Letter to the Returning Writer

Hey, friend. I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve written for school or for fun. Whether it’s been a semester, a year, five years, or even twenty years, the effects of passing time can be reversed more quickly than you might suppose. Although writing is a skill which can always be improved upon, it’s also a bit like riding a bike; those who have learned will not forget how to do so just because they haven’t gone for a ride in a while. Once you’ve conquered the mental road block that you’ve “forgotten” how to write or “don’t know enough anymore,” you can adhere to the following tips in order to maximize your success.

  • Read over your old papers. Horror writer Stephen King is known to lock away his manuscripts for ten years before revisiting them to correct mistakes. Why? Because the passing of time enables us to notice more potential improvements in our projects than if we read our own paper we wrote yesterday. By laughing at the old mistakes you’ve made, you can enter the new semester feeling confident that you’ve learned since your last writing attempts.
  • Visit the Writing Center. Yes, this is the shameless plug. But I have no shame in it because I’ve seen students arrive at our center the first week of fall semester feeling rusty and unsure of their skills. Most of the time, after sitting down with a consultant, the worry vanishes from their face. A second opinion is sometimes all that is required to reignite the writing part of our brain that’s simply been dormant for a while.

As you enter the new semester with eagerness and hope to improve your skills and learn inside the classroom, remember that you are not alone. No matter what your writing skill level may be, perfection is impossible; this should grant you hope! You and every student around you can work toward improvement, but few of them do. By reading this blog, incorporating advice, and visiting the Writing Center, you are taking a greater charge of your education than many students ever feign to do. Give yourself a pat on the back; you’re already ahead of the game. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia E. Butler.

Written by Karoline

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Get’ch’a Head In the Game!

“Coach said to fake right
And break left
Watch out for the pick
And keep an eye on defense
Gotta run the give and go
And take the ball to the hole
Like an old school pro
He said, ‘Don’t be afraid’
What you waitin’ on?
To shoot the outside ‘J'”

Zac Effron. “Get’cha Head In the Game.” In High School Musical. Directed by Kenny Ortega, Disney Channel, 2006.

Dear writers who’ve been on the bench in the game of writing,

In the words of High School Musical, “get your head in the game!” For out-of-practice writers, sharpening writing skills can be easily achieved through more reading, more planning, more writing, and more believing.

Study the game!

Most members spend post-practice hours with their eyes glued to TV and computer screens as they study the moves of successful basketball games and MVP’s from years past. While there may be some sense of entertainment and pleasure, most of this is study: team members studying others. Every jump-shot, alley-oop, and cross-over is on replay as they study the moves of their predecessors finding ways to imitate them. The goal is to improve the craft of the game. The same technique can be applied to writers looking to improve their craft as well. Every newspaper, fictional story, pressing excerpt, and Shakespearean read improves the writing skills of the reader. Although the reader is simply reading, s/he is processing interesting writing structures, illustrative phraseologies, and other techniques that they may recreate. Each reading experience is a new example for an individual to study writing- study the game.

Prepare!

Before every game, players are making “ball their lives.” They eat protein-dense meals, workout, and take ice-baths. Bent like pretzels and other weird shapes across gym floors, each player stretches their taffy-like limbs in preparation for a good game. They rehearse clever, point-scoring plays and strong defense tactics again and again, plotting the moves of their opponents. Writers too, must prepare to write. Not in the sharp pencil, fresh sheet of paper kind of way! Writers must know their audience, desired topic, and theme. Like ‘ball players must consider the moves of their opponents, writers must also consider the reactions of their readers. When writing, one must anticipate questions the reader may ask or topics that may need further detail for him or her to understand. One needs a game plan for a great game, and a writer needs a plan for a great paper. Prepare!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Players spend hours on-end practicing the game of basketball. They often attend camps for faster moving on the court, dribbling with both hands, and defending their positions against bigger players. A team may split off and have scrimmages or practice games against one another. Day and night, players practice to maintain and gain skill in the game of b-ball. Similarly, writers must practice writing to maintain and gain skill. Practicing allows writers to retain grammar rules, correct sentence structure, and pen a clear flow of ideas. Writers also find that this practice increases their confidence in writing and makes for an easier writing process each time, as they are able to see progression with each experience.

Believe!

Lastly, there must be more believing in the writer. The last thing basketball teams do before the beginning of the game is recite a series of chants that give them the confidence they need to do their best. Think High School Musical’s Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), pumping up the team by loudly asking, “What team? Wildcats,” numerous times until they were excited. Writers don’t have to take such an intense approach, but they do need to believe in their writing abilities and themselves.

Review the game plan: one must read, plan, write, and believe. Get’cha head in the game!

Written by Ashley

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Another Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

Whether you’re experiencing hesitations because you feel inadequate in your skills, or you just don’t know where to start and how to proceed, you’ve come to the write (haha, pun) place. We all have times in our lives when we feel unsure of ourselves for one reason or another. However, you can’t let that stop you. Finding ways to overcome your inhibitions, while also building your skill set, is the key to gaining self-confidence.

First of all, the best way to escape the rut of insecurity is to dive in head first. When it comes to writing, sometimes you have to start by pouring words out onto the page. I often find that my best work comes when I force myself to stop thinking and just feel it instead. Then, I will go back and worry about the editing when I finish. Using this method really helps when the insecurity has become paralyzing and even getting started seems like an insurmountable task.

Now, on to the matter of developing your skills as a writer. If you feel uncertain because you think you aren’t a good writer or don’t have enough experience, then I have some reassuring news for you; you have more practice than you think, and you can always gain more. Even if you have never written a paper in your life, you still use writing skills often. Everything from emails to journaling counts as writing. All you have to do is learn how to apply what you already know to more formal types of writing. One of the best ways to do that is to read. Seek out those who have come before you and study their writing; find out what they did well and even what they didn’t. Read across every genre, style, and subject matter. Then, you can take the information you gather and apply it to your own work and put your personal spin on it. It may take a while to gain confidence and find your voice, but the more reading and writing you do, the faster you will improve.

Another way to build your confidence and skill is to find someone to help review your work and offer suggestions. If you are writing an academic paper, I would suggest visiting the University Writing Center. Having someone who is familiar with the requirements of formal writing explain things to you will be a big help in gaining confidence. If you are looking to write more creatively, try finding other writers who would be willing to form a writer’s group with you, anything from online forums to a friend or two who also love to write would suffice. Sharing ideas and suggestions and growing with other writers is an invaluable experience.

So, when you find yourself stuck and overwhelmed by uncertainty, grab your computer, or a pen and paper, and just write. Let all of your thoughts flow out onto the page; they can be organized later. Don’t be afraid to seek help with the revision process. Then, begin working on your skills. Talk to fellow students or writers. Read anything and everything. Before you know it, and probably without even realizing it, you will be a better writer.

Written by Taylor

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Letter to the Meandering Writer

Dear Meandering Writer,

Before we go any farther, please don’t be concerned that I had to Google a definition for the word “meander.” I promise I’m qualified for my job. Really, I am. You can’t judge me too much because I bet you don’t know how to define “meandering writer,” either. According to a conglomerate of online dictionaries, “to meander” basically means to take an unnecessarily indirect or aimless journey. In the world of writing, this is the author who loses his or her audience by going off on an irrelevant tangent or taking too long to get to a clear point. In my experience, meandering writers are the ones who have the best ideas and most well-conducted research, but simply lack the structure to tie everything together into a nice, neat, presentable package.

Some might argue that meandering isn’t really a big issue to worry about, but the reality is, a wandering paper fails to show the intelligence and understanding of a skilled student because it does not clearly communicate with the audience. Every once in a while, meandering does pay off—just ask Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Their proposed 25 essay project, known as the Federalist Papers, turned into 85 essays that took 6 months to complete. In the end, they eventually made their point: the Constitution of the United States is a document worthy of the full support of the states. If you enjoy being an American with free speech and a representative government, thank Hamilton and Madison for meandering around their topic, but unless you’re writing to define the direction of a new nation and establish a democracy, it’s probably best to stay on topic and to the point.

I know. That is easier said than done.

Here are a few things that may help prevent your essay from turning into a second edition of the Federalist Papers.

  1. Your paper is a tree, so avoid twigs. Every single point made within a paper either needs to support the thesis directly or directly support something that directly supports the thesis. (Is that as clear as mud?) In other words, your thesis is like the trunk of a tree. The limbs are your direct support because they connect immediately to the trunk. Branches are necessary secondary evidence for the direct support found in the limbs. Anything past the branches are flimsy twigs that barely link to the trunk. Chances are, these weak arguments can be pruned from your paper in exchange for a stronger, more straightforward essay.word tree
  2. Keep your thesis visible. The farther you get from the introduction, the harder it is to remember exactly what your thesis is claiming. This is especially true when you’re looking at a page count that extends into double digits. Write your thesis down on paper and refer back to it at every new paragraph and every time you get stuck. If you prefer to write your thesis after you’ve finished the rest of your paper (this is a great strategy!), go ahead and jot down a working thesis anyway. It never hurts to have a roadmap handy, even if you plan on changing your route.
  3. Don’t delete stray sentences; save them for later. Nothing is more painful than composing a beautiful sentence, paragraph, or page, only to realize it is not necessary for the paper. Unfortunately, this is a natural part of the writing process. Never keep something that distracts from the thesis of your paper, but don’t assume that just because something doesn’t fit in one paper that it might not fit in another. If you find yourself consistently writing and removing eloquent passages, the kind you wish you professor could actually see, create a document where you can save your meandering words for later. That way, none of your work is ever really in vain, and if you ever find yourself stuck for ideas or brilliant sentence structure, you’ll know where to start.

And of course, it goes without saying that you should always bring your paper to the Writing Center! We all know what it’s like to have more thoughts, sources, and ideas than space in an essay, and we’ve all struggled at one time or another to stick to a thesis. Nothing helps guide a meandering writer quite like a fellow student who has walked the same, winding path.

Written by Savanna

Image credits: Header image, Tree Outline (words added by author)

The Pen Dripped Red

To celebrate our recent 100th blog post, the UWC decided we’d look at the most popular blogs from each of our authors.

Mine… was from a year and a half ago.

My boss, who was just asking out of curiosity, inquired what the thesis of my blog post was. With some trepidation, I looked at the document and tried to remind myself what the heck I’d said. My memory was (and is) terrible. And, apparently, my grammar back then was just as equally despicable. I projected my despair to the general populace. How could I possibly reintroduce such a rough blog to the web? I wanted to either fix or re-write the entire thing. My wonderful supervisor thought showing the process of revision was a wonderful idea, and this was born. Behold, the markup of an author revising his own work! Enjoy its glorious, red-filled pages and the extent to which I tear my own words apart as they flee in terror.

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Presented by Isaac

Image credits: Header image, Evil Laughter Cat

Why Anyone Can Be a Writer

As a student, writing has always been a fairly large part of my academic career. From the time that I learned how to write a complete sentence in first grade, it has also been a passion of mine. Writing was a way for me to express myself in a manner that I hadn’t been able to before. Now, I have made the choice for writing to be a part of my career. Long story short, I absolutely love to write. However, I have met many people over the course of my life who have felt the exact opposite; not everyone loves writing the way I do and, I completely respect that. But, because November 15th is national “I Love to Write” Day, I am going to do my best to convince all of the non-writers out there that you, too, can and should become a writer.

Your first question is probably, “Where do I start?” or “What should I write about?” My answer is a simple one: write what you feel. For me, writing is often the best way to make sense of my emotions. If I’ve had a particularly rough day, sometimes just writing it down helps me feel better. Writing can be a great release for a lot of pent up emotions. Whatever type of writing speaks to you personally, whether it be journaling, poetry, songs, prayers, or stories, it can be a way for you to purge those feelings, good or bad. For a person who has little experience with writing, I would recommend journaling. It’s a great way to sort out your feelings and preserve memories that you might have otherwise forgotten. I also like to use it as a way to overcome writer’s block. If I can get myself started writing about something as simple as my day, more ideas will often come to me. Sometimes journaling about things can even give you clarity about a situation that you were struggling with before. Anything can be written about.

The next question you might have is, “Can I still be a writer if I’m not good at writing?” Yes! Yes, you can.  That is usually the number one reservation people have when I talk to them about writing. I struggled for a long time with feeling inadequate as a writer before I figured out the secret; you don’t have to be good. Sure, if you want to write professionally or plan on getting published, you will need a great deal of talent and experience but for personal writing purposes, it doesn’t matter if your word choice is precise or your grammar is flawless. You can write whatever you want, however you want. One of my favorite parts of writing is that there is so much freedom that comes with it. As long as you aren’t writing an academic paper or a published piece, there are no rules. No matter who you are, how you feel or what you say, you can be a writer.

Written by Taylor

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“Around the World in 80 Days” in One Afternoon

One of the best ways to relax after a long day of class is to read a good book, and Around the World in 80 Days is a delightful way to see the world from the comfort of your own home. Written by Jules Verne, this work has been beloved by many ever since its original publication in 1873. So here are a few quick reasons why you should definitely check it out:

Nostalgia. If reading Around the World doesn’t bring you back to your childhood love of adventure and imagination, I don’t know what will. Follow the stuffy, indubitably British Phileas Fogg as he bets his club members that he can travel all the way around the world within precisely eighty days. Joining Mr. Fogg are his French manservant, Passepartout, and a dogged but at times misguided agent of Scotland Yard.

It’s short. Clocking in at 159 pages, Verne portrays an infinitely charming and intriguing story without overwhelming the reader. You can knock it out in an evening or two!

Adventure. Duh. How can you say no to travel, especially on such glorious sources of transportation such as elephants and wind-powered sledges, or merry chases involving Sioux Indians, India Indians, angry Japanese circus masters, and a stuffy British detective? You can’t, I tell you.

Jules Verne’s one-liners. “Moreover, it is safe to say that, when Americans, so casual as a rule, show signs of caution, it would be the height of folly not to be cautious too.” Or “Passepartout stuck on the animal’s back and, receiving directly the full force of every jolt, was all the time trying to remember his master’s recommendation and to keep his tongue from getting between his teeth, as in that position it would have been bitten in two.”  Verne’s dry sense of humor gets better and better.

Delightful stereotypes. The antics of a certain hot-blooded Frenchman contrasted with cool, calm, and collected Phileas Fogg are incredibly entertaining, and the ensuing chaos from such a decided clash of cultures is hilarious. (Sidenote: is there anything Passepartout can’t do?)

Also: how do you pronounce “Passepartout,” you ask?

…Good question.

Phileas Fogg’s thought processes. “Oh, you don’t believe I can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, old chap? Allow me to bet my entire fortune on the fact that I can, and knowing you have nothing better to do with your life and your money, you’ll take my bet.” He is literally surprised at nothing; unless of course his latest manservant in a long line of manservants brings his shaving water to him at 82 degrees instead of 84 – truly shocking.

Finally, Verne’s love for travel, technology, and other cultures comes to life in such a delightful and humorous way that one can’t help but laugh, smile, and go along for the ride. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Carilee

Image credit: Featured Image, Middle Image