By Danielle Warthen. As a writing instructor who’s also been a writing tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center for the past five years, I’d say that, hands down, the most common comment I hear from students new to the Writing Center when we begin our sessions is: “I’m a bad writer.” It’s often said in an apologetic tone, as if the student has already decided that this session will be yet another disappointing illustration of being “bad at writing,” and I should prepare myself for some sort of intellectual letdown. These words are often meant as a benevolent warning to me, I suppose as a way to help me manage my expectations. The student is telling me not to expect a “good writer” who’s going to be a breeze to collaborate with–this is going to be hard work for both of us, with questionable returns, because . . . well, they’re bad at it.
If you’ve ever staffed a writing center or tutoring center in an evening, you’ve probably seen your fill of pure, visceral panic. I’m in my third semester as a Writing Center instructor now, and I’ve been in the trenches. Most times, you can see the warning signs a long way off: the wide, intense eyes; the shallow breathing; the kung-fu grip on a partial draft or outline of an assignment; even the hunched, tense shoulders typically found in fugitives and air traffic controllers. The assignment is due tomorrow, and so much hinges on it: a passing grade in the course, a place in a competitive program, the respect of a professor. It’s just too much. And, dear god, it’s already 6:00 PM. If I was a bartender, I’d pour the student a stiff drink; if I was a doctor, I’d prescribe a mild sedative; but since I’m a Writing Center instructor, I go with a different tool. “Oh, yeah,” I say, nodding knowingly. “I’ve been there before. So let’s see what we can do.” (more…)
This semester, I’ve been thinking a lot about revision. Well, okay, I always think a lot about revision; it’s essential to my writing center work, my classroom teaching, and my own writing (I am the queen of Shitty First Drafts, as described in the second chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). But lately I’ve been thinking about it even more than usual. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to ask writing consultants — tutors, writing fellows, writing center instructors, even teachers — to do, on a regular basis, the kinds of things we ask writers to do: to share and revise our own work.
I mean, let’s face it: writing is hard, and sharing writing is hard, and accepting comments on writing is really hard, and revising… you get the picture. But these are the things that we ask writers to do all the time. And while I think there is value in normalizing those activities (“Of course I’m asking you to read your paper out loud, everybody does that here, it’s no big deal”), I also think there is value in remembering that for a lot of writers this stuff is difficult and intimidating and counterintuitive, because remembering that will make us more sympathetic and generous in our comments and interactions, and it will also allow us to speak with the conviction of personal experience when we say “Look, I know this revision thing sucks, but it is so worth it.”
Madison residents and UW students know that Halloween can be a big deal. In fact, as a Wisconsin alum, some of my fondest memories of my time in Madison are of Halloween-related activities. So perhaps it is only natural that my love of this funny, freakish holiday followed me to my new home in suburban Atlanta and Kennesaw State University. And while today my writing center at KSU hosts its biggest and most successful student event on Halloween, I can’t take much credit for it. Why, you ask? That, like the lesson of the Great Pumpkin, is the story about what Halloween taught me about the value of trust and a little blind faith – writing center style.
By Rebecca Lorimer and Elisabeth Miller.
The 2011 Midwest Writing Centers Association Biennial Conference will take place here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison October 20th-22nd. This year’s theme, “On the Isthmus,” gestures quite literally to the conference’s location, but also to the quality that makes this conference unique: just as writing centers bridge disciplines, locations, and widely diverse writers, so does this conference connect writing studies professionals across institutions, interests, and multiple points of view.
The students in Professor Rebekah Willett’s first-year course on the Internet and Society are crouched over their desks and laptops, some scribbling, some typing, some doing so fervently, some reluctantly. All are working to formulate a couple of sentences that synthesize two paragraphs of text they have in front of them. I’ve just walked with them through the idea of putting texts into relationship with one another when writing a synthesis-driven assignment, and I’ve suggested thinking of this synthesis as giving a bird’s-eye view of the lay of the land, of describing how one text relates to the texts around it. I’ve explained that, with synthesis, we’re telling readers where multiple texts overlap, in what ways they connect, or how they are on completely opposite sides of the map. I’ve also emphasized the importance of using specific examples from the text to talk about these relationships. I’ve given the students these directions as a guest in their classroom, as an expert from the Writing Center come to bestow my great wisdom about writing upon them (if you’re skimming this post, please note the sarcasm in this sentence). Yet, as a number of students finish their sentences a little too quickly, their professor doesn’t hesitate to jump in.
By Rachel Carrales.
The summer before last, I spent a month traveling through France, Italy, and Spain. It was a whirlwind trip, and I was only able to spend a day or two in each city I visited. It was so fast, in fact, that I find myself remembering only snippets of things: the fat, cuddly pigeons in Florence, the combination of 14th century architecture and graffiti in Toledo, and the palm trees in Rome. One of the things that stands out in particular, though, is my trip to the Louvre. I was finally able to see all of those paintings that I’d studied on slides in dark, crowded lecture halls as an undergrad, and while there was something thrilling about that, seeing brush strokes and colors up close, feeling intimately connected to a painting, my favorite moment was seeing a statue of the Goddess of writing.
By Christopher Syrnyk
The physical embodiment treatment . . .
When writers come through the doors of the Main Writing Center (WC) at UW-Madison, it’s worth considering how we instructors can process many bits of information about them. Before we meet, we’ve typically reviewed instructor records to prepare us for the session in the here and now. When we meet the writers, we then notice how they appear to us as persons. We observe their faces as they register the activity at the WC. We sometimes find them hunched over a laptop computer while they sit and shift, perhaps lost in thought over a personal statement or literature paper. The point—and during such encounters our senses are processing much data—concerns how instructors, via their amazing powers of observation, can process a world of information about the people who have come to work on their writing, in an effort to help them more completely with their writing.
By Paula Gillespie.
South Florida is full of surprises. A troop of macaws, probably freed from a zoo or pet store during a hurricane, descends into the trees down the street and spends the morning there, squabbling about which one gets to sit where. Burmese pythons, once pets that are now too large to keep around, roam Miami’s streets and thrive in the Everglades, just west of our school. And orchids grow on trees.
By David Aitchison. Hear David read this blog post with his wonderful accent. A few weeks ago, I had an appointment in our Main Writing Center with a sophomore, Amanda, who was working on her application essays for the Business School. With just a thirty-minute slot to look at three 250-word essays we had little time to waste. I remember three things in particular. First, it was fun – one of those sessions that gallop by because it’s late in the day and the two of you have the sillies, though that doesn’t stop you from thinking sensibly and strategically. Second, it was easy – Amanda was the kind of student who, even if she didn’t know it herself at first, was bursting with all the right ideas that, as I saw it, were exactly what her essays needed. Third, as we were wrapping up, she confessed that, much to her relief, coming to the Writing Center was nothing like she’d expected. “You know,” she said, with a bit of a blush, “how everyone’s ALWAYS nervous about coming to the Writing Center for the first time. It’s daunting.”