I Thought I Was a Good Writer

Do you have one of those things, perhaps a skill, fun physical quirk, or personality trait that you can always fall back on to say, “well, at least I have that?” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of one thing that allows you to confidently say, “yes, I can do that” or, “yes, I am that.” For me, my “thing” has pretty much always been that I am a good writer. “Writer” is a title I can claim with confidence because, well, I wouldn’t be working in a writing center if I couldn’t write well. When friends or family ask me to give them writing advice or simply say, “Hey, can I read this to you?” it makes me feel good. While it is not at all a bad thing to take pride in our abilities, as with any label, it can become a treacherous thing to uphold too highly. This occurred to me on the first school day of my senior year when I realized I am not a good writer.

Okay, let me be clear: I am a good academic writer and a decent creative writer, but those two forms just scratch the surface of all the different writing mediums that consumers enjoy. There’s technical writing, newswriting, screenwriting, business writing, social media writing, and more, I’m sure, that I simply haven’t learned about yet. For my whole college career, knowing how to write academically was all I needed to know how to do. As it happens, every writing-related class I’m enrolled in this semester, (there are three,) requires the opposite of academic writing. Academic writing generally spans many pages, and the greater number of three syllable-plus-words you can throw in, the better. English and history professors drool over an artistic and catchy introduction with ten luscious body paragraphs following. That kind of writing I can do. But what do my professors want this semester? Every creative writer’s worst nightmare: short written responses. The shorter the better. Simple words like “lively” in place of long, pretty ones such as “effervescent” are not only unnecessary in these types of messages, but frowned upon. Some students groan about ten page papers, but I can promise them that communicating a big idea in one page or less is far more arduous. If this blog were for one of my classes, I wouldn’t be allowed to say arduous; I would replace that word with “hard.” Ugh, how boring!

The realization that I am only skilled in one type of writing was a bit alarming. However, as I continued to go to class and face assignments where I was challenged to say so much in so few words, it became readily apparent how married I am to my title of “writer.” When folks hear that you are a writer, many of them think you’re smart. And if you’re like me, you just smile, take the compliment, and not let them know how ordinary you really are. Because too many people consider writing to be a great, mysterious art form, those who do know how to do it become a necessary commodity to society. Rather than feeling discouraged that I’m not as great or prolific a writer as I once thought I was, I discovered excitement waiting for me in the unknown.

If I am to be a writer for life as I desire to be, I want to always be learning and mastering new writing skills. If academic writing were my whole future and career, I’d have a pretty limited skill set to offer the world, and a repetitive job at that. Now, I feel as though my writing journey is being reborn, in a way. I’m a baby in newswriting and business writing, and it can be pretty uncomfortable to go back to wearing diapers in the play pen when you’ve been riding a unicycle in your trousers for so long. If anything, I know that for the rest of my life, my passion will not only enrich me but surprise me with its ever-changing nature. All writers know that you learn to write by writing, and with the myriad of mediums that await my eager fingers, I’ll be learning to write for the rest of my life. Whatever your thing may be, when the day comes and you realize you aren’t the best at it, or even as skilled as you thought you were, ask yourself: “How fulfilling is a skill if I can never get better at it?” Find your avenue, memorize its path, and walk boldly onto the next fork that comes your way.

Written by Karoline

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Living with Food Intolerances in College: Eating in the Caff and in Restaurants

When I was fourteen years old, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or severe gluten intolerance due to an autoimmune disease. A few months later, I was diagnosed with almost twenty other food intolerances. This discovery occurred when I was living in China, so my family and I spent the next year learning what I could and could not eat, both at home and at restaurants. However, when I returned to the States for college, I basically had to relearn how to eat. I researched restaurants menus, read food labels, and found new recipes. My parents could not cook for me anymore, forcing me to learn how to survive in college with food allergies.

The first food service that I encountered when coming to college was the cafeteria. I discovered that because my university required that I buy a meal plan, they were likewise required to cater to my dietary needs. When I began my college experience, I would usually ask the cafeteria staff to make me whatever I wanted to eat. If I did not want what they were offering or if they did not have something I could eat, I could ask for some of the secret stash of gluten-free products they kept in the kitchen. As I became busier in college, I started to change the way I ate in the caff. Now, I do not spend nearly as much time creating the perfect meal: I grab whatever I can eat and run out the door to work or to study. Because I’ve spent two years gazing at the caff’s food choices, I can normally recognize the foods that I am able to eat. Depending on one’s intolerance sensitivity, however, these methods may not suffice. I cannot eat any gluten whatsoever without repercussions, so I often regret not asking about the ingredients of dishes. Generally speaking, I select what I want to eat from the line, ask the chef which of those foods I can eat, and supplement them with things I am certain I can eat, such as selections from the salad bar or grill.

When my palate craves food outside the range of the capabilities of the cafeteria, I go to my favorite on-or-off-campus dining establishments. At DBU, we have Mooyah, Chick-Fil-A, and the Daily Bread Bistro, each of which has menu items that they can make for me. When I am able to get off-campus, I frequent Peiwei, Chipotle, and other such “healthy” restaurants, as they are more likely to cater (and even recognize) food allergies and intolerances. However, selecting the safest location at which to dine is mostly up to the individual to research, based on what is close to the student’s campus. Most restaurants have their menu and nutritional information on their website; some even have gluten or other allergy-free menus online or in the physical restaurant. It is becoming easier and easier for people with intolerances to find things to eat.

Eating in the cafeteria and in off-campus restaurants are the most convenient options for busy students to eat, but it is very difficult for people with intolerances to learn where they can conveniently eat safely. Don’t worry; you can do it! My advice is to befriend the staff of your favorite establishments. Every chef and manager who works in the caff knows my name; the director of the bistro knows my order and the procedure to keep it gluten free without my direction. This is the easiest and safest way to enjoy and succeed in eating during your college years, especially when you do not have time to cook for yourself. The phrase “friends in high places” comes into practice in cases such as these. Politely ask lots of questions, and do not hesitate to confirm that the chefs know how to prepare the space where they work to avoid cross-contamination. I promise; you can survive! Happy eating!

Intolerance-friendly Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake


  • 1/3 cup canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed meal, mixed with 6 tablespoons water (allow to sit for >5 minutes before adding)
  • ¾ cup “buttermilk” soy milk (¾ tablespoons vinegar in ¾ cup measuring cup, fill up the rest of the way with soy milk)
  • 1 tsp gluten free vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups gluten free flour blend (NO xanthan gum) (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (I use ¼ tsp nutmeg and ¼ tsp cloves because I am intolerant to cinnamon)


  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free flour blend
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon (OR half nutmeg/cloves again)
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Generously grease a 7 x 11 inch (grey, not black; also glass is okay) baking pan. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla with a whisk or electric mixer until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Gradually add the rest of the cake ingredients slowly, mixing well between each ingredient.
  4. Pour into prepared pan.
  5. In a small bowl, mix toppings together; sprinkle evenly on top of batter.
  6. Here, you can either cover tightly with foil and put in the fridge for <24 hours, or put it in the oven.
  7. Bake 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Written by Michelle

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Sesame Street Around the World

Being in tune with different cultures around the world is incredibly important in order to understand the people who come from various cultures. They have different customs, traditions, clothes, foods, movies, and television. Specifically children’s television. To be even more specific, the kid’s show, Sesame Street. Yes, Sesame Street can be instrumental in understanding the cultures of various nations and relating to the people thereof.

Sesame Street has been shown in over 140 countries around the world and has 34 international co-productions. And each of these productions is unique in its own way. Many don’t even go by name of Sesame Street. In the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, the program is called Hikayat Sesame, which roughly translates to “sesame tales.” The Philippines just has Sesame! The one in Australia is Open Sesame. Northern Ireland’s show doesn’t even take place in a city or on a street, but it does takes place in Sesame Tree. And then there are the countries that keep the same title but translate into their own language, like Sesamstrasse in Germany.

But what’s in a name, right? Well, each of these countries presents a title that relates best with the children who watch it. Most kids are familiar with cities and streets in America and Germany, but kids in Norway may know more about trains since that’s a popular way to travel there. So, their show is called Sesame Stasjon, which translates to “sesame station.” There is enough difference even in the names to establish a certain aspect of a specific culture, but it’s still possible to relate to the show and those who watch it.

The other similarities and differences that define each country’s version of the show consist of the characters themselves. Most productions have the same main characters like Elmo or Grover, but sometimes other characters get a makeover. For example, several programs have a grouch similar to Oscar, the green, grumpy muppet who lives in a trash can. In India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim, Khadoosa is a similar grouch but loves to take care of his garden and is quite proud of his flowers. Another is from the Rechov Sumsum show in Israel: Moishe Oofnik, who is brown and furry and lives in a broken car. (I guess that’s better than a trash can, right?) There are so, SO many more. And of course, all of their names pertain to the language of country where the program is shown. But just because they are in different languages doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the show with someone from a different country.

For example, I found out from a friend, who grew up watching Plaza Sésamo in Mexico, that instead of Big Bird, he knew Abelardo. Abelardo is not the big, yellow bird that Americans know, but he is a large, more colorful bird with bright green and red feathers, who is roughly the same character as Big Bird. These characters are different because of the cultures in which they are portrayed. Big Bird is supposed to be a canary, which is an American bird, and Abelardo is a parrot, which is more popular in the Latin America culture. It’s these types of seemingly little differences that can distinguish various cultures while also bringing people together.

So maybe the next time you talk to an international student or someone who was raised in a different country, try asking about Sesame Street. It can be a pretty entertaining topic. The show tells a lot about the culture of different societies, so you may learn something! At the very least, it serves well to strike up an interesting conversation.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Letter to the Adult-student Writer

Dear Working-Adult Student,

Hi, my (likely) stressed out friend. If you’re anything like I was when I decided to attend college at the ripe old age of 39, you have a family, one or more jobs (I had three), bills to pay, a home to clean, laundry piling up around you, a vehicle that needs regular maintenance, perhaps parents who need attention or care, and a myriad of other concerns that distract you from the business of classwork and study. In addition to those responsibilities, most of us have concerns about how things within the classroom have changed. Many of us feel like a duck in a forest: we’re old enough to be parents to those sitting by us, and that creates discomfort. There were times I felt that I couldn’t participate effectively because my background and ideas seemed so out of step with my younger classmates. I was flabbergasted at the expectations of and formatting used for papers, and I was terrified of using a computer for my written work. In fact, I spent much of my time feeling pretty overwhelmed, underprepared, and inadequate. Maybe you are feeling some of those things, too.

Friends, let me assure you that you can successfully earn that degree. You may have to delegate some chores at home and let some things slide, but you can juggle the most important things, and you can be a successful essay and research-paper writer. How do I know that? Because I was, and I hadn’t written a thing since my last English class in high school 20 years earlier! The truth is that sentence structure and the meaning of words haven’t changed over the course of our lifetimes. The shifts in language are so gradual as to be almost invisible to all but professional linguists, and that makes writing easier than we think it will be.

Oh sure, we may not be as up-to-date on slang or texting styles as our younger classmates, but they may not understand how to be formal in the same ways we do. We’ve worked in various settings. We know that talking with a prospective employer or current boss requires a formality that is foreign to most young people. We know how to persuade others: we persuade spouses and children, we persuade colleagues, and we persuade aging parents. So, we got this.

It’s likely that you don’t recall all the writing, grammar, or other academic terminology you learned in school. I sure didn’t. Nevertheless, we do know important things. Things like complete sentences. Things like how to successfully navigate the unknown or new. Things like negotiation. Things like how to meet deadlines. Things like how to organize time. Things like how to put the important stuff first. Things like not procrastinating until the last minute. All those things we know serve us well when writing essays and papers. We already know how to order activities; ordering thoughts comes easily when considering how well we already order work and family life.

What we may not know is that most universities have Writing Centers. (Yes, this may be a bit of a commercial, but bear with me because it will matter to you, too.) In these facilities, there are well-trained people who know the mechanics of writing, grammar, and formatting. They are there to help all students, faculty, and staff organize written class work. Most centers have extended hours and special tools to assist working-adult writers who find it difficult if not impossible to get to campus after working all day. Additionally, most writing-center people are willing to allow all students to decompress before diving into papers. Those writing helpers understand the pressures of writing papers, and they are all good listeners who are ready, willing, and able to give us time to talk and before helping make papers the best they can be. I used my own Writing Center staff for all my graduate papers, and you, too, should use your university writing center, my friend. You’ll be glad you did.

Sincerely shared from my personal experience,

DBU Students: For more information about the services offered by the Dallas Baptist University Writing Center, check out this link to our website. You’ll also find links to our various handouts and pamphlets on all things writing, as well as encouragement in your academic journey.

Letter to the Patchwork Writer

Dear Patchwork Writer,

You might not have any idea why I just called you a “patchwork.” That’s because I made that name up. All it means is that you like quotes and paraphrases—a lot. If you have a habit of stuffing your papers with words and ideas from other sources and not including many of your own thoughts, pull up a chair—let’s discuss.

Now, for those history majors out there whose papers consist of biographies and other collections of information, you don’t really have a lot of choice. Those kinds of assignments leave little to no room for original thought, so don’t bother trying to shoehorn it in there.

For the rest of us, though, quoting too much can rob us of the most important part of writing papers in the first place—critical, applied thought. If you’re using block quote after block quote, all you’re doing is regurgitating what you’ve read; you’re not learning anything (and neither is your reader!). Adding your own thoughts is a way to connect what you’re reading with what you’re saying and thinking. It also raises your credibility by showing your ability to use research to back up your thoughts.

Imagine trying to sew a quilt without thread or assembling a car without bolts. Nothing holds together, and it falls apart into an unrecognizable heap of useless parts. That’s what an all-quote paper feels like to a reader.

On the other hand, you obviously don’t want to go on a rant and disregard quotes entirely. Your opinions matter, but they are far more convincing when they’re backed by credible sources.

Imagine you’re forced to listen to someone talking about how great (or how awful) their vacation was for half an hour. You can’t leave without offending them, but you’re dying of boredom and want to disagree just so it gets you out of the conversation faster. That’s how your reader (e.g. your professor) feels when you try to write an academic opinion without gathering facts from outside your own head.

So where’s the balance? In reality, it varies from assignment to assignment. I like to structure my papers in a specific way, in what I colloquially call the “quote sandwich.” (Hungry yet?)

Each paragraph starts with a topic sentence. Think of it like the first slice of bread. After that, I add some metaphorical mayonnaise or a slice of cheese by introducing my quote with the author’s name, the title of the work I’m citing, or some other important information to justify the quote’s existence. Then come the lettuce and tomato: the quote itself.

The key with this sandwich, however, is the lunchmeat—explanation. I spend at least a sentence (maybe two) explaining and applying the quote to my topic sentence or thesis. That way, I’m not just pulling a random thought to meet a source requirement; I’m actually using it to back up what I’m trying to say. After that, I might introduce another quote to further my point, but there are layers of mayo or cheese (introduction), veggies (quotes), and meat (original thought). I always end my paragraph with the other piece of bread—a restatement of my topic sentence or a transition to the next paragraph.

Now that you’re good and hungry, let me clarify that there’s no magic ratio of quotes to thoughts. It’s just important that you, as the writer, demonstrate a clear understanding of how these different ideas from different places support your claim—and not just to please your professor. When you are forced to include your reasoning, you often come to better understand it yourself, which is the whole reason you’re writing a paper to begin with. Seize this chance to explore new things about yourself and experiment—the end result will be much more delicious when you do.

Written by Catherine

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The Man on the Train

At a train stop somewhere between Berlin and Frankfurt, I dragged ten days’ worth of luggage from one car of the InterCity Express to another. My seat was at the end of the aisle, and my seatmate—an elderly stranger—was already settled into the window spot.

Two steps before my row, I was intercepted by one of my group leaders. “Do you want to switch seats with me?” he asked.  His intentions were sweet, but his inquiry was based on a false assumption that I, a female American student, would have a problem riding next to the German gentleman.

“No, that’s okay,” I assured my classmate, mulling over the possibility before me, “I’m fine.” To prove my point, I hoisted my bag into the nearest luggage rack and slid into my rightful seat. He looked skeptical, but he quickly forgot his concern and re-submerged himself into the conversation consuming the majority of our fellow DBU classmates.

This was the final day of our study-abroad class in Germany; first thing tomorrow morning we would be on a non-stop flight back to Dallas. Everybody—professors included—seemed to be done. Done with learning and done with new cultural experiences. I couldn’t blame them. It had been a long, exhausting trip. The introverted part of me, the rarely-disputed queen of my personality, longed to put in earbuds and mentally disappear from the whole world. Too bad, though, because I had a hunch that I might be sitting next to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Either he was being polite or the rowdy chatter of the other Americans had somehow evaded his notice, because as the train pulled out the gray-haired man addressed me with the most obvious of questions: “Where are you from?” I couldn’t fathom how he could mistake us for anything but Americans, but I didn’t care. He spoke English. And even better, he was speaking to me.

“We’re college students from Texas,” I explained, “We’re here to study the Reformation.”

His eyes lit up the way mine do when people talk about the American Revolution. “Ahh. Martin Luther.” He smiled and motioned out the train window. We were already racing past open fields. “This is Luther Country.”

I nodded earnestly, but said nothing. I didn’t want our conversation to die, but my natural shyness was creeping to the surface. “It’s…beautiful,” I managed.

Almost as afterthought to his own comment rather than a response to mine, the man added, “If you want to know about anything, please ask me.”

I let his words sink in slowly.

To my left, the guy who offered to swap seats was engrossed in a book about Reformation leadership. I’d always dreamed of traveling to a foreign country and befriending a local, an eyewitness to history who could teach me what no tour guide or professor ever could.

Behind me, the other Americans shared a collective laugh, probably about one of the memes in the group message. I aspire to experience culture apart from tourist traps and to resist the natural urge to retreat into my own worldview.

To my right, the fulfillment of my dreams sat between me and the German countryside which was alive with yellow blooms. The seconds felt like minutes. Take him up on his offer, I begged myself. Ask him something. Ask him anything.

I stared out the window, denying myself the words I so desperately wanted to form. Yellow and green fields flashed by.

“The flowers,” I blurted, bubbling with excitement. “I’ve seen those yellow flowers everywhere. What are they called?”

It was all I could come up with, but somehow it was enough.

For the next hour, the man on the train, whom I learned was a retired professor, gave me a crash course in all things German. He talked extensively about growing up in post-World War II Germany in the days before reunification. My new friend shared stories about taking the very train we were on to visit his relatives in East Germany. When we barreled past what he said was the former Soviet checkpoint, the other Americans didn’t lift their eyes, but mine were wide with wonder. I soaked up the professor’s wisdom on distinguishing the economic, geographical, and architectural scars of a divided Germany. I marveled at his insight on the evolution of Germany’s political landscape. I even enjoyed pictures from his vacation in the United States.

Before I knew it, his stop arrived. After talking so easily over the past hour, my mind once again struggled to form proper words of gratification for all he had shared.

As it turned out, it was he, not I, who would deliver a thank you goodbye.

“Your country is going to be okay,” the professor assured me as he collected his things. I realized he was referring to the discussion we had about the current situation of American politics. “You’re a strong country.” He paused. “I am grateful for what America did to help Germany form a democracy after the fall of National Socialism. Without that, we would not have prospered the way we have.”

I was stunned. Had he just thanked me, as an American, for the gift of democracy? “Thank you,” I insisted.

He smiled one last time. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Germany.” And with that, he was gone.

I never did catch his name.

The last leg of the ride was the most void of people, but it was also the noisiest. My homebound friends enjoyed themselves openly with jokes and stories. I finally appeased my introvert queen by inserting my earbuds and hiding behind my travel journal, content to remain an outsider of my group. I had a wealth of memories to record before the exhaustion of the journey faded the memory of my brief time with the professor. There was much to say, but I knew where it was important to begin.

“I am grateful for what America did to help Germany…”

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Letter to the Overwhelmed Writer

Writing a paper is a huge ordeal. Plain and simple. The process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can seem like an uphill battle. We’re all climbing Writing Mountain to reach the peak where we finally understand what we want to say and how to say it. From here, our thoughts flow freely and easily until the final point is driven home and we arrive in the next lush, green valley. But getting to the peak of Writing Mountain is probably the most daunting of all tasks. The climb to the peak can include getting the assignment, choosing a topic, selecting a stance, doing research, creating an outline, creating a thesis, penning the words, and restarting said paper halfway through. That’s a lot. No wonder it takes longer to climb than descend.

This little blog is for you, Overwhelmed Writer. I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m here to offer some advice on the matter of climbing Writing Mountain.

Give yourself time. There is nothing worse than waiting till the last 1-2 nights before the paper is due to start. Like I said, climbing a mountain takes about 2x as long as it does to descend. It will take you awhile to get your thoughts together, so give yourself that time. Set deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track and ahead of the due date. This way, when you get to the peak, you’ll have plenty of time to coast to a conclusion.

Break it up. There is a lot involved when trying to write a paper. If you’re like me, you like to plan before you pre-plan. All the planning and writing is like a giant tree that is blocking your path up the mountain. You have to take an axe and break it up. Make the logs small and manageable. If the chunks are too big, you won’t be able to move them by yourself. But don’t make them too small, or you will waste time picking up individual pieces and possibly leave parts behind. Figure out the right size for you to make them manageable but efficient.

Bring a guide. Climbing a mountain by yourself can be scary, especially if you don’t know the path. What happens if you get lost? What if you’re attacked by an animal? What if it gets dark? There are a lot of things that could go wrong along the way. The same goes for writing a paper. What if you can’t find sources? What if you don’t know how to format the paper or have terrible grammar? What if you just don’t know where to start? A guide can be a friend, a professor, or best of all, the Writing Center. The people at the Writing Center are paid to walk alongside you throughout your entire writing process. They help guide you up Writing Mountain. Lean on them and ask them questions. Once y’all get to the peak, it’s time for the guide to say farewell and let you start taking off down the mountain with your own abilities, assured you’ll reach the bottom successfully.

Don’t let Writing Mountain scare you out of climbing it. You’re capable, and you don’t have to do it alone. Give it time, break it up, and use your resources, and you’ll reach the peak in no time.

Written by Maddison

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