Monday, July 13, 2020

Dear me...

Dear me,

It's not about you, but it will affect you, this work. Expect that. Learn to embrace that--the fact that your writing voice isn't in the limelight--it shouldn't be in the limelight, like some sort of escritorial savior on the lookout for less "experienced" writing that needs a crutch, ready to swoop in and redeem whatever "needs" redeeming.

You're not a crutch. You're not even a walking boot.

Examples of being a crutch/walking boot:
1. "If I was writing the thesis, I might word it something like this..."
2. "What about using this phrasing for the transition?"
3. "I'll rewrite this part of the paragraph, and you can fill in the rest."

Don't get me wrong: It's tempting to say and/or do any of the aforementioned "helpful" actions/statements, and, admittedly, you probably will a few times, when you're crunched for time in a given session or when you're frustrated and feeling unproductive and unhelpful.

But that's when it's important to remember: It's not about you. I say that with all grace, because you will forget that sometimes, and you will want to superimpose your own voice over your peer's voice sometimes, because it's easier and more familiar. But while you'll feel vindicated in the moment--we did it, we finally phrased that thesis in an appropriately succinct, coherent way!--the fruit you're looking at isn't your peer's. It's yours, and that's not why you're consulting them, to reap your own fruit.

Examples of NOT being a crutch/walking boot:
1. "The way the thesis reads now leaves me with these questions..."
2. "Here's what the transition between these paragraphs needs to accomplish..."
3. "Don't worry about making this paragraph pretty right now. Just talk to me, like we're having a conversation about your topic--what do you want to say?" *And then take notes. You're writing their words in your notes, so if they use the notes you write to craft "pretty" sentences later, they'll be confidently reworking their own language.

An advisor-crutch holds the pencil more than the advisee. An advisor-walking boot doesn't hold the pencil, but still speaks more than the advisee. A writing consultant--not a crutch, not a boot--lets the advisee hold the pencil more often than not and listens more than she speaks. Asking questions (see examples above) lets the advisee process the how and why of writing, which might not--BAM!--produce a large quantity of fruit in the moment (i.e. 3 paragraphs revised in an hour vs. 3 pages), but in the long run, that same slow-growing fruit is stronger and sweeter. It's not about producing one great essay, it's about the advisee understanding the process of writing so that, someday, they'll be confidently reaping their own fields and won't have to come in for agro-writing lessons. By asking the right questions, you'll be getting them to think about why they make the writing choices they do, and how each choice they make might amplify their argument or more directly reach their audience. You're getting them to think beyond the semester research paper and a letter grade--you're shaping them to understand the power that writing can have--that their voice can have--to contribute to a larger conversation.

It's not about you. But it will affect you. You'll grow in patience and humility, recognizing the place for your voice and the way in which it is to serve the growth of your peer's. You'll learn to adapt with grace and ask more questions that in turn lead to answers (which your advisee often knows, they just don't realize it!). And, above all, you too will be fulfilled in the slow-growing fruit as, over time, you begin to see your advisee's confidence giving way to a unique voice that isn't yours. (Because, hey, the more voices, the more plentiful and globally useful the garden!)

So, no, it's not about you. But it will affect you. And that, too, is worth something.

Happy writing,

July 13, 2020

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Your Written Voice Matters: Embracing Writing Language against the Standards of the Academy

In consultations as a tutor, I notice students struggle with their own written language based on the demands of the academy. Many students enter college feeling their writing is inadequate compared to the academic material they read for courses. This anxiety leads to students and clients adopting writing practices that causes them to lose their personal writing voice and to view any mistake they make as a personal failing instead of the process of writing. Worse, clients come in fearing to use their voice in assignments through overly citing materials, believing they cannot possibly offer anything analytically or mechanically to the academic discussion within their assignment. Fear of sounding unintelligent or demonstrating their incompetence shapes this tactic regardless of discipline and rank, instead of the generalization of student laziness. How do we, as writing consultants, address this issue of encouraging clients to value their learning and written voice while also guide them through acquiring the language of the university?

Student struggles with academic writing shapes how they complete written assignments. My own experiences as a first-generation college student that struggled in high school saw me question my ability to analyze subject material in writing. I fell into the trap of over citation or over quoting secondary sources when I wrote papers, afraid that my writing did not measure up to the standards of my professors or the academy. I see this issue during writing center consultations with clients, many who come in initially for the purpose of getting the paper “fixed” rather than learning the process of writing because they devalue their own voice and analysis through over citation.

When working with clients that have issues of over citation, instead of assuming they are lazy writers, I ask what they know about the subject they are writing about in their own words, giving them time to think and articulate that point. Once this is done, I suggest clients write down what they said to emphasize their own knowledge of the topic. Next, I use writing center resources to demonstrate how the client can use the source material they have consulted to build on their analysis instead of the sources dominating their prose. Through this interaction, I explain to the client that mistakes in a first draft are okay because the writer is figuring out how to process their voice and knowledge into a coherent point. During consultations centered on this issue I encourage clients, regardless of preconceived notions of their own writing competency, that they are demonstrating a grasp of writing by focusing on sections within the document that best illustrate their own written and learning language. My hope is that this type of interaction provides clients a tool for their own writing process and builds confidence in their ability to verbalize knowledge through writing and later revise to adhere to the assignment’s rubric without losing their learning or written language.

One strategy I suggest client try when they get home is using a timed writing exercise to get information on to the paper. I usually suggest they write down a topic sentence about the point they want to make, then set a timer for 10, 15, or 20 minutes with the goal of writing about that topic or point. With this exercise, the client recalls their knowledge and writes it out without leaning on the source material to say something better. After the time is over, they see how many words they wrote and start the revision process after taking a break. I learned this from writing advisors, who encouraged me to use this as a first step to embrace mistakes of the first draft but also demonstrate that I am knowledgeable about the subjects I write about. After that step, you work toward the dictates of the assignment (rhetorical analysis, historical research, reflection) with a starting point and boosted confidence.

Students enter universities under the belief that writing in their courses is high stakes to the point of creating anxiety over perceived inadequacies. The pressure for perfection in writing does not allow students the opportunity to create and learn from their writing mistakes, evident in many clients coming to writing centers just for a fix. If we can impress upon clients that their written perspective matters and that mistakes made in the initial creation of a document are part of the writing process instead of intellectual failings, consultants might be able to better mentor clients’ in the art of writing against the pressure of academic order.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"Dear me..."

I'd like to start a series of posts here on PeerCentered written by peer writing consultants who have recently graduated or will be graduating soon. The title of the project is "Dear me..." and conceptually, it is asking you, as a peer consultant, to write a letter to your past self when you began working as a peer writing consultant. So, in other words, it is experienced you, writing back in time to inexperienced you, letting you know what to expect, what is going to happen, what you learned, or how this work will change you.

The content of the letter is completely up to you, but just has to start with "Dear me..."

If you don't have a PeerCentered account, please contact me at and I'll add you to the blog.  There is no review process for PeerCentered, and you post all on your own.  I'm thinking this is a summer project, but if it extends beyond summer 2020, I think that is cool.

So, Dear me...

Dear me...

Dear me, It's not about you, but it will affect you, this work. Expect that. Learn to embrace that--the fact that your writing voice ...