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 sailing. To start your adventure on the sea or on a blank piece of paper, it helps to know where you want to go! I use a variety of tools, strategies, and maps to help me pick my destination. While I always sketch out a route, it is important that I remain flexible. There are always moments when I need to alter my path due to changes in the wind and tide (or my arguments and evidence). Sailing and writing requires “tacking”—going back and forth between east (writing) and west (revising) to make progress despite heading into the wind (or dealing with writer’s anxiety!). These changes are part of the process. As long as I remember my purpose, I know that after dropping my anchor or submitting my essay I can relax and enjoy the sun setting over the water.
Writing is like performing in a symphony. The sheet music indicates where sound and silence occur throughout the piece of music, but as a musician I get to add my own energy, techniques, and emotion to the structure. In the first movement, I play notes that help introduce the theme, set the tone, and draw in the audience. During the middle movements, I expand upon the theme, introduce new keys and tempos, and play a solo that highlights an interesting motif. The last movement crescendos to a conclusive moment, and I feel a sense of accomplishment because all the rehearsal hours have paid off.
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 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 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 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 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 hiking an Appalachian trial. When looking down the quickly evasive wooded path, the task ahead seems daunting and unknowable. Yet, as with all things, the first step is critical in surmounting the ever growing fear in your chest. Once that threshold is passed and the foot of the trail is behind you, the journey becomes automatic as your feet beat across the dirt and rock in some primal ritual. The path is at times arduous and unknowable, and at times as simplistic and familiar as a neighbourhood short cut. Your path might cross a river, a rocky vertical climb, or a thick and verdant swath of trees and bushes. At each of these intersections, there is no other option but to ford the river, scale the rocky obstacle, or push through the brambles and bushes. Yet, as the first rays of the sun brush your skin, as your legs rest from their primitive push, all that is left is to look back across the path which was taken, and appreciate where you began and now where you have ended as the next trail stands open before you.
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 growing a garden. You likely have an initial vision of what you’d like to get out of your garden, and that might be subject to change after you get started. You need to plan out the steps, taking into consideration many factors (time of year, light, water, soil). Not everything that you grow will thrive, but you take stock of your results and learn from failed strategies. With reflection and experience your results get better and your comfort level grows. Ultimately, what you produce can be surprisingly beautiful, and you might even learn something new about yourself along the way!
Writing is like roller skating. You may go without practicing for a few months, and feel as though you’ve forgotten how to do it when you finally step back onto the rink. Starting out can be shaky, and you’ll probably fall more than a few times. But once you get back into the swing, you can finally begin to pick up speed, and the more daring of us may even do some tricks. When you’ve done enough to be satisfied, however temporarily, you’re left with the pleasant feeling of having accomplished something.
Writing is like going on vacation, you have the plan or itinerary of all the places you are going to visit and stops you are going to make. This step can sometimes be a hassle, because you have to bring your “ideal” vacation plan to fruition, kind of like penning an idea down. The actual traveling is sometimes the worst and there are times you wish you could just turn around and go back home, but at the same time you can always look forward to the fact that in time you will have reached your wonderful destination. And whether it is a pristine beach or a dazzling big city, the work can really pay off!
Writing is like running. Running offers moments of solitude and time for reflection, but can also present an intense challenge. It is both a joy and a struggle. I don’t always enjoy it, and some days it takes more effort than others. Some days I have bursts of energy and inspiration that send me flying, other times I feel sluggish and directionless. Dealing with my fluctuating motivation takes discipline, but creating a routine is key to progress, so I make time for it everyday. Importantly, I set my own pace, and progress is always self-referential. Even If I don’t stick to my plan I can still enjoy the process, regardless of what direction it takes me in. Lastly, running and writing don’t have to be solo activities—find a friend to help you meet your goals! Above all, running, like writing, is about persistence and following your curiosity.
Writing is like life. Life is a constant journey in which you are growing and learning every day. Like writing, life isn’t always easy. Sometimes life is hard. In those moments, you find a friend who will support you and guide you through the challenges. Sometimes life is easy and wonderful! That is when we relax a bit more. Either way, life always takes work. At the end of the day, we must admit that we really do love life.
Writing is like taking your dog for a walk. Sometimes she will pause and investigate a new scent. Sometimes she will sprint ahead and drag you along behind her. When she seems unruly, you might find it helpful to take her to training to make your walks more manageable. And, if you’re lucky (and patient), these walks might become an enjoyable and productive pastime rather than a chore.
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.
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.
Writing is like unraveling a knot. It always seems to turn out that the twistiest jumbles are easiest to pick apart, while the simplest snarls morph into a recursion of stuckfast loops in loops. To ensure our efforts are not for naught, we ought to be clear what a knot is or what it’s not. After all, sometimes a knot is not a knot. Many are tangles, more are bows—and the unraveling is how we make sense of those. Ah, the multicursal knot. Is it a tightness in the belly that concerns the doctor, a unit of speed for sailors to mark their travels, a link that couples tie to seal the bonds of marriage, a hidey-hole for birdies formed in the blemish of a tree, a kink in the muscle for the masseuse to knead? The first step to writing is often not the writing, but unraveling its purpose—how should I do it, for whom, to what end? Writing is like unraveling a knot because once done, we are free to weave something greater than the challenge it represented: a new line of thinking, a web of relationships, a net to catch the imagination, a mesh of perspectives, a tress of the braid in a work of art. Your approach makes all the difference, and there are no Gordian Knots.
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 adopting a dog. In the beginning, you are both getting to know each other—figuring each other out and getting comfortable with your new surroundings. As you spend more time together, working on certain skills and habits, you both start to form a bond and relationship. The dog will always be loyal and there for you, but in return, you care for it, feed it, show it care and affection. It takes work, and sometimes it’s more work than you realized, but in the end, you’re so grateful for its companionship and ability to grow with you.
Writing is like growing a tree. You have an idea, and that is the seed. Plant that seed into some nutrient-rich dirt with a fruitful climate: these things are under your control; it’s your soil that you create; it’s your climate that you make. Need music while writing? Need coffee? Need a clean space? Need to brainstorm with someone? These are all factors of your writing environment that play into your seed taking root and sprouting. The writing does not see the light of day yet. It is still in the darkness of the ground. All you’ve done is write your name and the date on the paper. (Just joking!) Water the soil with your thoughts, and make sure it gets plenty of sunlight, and it will grow into an essay or maybe even a full-blown book. Keep in mind if you want a tree, some moss, or a bush, that these are different species of plant, so you’ll need to attend to each piece of writing according to its needs and genre-related conventions; otherwise, it just might die. And don’t forget, when you procrastinate on a writing assignment, that is like denying the tree the proper amount of sunlight and water for it to grow and flourish. So, when you wait till the last minute, your essay may sprout, but it probably won’t bloom or mature into the great oak it could be. Don’t deny your writing the time and love it deserves, unless you want one of the western movie tumbleweeds. Now, repeat the process, and soon you just might have a forest flourishing and blooming with all kinds of writing you’ve created.
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 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.
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.
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 cooking. Cookbooks, similar to websites and guides full of writing advice, offer seemingly unending streams of tips, rules, and processes for crafting a dish. These instructions might be maddeningly vague or painfully exact. But, in either case, producing something always differs from reading about something. You may have even made this dish before. Despite following the steps as closely as possible, the dish never came together. Or, after some hiccups, it came out just fine. Still, maybe a touch more salt would help next time. As with writing, cooking offers both the sense of freedom and the terror of the unknown. To manage both feelings, of course, you can rely, even build, on past experiences. Likewise, writing and cooking both reward a thoughtful, methodical process. Just as a sauce combined all at once doesn’t taste as luscious as one whose flavors have been layered and melded over time, a paper thrown together the night before never quite coheres as well as one developed over days or weeks. The process can be quick or slow, sometimes both, but it always matters. And, like writing, cooking requires frequent adjustments to fit new contexts, purposes, and audiences.