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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The Writing Center Is a Home

The DBU Writing Center has been around for more than 20 years. In that time, many student workers have come and gone, but every once in a while, they return to visit and catch up. The UWC must have been a wonderful experience for them if they are still coming back after years away. Even though Directors have changed and the layout of the room seems to always be shifting, the work done inside the walls of the UWC coupled with the people who work there create an atmosphere of comfort and acceptance.

Life in the Writing Center has its ups and downs. No work place is perfect, but the UWC strives to create a family setting for the individuals who work there. When people are confined to the basement in a room with no windows, tempers can run high. However, that is not the case in this space. Two walls feature cross configurations; token decorations from Christmas’ past are scattered around; and beautiful art work and books fill any extra space there may be. Even with what seems like clutter in every nook and cranny, the UWC has a homey feeling about it.

I remember this one time when a lady came in, let’s call her Agatha, and she was taken aback by the room. Being an older lady, she was a little overwhelmed at first. However, as Agatha kept coming back for session after session, she has opened up to me and the rest of the people in the UWC that she feels comfortable in this space. She can learn and not feel judged in this space. That was the most encouraging comment we, in the UWC, had ever received. To know that our room is a safe place for learning and growing is so comforting and uplifting.

Now fill the space with people – people of every gender, ethnicity, and major. Of the six free chairs in the UWC, almost all of them are filled with a wonderful soul at every hour of the working day. These people serve students like no other. Whether sitting at the Receptionist’s desk to welcome students and answer phone calls or being a Consultant and working with students on their papers, the employees of the UWC strive to represent Christ through their work. And it is not just students that the UWC serves; they serve each other as well. Through secret encouragers, kudos kards, and simply inquiring about each other’s lives, the people of the UWC want to form a family unit that is strong and edifying.

Just recently, the UWC had a staff meeting. We revealed who each of our secret encouragers were. There was an abundance of tears, mainly from one person. We filled out comment cards regarding how we felt about the whole arrangement. Being able to read through those comments made my heart so full because everyone was engaged and felt loved. I hope to continue secret encouragers in order for it to continue to be a way that we can build one another up in love and support.

Even though every person’s time in the UWC is different, they will always leave feeling loved and appreciated for the work they have done and the friends they have made.

Written by Maddison

Image credit: Kā Riley

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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How to Combat Summer Boredom

Summer is finally here. As a student, I really look forward to summer every year. It seems like I have so much going on during the fall and spring semesters, and at least one aspect of my life is always completely out of control. If I don’t have eighteen projects due for my classes in the span of one week, then I’m preparing for a big weekend with the media team at my church. If things at the church aren’t crazy, then I’m dealing with some family crisis or my friends suddenly want to hang out until way past my preferred bedtime. The problem is that I care about all of these areas of my life, so I want to give them all as much attention as they require. During the summer, it seems like every area of my life comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly, there are no classes to attend, no homework to do, and maybe no one on campus to hang out with. I find myself wondering what to do with all of my free time. Maybe you do, too, dear readers. Don’t worry. I’ve got some ideas for you to combat summer boredom.

My first idea is a pretty simple one. During the school year, there are a lot of things that get put on the backburner. Summer is a perfect opportunity to get some of those things done! At different points throughout the year, I’ve wanted to read some of the Harry Potter series, re-watch The Office, play a video game called Undertale, clean out my closet, and have my sister come to stay the weekend with me. Now that I have a few months without anything too crazy happening, I can probably do all of those things and more. Maybe some of you readers have goals you always seem too busy to reach. They can be small goals, like the ones I listed, or really big ones. Even if your aspirations are too high to reach in only a few months, maybe you can get your start this summer.

Another thing you can try if you find yourself bored out of your mind is going on an adventure. I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t much to do and there weren’t many places to go. In this boring environment, my friends and I used to come up with small adventures to keep ourselves busy. We would go to our nearest movie theater and see the worst-looking movie playing, just so that we could laugh at how bad it was. We would buy sidewalk chalk and draw murals at our local park. We would take a road trip to visit the closest zoo on half-price ticket day. We would walk to the highest point in town to watch the sunset overlooking our neighborhood. Sometimes, we would even just sit in my living room and watch the first episode of a bunch of different shows on Netflix. There are all kinds of adventures to be had if you open up your mind and use your imagination.

phineas and ferb

My last tip for staving off summer boredom is to just rest and relax. I know it might seem counterintuitive to try to rest when you want to be busy doing something, but that’s kind of the point. During the school year, I tend to become so busy that I run myself ragged. Without the presence of that busyness, I realize how slowly time can move. This summer, I want to take a deep breath and revel in a change of pace. I want to take the time to appreciate the world and the people around me without distractions. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over the past few weeks, and that time has made me really hungry to understand my God more. I’ve never felt a hunger this strong, and I want to run with it. I want God to show me new things. I think the perfect environment to foster this desire is a few months when I’ll be taking things slow, when I can rest, be still, and know that He is God.

Those are just a few ideas to fight the beast of boredom. Hopefully your summer will be a fun, enjoyable few months. Even if your summer will be busy with classes, work, mission trips, or just life in general, I pray that the God of peace will give you rest.

Written by Becca

Image credits: Header image, Phineas and Ferb

Letter to the Fiction Writer

Thud!

“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

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Fingerprints of Independence

Unless you’ve been to Washington D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes, you might not know it has somebody’s fingerprint ink smudge on it. I know, insensitive right? How dare you—whoever you are—put your grubby fingers all over the most precious gift of liberty ever bestowed upon the civilized world.

I wouldn’t blame any proper American for responding this way, but with respect to the circumstances, we ought to cut the guy some slack. For one thing, the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the National Archives Building is one of several original drafts. It’s not as if he soiled the only copy extant. Secondly, chances are high that, as the Continental Congress was accustomed to doing, he had to pack up the Declaration in a hurry and flee from the threat of the British Army. And, of course, we can’t leave out the most important detail surrounding this whole discussion: Some guy literally left his fingerprint on THE Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock left metaphorical fingerprints on the document, but this guy actually impressed a part of himself, unique to him and him alone, permanently onto one of the most valuable documents in all of history.

Nothing illustrates the beauty of America’s Independence Day better than this. The fingerprints of unknown individuals helping to shape a nation are what America is supposed to be about. American liberty was not won by the efforts of a few famous founding fathers, but by the life-long commitments of billions of normal people. How many signers of the Declaration can you actually name? What about the Constitution? Can you list more than five vice presidents or Supreme Court justices? The goal is not to shame you because you are not a history scholar; I want to encourage you because you are a history maker. No one is arguing against the influence of any revolutionary framers or anyone who has served in public office, yet when even their names go unremembered, why do we continue to ignorantly attribute the success of the United States to a handful of faces carved in a mountainside or etched onto currency?

America was built by the unknown for the worth-knowing. An unrecognized founding father named Button Gwinnett signed the Declaration of Independence so that Abraham Lincoln could one day sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The patriot laid to rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sacrificed his life so that Rosa Parks could one day refuse to give up her bus seat. Slaves labored to construct the White House so that one day Michelle Bachmann and Hilary Clinton could have a shot at sitting in the Oval Office. The fingerprints of the unnamed masses lay beneath the thin layer of recognizable individuals and milestone accomplishments that highlight history textbooks.

No one will ever know the name of patriot who left his fingerprint on the Declaration of Independence. But just down the road from where that document rests is a memorial dedicated to the man who penned the words of the Declaration; every Fourth of July, fireworks illuminate his tribune, and people speak his name with respect and awe. To some, we build monuments, and to others, we give honor by imitating their courage and patriotism and by walking down the path of freedom they laid out before us. Immigrants. Descendants of the Pilgrims. Welfare families. Trust fund babies. Criminals. Religious ministers. Farmers. Wall Street brokers. Republicans. Democrats. Privileged women of color. Low-income white men. Single dads. CEO mothers. United by freedom and empowered by liberty, these are the ones who bring independence to life through the way they live their day to day lives as Americans.

All are equally American, and all have equal claim on the American Story. Whoever you are, whatever your narrative is, if you use the privilege of your liberty to make a way for others to find their own freedom, if you celebrate every day you wake up an American as Independence Day, you, too, will surely leave your fingerprints on America’s legacy.

Written by Savanna

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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