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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Outside My Window

I sat up straight, unsure of what had awakened me. Everything in the room was the same. The desk was still in the corner, the nightstand was still next to my bed, my bed was standing by the door, right across from the enormous window and next to my roommate’s. However, something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something had changed. I was sure of it.

Being the curious person that I am, I crawled out of bed and stumbled around the room, trying not to wake up my roommate who was curled under her pile of blankets. I stopped walking and rapidly shook my head, trying to wake up. I felt a strange awe and wonder that I had never felt before. I just knew someone was watching me, but, for some reason, I was not scared. In fact, I felt something I had not felt in a long time: completely and utter tranquility. I swirled around and looked out my window, staring straight into the large, round, white moon. I surveyed the street; nothing moved. In the peaceful silence, I merely stared; there was nothing more I could do. I could not quite explain it, but as soon as I saw the street outside my window, I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I snuggled peacefully in my warm bed, unsure of what tomorrow might bring.

* * * * *

I was awakened by the sound of our opening door. My roommate was coming in from her morning run. That could mean only one thing: I was late for class. I jumped out of bed, startling my roommate.

“Shouldn’t you be gone?”

“Yeah, yeah. I… had an unusual night. Did you notice anything strange outside? Anything… different?”

“Yeah! You didn’t run past me, mumbling that you were late for class! You’d better hurry, girl! Your class starts in five minutes!”

As I threw on my clothes and grabbed my books, I kept glancing out the window. It looked normal: the trees waved in the breeze, the ducks dipped their heads in the rippling pond down the hill, and…

“Do you feel that?” I felt that strange wonder again. While it was comforting, I had no idea what it was. I felt safe and without worry, like all my cares could be taken away if only I were to be able to grasp whatever was giving me this feeling.

My roommate turned around and studied me. “I don’t feel anything. Are you okay?”

I looked at her and back at the window. What had I felt? Was I really okay?

“Yeah, I was just messing with ya. I don’t think I am completely awake yet. See ya later.” I hesitantly walked out the door. Was I losing my mind?

I rushed into class just as Professor Write was handing out one of her infamous quizzes. She looked at me with her chastising eyes, and I met them with the most apologetic expression I could conjure. I couldn’t get my mind off of what I had felt last night and this morning. But what had I felt?

I whipped through the quiz, as always. I don’t know what my fellow classmates feared in these assessments, but I loved the chance for easy points.

Still, I could not get my mind off that… whatever it was… outside my window.

I leaned over to Melissa, my faithful study companion, and asked, “Did you feel anything different this morning… or last night?”

She looked at me, questioningly, but I could tell she knew what I was talking about. A flood of relief swept over me; I was not insane. But that relief was immediately replaced with curiosity.

Melissa leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ll tell you after class.”

After a rather interesting lecture, I ran to catch up to Melissa in the lobby. “So…?”

“What do you think you felt?”

“Whatever it was, it made me feel a sense of, something good and right, like I had never felt before. But, it still made me feel rather uneasy. I really can’t explain it.”

“Well, I believe in an omnipresent God.”

“Oh, please, not that again.”

“Please, just hear me out. I believe He is always watching over us, His presence is not something to fear. He loves you more than you can ever know, so much He died on the cross for you.”

As she spoke, I saw how passionate she was about this. I thought about what had happened, glancing around the room to avoid her gaze. I didn’t want to… but…

“Could you maybe tell me more about this?” I finally conceded.

She smiled, and I knew my life would never be the same.

Written by Michelle

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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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How to Stay Organized in College

I like to think of myself as an organized person. I have my classes separated by colored folders. I write down any relevant information on sticky notes and place them with the appropriate class notes. Each year I buy a planner and color code my classes with different pens. However, as the semester goes on, I find myself forgetting my planner or forgetting to write things down. I use my phone notes instead of sticky notes. Then the end of the semester rolls around, and I am scrambling to figure out where I wrote down the information I need. I guess I am not as organized as I thought.

Over my college career, I have learned a few things that helped me stay organized and on top of my assignments. The first thing I learned was to prepare the materials I needed the night before. Since I am an education major, I often change bags depending on if I am teaching a lesson in an elementary school or simply going to my college classes. This caused me to forget certain necessary items that I would need the next day. But once I started putting together my materials the night before, I found myself not rushing around trying to make sure I did not forget anything. I could have a relaxed morning and enjoy my coffee.

Another thing I learned was to write down the due dates of all assignments in one single place: a journal, a spreadsheet, a planner, etc. I used to only write down the due dates in my planner on the day they were due. This caused me to procrastinate and forget that some assignments were due on a Monday since my week ended on a Saturday. By writing things down in one central place, not only was I able to check off assignments that I had completed, but I was able to get ahead. This saved me a lot of time and stress when the really big projects were being assigned.

Finally, I learned to color code my notes. When I used just one color, I often could not find specific information that I needed within the pages and pages of lecture. All the words and information began to run together into an illegible mass. So, I decided to invest in some multicolored-G2 pens. I would begin by writing the date at the start of the notes to help me remember what was learned on each day. Then, I would separate the main titles of topics my professors talked about for a while. I would write all the pertinent information for those topics in a separate color to help me distinguish between each idea. This helped me immensely when I studied and had to go back through all the stuff I had written down.

Now, these tools may not work for everyone. These are only the ones that I found useful. If the three I talked about do not peak your interest, the internet has many more resources and articles of advice. Do not waste away and let stress and disorganization overtake you. There may have to be some trial and error, but eventually, you will find something that works for you.

Written by Maddison

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How to Survive College According to Hamilton

Fans of the musical Hamilton will assure anyone that the lessons one can glean from the show are infinite in number. There is a reason people are obsessed with a hip-hop musical about the first U.S. Treasury Secretary; it resonates with the average American. With its themes of perseverance, writing, and self-discovery, Hamilton is also incredibly relatable for students struggling to survive (and thrive) in the college season of life. Here are a few wisdom-filled lines from the musical that may help new college students—Hamilton fans or not—stay alive and get the job done.

You really do write like you’re running out of time. –Eliza Hamilton in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

College is full of writing assignments. It doesn’t seem to matter how well you avoid procrastination; you will always end up writing at least one essay like a total madman at an unnatural hour of the morning at some point in your career. If you’re aware that such an experience is coming (usually near the close of a semester) you can be ready with multiple shots of espresso the day after.

Take a break! –Angelica Schuyler and Eliza Hamilton in “Take a Break”

You must take breaks. Sometimes this means a Sunday afternoon binge watching The Office, and sometimes it just means a power nap between classes. Whenever and however you squeeze breaks into your schedule does not matter. What matters is that you do not turn into Alexander Hamilton, who wrote 51 (loooong) essays in under 7 months but neglected his family relationships and friendships in the process.

Remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you – George Washington in “History has its Eyes on You”

Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t have been much older than me and you when this scene took place. True, few college students will lead revolutionary troops into battle, but it’s critical to realize that in many ways history does have its eyes on you. Universities are platforms for cultural innovation: politics, technology, music, language, and social norms. People are watching what you do. Let that inspire you to greatness, not scare you into mediocrity.

For once in your life take a stand with pride. –Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr in “Non-stop”

Even if you were the kid in high school who was shy about your hobbies and talents for fear of rejection and judgment, it’s okay; nobody on campus knows that. College is a fresh canvas waiting for your honest, artistic touch. Whoever you want to be, whatever you want to believe in, do it. In “Non-Stop,” the thing Burr is afraid to proudly endorse is the United States Constitution, and we all know how well that turned out. College is the place to grow into a better version of who you already are; don’t let fear dictate your life.

Look at where you are, look at where you started. –Eliza Hamilton in “That Would Be Enough”

Despite Hamilton’s public confidence, Eliza knows firsthand her husband’s insecurities about his past, and she consistently has to remind Alexander that he truly has accomplished much. You, too, will face this sort of doubt. One bad grade, one hurtful comment from a professor, or one internship rejection letter can taint an entire semester, if you allow it to. When you hit a low patch, find an Eliza in your life, someone who can remind you of how far you’ve come since high school graduation and highlight your vast potential.

Do not throw away your shot. –Alexander Hamilton in “Stay Alive”

Arguably, this is the main theme of Hamilton, and this line could have been picked from any number of songs. What is great about this particular usage of the line is that after preaching this sermon to himself, Hamilton encourages his friend John Laurens not to waste his own opportunity to impact the world. While you’re in college, reach for your dreams. Try something new. Take every opportunity to become a better person. And while you’re at it, encourage your roommates, classmates, and friends to do the same thing!

Pick up a pen, start writing! –President Washington in “One Last Time”

“Pick up your device, start typing” would be a fair modern equivalent of this line. In the song, President Washington is trying to orate his farewell address to Hamilton who, instead of taking notes from his Commander in Chief, is arguing about why Washington should not step down from office. This is not how you want your college experience to be. In no other stage of life will you encounter such a treasure trove of intellectual wealth; do not throw away your shot to partake of the wisdom. Take notes everywhere, not just in class. Go to free conferences and seminars held on-campus, grab lunch with a professor or advisor, and when you learn something moving or useful, pick up a pen (or your iPhone) and save it for later.

Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? Soon that attitude may be your doom! –Aaron Burr in “Non-Stop”

My friend, you have much to learn about life, about education, and about yourself. Start college with a learner’s attitude, and you will graduate into the real world with a learner’s posture that will take you more places than you could ever imagine. Be confident in your abilities, but don’t assume that any amount of skill or knowledge that you have is enough. Stay hungry for wisdom and be humble in all that you do.

The fact that you’re alive is a miracle. Just stay alive, that would be enough. –Eliza Hamilton in “Non-Stop”

Tell yourself this during finals week. Plaster it on your Pinterest inspired bulletin board. Get a sharpie, and write it on your favorite mug. Sticky Note it to your bathroom mirror. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself that if you survived this long, you can survive to the end.

Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who, who is this kid, what’s he gonna do? –John Laurens, Marquis Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan in “Aaron Burr, Sir”

People are going to ask you this, just with a lot less pizazz than the Hamilton cast. The first few weeks of school are especially full of questions, club and social invitations, and a whole lot of names you may or may not remember. Soak it all in, but make sure you filter it out. Hamilton came to America with a huge list of potential friends, careers, and legacies. He couldn’t say yes to everything or become everyone, and the same is true for you. Know who you want to become, but also be sure of who you already are.

And then you’ll blow us all away! –Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in “Dear Theodosia”

College can be one of life’s trickiest phases, but it’s one of life’s greatest (and briefest) stages as well. Enjoy the next few years for all that they are worth. Whatever choices you make, make them with excellence and you really will blow us all away.

Written by Savanna

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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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