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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?”
|Abby||Writing is like trying to instruct an artist to paint a work they’ve never seen. Your head is filled with lovely but abstract images, and you are tasked with communicating them with precision. You lean in to examine the pixels, staring intently at each small swipe of paint. Reluctantly, you deconstruct your vision into neat components that can be transferred to another mind. You isolate each image, each stroke, each small bit of meaning. You hesitantly pass these tiny swatches of color on to your new apprentice, trusting them to recreate the canvas you once held safely in your imagination. This is undoubtedly a great risk, but one that can bring great rewards. They may stand back and smile, admiring the masterpiece you’ve managed to create out of a paint-by-numbers. Or, they may look back in confusion as you realize that you’ve reduced the Sistine Chapel to a sketch. Whatever you create, you’ll soon realize that your work is never done. You will always keep trying to perfect the now-coated canvas, to show your unknowing student the beauty trapped inside your head.|
|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.|
|Anna C.||Writing is like getting up in the morning for a run. It’s tough to leave the warmth of your bed—conventional ideas and comfortable, predictable writing. Once you get outside, the cool air revitalizes you and you’re willing to try something new. It’s hard to start, but after a few minutes, you feel like you could go for hours. Sometimes you go along the path you’re all-too familiar with—your usual writing process. Every now and then, you want to go through the woods, or run hills, and it hurts, but at the end is worth it. Writing is like running, because you have start anew each time. What comes at the finish line is the satisfaction of completing another healthy, but tough exercise.|
|Anna Y.||Writing is like… painting. You start with a word, with a sentence, with a line. You add a few metaphors, a metonymy, an oxymoron here and there. And before you know it, you have a sketch, a drawing that has a mood, a purpose and a meaning. It might look clumsy and unfinished at first, but a precise word, a well-timed synonym and the right tone turn your work from a sketch into a picture. You look at it again – and see the harmony of hints, lines and undertones. A work well-written.|
|Ashley||Writing is like math. Looking at a new equation, you feel a sense of panic and anxiety. It looks like a foreign language. Where do you begin to unpack this jumble of alien signs and symbols? You must be the only person struggling; everyone else is naturally good at math and just gets it. You start to work on the problem, but can’t see a way through, and begin avoiding your assignment. Your anxiety increases as the deadline approaches. You finally reach out to other people and realize EVERYONE struggles at different points, you aren’t alone! You share your frustrations and swap different strategies. When you finally reach that place of enlightenment, it is like a light bulb shining in the dark – your sense of accomplishment is invigorating. You not only understand the equation, but how to apply that structure and process to new problems.|
|Brianna||“Writing for me is like a puzzle.” The reason why I compare them to each other because writing a paper is like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. When writing a paper it takes a lot of time and effort to figure out what to include in each section so everything flows together. Just like the pieces of a puzzle, each section in a paper is needed to get the overall “big picture.”|
|Christina||Writing is like building a mixed media sculpture. At the beginning, you usually have some idea of the form you want it to take – an image, a sketch, maybe even a model. You gather the materials that seem necessary but often remain initially unsure about how they will all fit together. You start by assembling the structural elements, bending and binding wood and metal, stacking layer upon layer. Then you add decorative pieces – the fabrics, the feathers, the sheets of colored glass. Paint and sealant put a final gloss on your creation. But even if you have planned well, things don’t always go that smoothly. There is usually something for which you haven’t accounted. Maybe the equipment doesn’t work properly, or you need more wood than you’d expected. Sometimes, you can make adjustments as you go to account for these problems. But other times, you realize that the model itself is flawed and that you need to come up with a new one in order to keep the sculpture from collapsing and shattering on the floor. Even when things seem to proceed more or less as planned, you rarely wind up with exactly what you were anticipating at the beginning.|
|Claire||Writing is like traveling to a foreign country. It can be confusing, exhilarating, adventurous, or boring. You never know what’s going to happen until you get started! Having a map is usually a good idea, but you’re not always lucky enough to have guidance. Dealing with surprises along the way can be pleasant and rejuvenating, but it’s more likely tedious and complicated. Either way, you can’t help but learn something new about yourself, and how you respond to challenges. Each time you travel you incorporate the lessons you have learned, and hope for a smoother journey!|
|Emily||For me, writing is like knitting. Once I learned some basic “stitches,” I had a foundation to make anything I wanted by combining them in increasingly unique and complicated ways. I can follow a preset pattern and make something simple, linear, and classic like a scarf, or I can take on a challenge and make a sweater. I could be really innovative and just start knitting, using whatever stitches and needles I want to create something totally unique and original. Sometimes, I make mistakes by dropping or miscounting my stitches, but I can always fix them by learning a new strategy or finding a new tool to help me solve the problem. Whatever mistakes are made along the way, however, I always end up with a product that is nuanced and distinctly mine. Like writing, knitting is an ongoing process, and as I add to my repertoire of techniques and skills, I can continue to utilize them in whatever ways I want or need to create items that reflect my style, tastes, and preferences.|
Writing is like…
…jumping into a lake with no bottom. I dive in, clueless of where the process will take me. Staring at a blank page, I flounder in muddled, unorganized thoughts. I’m forced to resurface and strap on an oxygen tank of ideas, tidbits that I gather from research and brainstorming. Having this fresh air nearby keeps me focused as I navigate the murky waters of drafting. Sometimes my air runs out, so I rush back up to refill, tweaking my outline or thesis, brainstorming for additional evidence, or surfing the internet for more sources. Swimming back and forth exhausts me after an hour or two, so I trek back to my cozy lake house and sleep on it. The next morning, I’ll grab my gear and leap back in, refreshed and ready to explore the depths again. This time, I’ll go back over the parts I’ve covered before, checking for faulty grammar or stylistic errors. When I resurface for the last time, it will only be to find another lake to explore!
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.|
|Hana||Writing is like being in an argument with someone. Oftentimes you think you know what your stance is, but as you engage with the other actor (or in writing terms, with outside material or even your own conflicting ideas) you start to adjust your thinking and sort out what you’re really arguing for. Arguing is not a linear process, but a recursive one, just as writing is. And of course on the affective side, there are moments of frustration, pride, and reconciliation. And hopefully the end result is some type of resolution–whether that is proving your point powerfully, compromising, or agreeing to disagree.|
|Hillary||Writing is like visiting a brand new city. I like to spend a little time in preparation, reading up on some of the best places to visit, searching for exciting places to eat, building a little anticipation. But by the time I actually get there, everything changes. Suddenly I feel a little lost in the crowd, but it’s a good kind of lost. It’s the kind of lost that fills me with excitement because it means I get to find myself again. Pretty soon, I’m already discovering things I like about the city, and some of the things frighten me. I meander around the streets, sometimes spending too much time gazing into shop windows, but never actually buying anything. Eventually I reach my final destination, and I can look back at my day and think about what I get to do tomorrow, or what I would do differently next time I visit.
There is a thrill of discovery in visiting an unknown place that reminds me of how I write. No matter how prepared I think I am, when I sit down to put the words on the page I can never quite anticipate exactly what is going to happen. Like some of the cities I visit, some of the things I write turn out…interesting. But it is always a worthwhile experience. Writing is as much an exploration as it is a process, and in that spirit I hope to keep “exploring” as much as I can.
|James||Writing is like…flying a plane. In order to take off, you’ve got to do the prep work. You’ve got to clean the wings, plan a route, and fill up the tank before you ever touch the clouds. Then, once you’re up there, you can coast on autopilot while your words glide out onto the page. And editing, like landing, is perhaps the most tricky part. If the final work is not there, you can still crash and burn on the runway. But if you’re diligent and careful, there is nothing more satisfying than being safe and sound on the ground.|
|Jamie||Writing is like getting into shape- getting started is the hardest part. When I decided to start working out, I did a lot of shopping at first. I took my time buying lightweight running shoes, sweat-wicking t-shirts, and fancy gym bags. Next, I made a schedule of the days and times that I would work out. I researched specific exercises and how many calories they burned. I even looked into healthy recipes and meal plans. Eventually, after all of that preparation, I couldn’t avoid it anymore- I went to the gym for the first time. Similarly, when I sit down to write a new assignment, I often feel intimidated about the task ahead of me. So, I break it down into small steps: reading the assignment, doing the research, writing the bibliography, and formatting the paper. This is all before I even begin writing the draft! This way, I can claim little victories as I am building the confidence that I need to start writing.|
|Josh||Writing is like jazz music because its greatest practitioners are those who have mastered the art of listening. A great jazz musician is not someone who knows all the tunes or plays with extraordinary technical mastery; rather, they are someone who makes music out of their dynamic conversations with others. The best players are improvisers, capable of conjuring new worlds out of thin air and always choosing precisely the right notes for each particular time and place. The best players are also, however, those with the greatest respect for tradition, those who constantly reconnect us to the reasons why we came to love this messy art in the first place.|
|Julia||Writing is like riding a bicycle. You learn when you’re young, and some pick it up faster than others. Some people ride in a straight line, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, mapping out their route beforehand. Others just start riding and plan their route as they go, meandering through the neighborhood. Writing is like riding a bicycle. Some people ride a bicycle throughout their life, while others have periods of no riding and find that when they pick it up again, they’re a little wobbly. Eventually they remember and start riding again with confidence, because riding a bicycle is like writing in that once you learn the basics, you have a skill for life!|
|Ken||Writing is like running a foster home for puppies. At the beginning you rely on your instincts, natural talent, and limited understanding to raise the first few. This inevitably leads to poorly trained animals, ripped up furniture, a lack of sleep, and a stinky house. You get negative response from potential adopters of your puppies and end up struggling to find them homes. Luckily, through repetition and experience you begin to learn that consistent discipline and effort along with a better understanding of training animals improves the behavior of the puppies. You try out new strategies to improve potty training, focus their attention on chew toys instead of a variety of household items, and consult other dog owners to get new tips. There still exists variability in the outcome, since no puppy is alike, but you begin to understand and appreciate the fruits of your effort. In the end, you begin to receive positive responses for your hard work and the puppies find good homes.||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.|
|Kristin||Writing is like sculpting. First you find the material, then you arrange it in a way that makes sense. Sometimes this involves throwing things away, and other times it means realizing that you are missing a piece. After you get the pieces together, you shape them, chipping away that unneeded parts. In the end, the pieces should work as a whole and produce something coherent and meaningful.|
|Li||Writing is like choosing an outfit from a pile of dirty laundry. Initially, you’re faced with a vision and a hamper of contents to achieve it, contents that are there only due to their vague relation to each other or to you. This hamper of jumbled content might seem manageable at first, but you soon realize how ill-suited their smelly, wrinkled forms are for public presentation. You realize how much you’d like to separate all the items by similarity and run them through a spin cycle, or two, or three. And while you’re running those cycles, you have time to clarify your vision—who you’d like to impress with your outfit, what the environment calls for (can’t wear a winter coat in the middle of summer, you know, or swim trunks to a business meeting), and which components will make your argument stand out from the rest—that “so what” factor. Upon reaching the end of your laundry cycles, you can finally sort your contents into the piles you want, storing some away into drawers, while keeping others to organize for your outfit. As you try the outfit, you might find that some pieces don’t work together as well as you intended, and swap them out for new combinations. Under the most ideal circumstances, the resulting outfit flows well, makes sense, has character, and ultimately feels comfortable to you.|
|Meredith||Writing is like rapping, like mastering the balance between form and content. An emotionally evocative rap can lose its power without a solid structural and organizational foundation. Similarly, an intensely well-constructed and organized rap is nothing without clever and well-thought out lyrical content. The best rappers are those who blend content and form in an effortless, stimulating way. Thus, writing is like rapping and I aim to be the next Queen of Flow.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Samantha||Writing is like dating. At first, you’re excited while you get to know your topic. Everything new seems exciting and promising. There are a million directions it can go. But as you get deeper in, you realize where the problems are and what needs the most work. You have to get down to the nitty gritty to see how the topic or person works out. In the end, you come out with a companionable partner, or a nice, polished draft.|
|Sarah||Writing is like getting somewhere. If I have a lot of energy and feel confident about where I’m going, I might propel myself off the ground to run, jump, or leap! But most of the time, I walk, each step leading to the next. I could change direction with any step, but if the paths are familiar, paved, or well-worn by the steps of others, I hardly notice the steps I’m taking. Other times, when I think I’ve found a short cut, or I’ve decided to take the scenic route, or I want to explore new territory, I go off the path. At these times, I might think about each and every place I set my foot. At the end, my steps create a new path for my reader to follow, and if I haven’t left too many obstacles, crossroads, and empty expanses, we’ll meet at around the same spot.|
|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.|
|Violette||Writing is like playing Jenga. You create a structure and then you toy with it, moving ideas around until they find a place where they fit. During the revision process, you tease out all the sentences that aren’t necessary for the structure to stand in order to streamline the essay as much as possible. However, you also need to learn when to put down your pencil before everything comes crumbling down.|
Kim Abels – Director
Vicki Behrens – Assistant Director
Gigi Taylor – ESL Specialist
Percival Guevarra – ESL Specialist
Becky Butler – ESL Specialist
Kim Allison – Business Manager