Back to Basics: Hope and Fear

Hello, readers! Katie Lynch here, Lead TA of the UW-Madison Writing Center. As Lead TA, I am a member of the administrative team that makes decisions about both the daily operations of the Writing Center and its long-term goals. I also meet with students, staff the receptionist desk on occasion, and teach several of the WC classes.*

One of my priorities has been to help Writing Center instructors feel united by a common purpose and shared goals. To that end, I’ve implemented a theme for the semester: “Back to Basics.” I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little more about that initiative.

When I think about the basics of our work, I think about the forces that bring a writer to seek out a conversation about their writing with an instructor. Those forces boil down to two of the most powerful human impulses: fear and hope. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this fear “Resistance.” He writes, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work” (7). Every writer who comes into the Center is struggling against some incarnation of this fear. Perhaps they doubt their ability to complete an assignment. Perhaps they are afraid that their audience will not like or approve of their work. Every writer’s fear, just like every writer’s work, is unique.

But it’s not fear that brings someone into the Writing Center. Resistance, as Pressfield writes, is not an attractive, but a “repelling force.” Hope is what motivates our writers to seek us out: the hope that they can put words down on a page and that those words can in some way be successful, or at least sufficient; the hope that they can create meaning of out chaotic thoughts; the hope that they can attain a passing grade, or a better grade, or a degree.

As I continue to meet with students this year—as I continue to engage them in compassionate but challenging conversations about their writing—I want to maintain an awareness of these colliding forces. I’d also like to encourage everyone reading this blog entry to reflect on what “back to basics” means in terms of your Writing Center work. And to remember that a return to “basics” doesn’t mean blindly accepting the fundamentals of our theory and practice, but questioning them, critiquing them, and honing them, every day.

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*According to the speculation of one instructor at our staff meeting last Friday, I will also be the one to lead the Writing Center staff in a postapocalyptic battle against hordes of the undead, should that occasion happen to arise during the 2009-2010 academic year. ;)

One thought on “Back to Basics: Hope and Fear

  1. well i see academia has added another focus since my day. those undead are a single minded folk i’ve heard but i have the utmost confidence in your ability to fend them off. maybe even teach them to write. have fun!! i know y’all made me laugh.
    oh and the writing center seems a wonderful asset. glad your school has one. good work there!

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