, collaborators will have to manage and negotiate workloads and responsibilities that allow each party to reach their goals. A writing center appointment is kind of like that, too, in that the writer and the consultant have to balance their contributions in order to meet their goals. There is (hopefully) mutual effort and negotiation in every writing center appointment. In this post, we are going to explore facets of writing center practices that correlate to group writing. To do so, we’ll reflect on our own experience writing this series of blog posts. 

Negotiating Boundaries

            One thing that has to be negotiated in every writing center consultation, whether overtly or not, is the role each person will play in the consultation. The writer and the consultant must work together to determine who is responsible for what during the appointment. This is rarely an explicit process, but it will become clear throughout the session that each person takes on certain tasks. Likewise, co-authors must agree on their responsibilities regarding their project, but these roles do not always have to be as clearly defined as they are in a writing center session. For example, when writing this blog series, we did not set strict tasks other than taking on the main responsibility for one post and providing in-depth feedback and revisions for the other post. Other than that, we wanted to remain flexible when it came to “assigning” roles. For instance, one role co-writers might want to establish is a dedicated note taker, but we found it more productive to both take notes since we tended to pick up on different ideas during our meetings. Additionally, we both performed research related to the project, and we both had an active role in developing the outline and structure for the blog posts. This fluidity and casualness that we established may not be possible for every group writing project (for sure, I’m almost certain these blurred boundaries could complicate an actual writing center session), but as long as the boundaries, or lack of boundaries, are negotiated and agreed upon by all parties, then the work should be smooth sailing.

Maintaining Ownership

            Ownership is a tricky thing in a collaborative writing project. In writing center appointments, consultants always aim to provide helpful feedback without pushing the writer to make unwanted changes–we want to ensure writers maintain ownership of their document. A co-authored project, however, does not have the same clean break between who is in charge of the piece. Each person contributing to the project should have a vested interest in the process, content, and product. Yet, even when all parties are invested in the project, there can still be some tension, or at least misunderstanding. For this project, ownership became tricky when we were dividing the workload. Together, we separated our content into two complementary posts, but then we had to decide who would write the first draft of each post. When Brice suggested we each “write a draft,” Kylee thought he meant we would each write a draft of both posts, but that’s because she worked under the assumption that we held dual ownership over the whole project. Brice, on the other hand, had perceived that we were individually taking ownership over one half of the project. Besides this breakdown in communication, we did feel like we had equal control over the project when it came to making suggestions or revisions to the other person’s writing. Without this shared sense of ownership, we would not have learned as much from this writing process. 

Instruction and Feedback

            As co-authors, you have to be willing to learn from each other. John Hedgecock, in his book chapter “Reflections of Coauthorship and the Professional Dialogue: Risks and Rewards,” encourages those interested in co-authoring to partner with someone whose skills will balance and complement your own (114). This is true, as well, of writing center appointments, because successful sessions also rely on complementary skills and knowledge. For instance, consultants should know the mechanics for how to write an argumentative essay, but they rely on writers to bring the content knowledge needed to successfully make their argument. So, in a way, there is mutual instruction and feedback happening in every appointment; the consultant instructs the writer on writing practices while the writer instructs the consultant on content. In co-authorship, there may be less instruction on practical writing topics, but each person is going to have different knowledge to add to the project, which they will inevitably have to teach to their partner. We each had two different takeaways regarding what we had learned from each other. For Brice, he learned about accountability from Kylee, as she regularly reached out to make sure the project was still moving forward. Kylee, having no experience with co-writing, though, gained practical knowledge from Brice about the best way to approach our drafting phase. 

Establishing Trust

Trust may be the toughest thing to manage in both writing center appointments and co-writing projects. In a writing center consultation, writers have to trust the consultants are giving them accurate, helpful information that will make their writing and their writing process better. Consultants, on the other hand, have to trust writers are engaged with the project and are invested in implementing the strategies discussed during the session. A writing partnership, likewise, must be formed by people who trust their co-author’s advice and know they are both equally interested and invested in the project For us, we felt confident taking on a co-authored project because we had multiple, informal and formal opportunities to work with each other’s individual writing assignments. Additionally, we had previously met for a writing center appointment over one of Kylee’s class assignments, so we were familiar with how our dynamic would play out. We knew, through experience, that we could trust the other to provide honest, productive feedback, even when it meant taking our ideas in a new, unexpected direction. 

Conclusion

            Like we said last week, group projects probably aren’t going away anytime soon. We hope, though, that this two-part blog series has provided tools and frameworks to help make future co-writing experiences more fulfilling and productive. Focus on what can be gained from the process, not just the project. Chances are, each member in a co-writing project might feel some hesitancy or discomfort, but rely on establishing healthy boundaries, take ownership of the project, delight in the new information being learned, and find trustworthy people to collaborate with.


Works Cited

Hedgecock, John. “Reflections of Coauthorship and the Professional Dialogue: Risks and Rewards.” Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education, edited by Christine Pearson Casanave and Stephanie Vandrick, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003, pp. 113-127.

Wrestling with the Blank Page

Zoe Donovan, Writing Consultant

One of the most daunting things to a writer or student is the blank page. While thinking on the topic of this specific blog post I found myself paralyzed by choice. “A short blog about writing” could mean anything. I started writing, erased the first line, started over. Editing as a I went, I found myself held back from what the point of this was, that I was getting caught up in the minutiae of writing instead of actually writing.

 I am, of course, being somewhat hyperbolic in the above paragraph, but it isn’t far off from my experience engaging with past and current writing projects. We tend to get caught up in the sentence we are constructing rather than the point of the piece.  

I find that taking a step back from that detail-oriented nature can do more good than letting an inner editor take over constantly. Instead, try to focus on getting something on the page. Prohibit yourself from using the backspace, repeat your points and repeat yourself in different ways. This type of repetition can be monotonous in a final draft, but a mock-up first draft can provide a writer with options when returning to the piece.

Then, once you have created something, step back, make a cup of tea, meander over your thoughts. Take the evening, day or week. Then use this piece that is what I lovingly refer to as a “word explosion” to create an outline and reorganize your thoughts. Returning to it with a fresh head can prevent you from becoming fatigued over a specific project or idea. From there, you can make edits, rewrite sections, omit unnecessary information, reorganize your thoughts, and fully flesh out points in your future drafts.

It is impossible to edit a blank document. Good writing takes multiple attempts, revisions, and proofreading. Half the battle is getting something on the page. In addition to this, it is exceptionally difficult to fully edit an unfinished piece, because you don’t know what additional context you need to provide, you can’t know how to transition into or from a paragraph or idea that you don’t yet have on the page.

Silencing my inner editor during my initial draft has become my go-to in the last few years. In the past, I have often been struck with choice paralysis or perfectionist desire. I feel that every piece I put out should be perfect as soon as it first hits the page. This is not a healthy or productive writing strategy. It creates this false narrative in early writers, (and late writers) that revision is not a key step in the process.

Instead, your first draft should be passionate. Why does this matter to you, why is it important that it is said, and what is your evidence to further support these claims? Writing is about growth, about changing the way the audience sees something or approaches a topic. Along that same vein, writing is process in which you can discover yourself and your arguments about a piece.

If you’re constantly dissecting every word or sentence you put on the page, then you can become overwhelmed and lose the motivation to continue writing. Instead, just focus on getting words on the page. They don’t need to be good. They don’t need to be ready for publication or submission–get your thoughts down without hesitation and with total freedom to put whatever you want. This early draft isn’t what you are sending in, it is for you and you alone as the writer to better understand yourself, your process, and your approach to this particular piece you are writing.

I know this strategy doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be something that works for writers who struggle with starting. I find that in my own writing, starting with a loose thesis works best. You can always come back to the thesis and make it stronger, or, if after writing you decide that the evidence you’re presenting doesn’t fit, then there’s no harm in returning to the drawing board on your thesis statement. Revisit your writing, what are you trying to accomplish in your stream of consciousness? Hone in on those points and fully articulate them. If you can argue it in a fully-fledged piece, then don’t be afraid to change it and make it your own.

Shutting off that critic side of your brain and just putting words on the page in a stream of consciousness style can help to create a framework for yourself during the writing process. You might discover that your initial thesis doesn’t quite fit, that a certain piece of evidence doesn’t hold as much weight as you originally thought or that you need additional information or research to fully set your argument. Giving yourself and piece a space to grow without an internal critic can lead you down a path that may be different from your initial intent and provide you a better understanding of your argument.

While it is important to be critical of your own work and edit that work, within the writing process that internal criticism can detrimental and create a sort of choice paralysis and inhibit us from actually engaging within the writing process. So, instead I encourage you write your first drafts like no one is watching and shut out the editor.   

Of Bottled Water and Exigency

Justin Sturgeon, Writing Consultant

January 31—the first moments of the semester. You are in an English class, and you’ve just been handed an assignment sheet in which you will spend a great deal of the semester researching a topic of your choice in which you must:

A) utilize scholarly sources to support a well-crafted thesis statement that argues in favor or against some conversation occurring in the field of your topic.

B) create a specific thesis statement that consists of an imperative claim and addresses the ‘so what?’ of your argument.

Maybe you have experienced your fair share of these projects or are beginning one for the first time, or maybe you are entering this mode of writing into your classes now—either as a scholar yourself or as a student in the classroom.

When writing about research, one question that can be challenging is that of answering ‘So what?’ Often, when we ask this question about our research, what we are looking for is: ‘Why does this matter, and how can I get them to care?’ A struggle to answer the “so what” question becomes apparent through hesitations such as: “I am not sure why I am writing about this” and “I have no idea what to say here, especially since I’m not an expert.” Sometimes the “so what” question appears in instructor feedback. Most often when addressing the question of so what, we are engaging with the imperative of exigency. Exigency, coined by Lloyd F. Bitzer in “The Rhetorical Situation,” refers to demand or need for writing on a particular subject or stance based on the context of the situation. Basically, exigence is the why behind what you are writing. When revealing the exigency of a writing project, it often relies on appealing to what is urgently waiting to be said about the situation at hand.  

If someone were to write a paper arguing in favor of stricter regulation for the bottled water industry, they might appeal to the expanding industry and potential harm that a lack of regulation may produce. To convey exigency in a project such as this, many writers would deliberate on the rhetorical device known as kairos, or the timeliness of a message as it is being sent to its audience. In this same example of writing a paper about the bottled water industry, the timeliness of such a paper would make a monumental difference depending on the time in which it were written. Consider writing making an argument against bottled water industries in the 1970s when bottled water was invented. No one would believe that bottled water would become as prevalent as it is. However, the same argument today has a much clearer sense of exigency. The industry today is expected to continue to grow and pervade a number of environmental processes related to water distribution which  has led to issues like The Bolivian Water Wars.

One might say that bigger, larger issues such as the potential crises related to the bottled water industry can be easy for fishing out exigency and building it up. But what about writing related to the everyday? Or to those assignments that we might rather avoid altogether? Finding authority and purpose for small-scale projects can be just as challenging. For example, you might have a two to three page essay about a Shakespeare poem you’ve tried to read over and over again and just can’t find a rhyme or reason to care. It can be easy to think about how important a crisis like the Bolivian Waters is and the large scale implications of such an event. But how can that same sense of authority and urgency be illuminated in an introductory writing assignment about a topic that you might stuggle to find a purpose to write about it in the first place—especially if it’s a topic that everyone already knows about and has written extensivly on? Sometimes writers don’t feel like they are qualified to even say anything about a given research assignment at all!

Certainly, exigency can still be accessed in moments like these as well.  

With even the most over-saturated of topics, how can you find a purpose to continue to write about them? What we often fail to glean from reading written work about unappealing topics is what the initial writer found important or exigent about the topic. Specifically, when being asked to examine the rhetorical devices at play in a given text, we often take for granted the ways we as readers are being asked to think about a text through its rhetorical stratagy.  We tend to overlook in these moments how a text—whether literary or visual—creates reflective nuggets of the world and is informed by various world views. When you tap into analysis on the level of these rhetorical concerns, you often begin to see how nearly every motion of stimuli is a text and is channeled through rhetorical devices that influence the way we make decisions and respond to the world around us.

Even at times when you feel like there is nothing to be said about the topic you are being asked to respond to, finding exigency doesn’t always start with the most compelling or flashiest of reasons for writing, but rather from acknowledging yourself as a reader of a text and calling attention to what response you make of it and then highlighting how you came to that response or how the text lead you to reach that conclusion. From this locus of reflection, you often find that you are faced with a wide assortment of reasons to care about a topic and the implications of choosing one interpreation over another—no matter how seemingly small the impact feels.

Exigence isn’t just timeliness; it’s also why we write what we choose to write about. In the University Writing Center, we love to have conversations with writers about exigency and these strategies. Often, discussing issues relating to finding purpose and authority when writing can be challenging to think through on your own, which is why the University Writing Center is a great place to visit and talk through your thoughts with a consultant. We are eager to discuss these rhetorical building blocks and help you become more comfortable with finding purpose in your own writing. Whether the topic discusses growing concerns about Western consumption habits (like bottled water) and their impact on more vulnerable countries, or examines an Elizabethan sonnet: we are here to listen and see you develop exigency as you navigate writing with purpose.

Writing Tips and Advice: Our Online Resources Can Help You Started, Write a Draft, and Figure Out Citation Styles.

Staying safe this year means that we are all often working away from campus and the classroom. The University Writing Center is open for online appointments this semester, so you can get feedback on your writing wherever you are and you can find out more about that on our website. Even so, we know there are times that you want support for your writing or answers to writing questions, but it may not be convenient to make an appointment (say, it’s midnight and you’d really like some ideas about how to write a stronger introduction to your paper). We have a wide range of resources on our website to help you with writing questions and issues. Are you stuck getting started? Or needing to understand citation styles? Or trying to figure out how to incorporate sources effectively in your writing? Or wanting to sharpen your understanding of active and passive voice? On our website you can choose from more than 75 online resources from Writing FAQs,to Video Workshops to Handouts about writing issues. If you go to our website and explore, you’ll find ideas that will help you whether you’re a first-year student or working on your doctoral dissertation. Here are a few highlights:

Getting Started

Getting started on a writing assignment can be intimidating or frustrating and, consequently, we often put off work on writing because we not sure how or where to begin. Take a look at our Writing FAQs on how to figure our your assignment prompt and brainstorming strategies you can use to get your ideas flowing. It may also be helpful to use our handout on Writing About Reading for some strategies about how to take effective notes about what you’re reading that will help prepare you for starting your draft. We also have an infographic on the Library Research DIY page on Getting Started Drafting. If you’ve been given a digital assignment, such as a video or podcast, take a look at our handout on Getting Started with Digital Assignments.

Using Sources When You Write

Academic writing means being part of a scholarly conversation, which means drawing using sourcesfrom other research for evidence, ideas, as well as to establish your credibility. Our videos on how to use sources in your writing can help you with Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing, as well as making sure you’re Avoiding Plagiarism. We also having a handout on Using Sources which includes lots of examples. It’s important to connect your ideas to the research you are reading, and for some ideas about how to make those connections in your writing, see our video series on Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts.

Drafting and Revising

When it’s time to start your draft, we have advice that can help you. If you’re not quite sure what your instructor means when asking for more of an “argument” in your draft, fingerstake a look at our Writing FAQ on creating an argument in your paper. Maybe you’ve been working on a draft, but you’re not meeting the page requirement, here are some idea for how to get more details and ideas into both your research and personal writing. You’ll also find good writing tips in our handouts about how to write stronger, Introductions, Conclusions, and Transitions. Finally, when you’ve received feedback on your writing from either your instructor, friends, or the University Writing Center, we’d suggest our handout on Using Written Feedback When Revising or our Writing FAQ on strategies for doing more substantial revisions of your draft.

Citation Styles and Grammar and Style

If you’re new to using citation styles, or just want to make sure you’re getting things APA videoright, take look at our APA Video Workshops and MLA Video Workshops or our handouts on APA , Chicago, and MLA styles. If you’re unsure about how some of your individual sentences sound, we have a Writing FAQ on how to improve your grammar and punctuation use as well as many handouts on issues of usage and style, including Articles, Commas and Semicolons, Parallel Sentence Structures, and Active and Passive Voice.

Check out all these resources and more. You can also find lots of good writing advice on this blog from the University Writing Center staff. And, of course, we hope you make an appointment and let us help you make your writing as strong as it can be!

 

 

What I Learned About Writing from My Favorite Protagonist

Tristan DeWitt, Writing Consultant

I can’t say that writing is always enjoyable for me. Sometimes I even hate it.  I’ve spent countless hours sitting in front of a blank word document having no clue what to say – regretting the choices I have made that led me to writing another paper. I know it sounds dramatic (and I don’t by any means actually hate writing) but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed thinking about my audience and if they will find it good enough, that I don’t even want to complete the assignment at all.

In this situation, it helps me when I think about one of my favorite protagonist in literature, Mary Beton, from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Throughout the book, Mary finds herself denied the opportunity to partake in much of the academic culture of the university. In a search for answers to her experiences, Mary finds that little literature is written with attention to the actual experiences of women, both by male and female writers. Woolf herself concludes the novel by telling women that they need is a room of their own in which to write.

I believe that Mary’s experience highlights something about writing that many of us within the university community take for granted. When given an assignment that we don’t really want to do, we see it as something that is being forced upon us. I am guilty of this as well, but thinking of Mary makes me realize how remarkable each opportunity to write actually is. Not everywhere are we given the chance to write what we think and have an audience that will listen.

Even in our least favorite assignment we have the privilege to evaluate our thoughts and make something our own. We no longer need a room of our own to write. Within the university, we have a unique opportunity where we are expected to share our experiences and insights, be it with a text or with research.

Working in the Writing Center, people sometimes think that words or ideas just come to me naturally, since writing is what I like to do. However, the truth is that rarely do words just come to me. There is always revising, editing, and what seems to be an unending amount of time spent on rewriting just one sentence. Even when I get frustrated with an assignment, I have to remind myself that this is my work and that only I can say what I am thinking – which makes the laborious process of writing worth it to me.

Mary’s experience applies to us all. We all have had the moment when we question our thoughts or experiences. Next time you find yourself in this situation, where you feel frustrated with an assignment, I challenge you to see writing as the unique opportunity that it is. Not everywhere in life will you be asked what you think, so take this opportunity in college to own your writing.

Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

Abby Wills: Writing Consultant

The culture—especially that of the university—is all too often frantic.

Image result for abby wills writing centerYou perpetually have too much to do. It’s embarrassing to not be busy. Procrastination both alleviates and creates urgency (and everybody does it, so it’s okay). If you are stressed and anxious, you are merely conforming to the culture.

But thriving at the university does not require conformity. Instead, refusing to conform to franticness often leads to better quality work and increased enjoyment in that work. So try going slow.

“But if I have three papers due tomorrow that I haven’t started yet, how can I get them done slowly?”

Good question. The voice of wisdom is not always the voice of the culture. It’s possible that it usually isn’t. So here is some countercultural counsel:

1. Say no.

Culture: Get involved! Take every opportunity! Get out of your comfort zone! Fill your CV! Your whole future rests on your ability to juggle as many opportunities as you can! You will fail if you miss an opportunity!

The never-ending extra-curriculars, organizations, and opportunities of the university can be overwhelming, and if you attended orientation, you may or may not have been told to participate in all of them. The pressure is heavy.

Wisdom: Think very carefully about which specific opportunities would be most meaningful to you and your hopes for your vocation. Slow down. Consider carefully. Think through your choices for at least as long as you thought about which starter Pokémon to take. Your schedule does not need to be completely full in order to be successful.

2. Ask for grace.

Culture: Never show any signs of failure! Never give up! Hide your weaknesses and pull through by your own strength!

Wisdom: If you ask, more people are willing to be gracious than you might expect. If you have no time to write a good paper in time for the due date—ask for an extension. Most professors would prefer a good paper late than a bad paper on time. Asking is not failing. Asking is showing that you care about the quality of your work (and your health).

3. Get alone.

I used to think that the library was a place that inherently nourished productivity. This depends on your personality, but after my first couple years of undergrad I finally realized that the conversations, passersby, and moving bookshelves (my undergraduate university was higher tech than UofL) were usually too distracting. I did my best writing in the woods (my undergrad was also not in the middle of a city), the empty chapel, and on the floor of empty, soundproof practice rooms in the music building.

Culture: Loners are losers.

Wisdom: Loners get stuff done.

Of course, it would be unhealthy to be always isolating yourself, but a balance between enjoying others’ company and working hard on your own is crucial to success, especially when you are an introverted writer.

4. Go off the grid.

You know what I mean. Put your phone in your sock drawer. Ignore its petulant cries for attention.

Culture: But if I turn off my phone, I will miss important things! What if someone needs to get a hold of me?

Wisdom: You miss important things every time you look at your phone. Get your life together.

5. Stake your time.

If you know your most productive time of day, claim it. For me, this is first thing in the morning, before other people have gotten up, when my mind is clear and I can be alone. I guard this time jealously, which means I usually give up sleeping in. Putting a stake in your productive time usually means giving up something—sleep, social events, Pokémon raids—but if your best work comes from this time, it is worth it.

Culture: Gotta catch ‘em all!

Wisdom: This saying originated in the golden era in which only one hundred fifty Pokémon roamed the region. It is anachronistic to apply it to today.

Slow Down

Remember that franticness is not necessarily productivity. Taking the time to do good work, to rejuvenate, to be alone, to sleep—slowing down in these ways may make your writing flow better than you think. It is possible that the reason you are stuck in your writing process is because you have not had a break from all of the voices—present or virtually present via internet—clamoring for your attention.

Slowness is countercultural, but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. Sometimes revolution is necessary before progress is possible. In a culture of stagnant urgency, slowing down is the resistance.

Boo! It’s a Ghostwriter!

Brooke Boling, Writing Consultant

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.Brooke Boling, 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!

How I Write: Dr. Chris Brody

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.

Dr. Chris Brody is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Louisville School of Music, where he coordinates the first-year sequence in music theory and aural skills and teaches graduate courses in music analysis. In addition to his work teaching and researching music theory, he is a classical pianist and performs often.

Dr. Brody’s research is on music from the 18th and 19th centuries, centering on Baroque music and the concept of musical form. His articles are published or forthcoming in outlets including Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Online, A-R Music Anthology, and BACH: The Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute.

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Current projects: Several articles—in various stages of progress—on music theory and music analysis

Currently reading: Always fiction, lately a lot of nineteenth-century novels on audiobook during my daily commute.

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
I mainly write academic articles and talks in my specialty of music theory. These are different from writing for a broad readership, since a whole background of knowledge and terminology can be assumed. I think the basic challenges of being clear and engaging are the same as in all writing, though.

2. When/where/how do you write?
First, I’m a big fan of the UofL Writing Center’s Tuesday evening Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group—it’s so nice to spend a couple of focused hours each week writing in the company of others. Otherwise, I write when my teaching schedule permits. The further along I am in a project, the easier it is to squeeze little bits of work into spare moments; starting a new project takes bigger blocks of time and mental space.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
For me, distractibility often comes from routine and familiarity. I often find I can enter a more focused mindset by introducing any tiny element of novelty into my routine. Sometimes this means writing on my iPad or longhand when I ordinarily use my laptop, or even just using a different font (seriously). At other times it means finding a new place (on or off campus) to sit and work, away from my office or my living room. I do prefer quiet, and you will never catch me writing in a coffee shop! Since I write about music, I can’t always have music playing while I’m writing, but I sometimes listen to Music for Eighteen Musicians or anything else beautiful and repetitive.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
I love to outline and never write anything, of any size, without an outline for it. For some kinds of writing, the article can literally be written by replacing bullet points one by one with sentences or paragraphs. Even when I don’t write directly from the outline, it’s indispensable for organizing my thinking.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Robert Paul Wolff makes an analogy between humanities writing and storytelling that resonates with me and the kinds of things I write. Wolff tells his students that they’re ready to write a dissertation (or an article, etc.) when they can tell him their argument as, essentially, a story with beginning, middle and end. We often argue for the value of having someone else read your finished writing; this pre-writing phase is also a great stage of the writing process at which to involve trusted colleagues, talking through the “story” of your argument until it flows smoothly and convincingly.

Write Like You Mean It

Josh Christian, Consultant

            Advanced Composition appeared as an elective course in my student handbook at Campbellsville University, where I was an undergraduate. I enrolled my junior year, to try to get it out of the way for a freer, more calm senior year.Josh Christian (We all know about senioritis) But it was the only class on my schedule that semester I was concerned about, as I didn’t know what to expect. “Advanced Composition” read as if I was going to be plunged into the icy academic waters, left to sink or swim. So, sitting in the lecture hall on the first day of class, I was surprised when the syllabus listed a narrative as the class’s first formal assignment. First, I wondered about its elementary nature, how it seemed trivial for English majors. Then I began to panic. What was I going to write? How was I going to structure it? What ways could I approach such a broad topic? How would I know if I was writing it correctly?

If you are wondering, I didn’t die. I got through the assignment, and it was much easier than I thought it would be. But I do not believe I am alone in my panic, as in universities across the country, students are faced with such writing assignments in composition classes. And because of their lack of experience with writing narratives in an academic setting, they don’t know what to do.  The anxiety they are feeling is more than one writing assignment. No, it is evidence of something larger at play.

Throughout my high school and early academic experience, I was taught to write for the academy. I was to take myself out of the equation, permitted from using “I”. Instead I was told to be objective and to state my opinion but through an unbiased language. I was taught to not make a claim unless I could back it up. And if I did attempt to back up my claims, I needed to cite the material in-text and on a reference page of some sort. This was academic writing. The other kinds of writing, creative writing (stories, poems, plays, etc.) and journaling or messages sent to a friend, had their place but it just wasn’t in the academy.

You see, there had been a binary established, one in the making for generations before me. Academic writing sat on one side, while creative writing sat on the other. And like all binaries, there was a strict wall between them, especially early on, when all narrative or poetic elements were driven from a student’s paper until it became nothing more than thesis statements and transitional phrases. Don’t get me wrong, these elements of academic writing also have their place. But to drive the use of these elements out of any writing completely, is to take away a writer’s desire or ability to be creative, leaving stacks and stacks of student papers which otherwise could have been more thoughtful.

So, what do we do with such a binary? How do we, as students or faculty deal with it? How can we be excited about academic writing, if we can’t be creative? And how can we approach creative projects, like literacy narratives, if we haven’t historically been given permission to be creative before? Well, like any binary, we begin to defeat it when we question it. And when we begin to question the binary, it only helps if we are ready, as students and professors alike, to take back the mantle of “writer,” a title left for the literary authors who often mold the work we, as an academy, talk about.

            When we begin to identify as writers, we begin to take responsibility for our words. We begin to be more thoughtful about what we write because we have agency over our words, them becoming our own. So, make the choice that all writers have to make. When you read the assignment sheet, ask yourself where you can stand to be creative. How can you begin with an anecdote, using narrative elements? How can you push the limits of a rubric by thinking differently about a topic? How can you make what you are writing fun to write or read? Before you know it, your creativity will inform your academic work, and your academic writing will show you the necessity of research and argument. Dare to be a writer in your own right. And whatever you write, write like you mean it.Image result for bob dylan think different                                                                     (Apple, 1997)