Meet Our Staff
UNC Writing Center staff and coaches.
Kimberly Abels, Director
email@example.com, (919) 962-4426
Dr. Abels has led the student-centered, tech-savvy professional and student communities that comprise Carolina’s Writing and Learning Center for over twenty years. She collaborates with colleagues and campus partners to build Writing and Learning Center services and fosters environments where students imagine, discover, reflect, and stretch into new ideas and academic habits.
Gigi Taylor, Senior English Language Specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (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.
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.
Ben Grace, Administrative Support Specialist
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 playing an instrument–both processes break down into predicates and progressions and commas and chords. Down to the very last note or letter, you can make it all as technical as you want. But technically good writing and technically good music is never enough. In fact, I’ve never liked a book because the author didn’t make any typos, and I’ve never wanted to learn a song because the bassist didn’t miss any notes. Personally, I think there’s something more important than getting it right. Something more important than even perfection. In a single word, rawness. In another word, risk. As an amateur at both creative pursuits, a learner often intimidated by a blank paper or an unplugged bass, I often fall into the trap of gauging myself by “how much?” How much do I know the rules? How much can I memorize? Over time, however, I’ve found a better question by which to measure my progress and success–“How much do I care?” Admittedly, for those learning writing and music, this question has billions of right answers. For me, however, there’s just one. Something like, “enough to keep trying.”
Writing is like washing a sink full of dishes. On occasion I am diligent, and clean up any and all used kitchen materials and surfaces right after preparing and consuming a meal. More often, I just kind of toss everything in the general direction of the sink and call it a day. In the morning, I am confronted with a quagmire of dirty pots, plates, and cutlery—made that much crustier for having sat in the sink overnight. Try as I might, it is impossible to ignore the sinking feeling of impending obligation. Eventually, once the hot water is flowing, I can feel my anxiety melting away like a dried crust of cheese being vigorously attacked with steel wool. Slowly but surely, dishes that I thought would have to be confined to some sort of toxic waste dump return to their respective shelves, sparkling clean and ready for the next meal.
Writing is like swimming in the ocean. You can go in the water as deep as you’d like, or maybe you just want to dip your toes. The farther you go in, the more fearful you may be of all that can lie beneath the water’s surface: jellyfish, a shark, slimy seaweed, a rip tide. To be sure, the potential for distressing encounters will always be there. But with time and practice, you build skills for swimming in the ocean. Sooner or later, the familiar outweighs the frightening. Eventually, perhaps, you may even come to realize: it’s a privilege to swim; the ocean is a gift of sorts; the salty water stings an open wound but also heals it. So while swimming will always require your effort and attention, it may also bring about joy.
Writing is like breathing—that is, how whales breathe. Due to their aquatic home, whales and dolphins are conscious breathers. As humans, we may converse with a friend, dive into a good book, or absorb a movie while our brain takes care of pesky biological functions like respiration for us in the background. Not so for cetaceans. In contrast, a whale must make a conscious choice to go to the surface for each breath it takes. I’m reminded of this when I write. So often I have an unconscious assumption that I know how I feel about a topic, but then when it actually comes down to putting my ideas on paper, I realize I need to do a lot more work to understand what it is I’m trying to say, and how to express it coherently. Writing is a conscious act of thinking; an advisor once told me that when you write, you can feel your brain expanding. This image stuck with me, and while I often find the hard work of writing to be quite intimidating, the sensation of figuring out what you believe and how to say it is thrilling. Like a 6-ton orca forcing its way to the surface to take a breath, as writers we must push ourselves out from murky depths of perceived barriers. Perfect writing doesn’t happen instinctively for anyone, but when we apply our conscious minds, we can reach a clarity of expression that feels as singular and spectacular as a humpback breaching and soaring through the air.
Writing is like building a sandcastle. At first glance, the limit to which I can create with sand can seem overwhelming and a tad scary. By itself, the sand can feel like it has no structure, but the more I mess around with it, adding my own flair and personality, the more comfortable I feel and the more I understand the material at hand! Although sand’s innate pliability means it is the optimal material to create unique pieces, it also leaves it susceptible to collapse if construction is faulty. Utilizing various tools, such as molds or sculpting tools, as guides can prevent these potential faults and introduce me to skills that I can use in the future. Each time I build a castle, the better, more sound, it is than the last attempt. Oftentimes, I find myself discovering how to not build a sandcastle more than I find myself creating the perfect piece. With each castle I build, I remain aware that they are meant to be edited and revised to get it to the shape I want, so I do not let my spirit be broken if I have to fix some portion of my work or even start over! Soon enough, after plenty of revisions, I can stand back and look at my finished castle and fully appreciate the work it took to get it here. Building these sandcastles is a matter of process, and there’s always something to be gained from each attempt, even on the worst occasions!
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.
For me, writing is like a having a deeply entrenched thirst. You hunger for something to fill the void, often looking and searching for just the thing to quench your thirst. You try a Pepsi—too fizzy. Some tea, perhaps; alas, it is too warm. Even a red bull—the energetic boost is satisfactory, but it does not give you the desired wings you need to soar. Only until you sip a cool refreshing glass of water does your thirst leave. Writing is a thirst that can only be quenched through skillful enterprise. A commitment to try new things, or strategies, is vital. Writing is a process that involves many steps and many tries. Once you find what it takes to quench the thirst, or useful skills that work for you, writing will become a matter of everyday use—to inspire, to connect, to explain, so forth and so on.
Writing is like playing a board game. It can take some time to learn the rules, and even once you know them, you might find yourself having to look things up. Success can depend on patience, tactics, and luck, and when things aren’t going well, you might want to flip the table. But once you figure out a strategy that works for you, you’ll likely be excited to sit back down and do it again, and surrounding yourself with good people and snacks always helps.
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 piece of writing. 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 playing with Legos. You can look at the instructions and follow them exactly–but what’s the fun in that? That’s really not what it’s all about. The biggest joy is sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of Lego bricks and putting together something that you weren’t even fully planning. A weird vehicle or a space station–whatever it is, it will come from the most standard little bits of plastic that millions of people buy every day but will be entirely yours and unique.
Writing is like planting a flower. First, you start to dig a hole in the ground, moving aside the dirt that you do not need and making space to then plant the flower. After that, you have to tend to it often, watering it and giving it the resources to grow. Sometimes, there are roots that have to be investigated if the plant is wilting, and other times, there are even pesky bugs that stunt its growth. Yet, after the flower has finally bloomed, you still have to prune it so that it becomes even more beautiful and healthy. But most of all, with work and encouragement, flowers become flourishing, ever-growing extensions of the gardener. They show a piece of the person who grew them, beautiful and bright.
Writing is like meeting a partner’s parents for the first time. If I want a positive outcome, it’s important to curate the right environment. A concert hall would be too noisy and a zen garden too quiet. It’s an event that requires preparation; I can’t just roll out of bed and do it in my pajamas. I need to be dressed, caffeinated, and ready to use a few sentences that I’ve been rehearsing. If I am eloquent and honest, it will serve me well. If I say what I think is expected of me–instead of what I truly feel–I am doing myself an injustice. Sure, it can be awkward or nerve-wracking, but it can also be humbling, rewarding, and an opportunity to introduce myself to the world.
Writing is like gardening. The garden loves regular attention, and sometimes the first thing you plant may not take root right away. Other times, an insistent weed finds its way into the soil, and you find yourself pulling up the same invasive roots time after time. But over many seasons, you become more familiar with which vegetables love shade and which love sunlight, as well as when to ask for a helping hand. No matter the shape or size of the harvest, the process is worth the time.
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 learning to fence. You may have watched others play, but using your blade correctly takes practice. The type of weapon used, the level of competition, and the opponent all have an effect on how each match will turn out. As with writing, the context and audience matter. Are you participating in an individual event or as part of a team? Writing and fencing are both activities that require you to develop muscle memory—an essential toolkit with which to begin. Fencing entails dueling with new and sometimes challenging competitors, but it also allows for extensive lessons with a coach and time for observing others. Writing is often the same, but each tournament (or writing opportunity!) is a new chance to display the skills already mastered and to learn a little bit more than you knew before. Are you ready for your next “bout” of writing? “En garde!”
Writing is like planning a road trip. You must first pick a destination—have an end goal in mind–=before you can start packing. Once you decide where you’re going, you must pack everything necessary to get you there (if you’re going to the beach, you’re definitely going to want to pack a bathing suit). The more time, effort, and consideration you put into planning your trip, the more prepared you are for an enjoyable experience.
For me, writing is like a romantic comedy. In the first act, there are two people in the world who have not yet met. They are simply going about their own lives, much like the writer and the reader, with no knowledge of the other. In the second act, some happenstance or dramatic event brings the two people together. Though the circumstances may seem quite dull (like a course writing assignment on thermodynamics) or quite momentous (like a best man or bridegroom speech at a wedding), there is love at first sight. Sometimes the initial experience of putting pen to paper, or typing sentences in a word processor, is punch-drunk love. There is, all at once, excitement, confusion, and fear from the thought of someone new reading your words. In the third act, another happenstance or dramatic event almost tears the newly-formed couple apart but, in the end, they live happily-ever-after. Sometimes ordinary procrastination or serious doubt threatens to tear apart the writer from the reader. But, in the end, words are eventually written on the page, and the writer and the reader live happily-ever-after. Did I mention that writing is like a romantic comedy? For nothing is more embarrassingly comedic than the thought of making a meaningful connection to a stranger through your words, yet nothing is more irresistibly romantic than the thought of at least trying.
Writing is like knitting. On some days, its rhythm and pace are comforting and familiar. On other days, it is maddeningly frustrating. The yarn may be frayed, the steps may be difficult, or the pattern may be unclear. There are days when I work for hours, only to realize I have to unravel it and try again. On those days I remind myself that I am not destroying anything, I am simply reworking the same yarn into new stitches. Sometimes, learning a new skill is overwhelming, and I feel like giving up. I tell myself, sometimes begrudgingly, to find another way to approach the problem or to reach out to someone for help. On my best days, it is like greeting an old friend—my mind is sharp, and I am relaxed. I know my tools, I’ve got a roadmap for where I’m going, and once I get started, I am on a roll. I keep myself motivated with the mantra: just one more line. But no matter what kind of day I have, the feeling of finishing a project is always a relief. When I reach the finish line, I know that this work, built painstakingly and with care, is uniquely mine.
Writing is like architecture—it’s a synthesis of art and science. Like architecture, writing is a creative product that’s intended to elicit a reaction. However, in addition to being beautiful, both a building and a piece of writing must be structurally sound. Architects use steel beams to support a structure from the inside out, while writers use logic and organization to help their drafts hold shape. Writing and architecture alike can be both beautiful and functional!
Writing is like trying to scratch an itch on your back just out of reach. I’ll have a demanding sense that some sort of question or project is worth investigating, but try as I might, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to get my fingers on it. I’ll realize that adaptation and strategy are necessary, and go looking for tools to help me out. Chances are I’ll try a few different classic options (a back-scratcher; a ruler; in my more desperate moments, a wooden spoon), but none of them will work particularly well for me. I’ll eventually ask someone else to help me, and it’s only when I can work in dialogue with another (ask them to scratch my back) that I can work that itch out. And, of course, to follow through on the idiom properly, I’ll be happy to return the favor whenever.
Writing is like preparing for a marathon. You sign up because you think it’s a good idea, and then it dawns on you that you have to start training. So, you go for your first few runs and are miserable. It’s hot out, you struggle to breathe, and you’re always sore the next day. And of course, there’s this steep hill on your route that you have to deal with. The climb causes your legs to burn and lungs to ache–you’re at the point where you’re ready to give up. But you don’t let that happen. Instead, you start to find ways to make your runs more enjoyable; you stretch before and after, you make sure you have tunes or podcasts to listen to, and you change up your route to get some different scenery. After adding these small tweaks, you realize you’ve started to add more distance to your runs, and that your mile time keeps dropping. Eventually that one hill isn’t so bad to run up. In fact, you start to enjoy pushing yourself to reach the top, and relish the challenge. Soon, the race itself becomes incidental. Sure, the medal you get after crossing the finish line is cool, and that post-race meal is one of the best you’ve ever had, but their importance as end-goals melts away. Instead you realize the most important thing is getting outside and relying on your own feet to get you back home.
Writing is like running blindfolded. Unable to see where you’re going, every step feels uncertain and difficult. At best you’re tempted to do nothing, safe and secure in the prospect of going nowhere; at worst, you make bumbling, half-hearted moves that seem to take you in the opposite direction you want to go. You trip, you stumble, and just when progress seems futile, the strange motions begin to feel more familiar. Slowly, you ease into the recognition that running blindfolded is still running—one foot in front of the other, step by uncertain step. And then, not sure what to expect, you remove the blindfold, look back, and realize how far you’ve come.
Writing is like a thunderstorm. It can be seen on a radar like an assignment from a professor. Or it can come as a surprise rumbling over the horizon—a sudden force that makes the clacking of a keyboard fill a room just as thunder fills the outside air. Both have hallmarks of their process and power: wind, lightning, and thunder mirror outlining, semicolons, and citations. There are rules to follow in storms and writing—i.e. “don’t stand out in the open!” or “don’t splice commas!”—but sticking to these conventions can yield triteness. Sure, someone can stay safe inside during a storm, but they can also be a storm chaser. As writers face a task like a chaser stares down a tempest, they use their creative will to put into words all that strikes across their mind like lightning.
Writing is like grocery shopping. I do it for a variety of reasons, and no two trips are quite the same. Maybe I ran out of food (or toilet paper). Maybe I’m feeling ambitious so I want to make something other than instant ramen. While I go into the store with an overall purpose, I know I’ll probably end up getting a combination of items that is slightly—or very—different from what was on my list. There are frustrations and disappointments along the way, of course, like when I can’t find the cheese I was looking for, or when the trip takes much longer than expected. Nonetheless, I emerge each time with what I ended up needing after all, and often I’m even equipped with an ingredient or two that I can use in many meals to come. And somehow, ice cream always makes its way into my cart.
Writing is like a fantasy football draft. Both can be enjoyable or feel like loads of work, depending on how you approach it. The more research, preparation, and practice you do ahead of time, the better your result will be; outlines, mock drafts, and freewriting are your best friends. Both are a careful balance between sticking to your plan and being able to go with the flow. You have to learn from your past successes and areas for improvement. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is thinking that you are done before you really are. Just because you’ve drafted your last player doesn’t mean your team is set, any more than writing your last word means your paper is finished. Between searching the waiver wire, editing, making trades, and proofreading, the best teams and papers aren’t made in one night. They come about through hard work and dedication. That’s what makes the end result so sweet.