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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Letter to the Opinionated Writer

The Great Gatsby, written by the infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the lonely tale of a wealthy man: known by everyone, yet never truly seen. Nick Carraway, a pathetic lowlife who moves to New York in hopes of gaining popularity and fame, narrates the story, which is kind of unfortunate because his character is really annoying. At the beginning of the story, Nick goes to dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s most high-maintenanced and selfish character. She and her husband, Tom, live in a rich neighborhood. Nick obviously doesn’t belong, but he is lucky because, by the grace of God, he is introduced to Daisy’s golfer friend, Jordan Baker, who Nick quickly titles “Lady Friend of the Week Award,” yet he never actually verbally admits to it. One would think that their acquaintance would be the highest point of action at this particular dinner party because, hello, he’s Nick, and she’s supposedly gorgeous and richer than rich can get. But then, Nick finds out that Tom is having an affair with some side-chick, Myrtle Wilson, and everybody knows about it, including Daisy. Still, nobody directly addresses the issue with Tom, and instead, they all continue about their extremely awkward, I-can-literally-see-the-tension-in-this-room kind of evening. Weird, right?

Then, a couple days later, Nick goes with Tom to visit this Myrtle character, which is extremely uncomfortable for everyone, and Fitzgerald really shouldn’t have put the experience in his book at all, but then again, he’s from Minnesota, so he’s probably accustomed to weird circumstances, don’t yâ knōw? Anyways, eventually, Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Señora Baker all end up at the most extravagant party, hosted by Mister Jay Gatsby himself. Well, it says that he hosted it, but literally nobody sees the guy until he very creepily and gently whispers “well, hey there, Old Sport,” into the ears of Nick, who is spending time with his “friend,” Jordan. Then, he asks to speak with Jordan alone, which one would think would leave Nick feeling pretty jealous because, if Nick and Gatsby were to get into a fist fight, we all know Jay would sock the “k” right off of the end of Nick’s incredibly unoriginal and over-used name. However, when Jordan leaves, Nick transfers all of his emotional energy onto Daisy, who we all know he secretly, but unadmittedly, has a crush on, and it’s like Jordan doesn’t even exist until she comes back to tell Nick about a secret love that Gatsby and Daisy used to share, which blows everybody’s mind and definitely gives the readers clarity on why Daisy acts like a complete and utter psychopath. And that’s pretty much all of the most important parts of the story, or at least, the only ones worth reading.

The end.”

Well, kind of.

It’s at least the end of a terribly long, and border-line offensive, example of a highly opinionated summary of Fitzgerald’s most popular piece of art. That’s right, the information above is in no way factual, practical, or acceptable for use by any of you hooligans looking for information to include in your own book reviews (I’m talking to you, highschoolers; just READ the book). In fact, the only purpose for the nonsense written above is to prove this point: personal opinions, while valuable and worth having, seldom have a place in academic writing. Even if one might think that Nick is the bratworst*, that information is not, in anyway, relevant to the events that actually took place in the story, unless the author specifically said so. Trust me, there are times when I, too, want to rip a story to shreds and tell my professor exactly what I thought about every character and event that took place, but I can guarantee you that there isn’t a single professor on this green earth who would have accepted the work above as a book review of The Great Gatsby without handing it back with some pretty stern, probably red, opinions of his or her own written on it, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place when opinions are acceptable, even welcomed, in academic writing. Most professors love hearing about their students’ personal thoughts and perceptions of things; however, when those are what they’re after, they make it abundantly clear in their instructions. So, when you’re unsure if you should include personal opinions in your writing, look to your assignment sheets, syllabi, and Writing Center family to help you determine if doing so would be appropriate. In fact, consider taking an even bigger leap and ask your professor directly! Doing so will not only clarify what he or she wants, but it shows that you truly care about your work and want to succeed.

So, to the opinionated writers who have stuck with me this long, know that you are not alone. We’ve all been there, and it really is difficult to completely eliminate opinions from certain assignments, but it is possible, and the UWC is here to help.

* Brat•worst, (brätˌwurst): a play on words. Taking from the extraordinary vocabulary of The Karoline Faith Ott.

Written by Haley

P.S. I promise The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and I respect Fitzgerald’s work with all of my being.

P.S.S. I have nothing against Minnesotans. All good things here.

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Letter to the Writer Who Doesn’t Really Care

Dear Writer Who Doesn’t Really Care,

So you’re trying to write a paper and you just can’t seem to work up the motivation to finish it. Maybe you think you’re almost done, and you’ve just been working on it for too long at this point to care about the conclusion. Maybe you haven’t even started writing yet, and you’re just staring at your topic with paralyzing apathy. No judgment. I completely understand. My work here at the Writing Center focuses on creating videos for our YouTube channel, so I don’t do a lot of writing unless I have to. In fact, I am late turning this blog in to the UWC social media expert because I did not care about writing it at first. At first! So how did I come to care about it in the end? I followed a few of the tricks I fall back on whenever I find myself not caring about something important. Want to know my secrets? Then read on for some tips to inspire just a little more interest in your papers.

The first question I generally ask myself when I don’t care about something, whether it’s a topic I’m supposed to be writing about or an activity I know I’ll have to do at some point, is “How could anyone possibly care about this?” To answer this question, look no further than to your friends! No matter how well I think I know my closest companions, they still regularly surprise me. Recently, I had to put together a debate centered around private prisons in the United States. I did not care about this topic in the slightest, and in a moment of frustration, I reached out to a friend and described to her my predicament. She responded with a history of her views on private prisons, surprising me with how much she cared about the topic. Hearing her talk about her opinions sparked a desire in me to learn more about private prisons. I fed off of her interest in the topic and was able to work out a solid debate. In many situations, your friends can be a source of inspiration.

I never know when I’ll learn something that will become a passion for me. During my first semester at DBU, I was enrolled in a basic speech class. I was not excited about the prospect of working on my speech-giving skills because I was uninterested in public speaking. In fact, I hated public speaking. I told myself while registering that I would be done with this general education credit soon enough and move on to the more exciting aspects of my broadcast major. As I sat through more and more sessions of the class I didn’t care about, something began to take root in my heart. My professor used the subject of general speech to teach us a little bit about the different ways in which people relate to each other. I was fascinated by the information I was getting and by the passion my professor had for communication. In fact, I was fascinated enough that I changed my major to Communication Theory after that semester. When I’m disinterested in a topic I’m writing about, I sometimes like to think back to this experience to remind myself that, while I’m researching the topic that couldn’t seem more boring, I might learn something new that becomes deeply important.

A friend of mine told me once that the presentation of information should be viewed as an act of love rather than a performance. I sometimes remember this advice when writing papers and struggling with boredom. Thinking of my paper as a performance that I’m being graded on by my professor never fails to dig me deeper into apathy. In the end, it doesn’t matter how well my professor thinks I do on a project. What matters is how much I learned while doing the project and how I apply the knowledge to the rest of my life. Thinking of a paper as an act of love, though, encourages me to work diligently. Expressing love in any form is an idea I can get behind. If I need to learn about my topic and my professor needs to see what I’ve learned, then I can work in love by meeting those needs.

One last tactic I like to employ when facing apathy for a writing topic (or writing in general) is to turn everything I don’t initially care about into a joke. About a month ago, I had to write an obituary for my Writing Across Media class. I had no idea how to go about writing an obituary and no interest in researching the process. As I was walking back to my apartment from class, however, I remembered that my professor had specified that I was allowed to make the obituary a lighthearted piece. I wondered just how lighthearted I could be while still taking the assignment seriously. And then, suddenly, I thought of what was, in my humble opinion, the greatest play on words to ever be thought of in the history of mankind: a turtle that dies “expectedly” because he runs into oncoming traffic so slowly that everyone saw his death coming. I know. Hold your applause. And so, with this exciting idea in my head, I ran the rest of the way to my apartment to read the entire chapter of my textbook on obituaries. I then proceeded to write the most well-crafted piece I daresay has ever existed on a turtle named Spunkmister who cured the common cold, won a Nobel prize, became the write-in President of the United States, and sadly passed away at the tender age of seven. I received a full one-hundred-percent grade on the paper. The power of humor on motivation cannot be overestimated in my case.

top hat turtle

If you’re struggling with disinterest while writing, don’t fret. I’m right there with you almost every time I have a deadline for a paper looming closely overhead. Feel free to give some of my suggestions a try to inspire interest. After all, they couldn’t hurt. And don’t give up! You can get through this paper!

Love,

Becca 🙂

Image credits: Header image, Top Hat Turtle

Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

We’ve all been there: the place where we’ve written a paper and turned it in, and we’re afraid of the possibility of a failing grade. We’ve all produced papers that we feel are not up to par with the grades we want on them. But take heart! We don’t always have to feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough. There are a few ways to check and make sure that the work we’re about to turn in is exactly what we want it to be.

The first and easiest way is to simply read the paper out loud, especially from the first to the last paragraph. Take 10-15 minutes to sit down with the paper and go through it. People often find that by reading their work out loud, confusing phrases and typos are brought to light and can be easily fixed. The ear is the best tool to check for mistakes after slaving over a paper for who-knows-how-long, but remember to spend some time away from the work before reading it to give the brain a break.

Get a friend or two to read it. Not only can they catch typing and phrasing aberrations, they can tell if the ideas present in the paper go along with what the writer wants to say. This prevents rabbit trails and ensures every point refers back to the thesis. Plus, it isn’t the author tiredly rereading the same material without actually noticing anything wrong. Most of the time, minor errors that were previously over looked could add up to a large percentage of points counted off by the professor.

Ask the professor if s/he will take a rough draft and give comments/corrections. The professor is the one grading the final product, so s/he knows what is desired when the work is turned in. This is a great way to understand which direction to go on a paper and ensure that the all the guidelines set by the professor are met. S/he can give helpful advice either on the paper or what to do if s/he will not look at a rough draft.

Finally, the option that will give authors the most help possible: visit the University Writing Center (UWC). At the Center, a trained consultant is able to sit down with authors and walk through their papers in a friendly, helpful way. The consultants at the UWC are well trained in the most up-to-date practices and rules of grammar and writing needs. They are paid to walk alongside students with their works, so why not set up an appointment to go through a paper? Their job is to help all writers become more confident in their skills and to make sure those writers understand what mistakes they make on a regular basis so they can be fixed. A consultation may bring to light some obscure meanings or flow issues that had not been detected by the author’s ear or friends.

After working hard on a paper, it is a wise decision to get all the help available in order to be confident about the product being turned in. There is no need to be unsure about the work produced when so many options are available to help improve it.

So the next time a paper is due, don’t feel uncomfortable about the work being submitted. Take advantage of the many choices available, especially the UWC, in order to be confident with the final product.

Written by Maddison

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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)

Letter to the Graduating Senior

Dear Graduating Senior,

I’m writing you today to share some wisdom, but by “wisdom,” I really mean “thoughts” because, let’s face it, I, too, have yet to graduate and have no room to offer any sound advice for how to handle what’s to come. But, here I am anyways, so just hear me out.

I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years of my life looking forward to graduation day. While I am still eager to float gracefully across the stage as Pomp and Circumstance loops for the fortieth time, I’m only now beginning to question just how ready I actually am. Am I ready to fly the coop, get a big girl job, and start making a life for myself? Yes, absolutely, one hundred percent. I’ve done my time, and I’m excited to start my journey, but am I ready? Can I function as a human being, on my own, without the comfort of knowing that I can come home to a secure campus with real people who face the same struggles as me? I mean, I don’t even know if “fly the coop” is a real expression, so I’ll leave that for you to decide.

All jokes aside, when I truly and honestly evaluate my preparedness to enter into the “real world,” I do feel as though I’ve been adequately equipped. The Lord has blessed me with an invaluable education, and, while four years seemed incredibly excessive and overwhelming as freshman, I’m beginning to realize now that I can never learn enough. Senioritis is real and distracting, and I’ve definitely missed out on learning some things by being impatient and trying to rush through these last two semesters. It’s hard to absorb new knowledge and information while being engrossed in fantasizing about the future and preparing to begin the next chapter of life; so, here is where the advice comes in:

Enjoy the time you have left.

Appreciate today and the opportunity you’ve had to attend a university, let alone make it successfully to the end of your senior year. When you’re old and decrepit, and you’re telling your grandchildren about your college experience, is your graduation day going to be the only experience worth telling them about? No, probably not. You’ll want to share about the people you met, the places you traveled to, and the memories that have lasted a life time. Enjoy a few more weeks of making those memories, and finish your studies out strong. After all, you haven’t received your diploma yet…

Take some time to reflect.

Believe it or not, a lot has changed in your life since the beginning of your freshman year, and now is the time to reflect on how much you’ve grown. Look through some pictures from the past few years and thank God for the people He’s put on your path. Thank Him for the good times and for the hard times, too, and thank Him for the lessons you’ve learned through the challenges He’s thrown your way. Consider taking your reflection a step forward and start a journal, detailing your time spent on campus. It’ll come in handy down the road.

Always seek learning opportunities.

There is a never ending amount of knowledge in the world, so make it a goal to learn often. Find things that interest you and pursue them. If you’re like me, you’ll apply to Grad school because, while you can’t wait to start your career, you realize that there is so much more you want to know before leaving. You can never find out all that there is to discover, but I believe that, by learning about the world around us, we learn more about the One who crafted it, and there is something really special in that.

Philippians 2:13 states, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Isn’t that amazing? No matter what we might be feeling or what the Lord calls us to do post-graduation, He is working for His good pleasure. While His plans for our lives don’t always align with what we desire for ourselves, we can rest in comfort and know that there must be something better in store that we can use to give Him glory. I mean, if what He’s doing within us is being done for His pleasure, can’t we assume that we, too, can find it pleasing as well?

According to the greatest philosopher to ever live, Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you chose.” This is true, and you’ll probably be hearing a lot of this soon because, hello, what graduation card doesn’t refer to Oh the Places You’ll Go these days? But while you have the power to decide where you want to go and what you want to do, I urge you to consult the Lord before making those decisions. Consider how you can use the brains in your head and the feet in your shoes to honor Him with the talents you use. I promise you won’t be let down.

Happy Graduation!

Written by Haley

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Letter to the Writer Who Doesn’t Know Where to Start

Dear Writer,

You aren’t alone. I never have any idea where to start. I’m supposed to write this encouraging blog to writers who don’t know where to start, and the only thing I can come up with is just…

In the words of Shia LaBeouf, “Just…. Do it!”

Writing is a lot like running. You have to get into the groove before it starts to be fun.  It takes practice, it takes work, and it takes planning. Starting is always the hardest part because either you don’t want to endure the pain to begin with, or you don’t know what you’ll do if it doesn’t turn out like you hope. Or maybe you don’t even know how to start!

Unfortunately, as many college students find, professors require papers to be written. If writing isn’t one of your hobbies, you probably feel much like I do when I try to run. But as with every skill, it cannot develop until it is used. Sometimes, it’s not fun until you can write what you want and at the skill level you want.

Writing is a strange form of art. It constantly develops, and if your writing skills grow, so does the writing. The important thing is that we begin. Thoughts are, from the start, rough and undefined. Have you ever been in a situation where your mind races far faster than you can put words to the thoughts? Even when we have time to sit and think, it is often difficult to place words to the ideas and emotions we feel. Writing can clarify those thoughts, but in order for them to mature, they must be placed upon the page.

Writing, therefore, is the art of development, not only for the writing itself, but also for our way of thinking. The time it takes to ponder and develop these words often causes us to realize new facets of our argument or flaws in our logic. It can deepen our understanding when, otherwise, we might have left such things behind with a brief glance.

But we must also consider things like grammar when speaking of writing. While we might understand our line of thought completely, and have developed it through exhaustive practice and writing, we must also be sure that others understand the ideas being presented. Therefore, while it might seem irritating and unneeded, grammar further aids us in the growth not only of our own thoughts but our communication as well.

To develop communication skills, you talk to people. Similarly, with written communication skills, the conversation needs to start before the writing gets better. It doesn’t have to start with the deep stuff first. A lot of people like small talk, at least until they get used to a situation.

I write as a hobby, but here’s something I don’t often share: I don’t usually enjoy the process. Sure, when a scene plays out perfectly, the words come easily, and my thoughts come smoothly, it’s fun. But more often than I’d like, writing is like pulling teeth. But the thoughts and ideas I’ve put onto paper would never have been shared if I had not taken time to sit and just… start. Maybe I’ll go back and reword things later on. It is one of my dreams to eventually publish a fantasy novel of my own.

If I hadn’t taken the risk of starting, or taken the risk of showing others my story and being disappointed, I would’ve never gotten so much written. I’m over sixty pages, and that’s a phenomenal personal achievement. I’d never gotten more than two pages in any other story before I started forcing myself to write whatever was there. Many scenes in my head turned out better on paper, and even better when my friends enjoyed reading them! I was very not skilled when I began. But, again, in the words of Shia LaBeouf, “don’t let your dreams be dreams!” And so my slightly masochistic attempt at achieving those dreams actually produced something.

So, I will say to you, don’t let your dreams be dreams. You can finish that paper! You can write that blog, that lab report, or that book report. Don’t let your dreams of freedom elude you! If I can write my story, you can write that assignment! Start with a few sentences, which don’t even have to be about your project. Maybe write about your day. Work on getting your thoughts clear. And then…

“Just… do it!”

Written by Isaac

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