Language Variation and the WC: A Video Series

Written by: Emily S.

Our amazing consultant Emily S. speaks on our new four-part video series: “Language Variation and the Writing Center!”, which is a short series that walks us through the value of all language, information about different dialects, and so much more!

Language is hard. It’s a complex subject with many different layers, and unless you study linguistics, learning about language can be difficult too. As speakers of a language, we tend to know the rules of that language, but we might struggle to explain how those rules work. Opening a book and trying to learn more can be really overwhelming and discouraging, especially if you find unfamiliar terms like morphology, semantics, and language prejudice. To help make things a little easier to understand, we’d like to introduce you to our new four-part video series: “Language Variation and the Writing Center!”

In our first video, we describe what language is and the equal value all languages hold. Though every language is different, they all share the same basic structure and rules. Our second video shares information about dialects, which are variations in language due to close contact within regions or within certain socio-cultural groups of people. In the third video, you’ll learn more about how language prejudice forms and what exactly it is. Our consultant Anna also shares the implications that language prejudice has on society. Lastly, our final video discusses code-meshing. Through the content in these videos, we hope to not only introduce information about language, but also to start a conversation about what language looks like both in and out of the University Writing Center

At the UWC, part of our mission is to “value multiple literacies and language diversity” and to “promote a broad understanding of writing, language, and literacy.” Understanding what language is, how it works and changes, and its social implications can help us build a solid foundation to achieve these goals. In the Center, we value and appreciate every language that writers bring into sessions and their writing. We also understand the validity and importance of all dialects of languages and encourage writers to use their own dialects in their writing. Though language prejudice still exists, at the UWC, we actively work against this prejudice through our programming and interactions with writers.

If you want to learn more about language and how we here at the Center interact with language, make sure to watch our series! Links to each video will be posted on our social media within the next few weeks. We hope you’ll see us soon 🙂

Check out the first video of the series below!

Writing as Catharsis

Written by: Zoe H.

One of our amazing consultants Zoe H. discusses how writing is not only for academia, but also a personal experience for the every-day writer.

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until late in my senior year of high school. I took a lot of personality tests until trying to figure it out, not that they helped. (I really don’t want to be a teacher, no matter how many times Buzzfeed tells me to be one.) However, I started writing creatively in middle school. Some people cope with exercise; others baking; the productive ones, cleaning. I cope(d) with poetry. 

Now, this poetry won’t win awards. It ignores many basic guidelines of poetry (there was absolutely no imagery in for many years, plus some horrendous end rhyme). But I found a way to shamelessly express my emotions. I proudly claim being introspective (the many hours of considering my qualities, place in the world, and the like can attest to that), but I have always struggled with emotions. I know that I am feeling them but fail to parse the distinct emotions and their causes; writing poetry provides a sense of clarity. I can write as messily and horribly as I want and figure myself out along the way. I assume the process is similar to journaling, but this is natural to me. I sometimes think in- admittedly bad- poetry (a strange attribute for a child of scientists). Poetry is inherent in how I perceive and interact with the world. 

This writing is different from my writing for assignments or submissions for publication (we will call it professional poetry, though no one pays me). For cathartic writing, I keep no audience in mind and not care about how the words sound. Sometimes these poems work themselves into more marketable pieces when the emotion has faded and I reworked the form and language. Other times, I approach my professional poetry starting with the form or the rhyme scheme or a cool metaphor and add emotion after the mechanics are straightened out. 

I have been taught that the purpose of writing is to share information with others. I discovered it can also be to share information with myself. However, it is also okay if you don’t learn anything. It is valid to write just to write, knowing that nothing is expected. It can be a form of self-care or a way of self-expression or simply an exercise to see how many rhyming words you can fit into a sentence about pancakes. Writing is often accompanied with expectations and anxiety, but there is so much more it can provide. For me, it’s catharsis and learning. Enjoy discovering what it does for you.

Bodies: What You Can’t Take Out of the Writing Center

Written by: Lauren W.

Sitting now at a kitchen table, with five dogs all barking and sniffing around me, my coffee growing cold, and the looming anxiety of a nationwide pandemic lingering at the back of my mind, how can I possibly expect to take my own body out of this blog post?

Let me explain.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of devouring reading Samantha Powers’ The Education of an Idealist, a memoir that follows her life from a childhood in Ireland all the way to a UN ambassador for the United States. As I was reading, as your mind tends to do after you have found yourself a part of the writing center community, I began to see connections to my own thoughts and struggles within the UWC that Powers articulated as a life-long advocate for social justice and empathy.

When you enter the Writing Center space, is can be easy to get comfortable within the bubble of becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, and the many conversations that strive to be inclusive, diverse, and welcoming. Of course, as I sat within the physical walls of the Writing Center, and as I sit now distanced but still breathing the same (figurative) air, I was still consciously aware of the many discourses and conversations happening within the world. This does not have to mean political discourse or world-altering conversations, but even those between my family and fiancé at home, as I ponder what to make for dinner and how much almond milk is left in the fridge.

That is why you cannot take your own body out of any space, including the Writing Center.

Wiggle your toes, if you like.

Stretch your arms above your head, if it feels right.

In whatever space you are currently within, your body and all the outside baggage that comes with that, follows. Powers struggled with this concept as she moved through different spaces, from immigrant, intern, reporter, student, professor, White House employee during the Obama administration, mother, UN ambassador, wife, and woman. Powers found herself overly saturated in her own body and what was happening around her, as she put it: “…I reacted as though current events had something to do with me,” (42).

Of course, Powers was within a position in which she could actively engage with officials in our government and appeal to those who create our policies and laws. Her position in our government allowed her to work with her body within her most frequently visited space, not outside or against it. So how does this translate to us, who’s most occupied spaces do not allow for this sort of mind-body connection?

I would argue, simply put, that we do not need to do anything about our bodies. Our bodies follow us through all the spaces we visit, and we should not try and scrape off what sticks to us just because we are within a new space. Our body goes with us everywhere, and what we absorb and carry with us, whether it be within the Writing Center or otherwise, presents both challenges and chances for growth. Within the Writing Center, we do not have to shed our diplomacy or personal struggles like a transparent skin, and we should not have “to choose between public and private diplomacy; both have their place.” (358). That is, our private and public selves do not have to be so different as we originally thought. Perhaps, they are simply different shades of the same hue.

The history of our bodies follows us from our personal lives into the Writing Center, and everywhere beyond and in-between. Take care of it, express gratitude for it, and embrace all that which gives you a unique and undeniably you perspective.

Image taken from Amazon.com.

Check out The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power available now.

It’s Not All Mechanics

Written by: Hannah W.

Our wonderful consultant Hannah has written a post that relates strongly to the essential mission of the UWC. The overriding goal in our consultations is to help support writers with writing in their own voice with their own ideas, and Hannah helps explain why.

Throughout my life, I have taken part in many different forms of writing. In middle school I focused on writing specifically for my teachers. But once school was out, I honed my imagination, writing down scenarios involving complex characters. In high school, I joined the Newspaper Club. I thought it would be easy because I was an amazing writer. I was very wrong. I was trying to write articles in a creative mindset when my advisor and editors wanted me to be more informative. This was this set of unwritten rules that I had to follow or I wasn’t a good writer. The next year, I became an editor for the newspaper and I did the same thing to writers that my previous editors had done to me. Follow these rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Use a different word here. It wasn’t until college that I realized something that everyone should know: When it comes to writing, there are no rules.

That statement is very controversial and, to some people, frightening. But I’m afraid that it’s true. You might be thinking, “But there are rules. What about fragment sentences and verb usage and i before e and all that?” Those are all actually rules of mechanics- mechanics are concepts such as grammar, spelling, syntax, all that. There is this preconceived notion that mechanics and writing are the same thing, and they really aren’t. In fact, mechanics aren’t even the most important part of writing. 

Gasp!

I know not everyone is going to agree with this, but it’s true. The most important part of writing is actually content. It’s the message. Not having content that is well organized and conveyed makes flawless grammar obsolete. Consultants see this often in the Writing Center. International students will come in looking for help on grammar when their grammar is already great. Because American writers are so obsessed with grammar, our exchange students put too much stock in trying to perfect their own grammar, which can sometimes make the content of a piece suffer. 

An example of this actually came from a childhood friend of mine. She is currently taking a class where the professor concentrates on grammar too much. And this is not an English class. The professor will write in all over my friend’s paper, marking grammar errors and actually changing the wording of the essay. When my friend sent me a picture of her paper, there was a note in blue ink that basically said ‘fix your grammar or drop the class.’ 

As a consultant and English Major, I was horrified to see this. Sure, I’m a nerd and I enjoy learning about the mechanics of writing, but that was too much. Especially since my friend’s paper was lacking a thesis and the professor didn’t even mention it. There was no clear statement about what my friend was writing about and all the professor did was tell her that her word choice was bad.

We need to stop focusing so much on grammar and start teaching people to make sure their arguments are solid. I could write an argumentative essay over “Books vs Movies” and have weak evidence to support my claims and my professor would still take the time to point out that I used the wrong form of ‘your’ or that there’s a typo. 

Your a great writer, and you’re delivery doesn’t change that.

Five Reasons to Work at the Writing Center as a Non-English Major

Written by: Emily R.

I still remember my first encounter with the University Writing Center: I was a high school student on a campus visit, attending a panel on IUPUI’s academic resources. One of the panelists worked at the UWC, and as I listened to her describe her job I knew I wanted to become a writing consultant, too. My only concern? I didn’t plan to major in English, and I wasn’t sure if that disqualified me. 

After the panel I approached the older, wiser student and asked her my pressing question: “Can I work at the Writing Center if I’m not an English major?” I was thrilled when she said yes, telling me that prospective consultants only had to take a class called Writing Center Theory and Practice, which trains you to become an effective consultant.

Since that day, I’ve been admitted to the Kelley School of Business, (nearly) completed a B.S. in marketing and international studies, and worked at the UWC for three semesters. During that time, my work as a writing center consultant has enhanced my course of study—and vice versa. And I’m not alone; I have coworkers who study everything from biology to religious studies. 

If you’re pursuing a major outside of the English department, here are five reasons (identified by non-English-major consultants) why you should consider working at the Writing Center: 

1. You can work on secondary projects directly related to your major—then add them to your résumé. 

When I’m not consulting with writers, I spend my downtime putting my marketing skills to use: I write posts for our social media pages and I’m developing a survey tool that will collect data on students’ perceptions of the UWC (marketing research!). 

Katie, a psychology major with an art minor and pre-art therapy certificate, also draws from her academic experience: “My course of study as an art student has led me to implement therapeutic art into the UWC’s daily programming by designing and leading workshops that emphasize the connection between art, mindfulness, and writing.” 

2. You can develop your communication skills.

Michael, a graduate student in the philosophy program, points out that the productive conversations we have in the Writing Center are beneficial not only for his field, but also for life in general. “The values of dialogue and discussion are conducive to what I do: ask questions, build consensus, and investigate trains of thought,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to hone my writing and general communication skills and focus a lot on honest reflection.”

3. You can (sometimes) provide course-specific insights to students in your major. 

All consultants have the same training, and we’re all qualified to work with any kind of writing. But as a business student, I can instantly relate to stressed I-Core students, fluently speak business jargon, and share specific insights for classes I’ve taken. It’s so fulfilling to use the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in class to support my fellow Kelleys in their writing assignments. 

4. You can apply and strengthen skills you’ve learned in your field of study.

Consultant and 1L JD student Tori uses her law school skills when working with students in the polishing and editing stage. “Law school is all about the details,” she said. “I often use those attention to detail skills that I learned in law school when working with clients who are in those last stages of the process and really want to get down to the nitty gritty.”

5. You can be part of an exciting, interdisciplinary work environment.

At the UWC, we work with students of all majors on projects ranging from lab reports to poetry collections. One of the best parts of the job is learning from writers and coworkers who represent a variety of majors. And Ijada, a consultant majoring in tourism, conventions, and event management, points out that employing students from diverse disciplines helps us create this collaborative environment: “It allows us to have a bigger reach and connect with more members of the student body.”

Regardless of your major, if you want a flexible, fulfilling on-campus job, ENG-W397: Writing Center Theory and Practice is now enrolling for the Fall 2020 semester. The three-credit-hour class will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 2:45pm and is open to all students with no prerequisites. You can contact our director Marilee Brooks-Gillies at mbrooksg@iupui.edu for more information.

Creating a Space While Sheltering-In-Place: How to Make a Welcoming, Work-Friendly Environment at Home

Written by: Emily S.

As an accompaniment to Logan’s post from Tuesday, our marvelous consultant, Emily, has provided a set of helpful tips on how to create a comfortable and productive work environment at home. Within her advice she includes some useful links that lead to further research and articles that all of us can benefit from!

For students who are used to classrooms and face-to-face interaction, transitioning to virtual classes for the rest of the semester can be extremely anxiety inducing. I’ve personally struggled over the past few weeks to find any motivation to complete schoolwork in the midst of a global pandemic, and I know I’m not alone. The reality we’re living in right now is scary, intimidating, and strange, and in the wake of everything happening, writing may be at the very back of your mind. Creating an environment that speaks to you and allows you to both focus and relax a little can help writing become more of an escape from the chaos than a chore. Here are a few tips on creating a space where you can be your most productive while learning from home!

  1. Choose a space you can dedicate to your writing and productivity when you need to focus. This space could be a desk, the kitchen table, a patio, your couch, anywhere you personally feel relaxed but still ready to work. You want the environment to be somewhere you enjoy writing, not somewhere you dread being. For me, it’s a cozy chair nestled in between my fish tank and my window. If you can, try to avoid making your bed this space. Some researchers believe working in your bed can actually make it more difficult for you to sleep. Having a dedicated space where you can work also helps you separate school from home, which is important in the midst of all of the chaos surrounding us.
  2. Determine how cozy you want to let yourself be. During remote learning, it can be very beneficial to set a schedule and stick to it in order to create some semblance of normalcy. This can go for your clothing as well. While some people thrive in sweatpants, others might find that working in clothes that are a little too comfortable can lead them to want to curl up and nap instead of write. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working in comfy clothes if that works for you; I’m in leggings as I write this. However, if you find that your favorite pajama pants are inviting you to go back to bed, try dressing yourself as you would if you were attending class on campus. The act of waking up and getting ready can feel refreshing and give you the motivation you need to start writing.
  3. Try to find some source of natural lighting if possible! While we’re all at home during the stay-at-home order, it may be difficult for us to soak up the rays we normally would while walking across campus. Exposing yourself to natural light is important in boosting your vitamin D. It also combats against Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as Seasonal Depression. Not only does natural light have health benefits, but it also brightens a room and can help us feel more connected to the outside world. All of these effects can lead to more motivation to complete the writing tasks you have in front of you.
  4. Try to limit the distractions around you. At home, it’s very likely there’s already a plethora of distractions guaranteed to pull you from your writing. From taking care of children to walking your pets and everything else in between, life doesn’t stop just because you now have to work from home. There are going to be times you need to be distracted from your writing. One thing you can do to make sure you’re productive while you’re writing is to tune out the distractions that are not essential. Putting your phone on vibrate or turning off your eighth episode of Glee in a row (guilty as charged) can help you concentrate more on the tasks at hand.
  5. Keep items you may need close by. This ties into limiting your distractions. Before you sit down to begin working, make sure you have everything you could want within reach. Check for pens, notebooks, headphones, folders, etc. Making sure you’re prepared to get into a writing mindset makes it less likely that you’ll have to spend every few minutes rustling through your folders to find that assignment sheet. While I say this, it is still really important to remember that you should take breaks from writing and your coursework! Get up and make some tea, play with your pets, or grab some snacks to give yourself a little breather in between assignments.
  6. Make your space your own! What helps you write best? My writing space probably looks completely different from yours and that’s okay. Writing is an incredibly personal activity and your writing space reflects that. When creating an area to work in, it can be helpful to focus on the five senses: what can you smell, hear, taste, see, and touch? Do you like background music playing while you write? Are you a huge candle fan or would you rather have an oil diffuser running? Do plants and flowers help you feel more relaxed? Figuring out what works best for you is the most effective way to make a writing space you find productive.

Working From Home: Where Distractions Are Everywhere and Time Doesn’t Matter

By: Logan K. Grannis

Our wonderful consultant, Logan, has written a very helpful post about how to be productive in our current situation. Using his past experience working remotely as a copywriter, he gives us tips for avoiding distractions and getting things done during a time when most of us have been obligated to work and study from home.

I stared expectantly at my computer as I willed myself to hear that familiar pat-pat-patting of fingers that would produce words on the screen. Those words would ultimately bring me one step closer to being finished with this article, yet I found myself dismayed when I heard nothing. I wrote nothing. That’s when I saw it creeping in my peripheral vision. I tried to ignore it, reminding myself that it was only 8:04 in the morning and that I’d been working for four minutes. The guitar appeared to move closer to me: menacing, looming, expectant. Before I knew it, I was yielding to its will and was warming up with several minor scale patterns.

This was the first of many imminent distractions that became ever-present in my time working at home. In my role as a copywriter, I had just been given the freedom to work remotely two days per week over a period of three years, since certain portions of my work did not require that I be present in the office. From this, I quickly discovered that it was absolutely and unequivocally imperative that I make and stick to a schedule. If I did not adhere to my newly imposed guidelines and schedule, I was doomed to fall prey to all of the other interesting things surrounding me. The books in the other room and my best friend, Netflix, were starting to sound quite appealing.

My new schedule involved setting goals and holding myself accountable to them. These self-imposed deadlines can be your best friend if you procrastinate like I do, since you effectively light a fire under your feet to force yourself to meet your deadline. This is particularly important now that we are all in this remote, isolated situation together. Working from home can be as productive as you want it to be, you just need to find the appropriate balance of time working, relaxing, and being in a space that is not overwhelmingly distracting to you. In general, I would be mindful of these suggestions to give yourself a more productive and enjoyable workspace:

  • Pick a room (if you have a choice of room) that you feel calm in. You want to be able to work for longer periods of time there.
  • Remove distracting items. If you have too many of your personal items around that would distract you, remove them if possible. Your goal is to stay on task as much as possible.
  • Take breaks! If you take frequent, short breaks throughout the day you will be less overwhelmed than if you tried to work straight through. This is true with writing and any kind of work or studying; you can get burned out if you don’t take a break to go outside or have a snack.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Ultimately, working in a space that is also your home creates a strange blend of your work and home life that was generally separate before. Don’t be too hard on yourself for needing time to adjust and trying multiple approaches to see what does and does not work for you.

As with anything, working and attending classes remotely is a process, and it is one that will have an adjustment period. The key is to not be discouraged and to try new things to see what works best for you!

What You Need to Know About Online Consulting for the Rest of the Semester

In these last few weeks, the COVID-19 crisis has shifted so much about campus life. Just as all classes had to temporarily adapt to an online-only model, so did the University Writing Center.  We want to reassure you that even though our physical locations had to close for the rest of the semester, we’re still here for you doing the same work as always.  

The UWC has offered online consultations alongside face-to-face consultations for a long time. Our online sessions work the same way as our face-to-face sessions. We still work with writers in every stage of the writing process, and we still read through the paper together—just through Zoom rather than sitting at a table face-to-face. For the rest of the semester, all of our sessions will be through Zoom. Here’s what you need to know as we move forward into the rest of the semester: 

We already have a page on our website about getting set up in Zoom for online consultations, located here: https://liberalarts.iupui.edu/uwc/pages/onlineconsulting-folder/index.php. Most of this information holds true, with a few necessary deviations. Now when you go to schedule an appointment on our website, it will no longer ask you to choose between the Cavanaugh and the University Library schedules. Instead, you’ll only see one option: “Online Only for Remainder Spring 2020.” Also, when you select an appointment slot, it will no longer ask you to choose between online and face-to-face consultations; any appointment you make is automatically online.   

If you’ve never used Zoom before, please give yourself some time before your consultation to get set up. You’ll access your online consultation through our online scheduling system. If you click on your appointment block (which should turn bright orange after your appointment has been made), you should see a link in the bottom of your consultant’s bio. Clicking that link will bring you into their Zoom room. If you’ve never used Zoom before, clicking this link will prompt you to download Zoom. Once you’re in the Zoom room, you’ll need a microphone and speakers or headphones. If you don’t have these things (or if you can’t get them to work), you also have the option of using your phone as a source of audio through Zoom—but if you call in from a landline phone, just remember that the number provided is not toll-free. 

If you’re having trouble getting access to the internet, there are some options available to you. You can use one of the safe hotspots that IUPUI has set up; you can find information about that here: https://news.iu.edu/stories/2020/03/iu/releases/24-free-wifi-access-parking-lot-hot-spots.html. You might also qualify for 60 days of free internet through Comcast, which you can apply for here: https://www.internetessentials.com/.   

If you have any questions about navigating online consultations that this post and our website haven’t been able to answer, please reach out to us at uwc@iupui.edu; we won’t be around to answer our phone, but we will be checking our email even more often than usual. For technology-related concerns not related directly to Zoom, UITS (University Information Technology Services is still available. You can find their contact information here: https://uits.iu.edu/support

We hope to “see” you in an online session soon!  Schedule an appointment with us at https://iupui.mywconline.com/.  

UWC Moving to Online-Only 3/23-4/5

In accordance with IUPUI’s move to virtual instruction, the University Writing Center is moving to online-only consultations from March 23-April 5. Please note that face-to-face appointments are available until spring break.

We are in the process of creating a fully functional online consultation program for our writing communities. These sessions will take place on Zoom, like our current online consultation offerings. Basic information for preparing for a Zoom writing center session can be found here: https://liberalarts.iupui.edu/uwc/pages/onlineconsulting-folder/index.php

To make an online appointment, you will still visit our schedule and login as usual. The updated schedule will be available in a few days for you to start making appointments for March 23 and beyond.

If you have any questions, please email us at uwc@iupui.edu.

The Value of Scraps

Written by: Finn M.

For this drizzly Tuesday afternoon, our consultant Finn has written a piece about the validity of all types of writing, and how having a standard definition of “good writing” can impede creativity and cause insecurities in writers.

“Let me make something clear: academically-good writing has nothing do with actual, meaningful, artistic, cathartic writing.” is the opening line of my piece: “The Academic Façade of Good Writing.” This opening reveals a lot about how I feel regarding academia’s impact on how we view writing. Many of these ideas stem from my own revelations during my time in academia and the moments of reflection I’ve had within my own experiences.

During my college career I have found that many of my insecurities in writing come from the rhetoric that the only writing that holds weight is that which follows standard English, and by extension, academic standards. Because of this ideology, I shied away from writing for pleasure. For many years I was under the belief that my own writing wouldn’t be satisfactory if it was not stripped and fit into the rubric I had been given. The fear of failure, even in private, drained my motivation to write for fun. This caused me to lose many of my ideas as I pushed myself into the academic writer role I felt I needed to fill to be respected.

Now, from being a writing center consultant and having met many types of writers, I can see how this rhetoric is not unique to my experience. It’s widespread, often shutting down ideas before they can bloom because many fear harsh critiques from those with prowess. In fact, I believe the reason many have come to dread writing is because they have been forced to only focus on the finished product and not the process. Even for myself, I cannot count how many ideas I have lost simply because I felt I could never produce work that was good enough.

This is heartbreaking because writing can be such an expressive way of communication and self-exploration. How often have novels, poems, short stories, and scripts died because the writer felt they could never produce work that was good enough? When did we become so fixated on what others deemed good writing that we forgot to enjoy any writing? Writing is something that has existed for centuries; storytelling connects cultures. It allows those long dead to still speak to us. I wrote:

“It was around 3500-3000 BCE when Sumerians invented Cuneiform, which is considered one of the earliest forms of writing. In their writing they recorded the events around them. Kings, great battles, floods, the will of the gods, and the search for immortality. Surely, this writing was not polished, grammatically perfected, or created for the purpose of flaunting. Instead, it was there to be. To simply collect the stories of people and cities that would cease to exist long before the modern day.”

I hope that in the coming years we can move back to finding the joy in all writing. Meaningful writing does not have to be 12-point, double spaced, Times New Roman. Yes, writing can do good when it is polished, published and archived; but so can writing that is written on scraps. The number of buzzwords, semi-colons, or quality of grammar does not determine a writing’s worth. It never has, and I think it’s time we start remembering that.

Lower Your Brows

Written by: Zoe H.

One of our new consultants, Zoe, has written a wonderful piece about the validity of all forms of writing. Please help us welcome her to the UWC in the comments!

There is a common misconception that the only literature of merit is “highbrow” literature, or writing considered intellectual. Think Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickinson. I’m sure at least one high school teacher has encouraged you to put down James Patterson in favor of Kurt Vonnegut. But should we actually change our reading lists?

Reading is a fundamental feature of society, present in work, school, pleasure, and even driving (yes, stop signs count). We may elect (or be forced) to read “highbrow” literature for educational purposes, and there is value in these pieces. I don’t doubt that reading Austen in college has changed my ideas of literature—her work focuses on her own somewhat mundane life, but still is entertaining and meaningful because of the character development and the humor. I have learned I can write about my own mundane life, too, and still connect to my readers. However, the benefit of esteemed work does not negate the validity of lesser-recognized pieces.

I read for many reasons, including learning, improving my own writing, and relaxing. “Highbrow” literature may help me accomplish the first two, but Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations does not relax me. Instead, I read Jennifer E. Smith (lots of romance novels), Rainbow Rowell, or reread Harry Potter. I also read fanfiction, enjoying the promising work of young writers and the continuation of stories I know and love. These works tend to be the most looked down upon, but I have undoubtably read novel-length fanfictions with developed themes and then reread them. These works have comforted me after long days, accompanied me on plane rides, and entertained me during tiresome waits. To me, they are just as valuable as Hamlet.

Reading has many purposes and outcomes. Why would we limit what we read and what we gain from it? That worn, dog-eared murder mystery hidden on the corner of your bookshelf past The Great Gatsby can improve your life, too. So flood the Young Adult section of your library, scroll through some Harry Potter fanfiction, buy the latest celebrity memoir, and savor reading them!  

Dungeons and Dragons and Writing, oh my!

Written by: Michael Botta

Good afternoon, Jags! I am very happy to announce that after some technical difficulties, the Writer’s Block Blog is back online! For our first post of the semester, our wonderful consultant Michael has shared how his experiences as a DM for Dungeons & Dragons overlap with his work here at the UWC. Later this week he will be presenting his topic at the Eastern Central Writing Centers Association (ECWCA) Conference, so wish him luck!

Player- “Can I try to roll for nature to find an animal friend?”

Dungeon Master- “Yes, do you want me to describe the landscape?”

Player- “No, I roll to find a kangaroo and cast animal friendship and jump inside its pouch!”

This is an actual moment from the current D&D game I’m running.

Within Dungeon and Dragons, one player takes up the role of the “Dungeon Master” or “DM,” myself in this scenario, and other players constitute “the party.” These are all role-playing positions, with each person playing at least one part. It’s important to note that while previous editions in earlier decades would often focus on “clearing” dungeons and battling monsters, D&D currently focuses heavily on role-playing. This community of individuals each telling stories creates a narrative that we call a “session,” a series of which make a “campaign.”

A campaign can last for years, as for any session the DM (hopefully) develops a detailed and hopefully illustrative world that the other players will explore and interact with, while the players imagine and live out their characters. Both sides join together and create a game, an expanding world, and a journey with battles, relationships, and ambitions.

So, what the hell does this have to do with working at a writing center?

Well, I feel like I do a lot of the same things when playing and when working. It’s part of why I enjoy my job so much. It is also tempting to just spell out the definitions and metaphors, and this comparison works in a variety of ways. I could spend a very long time delving into these connections (and will at a conference that may have concluded by the time this is published), but for this post I want to focus primarily on the act of playing and consulting. At the risk of making Writing Center work seem unprofessional, I think that I can justly compare the two.

Whether as a consultant or player, I have the opportunity to walk inside another person’s constructed narrative, play my part, and craft a new narrative. Whether or not I operate within a fantasy setting dreamt up by a DM or a research essay assigned by an instructor, I am merely an actor. Both in the colloquial and academic sense, I have a social interaction that defines these activities and a purpose to what I do, a philosophy of what I am as a consultant.

I’ve been told by one of my philosophy professors that “an argument is always made better by examples,” so let us imagine that you come into the Writing Center with a piece of writing. It can be something you wrote for class, work, or for entirely personal reasons, but you come here after making an appointment and going through all the logistical rigamarole. When you walk in, I know nothing apart from what you’ve told me of your context—the kind of writing, your goals, the expectations given to you by your peers or instructors, or what your writing is like in any way, shape, or form. I bring my ability as a reader, my history, my knowledge and impressions, my character, and I attempt to help you with whatever you need. I work with people who are just brainstorming off of an assignment sheet and those who have been locked in mortal combat with the vagaries of their paper for months. I only ever can and do so by relying on the world given to me by you.

This is essentially what I do in Dungeons and Dragons when I’m a player. Yes, the setting is different, the context more free, the rules dramatically altered, and the consulting philosophy more established, but the basics are the same. The virtues are eerily similar, too. To be an excellent consultant and player, I need sensitivity, friendliness, curiosity, clear communication, and most especially a strong understanding of myself. When a DM constructs a world for me, I have to ask questions, plan, and draw on my experience and place myself within the landscape. I ask myself, “What can I do and who can I be to work with this world?” and recraft my consulting philosophy once again in this unique and new setting.

Rooted in the Past

Written by: Brandi W.

As Thanksgiving approaches and many of us look at going home for a well-deserved (and needed!) break, it can often feel like returning to a different planet. College—clubs, classes, and conversations—can seem so disconnected from what is going on at home. However, the people and experiences there actually influence college life and are potential wells from which we can draw to inform our different assignments and conversations at IUPUI.

Even with the promise of turkey, fantastic sides, and the Macy’s Day Parade, there can be some tension about returning home to difficult conversations, a pestering of questions, or simply a starkly different environment than during the rest of the semester. However, this old/new environment of home can actually be a huge benefit to our writing at school. Whether it is brainstorming for an assignment, having a conversation with a professor over a class topic, or constructing a writing process, drawing from funds of knowledge that have shaped who we are (our family, home environment, past jobs, etc.) provides a personal connection to projects and springboards to writing that might otherwise become stale or stagnant. These influences shape our unique perspectives into the issues we write about or the topics we discuss.

Growing up in a family with eight children taught me that even people who have many similar experiences can form radically different opinions on any given matter. While this can cause some tension when we get together (like at Thanksgiving dinner), these moments also provide me with the experience of hearing multiple perspectives and incorporating them into my response—something vital for writing projects, from research to poetry.  

For many years, I took and taught piano lessons, and I have often found this well of experience influencing my writing, even down to my writing process. When I first began writing, I thought that meant sitting down at the computer and typing until I reached the word count. I did not realize that the process took multiple layers to be truly effective. The comparison that helps me most is thinking about the various parts of the process as belonging to the melody (the steps we typically think of as belonging to the writing process like research and editing) and the harmony (other steps that are just as important but not always apparent, such as a Writing Center appointment or taking a break for a snack). Each part is unique but vital to create a rich piece. Utilizing my past experience with piano to help shape my thinking allowed me to create a functional writing process.

This potential well is sometimes referred to as “funds of knowledge,” and is wealth built up over years of unique experiences that cannot (and should not) be ignored or eliminated. Rather than viewing projects as separate from personal interests or experiences, thinking about the knowledge already built up from those same memories and skills provides roots for an assignment and can add fuel to writing that might otherwise feel surface level. As we spend time with family, friends, food, and fun over the holidays, what experiences can we remember to bring back to support our writing?

Relationality in the Writing Center

Written by: Grace R.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have a former consultant, Grace, write a post for us about how her experience working in the IUPUI University Writing Center has influenced not only the relationships she has formed, but also the way she thinks about relationships themselves.

Three years ago, I sat in a midday class in the basement of SL and wrote down a quote my professor offhandedly mentioned: “Relationships do not merely shape reality, they are reality” (Wilson 7, emphasis original). At that point, I didn’t know this quote or what it meant, but it caught my attention enough to jot it down. The class, Writing Center Theory & Practice, would begin my three-year stint in IUPUI’s University Writing Center, an experience that continues to have a profound effect on my educational, professional, and personal life. In the last three years, I’ve learned experientially what Dr. Shawn Wilson, and by extension, what my professor & future director Dr. Marilee Brooks-Gillies, meant: relationality is reality.  Our relationships with ideas, the world, other humans, and indeed ourselves construct our reality.

It makes a lot of sense to me that I was first introduced to this idea of relationality in a writing center theory class. The writing center is such a natural place to develop relationality. Within it, the connections between relationships and reality became clear in myriad ways: sessions with writers, conversations with coworkers, experiences at conferences, and engaging in research.

If you’ve ever visited the IUPUI University Writing Center, you know that writing isn’t a solitary activity. In our sessions, consultants and writers sit and collaborate together. We read through together, we talk together, we construct meaning together. We do this not only because it’s a useful practice, but also because this practice tells a truth about the reality of writing: writing is always a social activity. And the social aspect of writing, the way that writing takes relationships into account, is what makes knowledge accessible. Cultural Rhetorician Andrea Riley Mukavetz puts it this way: “By cultivating relationships, one is able to make knowledge visible and viable” (Riley Mukavetz 119).  Relationships develop knowledge and make that knowledge real to us.

Perhaps the one place that relationality becomes more clear to me than in the writing center is at writing center conferences. Over my years in the writing center, I’ve participated in several regional and international conferences. I recently attended and presented at the International Writing Center Association & National College Peer Tutors of Writing joint conference. While there, I was reminded that attending them is yet another way of cultivating relationships and knowledge. Conferences, much like writing center sessions, remind me that this wasn’t meant to be done alone.

At conferences, the simple daily practices of relationality are highlighted and even put to the test. People that you generally only see during work hours are suddenly your roommates, your meal mates, the people you find yourself uncontrollably laughing with. The authors of articles and books you’ve read are suddenly there, in person, presenting in the same time slot as you. You form relationships with other conference goers and presenters, exchange and push back on ideas together. Conferences ask participants to form relationships, with the research and with each other; much like writing centers, conferences are built on the concept of relational collaboration.

I’ve spent nearly the last year of my life outside of writing centers, still invested in writing center research, but no longer on staff as a consultant. It’s been a year of recognizing and researching the ways that working in a writing center—deliberately practicing relationality every day—impacts former consultants. At IWCA-NCPTW, Dr. Brooks-Gillies and I presented on this very research.  Our research proves to me the same findings that I see in my own life: that working in a writing center is a rich and complex experience, and its impact is widespread. The relationships I’ve developed with writers, pedagogies, research practices, concepts, and the writing process itself hasn’t just shaped my reality, it is my reality. Through cultivating these relationships and practicing relationality, I’ve been able to access and develop my knowledge. And to think, it all started three years ago, jotting down a quote in the basement of SL.


Works Cited:

Riley Mukavetz, Andrea M. “Towards a Cultural Rhetorics Methodology: Making Research Matter With Multi-Generational Women From the Little Traverse Bay Band.” Rhetorics, Professional Communication and Globalization, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, pp. 108-125, http://www.rpcg.org/index.php?journal=rpcg&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=98&path%5B%5D=pdf.

Wilson, Shawn. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Fernwood Publishing, 2008

A Chronicle of Neurodiversity and Writing

Written by: Lindsey T.

Google defines irony as “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.”

This is the perfect term to sum up my situation as a writer.

When I was young, I was diagnosed with a common mental disability you may have heard of: Asperger’s Autism, although it’s called Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) these days. To put it simply, my brain was wired different. What’s considered an easy task for neurotypical people may have given me the hardest struggles in life, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, vice versa could happen.

In the case of struggles, mine were with reading and writing. I just couldn’t fully grasp what a sentence, or even something as simple as a single word, could say. My parents worked tirelessly to make sure I understood it, and I was given extra time in school to finish my assignments after receiving the prognosis.

Most would think that educators would be understanding of that, but in actuality, back then if you had a mental disability there was no hope for you. As soon as that “mental disorder” label branded you, your fate was sealed. Educators tried convincing my parents to put me in a Special Education classroom instead. They once believed I would have trouble graduating high school, let alone go to college or even graduate school.

However, I pushed myself to do better for my parents and for my own sense of pride. Slowly, words on paper began to make more sense. In fact, I was improving so much that I was reading at a level higher than my classmates, and my overall writing process was making tremendous milestones, as well.

There’s a reason I started this off with the definition of irony. While my skills in reading and writing kept improving, my social skills still remained dormant. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing how I felt with others vocally, so as a substitute I began writing how I felt and showing it to them. Some of my teachers even said they got to know me more through my writing than whatever I said about myself. This eventually led me to pursue writing as a career, and so I majored in English in college. The exact thing that gave me so many tribulations as a child was now my passion and voice as an adult. Writing was my way of making sense in a world that my brain tended to muddle.

This is why I’m so adamant about my Writing Center project: to make the Writing Center more welcoming and accessible to those who have a disability like I do. We thankfully have a better understanding of mental disorders compared to years ago, but that doesn’t mean the degrading label is completely gone. I want people who are like me to know they’re not alone, and we’re willing to go the extra mile to understand them as much as they’ve gone the extra mile to improve themselves.