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Tutoring: An Exercise in Telepathy

We tend to picture writing as a somewhat isolated process. A man in his pajamas sits in front of computer screen yawning away the tears and three days’ worth of grime as he struggles to fit his words into something resembling a coherent thought. In many ways this is a reflection of my own life, but this picture is only a small part of a much larger process.

In his prologue to On Writing, Stephen King says that “all the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree;” what’s written on a page is the culmination of one writer’s thoughts and life experiences. When we read this page, we are exploring the author’s mind. In a way, we leave our thoughts behind and take up new ideas as our eyes move from one word to the next. It is, in the greatest sense, a meeting of the minds.

But tutoring takes this a step further.

The role of a tutor comprises many functions, but one thing is certain: we are not slave-drivers. Our goal isn’t to gain dominance over a student’s paper. To do so would be an act of villainy to the mind of the writer. Instead, our purpose is to act as a sort of mediator between the writer’s thoughts and the words on the page.

Often times a student comes into the Writing Center because he can’t decide where to go next. Maybe he’s lost in his own writing process, or perhaps he’s gone amuck with his thesis. Whatever the problem is, we’re there to help him gain his bearings.  

If a friend asked you, “Where can I go to eat some awesome sushi?” you’d probably give her a few recommendations based on what you already know about her. Perhaps she only has twenty bucks and so you suggest a few cheaper restaurants. Perhaps she doesn’t have a car and needs something within walking distance.  Or perhaps she doesn’t know the different between chirashizushi and inarizushi. As a writing tutor, our job isn’t to give students recommendations based on what we prefer--even though we certainly have preferences--instead, our job is to give them direction based on what their needs are and where they want to go.

A student already has most of the tools necessary to write well; our job is to help him find them.

William Wall is a tutor at the Student Writing Center in some obscure city which he probably should have ommitted from his original post. His pastimes include reading, writing, interviewing authors and posting book reviews on his blog at


  1. Yes! When we work with writers hopefully we reveal to them the choices they can make as writers. Rarely is there just one single, solitary option in writing. Ultimately, a writer will realize that they make informed choices. As writing mentors/tutors/whatever-we-call-ourselvesors we can help writers understand the complexity of choices and make the best decision to address the particular rhetorical situation.


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