Tag: writing process

Writing for Sanity’s Sake: A Quarantine Companion

IMG_3633Edward English, Assistant Director 

When considering strategies for staying emotionally and physically healthy during these times of closed borders, social distancing, and toilet paper depletion, for most people writing would be an unlikely choice. Writing does, after all, carry a reputation for being a solitary enterprise.  I do, however, believe that writing offers great potential to help many navigate these tough times and here’s why.

The importance of having projects. For those with an ample amount of free time, having a project, or projects, can be a fun and rewarding way to learn and stay occupied. My wife, a junior high science teacher now instructing entirely online, has a loom and is in a weaving frenzy.  I’ve started gardening a bit and trying to get better at home repairs.  It seems I’m not alone in taking on these tasks either—yesterday while driving around, I noticed what seemed to be a Louisvillian ghost town suddenly transform into a dense expanse of cars parked in front of Lowe’s.

For many attracted to writing, the biggest obstacles can be a perceived lack of time and difficulty overcoming writer’s block.  Now, however, free-time is no longer in short supply for the bulk of us.  Also, for myself, I feel that writer’s block is often a product of feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of a project.  Perhaps now is the time for you to start that novel you always wanted to write, but something of a more manageable size might be a better strategy: a short story, a screenplay, or a thoughtfully crafted letter or e-mail to connect with loved ones, offer consultation to those in a difficult place, or express appreciation to those who are working so hard and acting bravely—particularly those in the medical field.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that writing can often be an activity that requires slowing down and thoughtfully managing your time, as former writing consultant Abby Wills explains: Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

The importance of working through emotions—especially uncomfortable ones.  These are anxious times—especially to someone in tune with the current headlines.  As many people have little communication with others during this unprecedented time, it might be challenging to process through difficult emotions. For some in these and similar situations, writing can serve as an outlet. In my own life, I’ve found that writing, especially journaling and poetry, can be an excellent way to give definition and clarity to fears, questions, and concerns.  And while these steps don’t necessarily eliminate problems, more often than not they help foster much clearer, and more pleasant, headspace.

For fun insight into journaling, check out former writing consultant Rachel Knowles’ piece: The Writing Center Diaries: Dispelling Myths About Journaling

The importance of exercise and creativity.

If you have the ability to responsibly exercise, jog, or take walks, it’s likely a good idea. The benefits are numerous: physical health, increased serotonin levels, vitamin D to name a few.  But also consider that exercise could be a great way to improve your writing quality and overall experience.

In a recent interview, acclaimed fiction writer Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible MonstersChoke, Fight Club) detailed how much of his writing process actually revolves around lifting weights—arguing that the physical movement and circulation were conducive to helping him feel creative and organize his thoughts. While weight lifting might be a limited option for most—particularly with the closure of gyms—the sentiment is clear, and alternative ways of exercising indoors abound with a simple Google search.

Along similar lines, a few years back Psychology Today published “To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker” exploring significant benefits walking can give to writers.  As the article explains, avid walkers abound among great literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau.  Furthermore, walking can lead to increased creativity, provide inspiration, and hone one’s observational skills.

The importance of staying connected.

While a successful writer is frequently imagined as sitting hunched over a laptop typing away in a disheveled apartment, sterile office, or library, more often than not some of the most successful writers I have met put great effort into figuring out alternative and creative methods that work better for them, and this often incorporates social connection as a significant part of their writing process.

And, as many are discovering creative ways of connecting online, it might be worth considering that writing could be a useful means to get feedback or just brainstorm ideas with friends or people with similar interests online.  If you happen to be a faculty member or graduate student at the UofL and are interested, we are still our offering writing group online.  For more details, check out: Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group

For many, these various options and suggestions might not be feasible. But either way, we at the University Writing Center hope you stay safe, healthy, and connected.  So happy writing…or whatever it is you do to help during these strange times.

Works Cited

“To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Mar. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201603/become-better-writer-be-frequent-walker.

Why We Call Everyone a “Writer”

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Kelby Gibson

“Well, I don’t write.” I’ve heard that sentence about 100 times over the last six months. People come into the Writing Center looking for some help because they think they have no idea what they are doing, when, in fact, they do. In today’s world, we’re surrounded by technology –  which has both advantages and disadvantages. A lot of people, myself included, get sucked into the world of social media and can lose hours of their day watching videos of cute animals, reading about their hometown drama, liking photos of the celebrities they follow, etc. It can be addicting. In having a phone glued to a hand though, people are also doing something else. People are constantly writing. Composing text messages, replying to a tweet, commenting on a post, captioning their photo for Instagram, posting ads on resale apps, typing in delivery directions for DoorDash. The list could go on. People fail to realize that they are writing – in some form – every single day. Just because it isn’t ‘academic’ doesn’t mean it isn’t writing.

When communicating through written text, most people still try to be effective. If they give bad directions to the delivery driver, they may not get their food. If they don’t pay attention to wording, they could upset their friends, or potentially create chaos on social media with family. An ad needs to appropriately represent the product, otherwise it may not sell. These are all reasons people carefully and intentionally use writing in their day to day lives, even they do not realize they are using their own writing processes for these seemingly mundane actions.

I often urge writers to take what they know about all of these types of writing and apply it to the writing they are struggling with. Sometimes this works, sometimes it takes more explanation and practice before the application of it sticks. To be fair, this is way easier said than done. I think we all could take care to be more thoughtful and aware of the writing we are doing on a daily basis. The more we practice both the writing itself and reflecting on the skills and tools we are employing in doing so, the more we can improve ourselves as writers, whether it be seemingly simple social media posts or for a grade at school. Chances are everyone will use writing at some point in their chosen career field. The greater capability they have of being an attentive, thoughtful, and reflective writer, the more likely they are to be able to transition to new types of writing and be more effective writers in general.

When we more carefully approach our everyday writing, we will learn more from it. We will learn more about ourselves as writers, as well. I know a lot of people do not think of writing as vital to their fields. Maybe they want to be nurses, police officers, biologists, zookeepers, engineers, personal trainers, etc. They may not be thinking about how important their writing skills will be in taking down patient information, writing incident reports, note-taking on studies, scheduling routines for employees to follow, applying for grants, personalizing meal plans and workouts, etc. But these things will be important! Being clear in your position, intent, meaning, and more will make all the difference for those the writing is about and those it is meant for. In other words, writing pops up everywhere all the time. It may not involve writing full papers, writing for publications, or other instances where one’s writing will be graded or ‘judged’ for a lack of a better word, but they will still likely have to write, and it matters how understandable that writing is. When we start to think about how we are practicing this writing every day, the better chance we have at making that practice matter.

What’s Left for History?

Kendyl Harmeling, Writing Consultant 

In reflecting on this past semester, my first as an English student and as a graduate student, all I’ve learned, all I’ve taken in and digested, I find myself sorely missing the field of my Bachelor’s degree: I miss History; I miss reading ancient works; I miss talking about Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; I miss it all, the whole lot of it. I changed disciplines between undergrad and grad because of my passion for Writing Center studies, so I left my history studies…in history (cheesy, I know).

My academic voice as a historian was pronounced, articulate, and confident. Being able to synthesize ethics and past events was my favorite part of writing theory for that discipline. But, I often felt out of touch with modernity in writing History. As such, Historical theory is debated around the idea of the present age—do we study history to learn or do we study it to better off ourselves today. I loved this question. It’s one of the unanswerables. I had a professor once tell me that the purpose of research is finding the question you can spend you life trying to answer. At this time last year, I thought I’d be at Yale studying for my PhD in Early American Feminist Rhetoric, and reading Captivity Narratives from 1660 and trying to understand the mechanisms of society which both bolstered and limited female agency in the church. Instead, I’m in a Master’s program in Kentucky, attempting still to learn the mechanisms of English Studies and trying to make myself as a scholar fit into that mold.

I started this reflection in my childhood home. Sitting on my couch, next to my wood burning stove, and thinking about the decisions I’ve made in the past year which have put me in this spot today. I’m writing it now in my studio apartment, sitting in bed, under 14 foot high ceilings and heavy wooden doors hanging off-kilter in their frames. I so miss History, but English is a new language to learn – or to learn better, and confidently.

One question we were repeatedly asked this semester was, “what is English studies?” and I’m not sure I can answer this question yet. Easily, it could be defined as the study of literature. But, History does this too. English could then be the attempting to understand a society through the written texts of a time, including video, art, etc., but… History does this too. I don’t dare suggest these two fields as the same, because that would be an affront to unique scholarship in both, yet both claim Foucault as a founding theorist, both use Frye, Derrida, textual analyses, and conversation.

Perhaps, then, the difference is that History deals in fact and objectivity. English deals in emotion and subjectivity. But even this delineation is too contrite. I once read a work called, The Myth of Religious Violence: The Roots of Modern Secularism by William Cavanaugh. Of course, the work itself doesn’t apply to this consideration, but in the work, Cavanaugh suggests that it’s impossible to define religion. He writes that drawing lines too tightly leaves out non-theistic religions such as Buddhism, but drawing lines too broadly lets in social structures like Capitalism into “religion.” I suggest English studies as the same: un-pin-point-able. Maybe this is because most of my training as a scholar was done by historical method, but c’est la vie.

Where does this leave me? Again, I’m not sure. For a reflective entry, I find myself knowing what I am not more than knowing what I am. In History, we call this an “ethnically differentiated classification,” where knowing your own identify comes through the “I am not’s” and not through the “I am’s.” In regard to my future in the field, I don’t even know what I’m “not.” Outside of the academic, I joke with my friends that if I was ever to leave the academy, I’d proofread restaurant menus. While certainly not a money-producing vocation, it would be fun. But I have a while between now and doing that proofreading job. So for now, I’m in the academic. Where I love being. It took me a long time when I was a bartender to learn how to make certain drinks, and learning this new field will be the same. And luckily, I know how to make a Manhattan to help get me through that process.

Writing Genres that Are New to You

Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

As the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, I work with a lot of graduate students on a variety of writing projects. Many of the writers who see me are writing a new genre, whether that be a personal statement, a long-form seminar paper, or a grant proposal. Despite the wide array of genres I see, I often give very similar advice to Caitlin Raywriters. I also think that these strategies would be effective for writers of all experience levels—from a first year undergraduate in their first college class, to a PhD student working on their dissertation.

The genres I am talking about, though, are not just the weird ones that we might only come across if we are in higher education (literature reviews, for example, are not a genre common outside the walls of the university). This could also be something as simple as an email. For example, we may take it for granted that everyone can write an effective email. However, we all know that some emails are more successful than others. To move our own email writing practices to those exemplary ones, we may look at what others are doing (What do I look for when I receive an email? What do I respond to?) and then we emulate that. We also have a ton of practice writing emails, so we can learn quickly in the variety of drafts we create what is effective and what isn’t. The same principles can be applied to all writing.

The following strategies are ones I encourage writers to use when they are unfamiliar with a genre they are bringing to me. These are strategies I would encourage everyone to employ to master any genre that comes your way:

  1. Examine the assignment. This may seem like a given, but many people read assignment descriptions uncritically. Additionally, assignment prompts or questions can be extremely detailed or very vague. Let’s take a look at an example I see quite often. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) asks for a personal statement when applicants submit materials for medical residency. This prompt is simply, “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school,” and allows 5,300 characters. This is as vague as it gets. However, you can still tell several things. The readers clearly value brevity (you are limited to about a page and a half), and you are crafting an argument (why do you want to go to medical school?) Embedded in this question is the need for evidence. How does the reader believe what you are telling them? The context is also specific: why do you want to go to medical school? What is medical school to you, and what will you get out of it? How does it meet your goals? Suddenly, you can see lots of questions to answer that were simply implied in the prompt itself.
  2. Find examples. This is something I recommend to all levels of writers. It is very difficult to write an abstract, a literature review, or a personal statement, without knowing what successful ones look like. Once you get in the habit, you will automatically begin reading like a writer and will notice successful examples of writing everywhere you go. One piece of advice I have gotten as I move into writing my own dissertation, for example, is to seek out other dissertations (they are usually publically available). Further, find dissertations that were chaired by the same chair of your own committee. Finding examples can help you figure out what the unwritten expectations of certain genres may be.
  3. Ask an expert. “Expert” could mean an expert in the content area you are writing in, or an expert in writing itself. I often suggest that people writing very discipline-specific writing (like, maybe a review article for a journal) talk with their advisor or other trusted professors and get feedback. Those folks are great resources to talk about methods and field-specific questions that the University Writing Center may not have knowledge about. Then, you can also seek out a writing expert (like the consultants in the University Writing Center) so that you clarify your ideas and translate them into an effective piece of writing.
  4. Ask a peer. This is something I wish I had learned much earlier in college. You are surrounded by great resources in your classes and your major, or even down the hall in the dorms. The people in your classes are future professionals, and may even be your colleagues later on. Get together with someone, or a few people, and exchange writing! One of the best things I have found in graduate school myself is finding a few trusted people that I can send my “shitty first drafts” to without judgment (see Ann Lamott’s excellent essay “Shitty First Drafts”).
  5. Often, when faced with a daunting writing task that we don’t quite know how to tackle, we can easily get in our heads. That “editor” voice (which I imagine as my 7th grade English teacher for some reason) is one of the biggest reasons we get writer’s block. The biggest antidote to being stuck before even beginning the writing task is to simply freewrite everything that you know or think you know about a topic. Just write, and worry about the genre conventions later. Many times we figure out how to do something by doing it (See Reid’s “Getting Going” blog for more useful tips to get started!).
  6. The best way to learn a new genre is to simply keep writing in that genre until you are comfortable. Back to my original example of email writing, the more emails we send, the faster and more comfortable we are in composing them. While perhaps obvious, the reason for this is because we spend so much time writing emails and thus get a ton of practice. This is true for any piece of writing. You might take a really long time writing your first abstract, for example, but a few years later of practicing that skill and you will be able to write effective abstracts more quickly. See more strategies for practicing and developing writing habits in Isaac’s “Getting Started with Genre” or Michael’s “Can Someone Hold My Hair While I Word Vomit?”

Lastly, I think the biggest hurdle when faced with new genres is the uncertainty it causes in us. We think “I don’t know this…should I know this? Does everyone know this but me?” This connects to the most insidious experience of higher education—imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the idea that everyone knows what they are doing and are very successful at that work, and that you are merely “faking” it. However, everyone experiences imposter syndrome, and one of the biggest ways to combat this feeling is talking about your experiences and the writing process more. Tackling a new genre can be intimidating and stressful, but hopefully these strategies can help you be successful, no matter the writing task before you!

Getting Going

Reid Elsea, consultant

The weather is not the only sign that spring is finally (kinda) here. The schedule at the University Writing Center is booked solid most days, and the pressure of the “final paper” is nearly palpable. First off, you got this! Secondly, I thought it might be helpful Reidfor all of us if I use this the blog to offer some advice on getting through the crucible of finals.

The first step, and one of the hardest (especially for me) steps, is getting started. One useful strategy for getting into to the process is setting aside time for purposeful writing. In her article on writing your first research paper, Elena Kallestinova suggests to “choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments” (182). For me, the best time to do this is in the morning. Its important to try out a few different times in order to figure out what works best for your personal schedule. Another way to do this is to make University Writing Center appointments. You can use these as personal deadlines for papers, which can help your time management. Having a set schedule, one that works for you, does not only help you to avoid the dreaded “all-nighter,” but it can also make the writing process more enjoyable, which helps to improve your writing as a whole.

Now that you have your time scheduled, you have found a place that feels good to be and write in, its time to start. The first step is often outlining. Kallestinova notes, “This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help you generate ideas and formulate hypotheses” (182). The outline described here is different from the traditional idea of an outline. Often we think of the outline as just a plan for the paper. This outlining is more active. It allows you a space to brainstorm and take notes. One way I like to do this is through “double-entry note taking.” While this sounds like some complex method, it is just the process of taking notes with a couple extra pens. The way this takes shape for me is I use three pens (three different colors): one for page numbers and quotes, one for why these are significant or how I plan to use them, and finally one for questions I have or tangential ideas. Some of the time these notes make their way directly into my writing.

So, you have all your outlining and note taking done, your writing schedule (rather than a chore) has become comfortable, and so now it is time to get that paper written. At this point, I sometimes find myself not feeling ready. I have pages and pages of notes, I have written and rewritten my outlines, but nevertheless I just cannot get the words on the page. Typically, I have the feeling that I just haven’t read enough, or that I still need to read, or find, that one (more) perfect source. It is important to remember all the work you have done up to this point. You have put in the time and are ready to write that paper. The process of research and writing research papers is an act of joining the “scholarly discussion.” As the writer, you become a voice in the conversation that you have been listening to (in research) and forming your ideas about. Your goal is to make your voice heard in the conversation, not to end it. This means that, at a point, you have to realize that your paper will not be perfect, or answer every question. You are helping a conversation continue, contributing new and exciting ideas, and providing fertile spaces for others to respond to your ideas and questions.

PS: You can do it!

Kallestinova, Elena D. “How to Write Your First Research Paper.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 84, 2011, pp. 181-190.

On the Road to Writing, It’s Okay to Stop and Ask for Directions

Mitzi Phelan, consultant

Have you experienced getting into your car, and while driving to a familiar destination you start thinking about all the things you need to do, or even just start daydreaming? Suddenly, you snap back to the present and realize you are at your intended location but Mitzihave no recollection of the actual drive. It’s amazing how we can become so familiar with the way we do something that we can actually can execute the activity on autopilot. Our brains are amazing objects that can run millions of processes at once. While one “system” is working through our schedule, another is thinking about summer vacation, and yet another is executing turns down familiar streets (hopefully one is watching for pedestrians). When the path we are navigating is so familiar to us, we can easily “switch off” and let the brain make all the decisions in default mode. But, if we are checked out of the process, are we really getting the best experience?

I gave the above example as a way to talk about the process of writing. By the time you have reached the level in academia where you would be interested in reading this blogpost, you have most likely been asked to do a lot of writing. Often, we are given a writing task and, just like driving, we set our brain to autopilot, or “writing mode,” and let come what may. We see our end destination (our “completed writing task”), hop in our mental smart cars, activate cruise control, and are on our way. The problem with this is that we only have one way of getting to the destination programmed into our mental maps. When we only allow for only one way of doing things, we ultimately produce the same type of writing, just with different topics. This doesn’t only apply to class papers–we can fall into the same rut with our creative writing as well.

To be completely honest, in the busy world of academia, writing on autopilot is convenient. It always gets us safely to our destination and conserves our valuable brain energy for the thousands of other demands that come on a daily basis. However, it does not help us develop into better writers. To produce better work, we have to mentally show up for the process. We have to switch off the autopilot and challenge ourselves to consider that there are valuable alternative routes to getting to our final destinations. Understand, however, that the goal in switching off autopilot and taking control of the wheel is not necessarily to get to the destination more quickly, although that may happen, but rather to truly immerse yourself in the writing process and gain insight to tools that you may be missing out on.

If you are like me, my cruise control looks like this: I get an idea for a paper, lock on to it with a death grip, think about it until the night before its due, word vomit on the paper, and then spend the wee hours of the morning its due making revisions. This process works for me and I am comfortable with it; however, I have realized that I am cheating myself out of being a better writer by not exploring other processes. Recently I have been trying to add practices that other writers use into my repertoire. I started with reverse outlining, now I’m committing myself to writing down my favorite thesis and then writing two more possible theses that either invert or challenge the original as a way to enhance my critical thinking of the topic. This has been immensely beneficial and has positively affected my writing skills.

If you feel like your writing has become stale, or that you are not meeting your full potential as a writer, I challenge you to see if you are still in the driver’s seat. Consider pulling out your old writing guidebooks and going back to the basics. Look to other writers for inspiration. Take time to go through the process. You’ll be amazed at how much of the beautiful scenery you have been missing.

How I Write: Katherine Massoth

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.

Katherine Massoth is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History. She received her PhD and Master’s from the University of Iowa and Bachelor’s degrees from the Katherine MassothUniversity of California at Irvine. Her research specialty is the history of women and gender in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. As a historian of the Americas, she teaches history courses on women and gender, borderlands, the American West, and chicanx/latinx studies. Her most recent publication analyzes how women’s cookbooks became a borderland for defining the appropriate type of “Mexican” food that could be incorporated into U.S. appetite – “‘Mexican Cookery that belongs to the United States’: Evolving Boundaries of Whiteness in New Mexican Kitchens,” in the edited volume Food Across Borders, Rutgers University Press, 2017.

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: I am currently revising my doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript. I am writing a history of women’s domestic and private lives in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, specifically Arizona and New Mexico. The project reconstructs how women, across ethnic groups, reacted to the transition from Mexican to U.S. control after the U.S. colonized the region in 1848. I am trying to retell the larger political history of the transition of power by focusing on women’s lives, such as their cooking, housekeeping and childrearing. I argue that these daily activities tell us more about the larger political process because we see how women were (or were not) affected.

Currently reading: Karen Roybal’s Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 and Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing. I am also reading Julian Lim’s Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands to review for an academic journal.

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I write non-fiction/history. I am currently focusing on revising, which I am slowly learning is a completely different type of writing than putting words down. It is more than proofreading or reorganizing. Revising a dissertation to a book manuscript is a process they do not teach in graduate school and is completely daunting because there are no advisers hovering or demanding words. It also means taking a piece of work that I thought was complete and reworking the piece not from a blank slate but from 350 pages. I spend most of my writing time on thinking and less on writing. Right now, I am focusing on how to restructure my narrative, condense sections, cut dissertation jargon, and tell a cohesive and engaging history. I am also trying to find my voice. While writing my dissertation, my voice got lost because I had to follow the strict dissertation guidelines and provide background and theory to establish my study. Now that I have defended the value of this history, I can focus on telling it in my own style.

2. When/where/how do you write?

My writing location depends on where I am in the process. If I am revising or brainstorming, I tend I write in coffee shops with the ambient noise of people shuffling about. If I am putting fresh words down, I typically need to be alone in the library or my office. Most of my writing takes place in the afternoon, evening, or even late at night. I have never been a morning writer. I have to get all my tasks done before I can write. Otherwise, I am distracted. I write on my computer but I outline in a spiral notebook and take notes on hardcopies of my writing. I typically print out what I have written and make notes on the paper then I take it to the computer.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

I need my writing uniform – leggings and a baggy sweater and shawl. My headphones are an absolute necessity because I listen to my “writing music” playlist of some tunes that I am so familiar with that they become ambient noise in the background. I wrote my entire dissertation listening to Sylvan Esso and Bon Iver on a loop. I also need my water Massoth Writing Spacebottle, coffee, computer, research and archival files, and notes. I have a set of erasable colored pens, one black pen, and a pencil that I always have. Each writing implement has a different purpose in my process. I also need time. I never developed the ability to write in short intervals. If I do not have at least 2 hours for writing, then I cannot sit down and do it. I like to dedicate large chunks of time to the process so I do not feel harried.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I am a tactile person – I have to touch things to process fully everything. When I find it difficult to revise, cut words or repetition, or reorder sections, I print out the document or paragraph. Then I cut each sentence apart or cut each paragraph apart. I lay out the pieces on the floor and just start piecing everything together like a puzzle. This works for cutting sentences because if when I am done I find one sentence lying to the side, then I know it was not necessary. This is especially useful for finding where I repeat myself. If I am reworking a larger section, I often find that once I take the paragraphs out of the full document the structure completely changes. I often suggest this to students who have a difficult time revising because it takes the pressure of a word document off. It also works because it does not feel permanent.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Make writing an appointment in your calendar just like a doctor’s appointment or meeting, and stick to it. Do not schedule anything during that time and if people ask for that time, say you have an appointment. During that appointment, set a maximum of three goals to achieve. If you achieve all three, then great, and if you achieve only one, then you know what you are working on next time. Then when your appointment is done, make your three goals for the next session so you know where you are starting.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations!

Write About Something Weird

Beau Kilpatrick, consultant

As a consultant at the University Writing Center, I have noticed a trend among many writers, including myself. The trend is that writers tend to struggle more with writing when there is a lack of connection between the individual and the content.Beau

Allow me to explain. We have all had moments when we are writing an essay for a class where the interest level is nearly nonexistent. Perhaps this has happened to you when you were a member of the class because it fulfilled a requirement, the class isn’t what you thought it was going to be, or you just simply lost interest about halfway through. This is a dangerous place to be when midterm essays quickly approach.

My own experiences with writing have been very gratifying. I have always practiced the philosophy that you have to understand your identity as a writer. For example, I know that I am argumentative by nature and I enjoy exposing the weirdness of a text. Also, if you trudge through boring topics long enough, you’re bound to stumble upon something interesting; but you have to keep your eyes open.

When a writer finds out how to make a topic interesting, that’s when the writing becomes much easier. It’s always easier to write about the things we enjoy or that interests us. For me, I enjoy exploring the abstract or grotesque in a text.

The best thing that I found to do in these situations is to make a connection, no matter how vague it may be, and channel your writing through that commonality. For instance, if you happen to find yourself dreading an essay for a Shakespeare class, try to find the one thing that is most interesting to you about the content that you’re working with. If you realize that a man wearing tights with a ruffled shirt is the most interesting facet of a Shakespeare play, then find a way to channel your thoughts through that frame of reference. Perhaps this will inspire you to write about Victorian fashion, gender roles at the Globe Theatre, or costume design and functionality during the theatrical fight scenes of Hamlet. This is just one example of how you can usually find some way to bend a boring topic into an interesting one.

The first step that I take when examining a text is to find contradictions and paradoxes. Once I have found the weak spot in the armor, I know where to attack. The next step is to figure out how to confront the text/author respectfully. Attacking a weakness makes writing easier and more exciting, but you must do so with class. Also, finding a good amount of sources will help in figuring out the right approach. Next, highlighting key passages of a secondary source, and annotating it, will make the writing much easier because you can essentially use your summary of the source in your paper. Once you have all of these things ready to go, it’s time to outline. I like to state the contradiction at the top of my outline and make a list of different ways to approach my target. Finally, I expand on all these points and find ways to link them together into a cohesive essay.

To sum it all up, find something weirdly fascinating about the text, relate it to your own interest, and explore the obscure. Don’t forget to create an outline with all of the odd topics you want to explore.

 

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” (Hunter S. Thompson).

A (Sort of) Defense of Procrastination

Isaac Marvel, consultant

For those of us in school, midterms are around the corner, or here in full force—the easygoing start of the semester, though it seemed so busy at the time, now feels like an almost forgotten dream. For me at least, this means a constant, looming presence of too Isaacmany papers, presentations, bibliographies, and so forth. Psychologically speaking, this kind of nonstop stress can be almost unbearable. So, I deal with it the same way everyone else does: just trying not to think about it. And for some reason, nothing feels as good to put off as writing. I may not be in the majority here, but I never really minded studying a bit for tests, or practicing presentations. But writing, satisfying as it may be, is a different kind of mentally exhausting. It requires all of this creativity and self-awareness, so I can never just auto-pilot my way through it. So, I procrastinate.

I’ve been avoiding the P-word, as its use has almost become cliché in college circles. There’s a reason for that: pretty much everyone does it. Is that a problem? I’m not sure. Organizational psychologist Dr. Piers Steel discusses here the primary criticism of procrastination: you’re lying to yourself. We tell ourselves that we need that adrenaline rush to get work done, or that we’re perfectionists and just don’t want to start before we know what we’re doing. And yeah, that’s a problem. So, Dr. Steel offers a partial solution: open communication about our motivations for procrastinating. If you’re putting off writing because you’re not sure you can write such a difficult paper, or even because you just despise writing, start by being honest about that.

In fact, I would go a step further than Dr. Steel, and say that sometimes procrastinating is the right call. So much of the time I, and I believe others as well, feel like you’re supposed to be in a constant state of productivity, or else you’re just wasting time. Then I feel guilty about not doing anything, so my mental health begins to suffer, and lo and behold, nothing gets done. It’s very much a self-perpetuating cycle, and writers understand this better than anyone. There are constant deadlines for us to meet, true. But maybe if we just told ourselves that, hey, maybe it’s okay to not be doing something every second of our life, then that could lead to a state of mind that can be honest with itself about why we wanted to procrastinate so badly in the first place. If I can’t find a way to take care of myself emotionally, I usually make life infinitely more difficult for myself. So, sometimes I just need to take some time for myself. Accepting that without guilt is a struggle, but I think reaching that level of acceptance is necessary if we’re going to learn how to manage our time.

How I Write: Kristi Maxwell

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.

Kristi MaxwellKristi Maxwell is an Assistant Professor of English and a mentor in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Program. She’s the author of six books of poetry, including Realm Sixty-fourHush Sessions, and Bright and Hurtless, forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in Sept.

Location: Schnitzelburg, Louisville

Current project: A book of poems, an article about end-words in poetry, and a book chapter about eating animals at Disney World

Currently reading: Amy Lawless’ Broadax, Robert Sheppard’s The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry, and Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Poems, poetry scholarship, marginalia, texts, emails

2. When/where/how do you write?

I prefer to write in bed or reclined on my couch. My mind feels brightest when I’m lying in bed, “trying” to fall asleep, so I often start pieces or solve a writing problem late at night or early in the morning. I’ve been writing a lot of poems on my iPhone lately, in Notes: I like how it’s helping me engage the poetic line in a fresh way. When I’m working on an essay, I like to use Post-its so I can map the piece out on a wall to visualize it better, see connections, and figure out organization.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

It’s not a necessity, but I do prefer to write with a Pilot Precise V5 Roller Ball Pen in an Apica CD-11 notebooks. I like quiet spaces with natural light or lamplight—no music, no fluorescent lights.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Reading always jumpstarts my thinking and writing, so I recommend opening a book and putting eye to word.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Don’t treat your writing as precious—be willing to revise radically, let go of things that aren’t working, or experiment. It can help to name documents  “draft 1,” “draft 2,” “draft 3,” so you know you can always return to an earlier version.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations!