Meet Our Staff
UNC Writing Center staff and coaches.
Kimberly Abels, Director
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 962-4426
As director of the Writing Center, Kim is responsible for long-range planning, programming, outreach, and collaborations.
Gigi Taylor, Senior English Language Specialist
email@example.com, (919) 962-0725
Gigi helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for students whose first language is not English. She also provides instruction about academic communication, English language, and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Becky Butler, English Language Specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 843-6532
Becky helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for students whose first language is not English. She also provides instruction about academic communication, English language, and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Warren Christian, English Language Specialist
email@example.com (919) 843-9604
Warren helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for students whose first language is not English. He also provides instruction about academic communication, English language, and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Alex Funt, Writing Coach Specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 966-8924
Alex hires, trains, and supervises the Writing Center’s team of undergraduate and graduate student writing coaches. With the assistance of the writing coaches, he manages the Writing Center’s digital media presence.
Kim Allison, Business Manager
email@example.com, (919) 962-7710
Get To Know Our Writing Coaches
The Writing Center’s writing coaches are undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of academic disciplines. They receive extensive training in teaching writing one on one. New graduate coaches undergo more than 40 hours of preparation at the start of the fall semester, and undergraduates take a 3-credit-hour course (English 402) to prepare. All coaches receive ongoing training and supervision.
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?”
Writing is like going to the gym. I am ultimately the one who knows what works best for me, though I could use some encouragement and guidance from time to time. It is essential to go to the gym and to start writing at the same time each day so that I develop the habit. Once the activities are ingrained in my routine, they get a lot easier to practice every day. In both areas, I have a few key moves that I like to focus on, but it is equally important to switch it up and try new things to get the best results. Though going to the gym and writing can be difficult to start, I always feel accomplished and relieved after a good session.
Writing is like travel. The time-crunched fly directly to the destination, taking only the essentials in their carry-on to expedite the journey. The seasoned nomads ease towards their destination, hopping from point to point with wanderlust. The street-bound human takes the superhighway, relying on downloaded apps and clearly-marked exits to signal their whereabouts. The intrepid blaze an original trail, navigating thorny overgrowth and collecting epiphanies often more treasured than the intended endpoint. No matter the method one takes, wrong turns are inevitable, and directions are requested (or offered unprompted). Whether you take the outside suggestion or rely on your instincts, intermittent pauses are necessary for snacks.
Writing is like looking for constellations. We squeeze significance out of a bunch of dots so that we can share ideas with other people. Our cultural context has given us a set of products, a collection of belts and dragons and dogs, but we are free to work outside these templates. Stories about Orion may have primed us to look for a giant hunter in the sky, but to see that constellation is to adapt part of our collective consciousness for personal needs. Those who, like Ptolemy, would tell you that they know best when it comes to your stargazing (READ: writing) ought to remember that constellations are a means of individual expression. Where a Babylonian saw a chariot, a Seleucian saw a bear (and you might see an iPhone charger)!
Writing is like a puppy. Training both requires immense effort, which may not be apparent to all at first. Like an unruly puppy, words may refuse to come when needed or may leap into your mind unbeckoned. Puddles of words may form in unwanted splotches, and an ill-fitting word may shred the flow of a paragraph. Then slowly, through practice, repetition, and lots of rewarding treats, good habits start to form. All the tedious processes become worthwhile when you fall asleep, lovingly cuddled by the words that have caused you so much grief before. Then, you wake up to a puppy-induced mess and realize that having this well-behaved dog requires constant effort and reinforcement to maintain.
Writing is like laundry. It is always around, and just when you think it’s finished, there is a new pile to wash. You frequently have to gather information and divide it into discrete parts, much like sorting laundry into whites, darks, delicates, and dry clean only. You are frustrated when it is not done—think about every time you search for your favorite shirt of pair of jeans, only to find that it’s buried under a pile of soiled clothes. Sometimes the smallest sections take the longest to finish. I am reminded of small stains that refuse to budge or re-stringing drawstrings into your favorite sweat pants. But just like laundry, once it has been washed, dried, folded, and stored in its designated spot, a completed writing assignment brings a sense of pride.
Writing is like putting together a puzzle. You need to set aside time and space to complete it. At first, the jumble of colorful pieces can seem overwhelming, but establishing the outline can help you get started. Then, you can begin to work inward, finding subtle connections between the edges of different pieces. It’s exciting when pieces start to fit together, but sometimes two pieces just won’t connect. It’s okay to walk away and return with a clear head. Sometimes, a friend can help make the process more enjoyable, and sometimes you need to work alone. In the end, your hard work on the small details creates a whole, beautiful picture.
Writing is like pottery. I’ve been trying to make a teapot for years. I still haven’t figured it out. Once, I made a sugar bowl. Mostly, though, I sit on my potter’s wheel looking at pictures of teapots while I spin out all manner of strange and hideous earthenware. Along the way, I’ve become quite good at knowing which processes don’t lead to teapots, and I’ve also produced some interesting pieces whose components I’d like to incorporate in my teapot, whenever I figure out how to make it. I’ve also learned that all manner of pottery are ultimately made from the same stuff. It’s a matter of process what ends up coming off the wheel, and there’s always something worth recycling in even the worst cases.
Writing is like hiking in the mountains. Sometimes it’ll be beautifully planned, with a nice pristine map and a guided trail for you to follow. But other times, there is little to focus on, as you climb and stumble upwards towards the top. There are times when you get lost, times when you realize your direction is wrong, times when you feel tired and stressed, and times when you simply sit back and relax to admire its beauty. But when you reach the top, bruised and weary, and you look out across the mountaintops and wonder at your journey up to the peak, there’s always a sense of prideful bliss.
For me, writing is like building a house. The ideas, argument, and evidence are like the foundation, walls, and roof. They need to be strong and well planned. An outline is like a blueprint; it helps me remember all the vital parts of the building. My word choice, style, and organization are like the paint, flooring, and furniture. They make the house unique and they can be changed or rearranged. Once the job is done, even if there are small imperfections, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. I always take a step back and recognize the hard work that has gone into constructing my piece of writing. I probably won’t make it on HGTV anytime soon, but I love my own building process!
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 sweating. I can walk outside in August and immediately start sweating, and there is no work required. There are some prompts where the pencil just flows. Some days the motivation isn’t there, or it requires a lot of work to break a sweat. With hard work, and dedication to your own growth, we can all be successful writers and “sweat-ers.” Lastly, writing is like sweating most because after a great sweat or writing session I feel cleansed and relieved.
Writing is like hiking a new trail. Sometimes this trail exists in a landscape that you’ve already explored countless times before; at other times it twists and turns through an entirely new landscape. In either situation, you have no idea what precisely you’re going to see and experience even if you’ve read descriptions of the trail from other travelers. There might be a steep two-mile stretch in an entirely new landscape that, according to previous hikers, supposedly requires scrambling, but you might discover that you don’t need to scramble at all. Or perhaps there’s a four-mile stretch on that new trail near where you’ve always hiked that previous travelers have claimed is challenging but certainly do-able, but you find that you simply can’t do it because it’s strenuous and constantly near precipices that send you reeling from fear and anxiety. You just don’t know what the trail has in store for you until you start hiking it. Sometimes the hike is easier than expected and you make it a lot farther than you initially planned. Sometimes the hike seems impossible to accomplish and you have to make the decision to turn back and either re-focus and re-fuel before trying again or, maybe, you simply search for another trail that you can complete as a practice run before trying the hard trail again in the future. You might discover gorgeous, panoramic views on your hike, or you might see nothing but undergrowth the whole time. But despite all of this uncertainty, you eventually learn, after several hikes, that the joy of hiking consists in seeing the beauty and sublimity of everything you encounter, and that the trek itself is as important as reaching your destination. Writing, like hiking, requires embracing the expedition—even if it’s a long one—that you must experience in order to reach your goals.
Writing is like painting. We all begin with the same materials and our own level of innate ability, and learning a few basic techniques or tips and tricks can enable us to better express ourselves and unleash our potential. Perfection is not the goal—just as there is no “perfect” painting, there is no “perfect” piece of writing. The outcome might be something completely unexpected—and that’s the beauty of it!
Writing is like driving a car. When I first began to learn, the experience was mildly terrifying. I was constantly looking to my instructor for confirmation that I was following the rules and doing what was right. Eventually I no longer needed the help of a grown up passenger, and I became so comfortable that I began to explore different routes and find new places. At times, I might be cruising along, my journey easy-going and relaxed, but inevitably traffic and road blocks will pop up and slow me down, leading to occasional bouts of road rage and extreme frustration. I am also a firm believer that most of the time, getting off the high way in order to experience more interesting views is worth the sacrificed efficiency. And, in times of confusion, I must remind myself that outside help and resources, hunting for new inspiration or consulting a map or pedestrian is necessary to continue the journey.
Writing is like looking in a mirror before you leave for the day. It can be unpleasant at first, because an early draft might reveal you aren’t as put together as you hoped you were. You might have spinach in your teeth, missed buttons, or stains on your shirt. Likewise, your first draft may reveal underdeveloped ideas, frequently misspelled words, or run-on sentences. But just as looking in the mirror gives you a chance to make adjustments to your appearance, writing provides a chance to revise and improve your ideas before sharing them. In both cases, you can present your best self to the world.
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.
Writing is like painting with words. Each word is like a brushstroke, and every stroke is needed to get the full picture. And just like painting, with writing one improves with practice and study. But there is no such thing as a “perfect” painting: there are paintings that conform to genre conventions and that are pleasing and enjoyable to the viewer, but there is no perfection. Similarly, we may never become “perfect” writers—not even writing coaches—but we may seek to improve as writers.
Writing is like going for a run. I always start with an end goal in mind and usually start my runs off pretty slow, perhaps with a brisk walk or a light jog. But once I’m warmed up, I find myself sprinting full speed ahead. I might miss a few obstacles along the way and stumble a bit because I’m sprinting, but I carry on nonetheless. I’ll continue to do this until I tire out and may even have to to stop and rest. Even though I may have to rest, I always start my run back up and usually won’t stop until I reach my goal. Once I’m done, I’ll pause for a bit and prepare to return home. Having ran this route before, I now notice the few potholes and random branches I had missed before, and I’m able to navigate this route with ease. And soon, I’ll return home a more seasoned runner ready for my next run.
Writing is like putting together a puzzle. Sometimes, you have a vision of what you want the beautiful, sparkling final product to look like or convey, but you have absolutely no idea how to get there. Once you’ve done the research and taken good notes, you have all the puzzle pieces ready to go. However, reaching your end goal may be difficult because writing, just like a puzzle, is more beautiful yet complex than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, just for the sake of progress, you try to force a piece to fit in a place where it just wasn’t meant to be. If you keep trying to force that piece, something about the picture just might look a little wrong. But just like with writing, rearranging or rethinking your puzzle is completely okay. Once you put that final piece into place, the pride that you feel while looking at the picture makes all the work worth it.
Writing is like preparing a meal. You begin with an ingredient or flavor that you want to try, and then you start brainstorming the sides that you could pair with it. You look up a few recipes before deciding which one to pursue, and then you go to the store to acquire necessary tools or supplies. Just as you might try out some new strategies with writing, you might experiment with new ingredients for your meal, which may or may not improve upon the recipe. But the important thing is that you’ve created something from nothing and that you’ve learned something new, and who knows? You may have discovered your new favorite dish!
Writing is like skydiving for the first time. The first time a friend asked me to go skydiving, just the thought of jumping out of a plane terrified me. Simply starting the writing process or being asked to write a 12-page paper might have a similar effect. However, as the skydiving instructor explained the rules and showed me how to properly jump out of the plane, and, more importantly, as I felt my harness securely attached to my experienced instructor’s harness, I began to feel more comfortable. Similarly, during the writing process, as you begin to jot down ideas and brainstorm, suddenly, writing doesn’t seem as intimidating as it did before anything was written down. Then, eventually, you will come to a place where, as in skydiving, you can jump out of the plane from 10,000 feet [draft], free fall for 30 seconds [draft/revise], admire the scenery [edit/proofread], thankfully land on the ground [publish], and think, “That’s it? That wasn’t too scary after all. I would do that again!”
Writing is like walking. When I start my day walking, I have enough energy (after a coffee, obviously) to walk surprisingly fast for someone so short. My pace is also motivated by the fact that I’m probably running late. In the same way, when I start writing I tend to have a lot of ideas that flow fast; I overexert myself in both writing and walking easily, requiring a break once all my ideas are out—or in the case of walking, I make it into a seat in lecture. When I come back to writing, it takes a little refining; I rearrange and rewrite ideas on my screen. In the same way, when it’s time to walk somewhere else across campus, I might walk a little slower, or I might give myself time to rearrange my schedule to meet up with people. By the end of the day, my legs regret how far I took them. I walk back, slower, taking in a sunset or a quiet that wasn’t there that morning. In the same way, when a piece of writing feels like it’s coming to a close, I read over it slowly, with thought, contemplation, and eventually, contentment.
Writing is like a shower. Sometimes, it comes at just the right moment, when I am tired and need to understand my thoughts. Like a hot shower, writing can give me a space to think about my own experiences and emotions. Other times, however, showers feel like chores that only serve to take up my time when I am busy with other work. Writing can also feel like something I must do, not something I want to do. In either case, the result is worth the time. After I am done, I am better equipped for my life in the world.
Writing is like drawing with charcoal. I cover a sheet of paper with a light grey layer of soft vine charcoal. I work subtractively, lifting out the lights with an eraser, and additively, using compressed charcoal to deepen the areas of shadow. Forms and shapes are defined, obscured, and found again through this messy process. Sometimes the composition just comes together, but more often, I need to step away from the drawing. I have to see it from a distance, hold it up to a mirror, show it to a friend, or think about it in my sleep. Even when the drawing is completed, it stays open-ended.
For me, writing is like growing a garden. We all start off with the same basic principles and tools—soil, seeds, sun and water. But everyone plans out their garden beds in different ways, bringing their own unique touch and creativity to the process. Just like with a garden, you need to be responsive to the changing seasons and contexts of your writing. Sometimes writer’s block hits, like a drought or particularly hot year affecting a vegetable crop. At other times, it feels like the words are just flowing out onto the page, like a bunch of tulips springing from the ground. Growing a garden requires constant practice and hard work. But, in the end, you have a beautiful reward.
Writing is like cooking. Depending on the context, it can be anything from a tedious chore meant to satisfy a utilitarian end to an elaborate process intended to bring pleasure to the writer and her readers. Regardless, writing and cooking always require deciding what you want to make, gathering your ingredients, and drawing on a basic skill set to produce your desired outcome. If you cook–or write–like I do, this process also invariably involves some amount of frustration, several unexpected adjustments, some input from friends, and an acceptance that the results can be delicious even though they’ll never be perfect.
Writing is like camping. Camping requires a lot of preparation, even for experienced campers. I make lists, read about the trails, and map out my journey. Camping can be dangerous alone, so I always bring friends. In fact, other campers are a valuable resource; their advice can make the most daunting trip possible. However, all that preparation only gets me so far. Once I’m out in the wild, I need to adapt to the challenges of my trip. At the end, the trip is often different from what I expected. It was hard work, even exhausting, and at least one thing went wrong. Still, I finished what I set out to do and learned more about the process. I know I’ll go camping again, and I feel more confident with each trip.
Writing is like improv. Sometimes you get a suggestion (or a prompt) you might not like—but you have to roll with it regardless. At first, it might take a moment to get into the scene; you must establish a setting, problem, and relationship to your scene partners. Once you have established the basics, you must build off of them, filling in details and making stylistic choices. There are certain rules that govern improv just as there rules for what dictates good writing. In improv, you must trust yourself and confidently defend the choices you make, which allows you to ultimately create something unique, personal, and unreproducible—just like a stellar piece of writing.
Writing is like proving a theorem. Some theorems have straightforward proofs, just like some “cookie cutter” pieces of writing, where each new section or step follows directly from the last. Some pieces of writing have no trouble putting the reader to sleep; some theorems have hard-to-follow proofs. Most, though, are exciting, weird, creative, surprising; the list goes on. Like a good piece of writing, a good proof can invoke feelings in the reader, and like each piece of writing, each proof brings with it an individual’s voice, thoughts, and unique outlook on the world.