My Name is Kathleen and I’m a Procrastinator.

Don’t panic; come to the Writing Center!

It’s 4:15 and I have nothing. Nothing written down for a paper that I’m supposed to get feedback on in the Writing Center in 30 minutes. Like the professional procrastinator I am, I jot down some notes on the assignment sheet. By the time I leave, there are some measly bullet points for a research paper about a pioneer in the nursing career.

Upon arriving at the Writing Center, I meet my consultant, Eric Hoffman. I inform him of my lack of formal writing immediately as a warning, but he just laughs and says that he has done the same thing. I instantly begin to feel relief in the idea that I’m not all alone in my procrastinating ways. As we begin to sift through different sources for my pioneer in nursing (Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail – yes there were numerous chuckles over her unique name!), I feel a lot better about the impending paper itself. Eric gives me ideas on how to construct a thesis as well as writing down various sources I can use to get more information about my Native American Nurse. The session flows nicely and I forget that just an hour ago, I was in a state of “procrastinator panic” (side effects include  sweaty palms, the desire to throw in the towel, and the incisive need for napping as a solution).

This trip to the writing consultant as a writer made me realize the type of consultant I want to be. Understanding, honest, caring, and funny are the traits I’d like to incorporate, having been inspired by a certain consultant who represents all these and much more.

I now openly proclaim my troubles with procrastination but no longer do I see it as a disability. I see it as a way to connect to writers who do the same thing. And together we can work on a cure for our need to wait until the absolute possible last-minute. Together, we can write and write well.

Far From Basic

Too often, the Writing Center is thought of as a remedial service—i.e., going to the Writing Center only after making a poor grade or by the recommendation of a professor. It makes sense, because the Writing Center is the perfect place to go when we want to improve upon a part of our writing or do well on a particularly challenging assignment. But, the truth is that the Writing Center is not a specifically remedial service. When consultants come around to classrooms and talk about the Writing Center, we say that we work with writers at any part of the writing process, and we also emphasize that we work with writers at any comfort level with writing.

That one important fact tends to be overlooked: the Writing Center is just as useful of a place for any who consider themselves to be skilled writers.

J.R.R. Tolkien had C.S. Lewis. Virginia Woolf had the Bloomsbury Group. Dorothy Parker had the Algonquin Round Table. And those scholarly journals we have to read for class? They’re peer reviewed. Many of the greatest writers of our time, and the people who make a living researching and writing, seek out the help of others. Writing is a collaborative process, and seeking the advice, feedback, or help of another is not a remedial action—I would actually argue that it’s an advanced writing skill to develop.

Writing is deeply personal. Somehow, we feel that when we put words on paper, others are going to evaluate us in terms of what we write. Do I come across as uninformed? Narrow-minded? Abrasive? It can be nerve wracking to actually hand our paper to someone else and get their feedback because we want to come across as intelligent, likeable people and we never know how someone will react to what we have written.

That, however, is the beauty of it! By sharing our writing with others, such as in a Writing Center session, we can get valuable feedback that continues to improve our writing.

Put yourself in the shoes of Virginia Woolf or J.R.R. Tolkien. Your heart and soul has been made tangible in the form of ink on a page, and you have to hand it over to a peer who you admire for their intelligence and writing prowess. Your hands shake as they leaf through the pages because your words are your most inner truths, and you want them to be impressed. But, stop and think. Do you just want to impress them? Or, do you want them to ask you questions and make suggestions so that the truth of your soul is seen clearly and truthfully by all who may read it?

Think about meeting with a consultant in the Writing Center more along those lines. Ensuring that your writing is clear and powerful through peer review is not remedial or basic. It’s advanced. Coming in to the Writing Center displays a care for your writing that someone writing at a remedial or basic level would not display. Working with a writing consultant is your chance to continue building your writing and revision skills, because it is people who seek out practice and improvement who become notable—those who are comfortable with letting their skills remain as they are will eventually be surpassed.

NPG Ax140432; Lady Ottoline Morrell; Maria Huxley (nÈe Nys); Lytton Strachey; Duncan Grant; Vanessa Bell (nÈe Stephen) by Unknown photographer

The Bloomsbury group consisted of famous English writers such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Students working in the Bellarmine Writing Center.

Students working in the Bellarmine Writing Center.

Success Starts With You

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Third from right, this entry’s author, Lina, at New Advisor Day 2014 with her fellow English majors.

 

If there is one piece of advice I can offer a student wanting to get the most out of the Writing Center, it is this: be prepared. I have heard it said that you will only receive from a situation what you put into it, and I proved this today. My task for my Writing Center Theory and Practice class was to sign up for a session as a writer and then make note of what happened in the session so that I could write about it in this blog later on. This seemed simple enough, so I did not think too much of it. I knew my schedule was somewhat heavy this week, so I decided to schedule my appointment in the middle of the week; that way, I would have time to craft a proper draft for my assignment — which was due on Friday — and time afterwards to make adjustments as necessary.

When Wednesday rolled around, it dawned on me that I was not on pace with the schedule I had set for myself. I was still in the midst of the research process, and I had yet to start on my essay. As such, I decided to get it together and at least start an outline and even write a few introductory paragraphs for the essay. I managed to get a few things on paper before my session, but I was slightly disappointed in myself for waiting so long to get started. As such, I walked in to my appointment somewhat discouraged already, but I kept a positive attitude. If I had learned anything during the semester about the Writing Center, it was that I could at least expect some solid constructive criticism and maybe even some suggestions on how to move forward with the essay.

The session itself turned out to be very helpful. My consultant was friendly and knowledgeable, yet she let me guide the session in the way that I saw fit. She asked me what I wanted to work on, and we were able to address my concerns. I also experienced firsthand how helpful it can be to read your own writing out-loud to someone else. This task can help you catch your own mistakes much more easily than you might if you just re-read the essay silently to yourself. While I read aloud, I noticed that some of my sentences were much too long and clunky. They did not flow the way I had envisioned, and my consultant was in agreement with me when I pointed that out. However, we worked through those sentences and broke them up into more coherent pieces, which made the paragraph much stronger. I really benefited from having that other person with whom I could collaborate.

Although the session did help me a lot, I feel that I could have gotten more out of it had I prepared more to bring in. For instance, if my essay had been further developed, I could have received more feedback on how to improve upon my organization as well as my syntax. Herein lies my lesson, and the lesson I will stress for future writing center attendees: be prepared, particularly if there is something specific you want to work on with us. I know it can be easy to expect the consultant to do the job for you, but it is incredibly important to put forth the effort in terms of bringing a copy of your assignment and what you’ve started on, even if it is just notes or a rough outline. The consultant can really only work with what you bring to the table, so make sure to put your best foot forward. Help us help you!

This blog entry was written as part of English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice. Lina, the author, is learning to become a writing consultant at Bellarmine.

Consultant or Writer? How About Both.

The following was written in response to the author’s assignment to make an appointment in the Writing Center and reflect on it. The author is one of four students in English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice.

The other day I attended a session at the Writing Center which honestly felt pretty weird considering the fact that I’ve been learning how to be a consultant and not how to be a writer. I think that was what was good about going to this session, though. It helped me realize that I may be a writing consultant, but I am also a writer and student. With each of my sessions, I will not only be helping a peer but will also be learning more myself.

I think it is very important to remember that as a consultant, I will not only be giving advice, but I will also receive new knowledge and experience from the session. I also think that it is a good idea to take my own writing to the Writing Center because it helps me put myself in the shoes of the writers I will meet. It is necessary for good consultants to not forget that they and the writers are not different and that they can each learn from each other.

This is what I think I learned from going to the writing center while training to become a consultant. I also learn tutoring strategies from the consultant. She was so encouraging, and we had comfortable conversation. I loved how relaxed it was and that I could just talk out my ideas, which is really what I needed to do. This is how I would like my future sessions to be: relaxed and comfortable while still being helpful.

wcclass

When Commas Give You Migraines

As a writer, there have been times where I prided myself on my ability to simply know where commas go. However, since working in the Writing Center, I’ve had to scale back on my pride and actually study comma rules. It’s hard to help someone work on comma placement when you can only answer their questions with “well…I just know.” Not only does this make me sound pretentious, but it can also give me less credibility. I’m here to say I have learned, along with the writers who look to my fellow consultants and I for help, a few comma rules. Below are just a few  basic and advanced rules to help you out when you get stuck with commas.

1. Use a comma to separate independent clauses that are joined by “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” “nor,” “so,” and “yet.” Here’s an example: Today I had to study for history, but tonight I’ll focus on biology.”

2. Use a comma writing a series of three or more words. Here’s an example: “Today I had to take finals for chemistry, biology, and history.”

3. Use a comma if the word “and” can be placed between two adjectives. For example, “Josh Hutcherson is the young, handsome actor in The Hunger Games.” You could also say “Josh Hutcherson is the young and handsome actor in The Hunger Games.”

4. Use a comma to set off a part of a sentence called “the parenthetical element.” Here’s an example sentence that uses the parenthetical element: “The professor, who got his Ph.D at Harvard, teaches history at the University of Maryland.” The phrase “who got his Ph.D at Harvard” can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. Therefore, you will put commas around the phrase.

5. When quoting a source. This is essential for your essays and research papers. If you are introducing the quote, a comma comes before the quoted material, like so: When reviewing the show “Bates Motel,” Kalie Gipson writes, “The best part of the show is the perfect casting. Freddie Highmore not only looks like a young Norman Bates, but he acts like him too.”

(Side note: when using “that,” a comma is unnecessary. “Gipson writes that “‘Bates Motel’ proves to be a worthy precursor to Hitchcock’s horror story.’”

These barely begin to touch the many comma rules we are supposed write and live by. Knowing when to use commas, as well as when to refrain from using them, is one of the most difficult aspects of punctuation and style. I will bet money that I misused a comma somewhere in this post. With so many rules, it’s easy to do! Don’t fret, because I’m including some helpful sources I’ve used and recommend to writers I work with in the Writing Center.

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

http://www.northland.cc.mn.us/owl/comma_rules.htm

Cannonball into the Writing Center

The following was written in response to the author’s first observation of a writing center session. The author is one of four students in English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice.

Going to a writing center for the first time, whether as a writer or as a consultant, can seem like a daunting task. Like learning to swim it is helpful to stick a toe in, take it one step at a time, and slowly wade in carefully. However, sometimes you end up cannonballing in the deep end and just hoping your head stays afloat! For me my first observation at the Bellarmine Writing Center was a double full twist off the high dive. I can imagine a lot of students visiting the Writing Center for the first time feeling this way. Seeing the Writing Center in action did offer me a lot of insight to the stress and situations one can face in there.

The minute I walked into the Writing Center, there was a hard-hitting scenario to see first-hand. Yet, a highly invested writer, a lack of opportunity for consultants to communicate with one another, and a restricted time frame, ultimately turned out to be a learning experience for all. The first issue occurred when an appointment ended and the writing consultant coincidentally went on nearby desk-duty. Although the consultant was nearby, the consultant was unable to work with the writer. The writer stayed in the Writing Center to work on the paper and asked a second consultant to check on the draft. The second consultant’s comments further frustrated the already anxious writer; more prolonged attention was clearly needed. At that moment, the second consultant’s next appointment arrived, and no consultant would be able to work with the frustrated writer until later. The writer became upset and the consultants were uncomfortable if not upset as well.

A lot of emotions made the situation go from treading the water to slipping under the surface. Thankfully, a little talking to both sides from the Writing Center Director, and the writer and consultant taking some time to re-group and rest, the situation was peacefully and quickly resolved. While I understand that most days in the writing center are a lot less exciting, it was comforting to see that even in the midst of an intense and dramatic situation, it was possible to make it a good and helpful experience for both the writer and the consultant.

Sometimes we think something will go one way, and it ends up going in the complete opposite direction. I may have expected a slow wade in the shallow end, but I certainly got a full on Olympic routine workout. Seeing the respect between consultants and writer, the team atmosphere, and the successful techniques took a lot of anxiety and ambiguity out of the beginning of the writing consultant process. Any writer can also take peace knowing that the consultants are willing to work and help sort out even the most difficult situations. We can all help keep each other afloat and learn and grow as writers.

floating

Spring Break Slip N’ Slide

slip n slideSpring Break can be considered a curse for most students and their academic work. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to think about writing an essay when you are spending time on a beach. Now that Spring Break is over, we must refocus your mind back to your school work.  There is roughly six weeks until finals week and that means final papers will be due too.

To keep yourself from getting to far behind, here are a few tips that I have found helpful when writing final papers.

1. Due Date
When writing your papers you should always know the due date for a couple reasons: prioritizing and pacing. You should always prioritize your papers based upon when they are due. For example, if your IDC paper is due in a week you should concentrate fully on that paper rather than your English paper that is due in three weeks. Along with prioritizing, pacing is very important. You want to make sure you allow yourself enough time to work on your paper in stages from brainstorming to proofreading. Also, writing your paper the night before is not a great idea because you will be more inclined to rush through the paper along with giving shallow explanations.

2. Technology
Distracting technology, such as Twitter and Netflix, should be avoided while writing. You will be shocked how fast you can write a paper if you are not constantly getting on Facebook or texting your friends. Just give yourself a good hour or two of being technologically withdrawn when you write your paper, you do not have to give it up entirely.

3. Sleep
Sleep is important to every aspect of your life, even writing! You need to make sure you are well rested when writing you paper if not your grade may suffer. When you are exhausted your brain’s relay slows down inhibiting you to fully concentrate on your paper. I see many Bellarmine students drinking coffee and writing papers all the time, but coffee is not the answer. Coffee may wake your body up, but your brain will remain exhausted. So if you find yourself tired, try taking a nap and allow your brain along with your body to rest. When you wake you will feel energized and ready to write your paper.

There are a lot more tips that could be discussed, but a lot are dependent on the type of writer you are. When writing your papers, you should develop your own techniques that help you avoid the Spring Break Slip N’ Slide.

Hopefully these tips will aid you in the writing process and do not forget to visit the Writing Center!

Take a Leap: Let Others View Your Writing

The following was written in response to the author’s first observation of a writing center session. The author is one of four students in English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice. 

To write is to hurl oneself into the great unknown is terrifyingly beautiful. To share ones own work is even more so frightening in that the writer must let someone else in, let someone else watch them take their leap.

A writer, tutor, and two observers, including myself,  all sit down at a small table. The other observer and I are across from the writer and the tutor. My notebook is open , propped up on my lap, and I am ready to record all that will help me succeed as a future writing consultant.

The writer comes in looking for another set of eyes for her personal statement for graduate school. I immediately start to panic about the idea of helping someone who’s at a higher writing level than me. The tutor looks genuinely interested in what the writer has to say and records information about the writing prompt and the focus of the paper. Throughout the session, the tutor asks the writer various questions that lead her to really thinking about what her paper is trying to say. Questions like, “What have you got so far?” “What are your biggest concerns?” and “Do you think this fulfills what you want to say?” help the writer get down to the true focus of the paper and build up from there. The panic of assisting a more skilled writer subsides.

Having anyone read your writing can be a terrifying situation, especially if it’s a high-stakes  like the writer I observed. The tutor seemed to realize this and therefore directed the session in a friendly, comfortable way. The tutor smiled, asking the writer what made her interested in what she was writing about. The writer animatedly talked about her love for biology and her desire to work in labs. It seemed as if the two were simply friends talking over coffee! There was the perfect balance between the roles of “ally” and “the expert”. The tutor obviously knew what she was talking about, but never made the writer feel insignificant by talking to her as an “ally”.  There was no hierarchy in the session, both the tutor and the writer stood on the same ground.

Along with asking questions, the tutor helps break down the writer’s personal statement by having her read it aloud. She looks at the writer’s paper while she is reading it and follows along. Having already discussed and decided on the main idea of the paper, they focus on one paragraph at a time. This approach is useful in that it doesn’t overwhelm the writer. The tutor compliments the writer by saying, “I like the way you…” and uses the phrase, “This might make your writing a little stronger…” when there is potential for a better way to express something in the work. Using phrases like this,  ones that don’t insult the writer, help maintain the writer’s confidence needed to motivate a finished, well-written paper.

After the session ends, I close my notebook that is now filled with notes and comments. I go back to my dorm, intending to work on some anatomy homework but for the entirety of my ten-minute retreat to K-New I think about the writing session I just witnessed. And all I can think about is how much I want to help people write their story. I want to witness their leaps.

Style Tips from the Pants-less Guru: How to make your Writing Look and Feel Better

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As we come to the scene of a man in his early twenties sitting in front of a computer, wearing nothing but briefs, tall socks, and a BU t-shirt that he is staining with a pizza slice, our reaction might be one of incredulity upon hearing that he will be giving us style advice. Nevertheless, we must not let our assumptions get the best of us nor judge a shirt by its pizza stains (or something like that…).  Rather, we should open our minds and consider some of the sage-like advice that this pants-less guru has to offer. Listen! He has put down his slice of pizza and is about to speak…wait, no…he’s just chewing…O.K., now he’s ready–

(the guru pat his stomach, smiles contentedly, and begins)

“A quick and easy way to make your writing more stylish is to avoid excessively long paragraphs. Often, writers in the feverish pace to put their ideas on the page forget to think what it will look like to readers, and so leave entire pages carpeted by a single paragraph. Such large chunks o’ words will not fall easily on readers’ eyes, making them feel intimidated if not frustrated, which in turn leads them to kick the nearest small animal (or whatever it is those twisted monsters do to vent). So, to be a part of the solution and combat small animal abuse, break up any frighteningly large paragraphs, generally trying not to let them run too much over half a page. A good way of helping yourself with this is to be sure that there is only one main idea per paragraph, meaning that it should be as focused as possible and rid of any unnecessary details. Many times, this can be as simple as breaking one especially long paragraph into two. In any case, the best way to improve your writing style is to be clear and concise while communicating to a reader, which overly long paragraphs obstruct.”

(the guru pauses to take another bite of pizza)

“Extremely lengthy sentences present a similar style problem as well. Like long paragraphs, they make it difficult for readers to follow, exhausting their ability to process and organize the ideas being presented. This again distracts readers by making them so angry that they kick something small and defenseless (readers are cruel, cruel people, which is all the more reason you should listen to this advice). Therefore, an effective solution to prevent this is to keep an average sentence within the range of about twenty to thirty words. Of course, you do not have to hold exactly to this rule; in fact, a variety of shorter and longer sentences helps create a style that keeps readers engaged. Still, twenty to thirty words is a good average of measure.”

“To go along with this, when perfecting the style of your writing, word choice should always be at the forefront of your attention. This is especially true when considering whether you are writing informally or formally. For example, because I am not wearing pants right now, we can safely consider this to be an informal situation. Therefore, I am allowed to directly address the reader (“you”) as well as use the personal “I” and contractions. However, in more formal writing situations (ones that usually involve pants, and perhaps even a belt), you should be aware that the use of such words is often frowned upon, as would be slang or colloquialisms. Moreover, a formal writing style demands precise language, requiring you to avoid using words such as “stuff,” “things,” or “very.” These words are so broad and have been used so often that their meanings have been dulled, making them what is infamously known as “fluff” words. They’ll make your writing look longer, but not better, especially in a formal setting.”

(the guru stretches with an enormous yawn and curls up on the floor, using an empty pizza box as a pillow)

Ah, well! It appears our style guru is done for the day. Being such a sage and eating so much pizza in one sitting can be exhausting, I’m sure. Heed his advice! Avoid long paragraphs and sentences so that your reader is not overwhelmed and confused. Also, be sure that your word choice is appropriate for the style of writing you are attempting. Now, we must go (he’s starting to snore). Watch your step for any stray leftover pizza slices  on your way out.

Until next time,

Eric

My So-Called Honors Thesis: Getting Back in the Groove

The beginning of spring semester is marked every year by a case of Post-Break Sadness: spending break at home with our families, stuffing our faces with cookie dough, and napping to our hearts’ content was fantastic, but now we have to get back to work. Procrastination over even the simplest assignments is hard to combat (as I can easily attest–I even procrastinated on writing this blog post), and that goes double for going back to work on our honors theses.

While I closed out last semester feeling accomplished and even somewhat confident about my progress, I realized almost as soon as the ball dropped on New Year’s that our deadline seems much, much closer when viewed from this side of 2014. When the semester started, the pressure of it was daunting, and at times so overwhelming that I could not figure out how I was ever going to complete this project–how do I even begin again? Luckily, I figured out how (after a week and a half or so of whining to myself about it and making excuses not to walk to the library because of the ridiculous cold weather) and I came up with a few tips and steps to share.

1. Talk to your advisor and/or readers.

We are in the final semester now. Weekly meetings are probably necessary at this point, especially if you’re like me and need someone besides yourself to hold you accountable and keep you on track. When I know I have a meeting with my advisor coming up and that I have more work to do, Netflix looks, well, at least slightly less tempting, and I’m more likely to trek up to the library and be productive.

2. Ease in.

For me, at least, setting overambitious goals is a sure way to impede my progress. If I tell myself I will complete much more than I know I’m capable of, I will feel too overwhelmed to touch it. I came back from break thinking to myself, Sure, I haven’t thought about my thesis in three weeks, but of course I can jump right in and write ten pages before the week is out. But when I sat down with my books and actually thought about the amount of work in front of me, I psyched myself out.

I needed to get back in the mindset first. Start by rereading your draft(s), your notes, any information that brings you back to what interested you in the topic in the first place. Remind yourself why you’re putting yourself through all of this work. Once you’ve got your juices going again, then you have my permission to start writing again–but a little at a time, at first. Ease into the water, don’t dive in headfirst.

3. Work on it every day.

I’ve said this in previous posts, and I’ll say it again, if only to remind myself. Even if I’m only rereading what I’ve already written, or reading a few more pages of a book I need, thinking a little about the topic and the project every day keeps me in the mindset and keeps me going. Additionally, because we are in the last semester, I have to set aside many more chunks of time in the middle of the week to work on it–otherwise, I won’t finish in time.

4. Write.

Even if the research process is never fully over, there comes a time when we can no longer be afraid just to sit and write the thesis. Even if we haven’t read every single book listed on the reference page of that one really helpful source, or fully wrapped our minds around the idea of what “otherness” means to every person in every culture, ever, we have to get our own ideas out. It’s okay if I don’t fully understand everything that my critics Pratt or Said are saying, as long as I understand what I’m saying–and I won’t fully know until I write it all down. Our ideas are valuable, even if half-formed; and as for completing them, well, that happens as we go along and as we revise.

All in all, don’t let Post-Break Sadness get you down. Ease in, but don’t be afraid to get in the water. Once we’re back in the groove, we can feel more confident about finishing these projects and get back to enjoying our last, senioritis-and-application-filled semester in peace.