Getting started at the end

By Abby Ponder

 

We’re nearing the end of the semester–or, more accurately, we’re barreling towards it at full speed–and it’s at this time of year that the panic sets in. You have a planner in front of you and a to-do list off to the side, but rather than making you feel organized and coherent, it’s just sending those stress levels skyrocketing because there’s so much to do.

That’s fair.

It’s even worse as a senior.

I am currently preparing to say my farewells to WKU as graduation looms a few mere yards away. Suddenly, I’m looking at an avalanche of things to do to help prepare for the transition from college student to adult in the real world.

It’s a lot–sometimes overwhelming. And, as a result, it might seem easy to let your papers slide and “come back to them later.”

Sure, it’s easy to do that.

But don’t.

This is your time to shine, my friends: to write that stellar final paper and look at how far you’ve come since that early lit review your freshman year. You know the one I’m talking about–the one with more comma splices and missing apostrophes than you care to admit. Furthermore, don’t you want to end your college experience with a paper you’re proud of, your last hoorah?

And you might be thinking that, sure, that all sounds well and good, but it’s so much easier said than done. And, honestly, I’d agree with you. Sometimes its hard to find that motivation when the senioritis kicks in.

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My advice? Look at the bigger picture. Look at that finish line.

The WKU Writing Center Blog has several pieces of advice that will help you on that journey towards knocking your final papers out of the park, too:

Above all else, though, have confidence in yourself and your writing.

And for all you folks who are graduating, congratulations! Best of luck as you move forward.

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Where to write at WKU

By Abby Ponder

We all know that starting a paper is often the most difficult part of writing the paper. In fact, we’ve covered it in great detail on this very blog. At the end of the day, though, we all have our own spaces and places to tell our stories; however, if you’re wanting to stay on campus for your writing days, we’ve got a couple suggestions for you.

Your Dorm (or home)

It seems pretty self-explanatory, but some people write their best work from the comfort of their own room.

There are obvious pros to writing in this location: (1) you’re comfortable, (2) you don’t have to deal with people distracting you from writing, and (3) you’re familiar with the space and everything in it. Let’s be honest, it’s also really convenient–especially when you’ve procrastinated until the night before the paper’s due. Not that you’d ever do such a thing, though, right?

But, at the same time, these pros can sometimes be cons. Being comfortable might mean you’re more easily distracted or tempted to take a nap. Plus, if your roommate or friends from down the hall are hanging out, you’re more liable to be distracted by them than hearing a stranger order a cup of coffee or rant about the latest Scandal episode. Who knows, in your own room you might even watch that Scandal episode yourself.

Really, whether or not your dorm (or home) works well for your writing depends on your personality and your ability to concentrate. Test it out and use your best judgment.

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Helm/Cravens Library 

This seems like the most obvious place, of course. It’s quiet. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be quiet. (Cough.) There are seemingly endless floors–nine, nine floors–and endless rows of books and shelves. Some of the shelves even move! The cubbies of desks sprinkled throughout the perimeter of each floor are also especially appealing if you like to be alone with your thoughts. Or you can use the computer lab on the fourth floor in Cravens. There are usually plenty of computers available, and it’s one of the best places to go if you need to concentrate and thrive off people’s judgment to keep you off Facebook.

Plus, if you’re working on your paper between 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., then stop by and see us at our Cravens’ location. We’ll be hanging out at the reference desk.

Ultimately, the library is a wonderful place to write. Generally it’s even my first choice! Unless, of course, it’s final weeks. And then you might have to fight for that spot, buddy.

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Starbucks/Einstein’s/Java City

Nothing breeds productive thoughts like the smell of brewing caffeine in the air. For some people (myself wholeheartedly included), a coffee shop is the undisputed best place to write. There’s enough hustle and bustle to stifle the silence, but you can also do your own thing with a nice cup of joe by your side. It’s a great environment! Plus, you can also feel really mature as you sip that latte and type away.

Just keep in mind that if you’re camping out in your fave coffee shop for a few hours at a time, you should actually buy something while you’re there. (This is also especially true for coffee shops off campus.)

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The Colonnade (or anywhere outside, really) 

Now that we’re nearing spring and the weather is warming up, writing a paper outside is an ideal idea-churning location. What better place is there to feel an idea sprout from your pen and see words blossom on your screen? Whether you’ve got a hammock, a blanket, or a spot on the Colonnade steps, you’re guaranteed to be writing in comfort and style.

Fair warning, though, that comfort and style might be a little too distracting.

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Mass Media and Technology Hall 

If you enjoy writing on desktop computers, then MMTH is the place for you.

It’s also the place for you if you need people’s judgment to keep you on task but find the quiet of the library stifling.

Conversely, if noise bothers you, then you might want to reconsider. Either way, though, it’s an excellent place to print that paper off before class. And if you’re not already using WebPrint from your laptop, now is the perfect time to start…

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So, where are your favorite places to write? Share in the comments below! And good luck as you move forward with those papers, my friends. Don’t forget that the WKU Writing Center is here to help you with the paper writing process. Give us a call at (270) 745-5719 to set up an appointment today.

 

Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

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When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

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Another new semester

by Abby Ponder

Well, friends, it’s that time of year again: the start of another new semester. Whether you’re a freshman who has finally gotten a handle on this whole “college thing,” or a senior standing on graduation’s threshold (as I am), each new semester introduces a host of emotions. And, let’s be honest, a fair amount of stress, as well.

Fortunately, the WKU Writing Center is here to help.

As of this week, we’re officially open for business! If you’ve never visited the WKU Writing Center before, our main location is in Cherry Hall 123. Simply head towards the building’s computer lab and take a right just before you get there. We’re the first room (not the bathroom) on the right. All you need for an appointment is your paper, a pencil, and a smile. Knowing your 800 number helps, too.

If you can’t make it to our Cherry Hall location during the day, though, we’re happy to say that we’re open in Cravens Library from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Our station is at the Reference Desk in the Commons at Cravens. If you’ve never been there before, simply go to the fourth floor of the taller of the two buildings and find the area with several computers. We’ll be there!

Our hours for both locations this semester are as follows:

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You can schedule an appointment with us by calling (270) 745-5719 during our operating hours. Or you can drop in when you’re nearby and schedule an appointment in person. We’re also available for drop-in appointments, though spots are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Be sure to stay up to date on Writing Center happenings by following us on Facebook and checking out this blog every now and then. We typically post once a week, so keep an eye out for more content heading your way!

The WKU Department of English also has a newly updated blog: First Floor Cherry. Check it out to have a great sense of what’s happening in the overall department and to read some great content.

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The Elle Woods Approach

By Molly Couch

At this point in the semester, things have become overwhelming. The weather won’t decide on a season, that last deadline passed only to give rise to a new one, and we have to start looking ahead to next semester already to schedule classes and meet with our advisors and plan out our entire lives.

This is the part of the semester that can get a little blurry when you look back; you know it happened, but all you know is that you existed stressfully and somehow muddled through to where you are now.

When this time of year hits, it’s time to take the Elle Woods approach.

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This Legally Blonde protagonist is one of my favorite role models, and for good reason: she knows when to take herself seriously, and when to let go and have fun. She knows how to balance her life: academics and socializing, work and play, fact and fashion. Elle is an extremely intelligent young woman, but her ultimate success lies in her specialized knowledge and life experience; after all, sometimes it pays off to know that you can’t shower after getting a perm because you risk deactivating the ammonium thioglycolate.

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So what does Elle Woods have to do with writing? I’m glad you asked.

A college student herself, Elle sets an important precedent for us: there are absolutely times to buckle down and get to reading and research and writing, just as there are times for costume parties and manicures and Cosmo.

Elle knows that it can be the hardest thing in the world to write that paper or to do the reading (or to come to the Writing Center). Doing well academically is kind of the point of college. But don’t sacrifice your well-being for another hour of staring listlessly at a blank Word document! Be kind to yourself! Figure out what you need, not just what you want, and address it accordingly.

Are you spending too much time scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr? It’s probably time to get back to work. Have you been driven to pull your hair out over this assignment? Maybe that’s a sign to take a step back and take care of your other needs.

Need some suggestions? Elle can help!

  • Drink enough water and eat regularly: if your body can’t function properly, then that paper’s never going to get done.
  • Exercise: “Exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” While I hope you all aren’t considering murder, inactivity can easily lead to frustration. Take stock of your time and head outside for some fresh air. The Preston Center is available to students, but even taking a fifteen minute walk around campus can help. Put that hill to use!
  • Use your support system: your friends, your classmates, your professors, your RAs, and all the other various resources that WKU offers are here for you when you need them.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself: this is probably the trickiest tip on the list, but it can help in a big way. Here at the Writing Center, the tutors keep a lighthearted record of their “failures” and “successes”: burned your tongue on a pop tart? That counts as a failure, but laughing it off can make it sting a little less (figuratively, not physically). Take the stairs instead of the elevator today? That’s a success, and you should be proud of yourself. Notice the little successes and use them to fight the less fun parts of life.

You can write that paper, finish that presentation, fly through that exam – don’t bend and snap that pencil; just keep in mind the Elle Woods Approach. Balance is key, and taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your schoolwork.

And don’t forget that one of your resources here is the Writing Center! Our tutors know just what you’re going through and can help, but only if you come and visit us!

Traversing the Interstate

By Abby Ponder

Over the course of the three days leading up to Halloween, several of your Writing Center tutors—myself included—participated in a whirlwind adventure to Oxford, Mississippi. The trip is one of the highlights of Professor Walker Rutledge’s course on Hemingway and Faulkner that also includes a similar excursion into Hemingway’s childhood in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of the bustling city of Chicago.

The course provides a fascinating insight into the lives of two of the U.S.’s Nobel Prize-winning authors. Experiencing their worlds from the very ground on which they once stood is both remarkable and rewarding—an educational experience unlike any other.

In our time in Oxford, we visited a variety of locations: several cemeteries and statues, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss, and even Faulkner’s home at Rowan Oak.

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William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi: Rowan Oak.

As cool as all this is, though, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Writing Center. Because, sure, some tutors went along, but what does that have to do with this blog?

Well, it’s a good question—I’ll give you that.

See, William Faulkner, like all great authors and individuals alike, did not always have an easy road to success. He had his high points (like winning the Nobel Prize for Literature), but he also had plenty of low points.

The thing about writing is that it can sometimes be undeniably difficult. It doesn’t always matter what genre you’re writing in, whether it’s academic or creative, because sometimes the words simply won’t come. And if that’s the case, don’t feel bad. We’ve all struggled with it from time to time—even writers like William Faulkner. And, look, now he’s got his own statue in his hometown’s square.

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Let’s be honest, this is how you really know you’ve made it.

Writing is an ever-evolving process that involves starting and stopping and starting again countless times over. Sometimes it may feel as though you’re never making any progress, but you are. See, even if you cut all the earlier words from the paper and transfigure your ideas on the second draft, it is still progress. You’re growing as a writer every day, and each paper or poem you pen is going to be stronger for it.

Unfortunately, however, your writing might never be 100% flawless. Mine sure isn’t by any stretch of the imagination and even an author as inventive and inspiring as William Faulkner still probably had a mistake or two filter through the margins, especially on those first few editions.

And sometimes what you love best won’t immediately be accepted by the general public. After all, Faulkner entirely refurbished the originally crumbling Rowan Oak with the royalties from the novel “Sanctuary,” which is largely regarded as his worst book. On the other hand, it took quite some time for “Sound and the Fury” to reach notoriety among the general public. Though, to be fair, it’s still not the most readable work of the American literary catalogue, especially if you’re looking for something quick and casual.

The real moral of this story is to simply keep writing. Sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes people may not love the words you put on paper upon their first reading. But writing, at its core, is an evolving process.

Keep at it and see what you can do.

We, in the Writing Center, believe that you can do it. And you should believe in you, too.

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The students standing in front of the confederate soldier’s statue at the University of Mississippi. The statue is featured in Faulkner’s novel “Sound and the Fury,” though its location is altered in the novel. Photo by Walker Rutledge.

Lines of red and green

By Abby Ponder

Have you ever left an appointment at the Writing Center feeling a little blue? You came in mostly confident in your paper–there might’ve been a few mistakes, sure, but you just know it’s solid–and then watched as lines began to fill the margins while your eyes widened in surprise.

It’s not always a great feeling, especially that first time you see it.

Even if you talk it over with your tutor as you go, discuss why those colorful and intricate markings now dot your paper, you might still be feeling a little upset. I thought it was good–that I was good. What happened? 

Well, I have news for you: you’re not alone.

My editing process, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post here, involves a lot of printing and, well, editing. I’ll often print out a copy of my paper, take a pen to it, make the corrections, and then repeat the process a time or two again. Hey, never let it be said that I am nothing if not persistent. (And, let’s be honest, a bit of an extreme perfectionist.)

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush home and start editing your papers five or six times with a bright red pen. That’s actually not it at all! What works well for some people might not work as well for others. For instance, I know some people who simply read the document to themselves backwards, looking for typos or misplaced words as they go. Others turn on track changes in Microsoft Word and start flying through the paper.

There is no single right way to edit, just as there is also no wrong way.

The good news is that in the Writing Center, we do our best to avoid that ominous red pen. I mean, there’s a reason that all the “scary teachers” on television or in movies use it. Red packs a powerful punch and one glance at it can sometimes send the message of, “Well, darn, that doesn’t look good!” Markings on paper with red ink have developed into something with a negative connotation but, if we’re being honest, I actually prefer the red pen when I’m editing my own papers. Nothing snaps you into gear quite like the bright and shiny red ink that’s telling you, “Hey, kid, I need to be changed–don’t you dare ignore me!”

Like I said, though, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Red pens might not be for you yet, but green pens, on the other hand, are a nice place to start. After all, green is a comforting color–a cool color, in fact.

However, the ultimate thing to keep in mind is that marks on a paper are not a bad thing. They also do not lower your meaning as a writer or as a person. On the contrary, they signify that, sure, something might need improved, but you’re on the right track–you’re almost there. They’re a sign of progress and of growth, and there is something inherently valuable in that.

The markings also aren’t something that you should ever take personally. As evidenced by the picture below, I go to town with my own papers. Sometimes there is more red ink than black ink and white space and, again, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a way of thinking out loud in a quiet room and is something you should never be ashamed of.

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So, put that pen to paper and write. Or turn on track changes. Or read backwards. Or, better yet, come see us in the Writing Center.

I can’t promise anything, but I like to think that you’ll be glad you did.