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Kimberly Abels, Ph.D., currently directs the Writing Center. She is responsible for the Center’s long-range planning, programming, outreach, and collaborations. Vicki Behrens, Ph.D., is the assistant director. She offers professional guidance and training to the graduate students who coach at the Writing Center. Gigi Taylor, Ph.D., is one of the Writing Center’s ESL specialists; she helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for ESL students. Percival Guevarra, M.A., and Becky Butler, Ph.D., the Writing Center’s other ESL specialists, conduct workshops on English language and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Many of the Writing Center’s writing coaches are graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines. They have been chosen as staff members based on their superior teaching skills and have undergone more than 60 hours of training in the teaching of writing.
In the fall of 2011, our first group of undergraduate tutors have joined the Writing Center team. These tutors took a three credit hour class, English 402, to prepare them to work with their peers.
Since each writing coach has an individual approach, we suggest trying out several coaches in order to find the style that works best for you. You can learn a little more about some of our writing coaches by reading their responses to the question “What is writing like for you?”
|Alex||Writing is like…a likeable likening of likened likes to likers likely liked by likelier lichen and likeliest likings alike—in all likelihood, a lifelike likelihood of misliked mislikers misliking unalike lookalikes and unliked likenesses likewise.|
|Alexandra||For me, writing is like making baklava! It’s an enjoyable process, but it can also take a really long time. Fortunately practice has made me faster, and I’ve learned techniques over the years to improve the finished product. Every time I finish a large pan of baklava or a particularly taxing writing project, I do a little Greek dance and celebrate with friends.|
Writing is like me in the mornings.
Slow. A little bit lost. Eventually focused.
|Candace||Writing is like a jigsaw puzzle without its box. You frequently have a vague notion of what it should become, but you lack a clear picture of the final product. Moreover, in writing just as in puzzles, you possess thoughts and ideas i.e. pieces that you need to organize into a cohesive writing assignment. Similarly, writing and puzzles are often time consuming and frustrating. And yet, in both cases, you have accomplished no small feat when you complete them.|
Writing is like wearing glasses. It changes how you see the world while also changing how you appear to others. Writing glasses are not available for purchase. You can get some help in choosing and crafting them, but you ultimately make the glasses you wear. Complicating matters further, the prescription and the style seems to change the longer you wear them. You end up both seeing and looking differently than you ever imagined when you first tried them on.
No pair of glasses is perfect for every situation, no matter how comfortable you are with them. Sometimes you need sunglasses, or goggles, or 3D glasses. Maybe you need a lens you can’t wear, like binoculars or a microscope. Maybe you decide you want a monocle—which is fine—but it’s not an easy look to pull off. It all depends on what you want to look at, what parts of it you want to see, and what you want the world to see as it looks back at you.
|Destiny||Writing is like shopping. You may always have an idea about how you want to express yourself- either by what you choose to buy or by what is in your paragraphs- but most of the time you come out with something better. In both shopping and writing, you try things out, see how they fit, and decide if you can use these things or not. At the end of both experiences, you come out with a masterpiece!|
|Donald||Writing is like cooking. Sometimes you will want to have a nice, well prepared and well-thought out meal. Other times, you may desire a small snack or a quick meal that requires little (honestly sometimes none) intense preparation; either way you hope that your meal is satisfying. During these cooking experiences, your meal may come out perfectly and require no other work, which is rare. Other times, you will need to add a little salt or pepper, or my favorite, a hint of garlic garnishing to season things to taste. Then you’ll see the table and all the eaters (audience) ready to consume your cooked masterpiece. Some will taste and enjoy the effort and time you put into the work, others may not; this becomes an infrequent sensation with practice. You’ll quickly come to the conclusion that writing and cooking are quite similar. The process will never be perfect even when we follow directions or guidelines to a T. What you learn about the writing process is that mistakes are an important step towards creating something spectacular. Eventually the project will be molded and shaped into something that you will gaze upon with great favor. You’ll most likely take a photo and share it to some form of social media with the noble tag, “hey, look at what I’ve created!”|
|Emma||Writing is like cutting out a paper snowflake. In both cases, you begin with a blank piece of paper that holds infinite potential. To organize those possibilities, you give it an underlying structure, folding your paper into eighths for a snowflake or outlining your evidence for an academic paper. After that, you can begin to snip away excess material. It might be random at first, but gradually, an interesting pattern emerges. Your process becomes more precise and deliberate to let that idea take shape. The final product is an ordered representation of your unique thoughts, and it looks nothing like that blank piece of paper you started with.|
Writing is like living. It is, more specifically, the difficult and often perplexing process of decision-making. We will not be perfect at it. All we can do is to hope to learn from our experiences (and mistakes) and improve along the way.
There is no shortage of veterans who can offer their views on how we can best write. These experienced writers warn us against dangers when they suggest for us to be careful and always be aware of our surroundings when writing. They encourage us to be conscious about the way we present ourselves to others and to watch what we say. “Speak clearly, and make sure that you present your ideas in a logical order,” they’ll say. We generally accept these norms as vague truths. Suggestions like these can be helpful in giving us some idea of what writing is like.
But, despite these warnings, we often cannot know the meaning of writing, or even of our own thoughts—or cannot believe that what these wise folks speak of really applies for us—until we discover our own truths through a direct experience with (all the phases of) writing. Only then do truths about writing (whether structurally or conceptually) begin to form a definite concreteness to us that carries personal significance. “Aha,” we might say, “so this is what Professor Wright meant when he suggested I follow a logical sequence! Should I move the second three sentences of my second paragraph and add them to my third paragraph, then I’ll be expressing more accurately what I am trying to say.” These are little moments of triumph. We learn things best not from hypothetical examples (though such examples might be useful as points of reference) but from instances in our own lives. Every writing scenario offers us the opportunity to learn and grow.
Those of us who make a conscious effort to analyze our writing and learn who we are as writers are likely to grow as writers. It is possible that with each learning experience we mature. We come out with a better idea of where we stand in the world. We learn first-hand a little bit more about the life of writing and ourselves in this life. Perhaps we are thoroughly satisfied with our product, a symbol of who we are at that particular point in time. And yet, we have the strong suspicion that we have yet to reach a definite conclusion. What we have learned can help us in the future, but by no means does it offer us the answers to all future writing. We will continue to enter disorienting situations and learn more in an infinite cycle that carries on until we can no longer write.
|Gigi||Writing is like rock climbing. As I approach a climbing site (or a writing project), I have a goal, some tools and tricks, some experience, some enthusiasm, some trepidation. I study the rock for a while, figuring out how to approach it, and as I climb, there’s progress…and getting stuck and backtracking and rethinking (…and, I confess, some slipping and swearing and a bit of panic now and then). And there’s always a belayer—a fellow climber who can offer feedback from a very different perspective. And when it’s finished, there’s immense relief and satisfaction at the top.|
Writing is like boxing. When they first start off, all boxers learn a similar set of techniques. But over time, as he matures, each boxer develops his own personal style. He has to train a lot, for every bout. Some boxers can find success doing this on their own, but the feedback and support of a coach definitely doesn’t hurt. And training pays off—not only does it equip a boxer with a set of skills, it helps him to be more comfortable when he is actually in the ring.
Training can be solitary—imagine the lone boxer, working the heavy bag. But in the ring, he has an opponent, and his success depends on how he engages with this other person. Sometimes, brute force can win the day. Other times, the boxer with more finesse will be victorious. But most often, the successful boxer is the one that can anticipate his opponent’s movements and reactions. Similarly, the successful writer can influence his reader through a strong or elegant style. But the most successful writer is the writer who can get into the minds of his readers and understand their potential biases, objections and expectations, and use this understanding to make a pointed and persuasive argument.
|Justin||Writing is like social interactions. Sometimes it’s fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and painfully awkward transitions, but other times it’s driven by fluid, subconscious self-expression.|
|Kaylyn||Writing is like… moving from place to place. For me, moving was a formative part of my upbringing that enabled growth and change. The reorganization, packing, repacking, and unpacking that come with moving translate well into my writing process. A major part of my journey involves discovering new places and ideas, repacking my thoughts, and occasionally heavy lifting with boxes or words.|
|Kenneth||Writing is like daydreaming. Thirty percent of the time you are staring listlessly at a wall or a blank Word document—and that’s on a good day. Data from very legitimate scientific experiments has shown that a large percentage of time is taken up by talking—excuse me, rambling—to yourself, along with experiencing moments of intense self-loathing, sighing loudly, and pacing back and forth while mumbling under your breath. All of these are common symptoms. Less common is banging your head on the table, as most people, once the dizziness fades, are cognizant enough to stop doing so after the first time. All of this culminates in sudden bursts of brain activity, followed by furious typing which takes up the last five percent of extremely productive time spent. Test subjects have reported finger cramping as a result, and taking frequent breaks is therefore recommended.|
|Kim||For me, writing is like grocery-shopping. It’s a familiar routine for which I have developed favorite strategies over time; yet each time, it’s a new experience with new needs, products, and timing to negotiate. I like having a list, and often do, although I’ve learned that making the list is its own exercise. I usually need to brainstorm menus, review what’s in the cupboards, and find out if my family’s cereal and lunch box preferences have changed. With list in hand, I tuck my cloth bags in the cart and wander up and down the aisles filling the cart. I revise my menu as I see what vegetables look good, what’s on sale, and what new ingredient I might like to experiment with this week. When there’s no time for a list, I wing it with a strategic scan of the shelves and a “reminder” march up every aisle to help me think through what we need. While grocery shopping is a chore, once I’m cruising the aisles, tasting the free samples, I enjoy the process of making choices and imagining the cooking ahead.|
|Kirsten||Writing is like drinking a Coca Cola. Sometimes it starts out great and fizzes up in my belly and I can’t get enough, but then it goes flat and I’m stuck trying to find the fizz again. Other times it starts out flat but shake it up a little and I’m on a roll.|
|Leif||Writing is like trying to be best friends with a fish. Whatever your affections for the fish, the fish only knows to flee. Writing is like an unrequited interspecies love.|
|Megan||Writing is like an exploration of an unknown land. Writing affords us the opportunity to think about our topics and, oftentimes, ourselves in a different way. When writing, you do not necessarily have a clear idea of how the paper will end nor a means of getting there, but by golly, you know there will be a paper. Similarly, explorers embarking on a journey do not always know where they will end up or what will happen along the way, but they set out on their journey anyways. The best travel stories are oftentimes not those describing one specific place where the explorer ended up but the stories filled with tales of all the adventures the explorer experienced along the way. Look at Columbus—he set out to find Asia, but his journey led to him discovering a whole new world. Now where we would be without that?|
|Michael||Writing is like bouncing a ball. With some practice you can get a rhythm going, but repeating the same thing over and over can get boring. You can learn some new tricks from a friend or experiment on your own. As you get going, you might find yourself picking up momentum or slowing down, or the ball could encounter an obstacle and go off track (or simply in a new direction). And whenever you think the ball has rolled to a stop, you can pick it up and start it bouncing again.|
|Molly||For me, writing is like a flood. I have ideas and words and phrases in my head that begin rising, and as they rise, they begin to overflow the banks of my mind. Sometimes, this flood spills out into speech, but when I am intentional, I direct it into a dam that provides energy to write and group words and phrases into sentences, thoughts into coherent paragraphs. Unless it’s not a flood. Then it’s a drought, and I am thirsting for more words.|
|Morgan||Writing is like choreographing. Most of the steps are familiar, but the sequence is new and exciting. You return to the beginning a thousand times and rework what you have produced—editing, changing, erasing, expanding, and experimenting. Slowly the work gets longer. Eventually you begin to feel that you’ve created something that you might show to somebody else. Perhaps you set the work aside for a few days and return to it with fresh eyes. You try to discover new ways to put all the steps (or words) together in a way that will excite and inform and surprise your audience. You might add another dancer (or voice) to your piece. At the conclusion, you’ve created something unlike everything else. You can point to your work and say, “I made that.” While the process may be difficult at times, and not every dance (or piece of writing) will be perfect, you finish each project with more knowledge and skill than you had before. The reward is in the experience.|
|Nathan||Writing is like a paint by numbers. If you want, you can just fill in all the appropriate blanks and bubbles, and things will probably go pretty well. However, you can also change things up a bit, change a color here or add something new. Although there are frameworks and molds you can follow, you don’t have to, and sometimes the results are much more intriguing when you decide that the ocean should be red or that the figures in your painting need wings. In much the same way, there are rules and conventions that you can follow with writing, basic formats that are well-worn and established, but sometimes deviations and permutations on these themes provide the most compelling and personal results. And of course, you’re always allowed to just throw globs of paint at it and see what sticks. Who knows, it might just work.|
|Nicole||Writing is like swimming in the ocean. Rather than blindly diving into the water, I attempt to gauge the surf’s roughness. Cautiously, I wade into the waves—one foot in, then two—stepping slowly forwards until I feel the sea’s chilly embrace around my waist. Usually it takes only a few moments before I acclimate to the cool temperature and begin to swim; however, sometimes the water turns my flesh to ice, and I can barely convince myself to not abandon it entirely. On these days, I plunge beneath the foam. Upon surfacing, the water is comfortable, and I move through it freely up and down the coastline. During this period of pleasure, I am still not entirely safe. A sudden gust of wind may send the sea surging over my head or a rip tide may suck me down into the churning brine, dragging my tired frame along its sandy floor. I must not panic. At sunset, although often tempted by comfort to remain at sea, the encroaching darkness, like a deadline, forces me to return to the shore, tired but fulfilled. If I have time, I may return again tomorrow for another swim.|
|Percival||Writing is like visiting Los Angeles. For tourists, there are plenty of places to visit, but it’s impossible to do everything in one trip. For natives, only a few hotspots are frequented. Although those places may have similar attractions or are relatively close to each other, driving is unavoidable. For tourists, this means hours of traffic, possibly gridlock. For natives, this means using a variety of strategies: avoiding rush hour, using the carpool lane, or taking a side street. After arriving at the destination, even more decisions present themselves. Tourists are likely to overspend, trapped by superficial attractions. Natives know how to weigh decisions to make economic choices, while at the same time take some risks. At the end of the trip, some tourists will never return, while other tourists may come back. With each trip, returning tourists will find and learn something new. Over time, these tourists will be indistinguishable from natives.|
|Robin||Writing is like cooking. Cooking well, like writing well, means successfully blending your own style with the needs and preferences of your audience. It masquerades as a gift or an art, but it really can be learned (and taught!) by anyone. I like thinking of different genres of writing as different cuisines because while you can become proficient in some, there’s always more to learn – a veteran barbeque pit master has plenty to teach a sushi chef, and vice versa. So even though it might be tempting to cook the same familiar dishes over and over, collaborating with others and getting outside of your comfort zone will teach you new techniques to make your food (and your writing) that much tastier.|
Writing is like stargazing. You don’t need to know all of the technical information or constellation names in order to appreciate the raw beauty of space. At first as you look up, you stare in wonder and mutter to yourself, “how can I possibly see the outline of a Greek god in this darkness?” You’re doubtful, but eventually, an image forms. The image might materialize because of your helpful friend who points it out or the creative gears in your mind are finally beginning to turn. Soon you’ll find the black empty expanse has been filled with countless stars, planets, and galaxies. You might even spot the Tardis. Or maybe the sky remains blank for the entire night and every night to follow. It’s just dark until finally, you spot the slightest glimmer.
Who knows what you’ll see or when you’ll see it,, but that’s exactly the point. Nobody knows what or when you’ll see, because there are no rules to what you can see. And I love writing for that reason. The page is the sky and my words are the stars. Most of the time, my sky looks as if I mindlessly threw glitter at it. But eventually, the sparkle fades and an image forms. The main points arise from the ground and stand firm. The supporting details filter in like doves. All in all, it might take a while, but eventually, I’ll find my own Greek warrioress up there.
|Tim||Writing is like rappelling, the practice in rock climbing of descending a cliff face by rope. During the brief moment of taking that first backward step over the edge, one typically only sees the disappearing ledge and the possibility of a dangerous fall. In this brief moment of faith, the safety of the climbing equipment is untested and the wall face to which one clings is invisible. But the moment passes. The rope holds. Almost immediately one nestles up against the rock face often overwhelmed by the beauty of the descent with the fear of “stepping off” forgotten. Many writing projects begin in visceral fear. Will I be desperately embarrassed by my efforts to craft words into a coherent construct? Plunging past these initial fears, one is often deeply assured by the protection afforded by the simple disciplines of writing and the beauty of one’s ideas.|
|Vicki||Writing is like making a piece of pottery. I have all kinds of ideas about what I’d like to create, and I can spend hours daydreaming about what a beautiful bowl or plate or vase I’ll have when I’m done—but at some point I have to sit down with a big, slimy lump of wet clay and get to work. Bending over the wheel can be tiring, and it’s discouraging when an almost-finished piece collapses in a heap. After the basic form has dried, it’s time for my favorite part—decorating and glazing it in preparation for the final firing. I have to remember to leave myself enough time to get the details just right—it may take several tries to make a good handle for a mug or find an appealing combination of glazes. The object I end up with may not match my vision perfectly, but it’s usually functional, and sometimes it’s even kind of pretty.|
Kim Abels – Director
Vicki Behrens – Assistant Director
Gigi Taylor – ESL Specialist
Percival Guevarra – ESL Specialist
Becky Butler – ESL Specialist
Kim Allison – Business Manager