It’s All Relative: Time in the Writing Center

While working on my writing center homework, I have recently found myself being transported back to my Physics major days. How does physics relate to the writing center, you might ask? Apparently in lots of ways.


Above is an illustration of a general relativity concept called the space-time field… Science!

Who needs a time machine? I’m a writing center consultant…

In chapter 3 of The Everyday Writing Center, when Geller, et. al suggested focusing on “time that is relational” (33), I had a flashback to learning about general relativity. The authors point out that “time is experienced differently by different cultures” (Geller, et al. 35), which means time truly is relative to one’s experiences and cultural norms. However, they are not suggesting that I look at relativity; they are suggesting that I learn how to speed up and slow down time by using it differently.

A5ampAt first, I was confused by the authors’ discussion of “slowness and speed” in a writing center consultation. I was confused as to how I should “expand and contract time in conferences…” (Geller, et al. 39). This isn’t Back to the Future or Doctor Who… How am I supposed to “perform time” (Geller, et al. 39)? I felt like I needed to grab a sci-fi novel to teach myself about time control, because I couldn’t imagine how expanding and contracting time would even be possible in reality!

Then I realized that I didn’t actually have to make twenty-five minutes last two hours; I had read the situation, make a split-second decision on what to do, and value the time I have. The authors discuss an example that completely illuminated this idea to me. It goes like this: In order to practice consulting, new tutors take twenty minutes to respond to each other’s writing. Then the veteran consultants reveal that, usually, they have an entire hour to do that work. “Shock and dismay wash over faces across the room. They can’t imagine, quite literally, how to talk about one paper for an hour. These same tutors, the next semester, will consistently need 70, 75, 90 minutes to do their work…” (Geller, et al. 41).

This example shows what the authors are advocating, that, despite the arbitrary dali-clock-500x500appointment time limits, “things take as long as they take” (Geller, et al. 39). Our society is so obsessed with speed and efficiency that we often forget to slow down and just let things happen. In the writing center, this means being aware of time constraints, but not letting them rule the consultation. We need to savor what time we have and appreciate what we can get done in that time (Geller, et al. 37). We also need to be aware of the intensity of an appointment, and how that may be affected by time and stress. Intensity can be much needed in an appointment, either because of a last-minute writing center consultation or because the writer works better in intense situations. However, it’s also okay to slow down and talk about a single sentence or idea for the entire twenty-five minutes.

What is time?

Looking at “writer time” vs. “clock time” was instructive in my understanding of time in the writing center. The clock is not our master. The writer’s needs are. “If we are contained by clock time and disconnected from writers’ time, our practices may end up contradicting our mission” (Geller, et al. 34). I have learned that, as a consultant, I need to be more in tune to the writer’s time needs.

I recently had a consultation that was supposed to last an hour, but the writer ended up getting what she needed in only twenty minutes. We discussed how to format and write an annotated bibliography, and she decided that twenty minutes was all she needed. At first, I felt bad about this, like I hadn’t used the time properly. Then I realized that it was okay to let the writer decide what worked best for her, and if twenty minutes was the time it took to learn how to write an annotated bibliography, then that was okay.

The authors describe several different types of time. One is “fungible time,” which is


Hey, man.  I am your resident Writing Center Hippie.

sectioned off by units (seconds, minutes, hours, etc.). The other is “epochal time,” which is sectioned off by events (Geller, et al. 33). The idea that “time is in the events; the events do not occur in time” (Geller, et al. 33) completely blew my mind. Our systems of time measurement are completely arbitrary, as are our writing center consultation times. Instead of focusing on the measured time we experience every day, forcing ourselves into constraints that don’t really need to be there, we need to have more of a hippie mentality when it comes to getting things done. Things will happen as they happen, maaaannn. (Is that how hippies talk?)

body-clockEpochal time is also linked to people’s “internal rhythms” and “external social rhythms” (Geller, et al. 34). Time is literally controlled by our bodies and our circumstances. For example, “body time” means eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired, not following prescribed notions of proper mealtimes
and sleep times (34). If we just let time flow naturally, it doesn’t have to be a burden.

Unfortunately, our school system does not allow for this type of event-based time very often. Everything has a set time-limit, and students are taught to expect extremely structured lives. But that is a rant for another time.

What I think we’ve really learned today, is that Albert Einstein would’ve totally loved writing center theory. 😉



Work Cited

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. “Beat (Not) the (Poor) Clock.” The Everyday Writing Center, Utah State University Press, 2007, pp. 32-47.

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1 Response to It’s All Relative: Time in the Writing Center

  1. dyarabe says:

    Hi Kathryn,

    Not only did I find the content of your blog post to be very helpful, I also enjoy your style of writing. I had taken classes in the past that discussed the different measurements of time, but I hadn’t thought about it within the context of a writing center. Earlier this week, I had an appointment with a consultant in the writing center; I didn’t have a lot prepared or a lot of questions, so I became very worried about how the time would be used. I caught myself looking at the clock every few minutes or so to make sure that time was still moving. It was only a 25 minute session, but I had gotten most of what I needed out of it in around 20 minutes. For the last five minutes, I was so stressed that I just threw out some half-thought out questions to try and waste the rest of time. It’s so important for students and tutors to just relax! The anxiety of following fungible time can be detrimental to the process. That being said, I definitely need to clear out more than enough time just in case I found myself needing more of that fungible time.



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