Can I be frank with you? I did not use the writing center last year. I was pretty confident in my writing abilities, and most of the classes I took were science/math-based or easy writing/lit classes. The only class that challenged me composition-wise was my Intro to Fiction Writing class, in which I made friends that would look over my writing (and still do). I didn’t think the writing center would give me anything that I would need. I think I almost went to the writing center with a final copy of my Fiction Writing short story, but I backed out because I get nervous in new social situations.
Now that I work at the writing center and know exactly what we do, I still feel awkward going to consultations! I sometimes doubt how qualified I am to talk to people about their writing, and then end up distrusting other consultants OR I think that as a consultant I shouldn’t need to go to the writing center for help. Now, I cognitively know that these assumptions are WRONG and that I should just be grateful for another reader of my boring close-reading analyses
and stuffed two-page Brit lit essays.
At this point in the semester, I have gone to the writing center twice. The first time, I went to a consultant I have known for a long time (we used to be childhood neighbors) and asked her to help me with a two-page MAXIMUM paper for my Brit lit class. (Who makes two pages a maximum? Why would you torture me like that?) Anyway, Anne had already taken a class with this professor and generally knew what to look for. We ended up having a long discussion about places I could focus in on more and what she thought
were my most interesting points. She reassured me that what I had was written well, as I was worried about my ideas sounding choppy with such a limited space.
In the long run, I didn’t end up changing much about my short essay. I was intimidated by the page limit and didn’t want to make any changes that might possibly push it past two pages. But Anne’s advice was very encouraging and uplifting. I wish I would have taken more time to focus on the more interesting aspects of the paper rather than what I thought the professor wanted to hear, which was what Anne was trying to get me to do. Anne is someone I am comfortable talking with, and she creates a very space to discuss writing.
My second appointment took place earlier today. I brought in a six-page close-reading analysis of a short story and picked a consultant that I didn’t know very well, in order to get into the mind of a writer who was coming to the writing center not knowing anyone. I explained to the consultant that I was worried that I repeated the same point over and over again, but after reading some of my paper, she thought it would be better to focus more on my analysis of the textual evidence.
Kathryn said that she wanted to read in her head, because she thought reading aloud wouldn’t do much in the vein of wanting to look over the entire paper. Right after she finished my intro, she gave me a compliment on how well-written it was. Even though I know this is a tactic to encourage writers, I was glad that someone told me I wrote well. (Especially intros, which can be bitches.)
She also complimented some of my better-written paragraphs, making sure to say why these paragraphs were well-written so I could use those tactics in the future. For me, that is more helpful than just saying I’ve written it well. I intend to use this tactic in the future, as I often compliment at least one thing in a writer’s work, but I sometimes fail to explain WHY I am giving that compliment.
I was surprised at how much of the consultation was spent in silence. This was either because Kathryn was reading a paragraph or sentence, or she or I were thinking about something. At first, the silence made me uncomfortable, but then I realized that silence is necessary for progress. Silence doesn’t mean nothing is happening, which is something I have had to tell myself over and over again during my own consultations.
Kathryn asked me some very good leading questions about my topic, like why I thought the author uses a particular analogy. (My paper focused on a machine paralleling how the patriarchy works, but I had never really thought about WHY the author used this comparison, only how it works.) She also pointed out places where I could expand on my analysis or make direct tie-ins to the quotes I had used. This was helpful to me because, even though I’m bad at thinking of things on the fly, I could mark certain places to go back to later.
Kathryn was very willing to answer all of my random questions, like if a certain sentence sounded weird or if my conclusion had a good enough “so what.”
Going into the writing center as a writer this time around was much more helpful, and I intend to actually make changes to my paper based on what we discussed. I felt like Kathryn was very nice about pointing out what she thought might be more important to look at rather than what I thought was the problem. In consultations, I always tell myself that I want to help the writer reach their own goals, but Kathryn showed me that sometimes it’s okay to point out more pertinent issues with a piece of writing.
I also felt surprised that some of the writing center tactics I myself have been taught worked on me, even as I knew what the consultant was doing. Every writer needs someone to help them if they are struggling, even if that person works at the writing center as a consultant.
Asking for help doesn’t mean I am a bad writer; it just means that I am an ordinary, flawed human being who is doing the best she can.
And so is everyone else.