Tag: Writing Groups

Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Writing

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Someone once told me that any time you move it takes six months to learn how to live in a new place. After we moved into our new space on the first floor of Ekstrom Library last

DSCN3876
University Writing Center on the first floor of Ekstrom Library

October, it did taken us a while to figure out how the furniture worked best, get some art on the walls, and buy some new plants. Now, however, as we get ready to start the 2016-17 academic year, we are settled in and excited about the opportunities that our new surroundings offer us.

We plan to take advantage of our new space with a number of new and expanded programs and events in the coming year:

Creative Writing Groups: We are starting new creative writing groups for anyone in the UofL community interested in working on creative writing projects. The groups will meet once a month on a Tuesday during the fall semester allowing people to explore creative writing in a safe, open, and encouraging environment. Meetings will be times when people can will write, investigate issues of craft, read and respond to writing, and have fun. Any member of the UofL community is welcome – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. We welcome any genre of writing and any level of creative writing experience—all you need is an interest in creative writing. For more details and the schedule of meetings, see our website.

Graduate Student Writing Groups and Faculty Writing Groups: We are going to continue with our writing groups for graduate students and for faculty. These groups will provide time for writing followed by discussions of writing concerns and issues. More details and schedules for the graduate student group and the faculty group can be found on our website

Writing Center Events: We’re going to have a number of events in our new space this fall,

open mic
“Bad Love Poetry” Open Mic Night from Feb. 2016

from participation in the National Day of Writing on Oct. 2o, to a Finals’ Week Write-In to support getting final papers finished, to an open mic night on Halloween for scary stories and poems. See our Events page on our website for more details.

In addition to our Writing Center events, we also have some other new initiatives we are excited about.

New Undergraduate Tutoring Class : We have had approved a new course for undergraduates and MA students interested in learning more about teaching writing and then potentially doing internships in community literacy settings. The course, English 508 – Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures will be offered in 2017-18. Students who take the course can then take part in tutoring internships in the community with organizations such as Family Scholar House and the Louisville Free Public Library. 

Community Literacy Projects: We are also going to continue, and expand, our ongoing writing workshops and writing consultations at Family Scholar House. We view this partnerships as one of the key parts of our efforts to provide more writing consultation services to the larger Louisville community.

Of course, it isn’t only what is new here that is exciting. One of the most exciting things that will happen this fall is what happens here every semester. Day after day writers from across the university will bring their drafts and their questions about their writing to the Picture1University Writing Center and engage in thoughtful conversations with our consultants about how to make that work as strong as it can be.  We have an excellent incoming staff of consultants who will be doing what we do best: helping writers improve the projects they are working on today, as well helping them become stronger writers in the future. On our exit surveys, more than 90 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their University Writing Center appointments both help them with their immediate writing concerns and that what they learn in appointments will help them with other writing projects.

We will also continue to offer our successful Dissertation Writing Retreat, our Graduate Student Writing Workshops, workshops on writing issues for classes and student organizations at UofL, and our consultations on the Health Sciences Campus.

The mission statement for the University Writing Center says that we believe writing is an “indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university.” We stand behind this belief and it is central to what we do. But, as the new semester begins, I think the events and programs we will offer in the year ahead will allow us to add to our mission the goal of creating and sustaining a culture of writing of all kinds, on campus and in our community.

Please see our updated website for more information and resources, as well as for information about how to make your appointment for a writing consultation.

Good luck with the new academic year and I hope to see you in the University Writing Center.

 

Upcoming Workshops, Events, and Writing Groups in the Spring Semester

DSCN3694Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director

As one of the Assistant Directors of the University Writing Center, I had the privilege of working closely this semester with our staff and consultants to help develop some new projects. We are hoping to use the new, more centrally located space on the first floor of the Ekstrom Library to host some exciting events in the spring semester, with the goal of working with more writers and strengthening campus conversations about writing.

We are hoping in particular to strengthen the Writing Center’s contributions to the creative writing community here at UofL. We enjoying working with many writers completing academic or professional projects, but some may not know that we can also work with any writers doing creative writing—whether for classes or for personal projects. Although I believe that any strict separation between “academic” and “creative” is a false one, I am also invested in expanding the Writing Center’s presence as a welcoming space for creative writers. Many of our consultants this year have expertise in creative writing and are eager to work with students on fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenwriting, or any other genre.

One of the upcoming projects connecting the Writing Center with creative writing will be a series of three writing workshops aimed at any undergraduate writers. Each workshop will be themed around a specific topic or genre of writing, and we hope for these to be highly participatory. In addition to learning about the overall topic of each workshop, writers will produce work during the sessions through interactive brainstorming and drafting activities. We plan for these to be helpful to writers working on a variety of projects, whether those are for personal, professional, or academic purposes.

The Writing Center is already a space for writers across campus working on a wide variety of projects. We are also thinking of other ways to make our new location a space to bring writers together, build community, and celebrate the creative work that many of our students do every day. With these goals in mind, we are hoping to host events such as a student open mic night.

We are also continuing our already successful graduate student and junior faculty writing groups this spring. Please refer to our website for more information if you are a graduate student or faculty member who would like to participate in a group that provides support, accountability, and feedback for any kind of writing project.

To stay up to date on these and other upcoming projects, please return to this space in the spring for more specific details and feel free to follow us on Twitter at @UofLWritingCtr. We wish all of our readers a restful winter break and a happy holiday season!

 

Volunteering: An Important Way to Share Your Literacy Skills

Michelle Day, Consultant

MichelleA few months ago I finally decided to pursue volunteering with the Center for Women and Families (CWF), something I’d thought about for years but for various (good and bad) reasons had never gotten around to doing.

To my very pleasant surprise (and sort of by accident), I connected with two CWF staff members who invited me to become part of a reading/writing group they’re starting with some people who are receiving services from the Center. I’m beyond thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to use the English skills I’m learning to work toward a cause I care very much about—ending intimate partner violence and sexual assault and supporting those who have experienced it.

But now, it’s got me thinking. My last blog post on June 17 was about improving personal statements in preparation for grad school applications. To be sure, I spend a lot of time talking to students about how they can improve their writing in pursuit of further education or a job, an obviously valuable task. Yet I can’t really remember ever advising students about how they can use their writing (or other literacy-related) skills for volunteer work, which is often easier to find and obtain than employment or graduate school admission.

There are many reasons people seek out volunteer work. For me, it was a combination of things. As a Christian, I believe making sacrifices for the good of others is one of the most important things Jesus did and taught others to do. My role at the CWF will also allow me to practice writing/teaching differently than I do at the Writing Center or in the classroom. Plus, it’s a nice way to bring balance to an often-hectic schedule of mostly work/school activities.

Other volunteers might have similar spiritual/moral or practical reasons. Some people might volunteer because the issue they’re involved in has personally affected them or because they want to connect with people who have similar values. Other people find volunteer work in general rewarding or feel a personal moral obligation to help others. Still more volunteers want to learn new skills or do some professional networking.

Whatever the motivation beyond the impulse to serve, people who are skilled in literacy-related practices can find ways to use those skills to satisfy the volunteer impulse in their local communities. Here are a few literacy-related opportunities you can check out around Louisville:

The Center for Women and Families offers services to (male and female) survivors of intimate partner abuse or sexual violence. You can volunteer to be an English tutor and help individuals practice their English speaking, listening, and writing skills.

  • The Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs seeks to provide education, life skill resources, and community to its works. Volunteers can teach or tutor in a variety of subjects, including English skills.
  • Portland Promise Center is a faith-based community development center in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood. It offers opportunities for
    volunteers to tutor kids.
  • Brooklawn Child and Family Services — a residential, therapeutic treatment center for youth with behaviorial/emotional issues — also has opportunities for volunteers to tutor in a variety of subjects, including English.
  • Kentucky Refugee Ministries is the Kentucky state refugee resettlement office at which volunteers can tutor in English/ESL.

You can find other similar volunteer opportunities by searching on websites like Metro United Way or Volunteer Match.

Write, Talk, Repeat: Reflecting on the Benefits of Our Second Dissertation Writing Retreat

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last week our former Assistant Director Barrie Olson wrote about the anticipation and promise of participating in our second Dissertation Writing Retreat (DWR). After a long, restful weekend and some reflection, it seems that the DWR delivered on nearly all its promises. Like Barrie, I participated in the retreat as a consultant, but as a dissertation writer myself, I found it helpful on multiple fronts. The biggest benefit of participating in the retreat, though, was being able to work with other graduate students both inside and outside of my field. The Dissertation Writing Retreat may be all about writing, and involve a good deal of writing, but talking about the writing helps to solidify the meaning of all that work, especially with those who aren’t familiar with the work.

Since I’m at the early stages of the dissertation process, my direct experiences may be somewhat limited. Nevertheless, between working with many different dissertation writers over the years and my own experiences, it seems that articulating the dissertation succinctly is one of the biggest challenges. In my own graduate program, we’re often advised to develop multiple versions of our answer to the question, “What is your dissertation/project about?”: ranging from an “elevator” version to a 15-20 minute version. Condensing an approximately 200 page project into a brief description isn’t all that easy when your brain is filled to the brim—maybe over the brim—with theories, research, examples, and other data that is “essential” to understanding your project. And, believe me, it all seems essential when it’s your project.

Working with two different students from drastically different disciplines (one in the Humanities and one in the hard sciences), I found that the feedback that they most often needed through the week was to write what they were explaining to me in sessions. That seems so easy, doesn’t it? All writers know it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. You often need someone else to spot the gap in your writing and tell you where you aren’t explaining something. It isn’t always about missing information though. Maybe your verbal description of your project really emphasizes a particular aspect or connection in your project, but you only have one sentence or a paragraph in 30 pages about that aspect. A good listener and reader can help you find those disconnections between what you’re saying about your writing and what’s actually happening in your writing.

Ashly_Version_3What’s really inspiring for someone like me is that those conversations are not just helpful for the writer. Having these conversations with two DWR participants helped me realize why I was having such difficulty drafting the introduction to my own dissertation. I’ve been writing pages and pages leading up to the point that I always begin with when I talk to people about my project. When I realized this during the retreat, I thought to myself, “Well, duh. That’s the problem.” Reaching that “duh” moment isn’t always easy though, and I’m sure that it won’t be the last one I have before this whole dissertation is written.

Fortunately, for all twelve participants in this year’s Dissertation Writing Retreat, these kinds of conversations were not limited to the one-on-one consultations we had each afternoon. Each day around lunch time, we also offered short workshops about the dissertation process, including writing the literature review, managing time and production, working with committee members, and developing support networks. In addition to hearing from some of the writing consultants, we also benefited from the insight of Dr. Stephen Schneider and Dr. Beth Boehm. The participants found the workshops especially helpful because they offered the opportunity to ask questions about the dissertation process generally but also to receive project-specific feedback from those who were currently working on their dissertation and those who had already completed one.

With all this praise in mind, it seems a little suspicious that I would claim that the retreat delivered on almost all its promises. Based on this post and the feedback from our participants, what could possibly have been missing? Technically, you’re right; it wasn’t missing anything it promised. Yet, as ambitious scholars we’ll always want more of a good thing. More time to write, more time to work with others on our writing and on our projects. More free food. We are still students after all. Thankfully, many of our participants said they would return to visit the Writing Center to work on their projects. And hopefully, we will all be inspired to create these kinds of supportive writing groups beyond the structure of the Writing Center.

That’s our dream, and this year was one more successful shot at achieving it.

Another Year, Another Dissertation Writing Retreat

Barrie Olson, Dissertation Writing Retreat Consultant

Around this time last year, I wrote a post discussing both the success of the Writing Center’s first ever Dissertation Writing Retreat and the way that it helped me to re-envision writing center work. This year, as another Dissertation Writing Retreat is about to get underway, I find myself thinking about it in yet another new light because this year I’ll not only be a tutor but also a dissertation writer. In fact, I am writing this post as a well-deserved break after writing the first 1,800 words of my own dissertation.  Yes, that’s right—1,800 hard-earned, mulled over, highly scrutinized words. Words that came after doing a classroom ethnography over the course of the spring semester, after transcribing over 27 hours of classroom discussions and interviews, after reading through thousands of pages of student papers and homework assignments. Honestly, in the grand scheme of everything I’ve read and looked at just to prepare for those 1,800 words, 1,800 suddenly feels pretty small and insignificant. The mounds of data—transcript notes, papers, and memos—makes me feel like this dissertation might never be written. Where do I start? How do I begin? Then again, in the face of those questions, 1,800 words suddenly feels like the accomplishment of the century.

barrie_with_camelBut why the paragraph on my 1,800-word writing breakthrough? Because those 1,800 words have helped me to gain an even greater appreciation for the Dissertation Writing Retreat. Whereas last year I approached the dissertation knowing only what I’d heard from people who’d done it—that it was hard, that it was frustrating, that when it was over you couldn’t believe you were holding it in your hands—this year I feel like I get it a little bit more. I get why having several hours a day of uninterrupted time to write, surrounded by other people engaged in the same writing task, would be so helpful. I get why having someone else available to look at your 1,800 words that seem to make no sense and every sense at the same time would be valuable. Last year I understood the success of the Dissertation Writing Retreat as a tutor. This year, I am beginning to understand it better as a writer.

Admittedly, I am at the very early stages of dissertation writing. I know that I still have a great deal to learn about writing a dissertation—but that is what is so remarkable about the retreat. For a week, I will be surrounded by people at various stages, some just beginning like me, and others getting ready for the final signatures of their committee members. Each of these writers will have valuable strategies to share with me. What do they do when the data seems insurmountable? How do they overcome writer’s block? Obviously everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for somebody else, but exposure to varying strategies never hurts and too often, writing a dissertation feels like a solitary endeavor. The retreat makes it communal. Sure, I will have several hours of silence each day to type away to the sound of other people typing away. But I remember from last year the workshops, the quick snack breaks, extended lunch periods—all times when I can talk to other people about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

And while this is something I often do already (I am, after all, a writing center junkie who understands the value of frequent input on my writing), for the first time since I began my own research project, I’ll have people outside my field to converse with. I’ll gain valuable exposure to other ways of approaching research and writing, other ways of considering data and results. If my time in the writing center has taught me anything, it is that this kind of exposure is invaluable. I cannot predict the ways that this kind of exposure will broaden and even complicate my own thinking. I can only predict that it most certainly will. There is great power in moments like this, when methodologies and approaches collide. In my field, Rhetoric and Composition, some of our greatest breakthroughs have been the result of these moments—moments when we have “borrowed” methods from other fields, or applied outside theoretical frames and values to our own ideas. What better place to be exposed to that possibility then at the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

So it goes without saying that I’m excited for this next week. I hope to write, and write, and write some more. I hope to build, and change, and add to my 1,800 words. But I also hope to change my thinking, expand my strategies, and learn more about myself as a writer through the writing of my fellow dissertation retreaters. Who knows, it might even be fun…