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Open past the intimidation

This person was selected to be a tutor. She has been trained. She’s an incredible writer. What am I? These questions may run through a writer’s mind as he walks into a tutoring session. Even with perceptions of the writing studio as a space for remedial writers debunked, insecurities about writing ability can be compounded when compared to these intimidating tutors who have been chosen for their prolific writing. As the writer closes up, it can be difficult to run a productive session. The writer may be too shy to speak, or may be unwilling to share the composition. It is thus up to the tutor to reach across the threshold and encourage the writer to open up.

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Maybe like a shell. A tutor might accomplish this by talking about what’s working well in the piece. Or by engaging in normal, non-writing related conversations with the writer to assure him that both are the same—simple, normal students struggling over the same classes. Perhaps then the writer will be less intimidated. And, like a shell, the open writer may discover that he has a pearl inside, waiting to be discovered.

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If only it was magic…

Sometimes, I find myself sitting in front of my computer, first draft on the screen, cracking my knuckles to dive into revision but always finding some excuse to delay. As the minutes tick by, I dream that this: 

is what my editing process could be like (at least, until 5:00 that is). Oh how wonderful it would be if editing were as simple as placing a pointy hat on your head and humming along as brooms sweep aside the confusing sentences and brushes scrub away the comma splices and buckets of water move the conclusion to the introduction and fill in the gaps. But alas, revision needs to be done, and shortcutting the process, or ignoring it entirely, often leads to disaster (5:00 onwards). 

Conveying this message to writers in the writing center who may be reluctant to revise is important. There is a clear distinction between “line editing” and “global editing,” the latter which is usually significantly more difficult. But it is important to assure the writer that global editing can make an okay paper good, and a good paper fantastic. And it doesn’t have to be that excruciating. If the paragraphs in the piece don’t quite relate to the thesis in a logical way, then suggest deconstructing the piece and looking at the heart of each paragraph. Chances are in talking it out the writer will make a connection he or she had in mind all along but couldn’t quite articular in words. The talk could go something like this:

(Just finished reading the paper out loud) 

Tutor:  Great! So, what are your thoughts?

Writer: Well, this is a really really rough draft. And I feel like I don’t really support my thesis. The paragraphs don’t seem to connect, but I have no idea where to start or what to do.

Tutor: Well let’s take a look. How about we go through each paragraph and figure out what the message of that paragraph is. We’ll write that down on this piece of paper here along with your thesis, and we’ll see if there are any connecting threads. What do you think, shall we give it a try?

Go through the piece, paragraph by paragraph, and have the writer summarize succinctly the point he or she is trying to convey in that paragraph. Perhaps either the tutor or writer could read it out loud, or the writer could simply summarize. At the end, look at the progression of the argument—does the chronology make sense, do the arguments relate back to the thesis, are there points that need to be included or excluded? Sometimes, taking away the extra words on the page and focusing on the bare skeleton is incredibly revealing—and helpful. 

The process may not be magic, but it can feel like magic when the writer has that aha moment!

 

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