By Sarah Dimick
Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in literary studies at UW-Madison, and has taught at the Writing Center since 2013. Before coming to Madison, she received an MFA in poetry from New York University.
Last winter, during a late afternoon appointment, a graduate student in the history department asked me how he might make the final chapter of his dissertation more compelling.1 We’d already discussed what I think of as skeletal concerns: the order of his paragraphs, the clarity of his topic sentences. We’d already examined his thesis and his conclusion for coherence. I asked if he was concerned that the intellectual contribution of this chapter wasn’t sufficiently groundbreaking, that other scholars in his discipline might not feel he was making a substantial intervention. “My argument’s brilliant,” he told me, “but this chapter is totally dry inside. I want to write the kind of history that makes people turn pages, to write a story where the characters come alive. How do you do that?”
A few weeks later, I met with an undergraduate student in an advanced physics course who was trying to condense the caption beneath one of the figures in her lab report. “The challenge,” she explained, “is that I’m trying to say so much in so few words. It’s like writing a haiku about a gravitational field. Each word has to be so precise.”
And this past fall, a senior applying to medical school pulled three crumpled pages of paper out of her backpack. She spread them on the table in front of us, each one containing a different opening paragraph to her personal statement. “My academic advisor said the first paragraph needs to give the admissions committee a sense of my voice,” she said. “But after writing all of these, I’m not sure any of them are me yet. And I’m worried my voice isn’t the kind of voice med schools like anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that I need to find a voice. Really soon. Before this is due on Tuesday.” Continue reading
By Leigh Elion
Leigh Elion has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since the fall of 2010, where she has also served as TA Coordinator, Coordinator of Writing Center Multicultural Initiatives, Outreach Coordinator, and Summer Writing Center Director. She is also a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric, writing a dissertation that explores the role of the visual within contexts of gentrification.
I’m angry with Paul Silvia.
Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a very nice person. When he came to UW-Madison in 2013 to speak with our Writing Center tutors, he was funny, generous, and insightful. Silvia is a psychology professor at UNC-Greensboro. His book, How to Write a Lot, offers a number of practical strategies for becoming a more prolific, efficient writer. He encourages writers to make writing a regular habit, to plan and schedule our writing time, to make writing as much of a commitment and priority as other professional obligations, to give up our false writing idols of favorite pens/chairs/weather/moon phases and instead worship at the altar of just getting it done. Continue reading
By Zach Marshall
Zach Marshall is the 2015-16 TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where he has been a tutor since fall 2012. He is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on American literature, slavery, and media culture.
It has recently come to my attention that I don’t know what to do when I work with writers who experience a certain kind of writing anxiety. As a writing tutor, part of my job is to provide motivational scaffolding to the writers I work with—encouraging them when they make progress, recognizing the challenges of writing, and exhorting them to future progress. Another part of my job is to help writers who struggle to produce writing think about the habits that create roadblocks for them, such as trying to get all of their writing done in one day. However, there’s a kind of writing anxiety that some writers experience that has challenged me recently because I’m not sure it can be resolved by encouraging them or advising them to adopt better habits. The type of anxiety I’m thinking of is when writers feel unable to make decisions they must make in order to write. Let’s call it “indecisiveness in writing.” Continue reading
By Leah Pope
Leah Pope has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since fall of 2014. She is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies, writing a dissertation that explores representations of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.
Alexandra Gillespie opens her essay in How We Write: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blank Page by confessing that she only writes when she has to . “Because reasons” (19). She writes this casually, as if she’s not breaking my mind by using Internet diction. But it’s not just her delightful, playful writing style — shared by many of the essays in this collection — that is revealing. Gillespie describes anxious and determined binge writing, fueled by deadlines ranging from a DPhil advisor’s note asking to have coffee — how terrifying! — to a paper promised to a friend/colleague for review. She describes writing 6,000 words in one day to meet a deadline — not drivel, mind you, but a conference paper and later the core of a book chapter. Continue reading
By Emily Hall
At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.
By John Bradley, Jane Hirtle, and RJ Boutelle
John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Before moving to Nashville, John served one year as the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center after many years of experience as a tutor there.
Jane Hirtle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychology & Human Development and is serving her second year as the Writing Studio’s Peabody Writing Fellow (Peabody College of Education and Human Development).
RJ Boutelle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of English and is currently serving as the Writing Studio’s English Writing Fellow for Spring 2015.
From the seat here at my desk, I only have to glance up to see the beautiful space featured in the photos spread throughout this post. More importantly, though, if I leave my office door cracked at any point during the week I am treated to the constant buzz of conversations happening just outside my door, conversations the variety of which would likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time talking and listening in a writing center. Those conversations certainly bear a strong resemblance to those I was party to during my countless, well-spent hours in the UW-Madison Writing Center, but now they’re happening here in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University where I help direct the Vanderbilt Writing Studio.
That pleasant background noise is coming from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio’s mixed staff of 30-some undergraduate and graduate writing consultants (tutors, instructors) and their equally mixed clients, writers seeking out the opportunity to talk over everything from their first college essays to their dissertations. Invariably, at some point throughout my day, one of those conversations will pull me out of my office and into its orbit. While conversation is one of my favorite metaphors for the work of academia and scholarship, more broadly, I love that I work in Continue reading
Author photo. Image taken by Jennifer Brindley.
By Rachel Herzl-Betz
Rachel Herzl-Betz is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature, Disability Studies, and Rhetoric.
This August, when I began my work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Writing Center, I found myself fascinated with an unexpected challenge. Every year, tutors from our Writing Center have the pleasure of giving presentations and creating collaborative writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. As the new coordinator for these efforts, I assumed that I would be caught up with new genres of writing and discovering new campus buildings. Instead, I found myself wondering at the wobbly line between creation and adaptation.
Picture of the author in Madison, WI.
By Leah Misemer
Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years. She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.
Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student. If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor. In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.
By Rubén Casas
Rubén Casas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department’s Program in Composition and Rhetoric. In addition to his Writing Center teaching, he teaches for the English 201 Program.
Two weeks into the spring 2014 semester I worked with a student in the Main Center who, upon asking her what she was working on, identified herself as a foreign student and asked, quite directly, “How do you write in the U.S.?” She explained that she knew what writing was “supposed to do” in Korea, “but not here, in America.” This must have been one of the clearest questions I’ve gotten as a Writing Center instructor, but it also caught me off-guard. Most students come to the Writing Center to get help with some specific element of their writing—often they talk about “flow,” or “development,” or “cites,” terms that somewhere along the way they’ve learned to use in relation to writing, and that I take for granted as evidence of their knowledge of the writing process and their own issues with writing—but it this actually the case? Continue reading
By Leah Misemer @lsmisemer
Leah Misemer is a graduate student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center there. While her dissertation is on serial commercial comics, she is also interested in media specificity and technology in writing centers. This is her sixth semester working as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center.
Photo of the author taken by Nicole Relyea
When I first trained as a peer tutor at Washington University in St. Louis, I was trained to look at paper drafts. During my first shift as a Writing Center instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a student brought in a draft on a laptop. I was a bit flummoxed about what to do. While it was great for the writer to be able to make changes to the draft during the session, it felt less collaborative than sessions with paper drafts. I had to ask the student to scroll down and up because I didn’t want to touch her expensive electronic equipment, and this felt awkward, like I was shut out of the draft in some way.
This is my sixth semester on staff at UW-Madison and I continue to have a moment of irrational anxiety every time I see a student pull out a laptop during an appointment. This is not to say I don’t have productive appointments with students toting laptops; when I can get students to cut and paste large sections of a draft, the computer facilitates actual draft work the student can take home. But appointments with laptops aren’t all like that. Continue reading