Tag: places

Writing and Riding: More Parallels Than You Might Think

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Writing can be related to more things in your daily life than you might expect. Writing looks different for everyone.  My writing process is very similar to my training process. I ride horses, barrel horses to be exact. I compete at local shows and occasionally a few rodeos. For those reading this that don’t know what barrel racing is, it’s a timed equine event in which a rider takes their horse through a clover leaf pattern around three 55-gallon barrels as fast as they can. I know what you’re thinking, there is no way this can relate to writing, but it really can.

I have learned many lessons and grown so much as a person from being in the barrel racing world. A few of the key things I’ve learned that have in turn helped me in writing are both humility and confidence.

Humility is something that can be hard for a lot of people. Admitting you are wrong is never fun, but the important thing to remember is when you can accept that you need to ask for help you are always going to come out the better person. A friend of mine has a saying, “if you’re scared say you’re scared” and I think this applies here. If you need help, ask for help! Yes, it sucks saying I’ve tried my way, now I need to hear from someone else. Opening yourself up for critique is hard, but once you learn to take the constructive criticism it will only make you better at what you are trying to accomplish, whether that is win a belt buckle or write an ‘A’ paper.

I’ve consulted many different people just in the last year on how to better myself as a rider just as I have continually asked for feedback from friends and colleagues with my writing throughout the semester. I did not become a better barrel racer by only ever riding my way, I got better by asking my friends and competitors questions. You cannot become a better writer holed up in a dark room holding onto that draft just waiting for the answers to come for you. You have to go find the answers. Writing can be social. Writing is social. So have the humility to venture away from the desk, seek feedback, and ask questions.

Kelby horse
Kelby Gibson barrel racing!

Confidence is needed when you’re on the back of a 1200-pound animal that’s running at roughly 40 miles per hour and turning on your command by a few light hand and foot movements. There are certain pressures behind writing that are similar to trying to beat a clock with money on the line. Maybe you’re applying to your dream graduate program, working on your senior thesis, or writing the final paper that determines your grade in class. Stress and pressure do funny things to us and can cause us to under-perform. When I’m at a race I like to try my best to focus on the positives.

While I don’t recall exactly who said it, there is a line from my favorite barrel racing podcast I like to keep in mind with all things in life, “You either win or you learn.” So maybe you try your hardest and your horse gives its all, but you don’t come in the pen and set the pace for the day. Similarly, you might spend hours upon hours on a paper that falls short in the eyes of its main audience. In either situation your initial reaction is to ask, what went wrong? If you pursue that question you will surely get an answer whether it be from yourself or someone else and once you have that answer you can learn how to do better next time.

Not every run is going to be your fastest and not every piece you write will be well received, but as long as you are trying your hardest and putting forth a good faith effort you will succeed or you will learn how to increase your chances of succeeding the next time. Have confidence in yourself. When you’re writing that paper don’t allow the thoughts of what might happen bog you down, clear your head and give it your best shot. As long as you’re trying, what is the worst that could happen?

These two things are just a few of the many ways barrel racing has enriched my life and my willingness to learn. My training process and writing process mirror each other in many aspects and because of that I continue to improve as both a jockey and a writer. What I admire most about this sport is that even the best of the best will tell you that you can never stop learning and finding ways to improve yourself and the same can be said for writing.

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.

Writing to Listen

Michelle Buntain, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page for a while now, willing the words to come. You’ve read over the prompt twice, three times, four times. The coffee is helping you stay energized, but all the coffee in the world won’t get this paper written. Neither will procrastinating

You know this; and yet, despite all your concentration and force of will, the words will not come. Before long, that familiar feeling begins to set in: panic.
Many people associate writing with a certain level of anxiety. We usually write for an audience who is going to judge us in one way or another – the paper you’re writing for class; the job application you’re working on; the text to a potential love interest. Writing forces us to put our inner lives out on display, and that can be incredibly intimidating.

As students and as scholars, we use our internal resources on a daily basis. Writing requires us to generate not just thoughts, not just sentences, but full, comprehensive, cohesive ideas. On top of that, we don’t even get to choose what we write about; in the academic world, we are almost always writing according to someone else’s stipulations. Nearly every day, somebody expects something from you, and you must deliver.

But focusing too much on what others are thinking is the most counterproductive thing for someone in an academic setting to do.

If we are obsessing over what is expected of us, it becomes nearly impossible to stay in touch with our own insights. Trying to balance what we really think with what we are “supposed” to think is a losing man’s game.

So, here is my challenge to all the frustrated writers out there: ask yourself, when was the last time you sat down to write without worrying about who was going to read your work? If you can’t remember, do yourself a favor: take a breath, take a seat, and just start writing. Don’t think too much. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t edit; don’t erase. No one else has to see it. There doesn’t have to be a purpose – no assignment, no thesis, no one to impress. Just write until you can’t write any more.

Maybe you wrote about something important; maybe you didn’t. Maybe you just ended up making a to-do list — it doesn’t matter. The point is to acknowledge yourself, to listen to what you have to say. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in listening to others that we forget to listen to ourselves. But if we don’t listen to ourselves, why should anybody else?

Every now and then, allow yourself the courtesy that you show others: don’t think, don’t judge. Just listen.

Writing in Retrograde

Kendyl Harmeling, Writing Consultant

I remember sitting outside my old apartment with my best friend, smoking in the heat wave that broke Connecticut at the end of this past July, and talking about how the world felt like it was topsy-turvy.  We laughed about how Mercury was in retrograde, and how every little detail of being alive felt only slightly off-kilter, how our lives were noticeably ever just different.

Like we were still us, but not the us we had once so recently been. In the week leading up to my move, we sat outside our old apartment-home every night like that. Hazy and confused. We cried. Mostly, we laughed. Sometimes, we yelled at our neighbor for never having baked us the broccoli quiche he promised to. The night before I left, my friends and I went to the dive bar I had worked at that entire year, and sang, badly, our favorite classic rock karaoke songs.

But, “you-know-what-they-say about the young…” I woke up the next afternoon and was alone. My room full of everything I ever owned, packed, and pristinely kept. My dad had already left for work. I left a note on the counter that I was moving 816 miles in a few minutes, and I loved him so much. I drove first to New Haven to pick up my mom for our drive west, and then I left Connecticut. I would like to reach out my hand… I may see-you…and tellllll you to run!

I’ve lived here in Louisville for a month now. Over a month. Spent nights at friends’ houses, found the bars I like, coffee shops, bookstores. I’ve found all the things here that I thought made my life back home a home. A life. I thought it was in the minute, the things I did during the day, that comfort came, but I just feel vacationed.

It’s made me wonder about the qualities of home which transcend distance, the parts of who I am that were just parts of my old environment, and most of all, how uprooting myself from the only place I’ve ever called home has felt like more to me than just a “moving forward” but also feels very really like a “leaving behind.” No one told me that the bore weight of leaving someplace doesn’t lighten, quickly at least.
I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet this summer, in that other life I lead. His writing inspired and terrified. In it, Rilke writes about the importance of observational poetry, how being tragically human and trying to understand the profound are incongruent pursuits. How humans really can’t understand the profound, how we’re sentenced to living only in the momentary, the lovely, and the ugly. It’s in the making poetic these things that poetry can attempt to transform meaning from nothing into profundity.

Since moving here and trying to find that settlement of home in a thin crusted, forced routine, I write a poem every day. I started this practice the third night after my mom left and I was suddenly aware that I was alone, 816 miles from everything I love. The poems aren’t all good. Most of them, actually, are real bad. But they’re little homes, each one. The beginning observation of this new place, where I live and am, in fact, not vacationing. Rilke was right whenever he wrote that, that we can learn how to live just from looking around. Here are some observations that have helped me ground myself in this, a new home:

I sleep next to a street lamp, near the corner of Saint Catherine and Preston where that woman sits on a bench with her cat. It’s a yellow light.
I’m waiting for a crack of thunder again.
I’m waiting for tiredness to set in and put me to sleep.
I’m waiting for my body to stop moving and for that great unknowable to quiet.
It feels like the air here is static with wait, a pause, a moment before exhale.
Out my window is unrushed, cattle traffic and the eager unrest for the arrival of that great big thing…
I had a dream last night that the world would end in one searing-hot, pink instant.
Immediate and satisfying.
Unlike the visible end of the crumbled rock wall across from my apartment.
The one keeping the giant oak tree from cracking through the sidewalk we seldom use.
That end took time.
It’s the sort of decay which weathers into material.
The patient kind.
My someday bright-stop is restless.
Waiting for the oak fall, the sidewalk end, and my momentary to begin.

In my 18th century poetry class, my professor said, “Well… I suppose it never really feels like anything comes to a conclusion.” I know she was talking about Defoe’s lack of chapter division in Moll Flanders, but the fluidity of story reaches me, here, in Louisville, Kentucky. I am the same person, only further from home. But, maybe closer than I think.

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

Beyond the Back Room: Traveling, Collaborating, and Expanding Tutoring Strategies at SWCA-KY

Brooke Parker, Consultantbrooke-p

Questions, Please!
If you’ve ever had an appointment at our writing center, you’ve most likely experienced something like this:  You walk through the center’s open glass door, check in at the front desk, and choose a work table to sit at. All the while waiting for your consultant to emerge from behind the (somewhat mysterious) back room door. And you might have some questions about that.

What exactly are we doing back there? Well, we do quite a few things. From reading your registration/assignments notes and writing about our own sessions to basking in the general glow of the truly interesting work each of you is doing, our time is spent thinking, writing, and ruminating on writers. And drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

That’s probably what you expected all along, right? It makes sense that we spend most of our time preparing for and reflecting on the sessions we’re participating in. That’s what the back room is for. But, what are we doing beyond that room? How are we, as writing center consultants, expanding our experiences of tutoring, of writing from outside of the space we encounter and work in six days a week? Sometimes, our exodus from the back room covers quite a bit of mileage.

Recently, several of us hopped in a Volvo and made the two hour trek down to the Southeastern Writing Center Association-Kentucky Conference at the Noel Studio of Eastern Kentucky University. We were eager to learn from what other universities are doing in their writing centers and, hopefully, to discover some new strategies to further help our writers here at UofL.

If this is a conversation where are all the people?
We arrived at EKU bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, parked in the designated area, put on our name tags, and walked into the Noel Studio. I think this was the first time any of us had visited this particular center or conference, but our reactions were pretty varied. Regardless, we were collectively surprised by the amount of participants, for better or worse. Two of our consultants, Carrie and Michael, touched on this in their responses.

Carrie: Honestly what struck me the most about the conference was the lack of participation from other schools. I think there were four schools? And like less than fifty people. It just makes me curious, writing centers strive to be places of collaboration and it’s sort of disheartening to see centers not engaging together. Of course, there are probably factors I’m not considering all the way, but I don’t think that takes away from my initial feeling.

Michael: What I liked most about this conference was its intimate, conversational nature.  I never really felt like the conference was lecture-oriented. Instead it encouraged audience participation and discussion in a way that was casual yet intimate.

While my initial reaction was similar to Carrie’s, I thought that the smaller size of the conference made it feel comfy, inviting those kinds of intimate conversations that Michael referred to and aiding in the collaborative activities the organizers had us in engage in.

Michael: As for the brain-dating activity, I found the balance of one-on-one conversation with individual tutors and with overall group discussion to be a valuable exercise.  Gaining different perspectives on how to tutor translingual writers was really helpful for me, personally, as I feel better equipped now to communicate more effectively with all kinds of writers.

In Michael’s case, the size of this conference really worked. But Carrie’s point hits on something I think writing center consultants feel drawn to do—to keep collaborating—and not just with writers and other tutors in our own centers, but with centers (and writers) across the state, across the field, across the curriculum. So, we ask ourselves, how can we continue to collaborate in new ways?

The mood within a writing center is – to some degree – determined by its layout.
The space of Noel Studio at EKU was incredibly beautiful and engaging: artwork hung on the walls, white boards lined the far left wall, chairs rolled and moved, and skylights beamed down sunshine. I think we all took multiple pictures of the space. Both Kevin and Melissa mentioned the effect of the layout on their experience at the conference.

Kevin: I think my biggest takeaway from the event was the setting of the conference. Seeing EKU’s writing center really revealed to me just how the physical layout of a writing center can affect the atmosphere within it.  With its brightly colored walls and windows, ample amount of art, and availability of different writing surfaces and utensils (markers, colored pencils), EKU’s writing center offered up an extremely inviting and fun vibe.  The space itself suggested that the activities facilitated by the writing center were fun and creative.

Let’s face it, the space was a piece of art in and of itself, but Melissa pointed out that for every up there is a down.

Melissa: The Noel Studio was like a playground for college students. However, while it seemed like a wonderful space for creativity, I could see myself getting easily distracted in there. They did have legos, ya know, so could you blame me?

The very deliberate construction of the Noel Studio pushed us to think about the space of the writing center in new ways. So, we also ask ourselves, how can we use or change our space to help facilitate writers’ processes even further?

By bridging language barriers, we have a gateway into an entirely new way of thinking.
The second presentation of the day dealt with translingual approaches, particularly literacy maps, in the composition classroom, but (as the presenters encouraged) could be adapted to apply to writing center strategies, as well. Our consultants were really drawn (pardon the pun) to these methods.

Michael: The two activities, the literacy map activity and brain-dating, really pushed conference attendees to consider how ELL students approach language and writing.  With the literacy map activity, specifically, I found that exploring the ways my own literacies have been shaped has helped me to understand better how different cultures and different experiences will yield different language-building practices.

Melissa: I never really viewed multilingualism as a deficit per se, but I don’t think I ever really took the time to recognize just how many different elements have influenced my English language development. These different “domains” that I have always taken for granted have provided me with a certain amount of privilege that I had never thought of before. I not only have the lingo, but the experiential knowledge to speak with authority about several aspects of American life. And while multilingual students may not have those same advantages, they certainly have their own when talking about their own expertise growing up in a foreign culture.

Both Michael and Melissa point out the really productive ways these literacy maps helped them explore their own literacy experiences and how they might also do the same for the ELL writers we work with at UofL. We are currently speaking with each other about how this activity might be applied in our center.

In the end, there’s a plethora of resources out there that could help foster the creative process.
After the presentations, the lunch, the brain-dating and collaborative activities were over, we packed ourselves back into the Volvo and began the journey back to Louisville. But the conference certainly hadn’t left us, even though we’d left it. The next two hours were spent talking about what we’d learned about ourselves as tutors, about the writers we work with, and what questions we should take back to the rest of our cohort. I think Carrie summed up the experience nicely, saying “Overall, the conference definitely made me aware of how centers should try to accommodate as many learning styles as possible.” It certainly had that effect on all of us.

The Places We Write: An Unfinished List

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Ashly_Version_3Last week, BookRiot—one of my favorite blogs for literary discussions—posted about the places people read: under a tree, at the beach, in a coffee shop, you know the places. For each place, author Jonathan Streeter rated the aesthetic appeal. For example, reading under a tree is highly aesthetic given its “classic appeal” and prominence in paintings, books, and other forms of art. (Reading “on the throne” was least aesthetic, for obvious reasons.)

Streeter’s blog post got me thinking about the places we write. Much like reading, the cultural conventions around writers and how to write are strong. For centuries, the idea of the writer conjured up images of solitary, often disagreeable, and socially inept individuals (arguably, usually men). Even now, these characteristics often persist. We see it in movies like Shakespeare in Love, where the inspired William Shakespeare runs to his small cluttered apartment to scribble down lines of his upcoming play, or in Stranger than Fiction, where Emma Thompson’s character is portrayed as difficult to get along with. On-screen or in-book writers who frequent coffee shops are just as likely to be seen as solitary. Bronwyn Williams and Amy Zenger offer more critical and thorough insight on this in their book Popular Culture and Representations of Literacy.

Given that this view of writers persists, despite repeated evidence that when we write our content most often comes from interactions with other texts and other people, I want to consider today the places we actually write.

Dorm/Home: Most people who are expecting to be doing consistent writing or studying have a space in their home to work. For many students that place probably their desk in their dorm room. Others who aren’t living in dorms might have an office in their house, or just a desk. Personally, most of the writing I do at home I do in my kitchen because my table is big enough to spread out any books or notes I want to look at while I write. Plus, the food is right there.

Cafes and Bookstores: It makes sense to begin here since I’m currently sitting in a Barnes and Noble Café. While plenty of the other customers are reading, there are at least three other people writing in some form, and based on observation over time, I’d say this is not unusual. I generally prefer coffee shops, but the town I’m in is small and doesn’t have a café that accommodates hours-long customers. The upside to coffee and book shops is that those of us who need to “get out of the house” are able to be productive while still seemingly engaging with the outside world. Plus, there’s always people watching or small talk if you get stuck or need a break.

Libraries: Libraries have always had a particular atmosphere for me: quiet, studious, quiet. You may be getting a sense of why I prefer the coffee shop, but many people love the sense of focus and the lack of distraction that libraries can offer. Plus, many students living on-campus can make temporary homes and offices in the libraries at their universities. In fact, the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library is currently renovating to offer more of these spaces. The benefit of being in library, of course, is that if you need to look up a book or an article, you’re already there! I love wandering through the stacks. And, Ekstrom Library also houses the University Writing Center, so if you have any writing questions or want to walk-in for an appointment you don’t have to go to another building—just to the 3rd floor.

Writing Centers: Speaking of the Writing Center… Of course, most of our work is helping students with their writing in consulting appointments, but we also have computers and tables where people can just come in and write. This was one of the important benefits of our Dissertation Writing Retreat, every morning participants had at least four hours to just write before meeting with a consultant.

This list is certainly preliminary and subject to my own experiences. Where else do you write? Where is your favorite place to write? I’ve been known to write on my porch, on an airplane, and even in my car—though not while driving! If you aren’t bound by place, what things do you need to write? Let us know in the comments!