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!

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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.

Meet the Tutors: Rachel Phelps

By Molly Couch

Do you remember that teacher that was always so enthusiastic about helping you learn? Do you remember that teacher that always had a smile on their face? Do you remember that teacher that made class bearable or, heaven forbid, even fun? Because one of our new undergraduate tutors at the Writing Center, Rachel Phelps, is going to be that teacher.

Majoring in English for secondary teaching with a musical theater minor, Rachel is super excited about studying and teaching English. She says that she “decided to be an English major because it’s always been [her] favorite subject, and [she] honestly could never imagine studying anything that isn’t English.” She wants to teach either 10th or 11th grade English and eventually AP Language & Composition or AP Literature. She’s also hoping that her musical theater minor will open the door to direct a high school theater department. Rachel hopes that her time in the Writing Center will allow her to help others become better writers and prepare to be the best teacher that she can be.

Rachel specializes in MLA and persuasive essays; she does it all, but particularly enjoys seeing new topics and new arguments to consider. It’s a great day when both the tutor and the student learn something new! One of her favorite parts of working as a Writing Center tutor is watching students recognize necessary corrections before she even points them out. She jokes, “I guess that’s the Nerdy Future Teacher in me.”

Rachel also ventures out beyond the classroom to participate in a bunch of lovely organizations. She’s a member of the Honors College, the Delta Zeta Sorority, the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, Cru, Amnesty International, and the Living Hope Baptist Church. What a beautiful, versatile butterfly! And fun fact: her eyes are two different colors! She may in fact be a mysterious mythical creature, but you can meet her if you venture over to Cherry 123!

Rachel Phelps

Something old, something new

By Abby Ponder

Upon stumbling on this post, you may have noticed something new if you’ve checked out our blog before. It’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite place what, exactly, is different.

Well, my friend, welcome to our newly designed WKU Writing Center Blog! With so many new faces in the Writing Center this semester, along with a lot of brand new (and pretty cool) content, we decided it was time to try something new.

So, here we are!

We’re still the same old WKU Writing Center Blog that you know and love, though. In fact, all the posts that were on the original site can be found here. Simply scroll through the various posts or narrow your search in the tags/archives sections, and you’ll be able to find all the old content you know and love! Our old blog is still active, too, though the content will no longer consistently be updated there.

So, kick back and relax. If you have any feedback on the design or input on content you’d like to see this semester, please be sure to comment below!

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Happy writing!

Ringing in the near yea–er, semester

By Abby Ponder 

Welcome back to campus, friends!

I hope you all had a wonderful and engaging summer. Whether you’re a returning student or new to the hill, we’re happy to see your smiling faces on campus again–and in the Writing Center.

With the start of the new semester, we’re happy to announce several new developments in our neck of the woods.

First of all, while we are still very sad to see last year’s graduates go, we’re excited to welcome several new tutors to the Writing Center staff! As the semester progresses and we all get to know one another, we’ll be posting bi-weekly tutor profiles to this blog. So, keep an eye out for some familiar and new faces alike!

Our writing-themed blog posts will also continue like usual, but we’re open to suggestions for topics. Is there something in particular you really want to learn more about? Is APA giving you some trouble? Are you baffled by that block quote and why you really need it? Ask your questions and we shall deliver!

Another thing we’re super excited to unveil is our newly-created writing groups!

Are you interested in learning about conference and publication opportunities? Do you thrive in a collaborative environment? Do you love to write or, in some cases, need to write?

Well, if you answered “YES” to any of the above questions, then this group is perfect for you.

There will be several meeting times throughout the week where we focus on specific areas of writing and what comes after the words have been put on paper. It is, after all, an evolving process. The general idea is that we’ll come together as a group on a weekly basis to share thoughts and ideas on writing. So, whether you’ve got a working draft or a budding idea, come see us! It’ll be a casual time for us to work together and do what we all love best: write. You’ll also meet some pretty cool people, if we do say so ourselves.

For students interested in conferences or publications, you’ll want to come to our meeting on Monday, September 14, at 4:30. We’ll be located in the FAC Commons (Room 166). This meeting time could also be very beneficial for students working to complete Honors CE/T projects, though it is by no means limited to Honors students. If you’re interested in publications/conferences or you want to brainstorm ideas with your peers, you should definitely stop by! Our first meeting will also have free snacks, which is always a plus!

For groups interested specifically in creative writing, there will also be different groups focusing solely on its sub-genres, led by our MFA students. These groups will meet at the following times:

  • Fiction Writing: Wednesday, September 16, at 3:00pm in the English Department’s Study Room (Cherry Hall 124)
  • Poetry Writing: Wednesday, September 16, at 5:00pm in the WKU Writing Center (CH 123)
  • Creative Writing Publication: Monday, September 14, at 4:00 in the WKU Writing Center (Cherry Hall 123)
Mark your calendars, but know that we’ll probably have more information available as we draw closer to these dates.
So, all in all, I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty fantastic semester. We hope you’ll join us for it!

Let’s talk about grammar (or not)

By Abby Ponder

It’s a gloomy Wednesday, you’re drenched from hiking up the hill in the pouring rain, and you can feel your stress levels beginning to rise with each step you take. You have a test tomorrow, a paper due the day after that, and you don’t know when you’re going to have time for a lunch break–next Tuesday, maybe? You’re on your way into the writing center, paper clutched tightly in hand, and you just want this day to be over with.

You round the corner and walk into the room, located on the main floor of Cherry Hall, for the first time in your academic career. Perhaps you are a freshman still finding your way in this great big world of academia or perhaps you are a graduating senior who doesn’t really want to be here in the first place. (You won’t tell your tutors that, though, will you?) You cross over the threshold, taking in the round tables with multiple students filling them. You don’t think you can even differentiate who is helping whom. They’re all student, each and every one of them–like you.

“Can I help you?”

You turn your head and smile at the person sitting behind the reception desk. You think you might recognize her from one of your classes.

“Yes, I was wondering if I could meet with someone about my paper? I’ve heard this is where you go,” you say.

The girl smiles at you.

“You’ve got it,” she says. “The sign-in sheet is right behind you. Someone will be with you in a moment, if you want to have a seat.”

You nod, reaching for the pen and paper. You fill out the necessities–name, student identification number, time of day, and course title–and then take a seat on the couch beneath the white board. As you wait, you spend your time checking your phone and trying not to guess at which student you’ll be sharing your work with.

Writing is an extremely personal thing for you. You both love and loathe the process, and you can’t help but feel your cheeks flush and your heart beat erratically any time someone dares to look too closely at the words you’ve carefully placed on paper. Sometimes you’re extremely grateful that you don’t have to be present as your professors read your assignments–the red pen is bad enough. Sometimes there’s a little and sometimes there’s a lot, but either way it breaks your heart.

Sometimes, more often than not, you think, you can’t even bring yourself to read the tightly scrawled notes.

“Are you ready to get started?” you hear. Your head snaps up, eyes falling on the speaker.

You nod at this person who must be your tutor and follow her to one of the round tables in the corner of the room. You can’t help but note that you have a rather nice view out the window from where you’re now seated. The cherry blossoms are dancing in the wind, the skies beginning to cloud with another April shower. It’s almost calming in a way–the calm before the storm. You wish you hadn’t forgotten your umbrella, though.

“So, what can I help you with?” the tutor asks.

“Grammar,” you say immediately. Grammar has always been your weakness, the biggest drain on your confidence. If you could only make it go away, eschew all the rules, then you would be more than happy to. Unfortunately, your professors, it seems, disagree with that philosophy.

The girl sitting beside you nods, picking up a purple pen and uncapping it.

“Mhm,” she says. “What is your assignment about? What class is it for?”

You launch into your explanation of the assignment: what it is, whom it’s for, and all the problems you’ve been having with it. You don’t like your thesis at all, and you’re not feeling confident about the third paragraph, but you really like the way you bring out this one point in paragraph five.

You tell her all of this, watching a smile spread across her face.

“Okay,” she says. “Let’s start with that thesis statement then.”

The next half an hour passes by rather quickly. Together you read through your paper, catching errors and inaccuracies on occasion, but also finding strong textual analysis and well-written content. It’s not a perfect draft, but it doesn’t have to be: it is a first draft, after all.

When the minute hand eventually signals the conclusion of the session, you’re feeling good about your paper. There were some hiccups along the way–that’s life–but you leave feeling more confident about your paper than you did before you walked through the door a half hour ago.

Two weeks later finds you in the writing center again. This time, you work with a different tutor–one who is just as nice and helpful as your tutor before. For this paper, you don’t even have a draft written yet, just an idea that’s beginning to blossom in your head. You tell your tutor as much, and he nods encouragingly.

“We can work with that,” he says with a laugh.

Together your chart the trajectory of your paper, filling in a blank outline with your words and ideas. It’s more than just going through the motions, you think: it’s progress.

When you leave this appointment, you have another scheduled a few days down the line.

“Come back whenever you’re ready,” your tutor tells you. “We’re happy to look at another draft with you.”

And you do.

The Writing Center at WKU offers support for all students who are enrolled at the university. We offer services in two respective locations, Cherry Hall 123 and the Commons at Cravens Library, as well as online appointments for students attending WKU’s regional campuses or exclusively taking online courses.

Contrary to some misconceptions, the Writing Center isn’t simply an editing service. Instead, we work with students to help them improve their overall writing abilities, not just a singular paper. We’re there for you at any stage in the writing process, whether you’re brainstorming or looking at a final draft.

This post was originally published on June 9, 2015.