Monday, November 26, 2018

Recipe Tasting and Writing: The Benefits of Writing Practice by Brandi Gard

Writing is a sort of moving target. It moves in ways that are chosen by professors and assignment sheets and styles. Writing is daunting and more than often challenging to even an experienced writer. As a graduate student, I still struggle with writing those terrifying essays known by even scarier monikers: “critical essay,” “research essay,” and so on. Writing with a bent on the analytical and the logical is difficult. Most students know this, sure, but perhaps more threatening than those papers which will rest cozily among other academic pieces are creative pieces. Writing is hard, but creative writing is harder.
The skills useful in academic writing can be learned. They can be polished like stones smoothed shiny. Skills like researching, organizing information, synthesizing and summarizing texts and reforming them to fit an essay can be acquired after diligent practice. These skills cannot be mastered instantly like the making of a perfect cup of ramen. However, like instant ramen, academic writing does follow a series of steps. You begin with an idea, add well thought out research and textual analysis, cover with an easily understandable organizational structure and clear grammar, cook with as many drafts and re-drafts as it takes to make your essay palatable to your audience, and serve.
If academic writing is the ramen of the writing world, then creative writing is like Japanese cuisine—the recipe is rarely followed without adaptation. Of course, the skills used in creating a research essay can be used in a work of fiction or poetry. In fact, drafting, grammatical clarity, and some semblance of organization are all needed in an academic piece as much as in a creative piece. But creative writing requires a breaking of the rules of a recipe. Like a chef using exotic seasoning, it’s up to the creative writer to experiment with different styles and forms of expression.
So where does that leave the student? Some students find even making instant ramen difficult (as dorm fire alarms can attest to), so how can they ever hope to follow those recipes which writing is built on? The answer is simple. Like any skill, writing (and cooking) requires practice. It requires reading, reading, reading, as well as trying new things. Like testing recipes, mastering writing (any writing) requires false starts, disastrous results, and practice, practice, practice.
And how do you test those finished recipes? Taste testers, of course! And if you find that your friends and family are unwilling to savor your new and maybe less than tasty writing (or they don’t have much advice for ways to improve your writing), there are other options. At the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall) you can find friendly restaurant critics willing to sample your cuisine—whether creative or academic—and offer unbiased opinions as to how to improve the taste of your writing.

Monday, November 12, 2018

It's Not Personal: Constructive Criticism Will Make You a Better Writer by Ashley Flach

I’m writing you now as a reformed closet writer. For years I would scribble in my notebook and shove it under my bed always convinced it was the biggest piece of trash that ever came into existence. This worked fine for me until I began an undergraduate degree in English. Once I walked through the doors of academia, everything I wrote came back to me with a multitude of suggestions on how I could improve. Instead of taking this positively by understanding that someone was taking the time to critique my work out of belief in my ability, I took it to heart and felt personally attacked. In some sense, everything we write is an extension of ourselves, and when we feel that is being rejected it hurts, bad.

           My second semester as an undergraduate, I enrolled in an English research class, and the professor was a known stickler. She spoke her mind, never coddled anyone, and ruthlessly ripped papers apart. She was all about scholarly writing, and, in her mind, all of us were scholarly writers in training. She sent my first major research paper back to me riddled with, what felt to me, borderline hostile comments. As a whole, I summed them up in my brain as, “How stupid can you be, dummy? You’ll never make it in this field.” I cried. I wallowed. I decided good writing was like an elusive unicorn that I would never be able to catch. I figured English just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it. 

I remained in this state for quite some time. Then during our weekly Tuesday night Skype sessions, she said something that changed my perspective. She told us, “Listen, my colleagues and I rip each other’s writing apart and then we go have drinks afterwards. It’s not personal. It’s about challenging each other to be better writers.” Wait, it wasn’t personal? She wasn’t attacking or questioning my reasons for existing or telling me I didn’t have a place within the English discourse community? That night, I literally felt my spine stiffen. I decided from that moment whatever she threw at me I would gladly take. I wouldn’t back down or allow my insecurities to consume me. I would take the criticism and use it to make myself a better writer. I would believe that if she took the time to rip my paper apart it’s because she cared and believed in my ability to grow. 

When you receive a paper from a professor and it’s littered with comments, don’t panic. First of all, that professor is probably busy as all get out, but he/she still took the time to give your paper individualized attention. That’s because you have something to work with. You have good and strong ideas that can become even better and stronger. Basically, you do belong in your discourse community, and the important thing is not to lose sight of your goals. You’re here for a reason, and it’s not always going to be rainbows and sunshine. It’s a hard fact, but it’s the truth. We all take some knocks, but it makes us stronger and motivates growth. 

So, the main point to take away here is, don’t be afraid to share your writing and never fear constructive criticism. At EIU’s Writing Center, we all have stories like the one I laid out. We’ve all been crushed with hopelessness that our writing just isn’t good enough. But, that’s not true. It’s the insecurity taking over. Stiffen your spine. Bring your marked up paper in and a tutor will go through the comments with you and help give you perspective. Or, even better, bring your paper in before you turn it in and whatever tutor’s available will take the time to look it over with you and help you address any concerns you have. Even better yet, bring in a rubric for a writing assignment, and we will help you brainstorm.  

EIU’s Writing Center is dedicated to supporting and helping create better writers. We will give you honest and caring feedback at whatever stage of the writing process you are in, and we will encourage you to stay positive and keep moving forward. At the end of the day, what else is there to do but continue to move forward? Don’t allow yourself to be beaten down. Be confident in your ability as a writer, know you have something worthy to say, and, most importantly, find a way to be okay with understanding you have room to grow.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Those Who Come Shall Be Comforted By Nathan Crews

At our orientation day for the writing center at Eastern Illinois University, I confessed early on that I felt overwhelmingly nervous about having to show students how to improve their writing and suspected I was wholly inadequate to tutor. I had not had a writing center at my undergraduate university. I had never even visited a writing center. In my mind, there was no way I could live up to the task before me. The directors heard me out and let me talk through my fears. Then they reassured me—“you will be fine.” That comfort was followed by the best news of the day. They were not, in fact, expecting me to be superman or to know everything about the entire English language. This sounds a bit stupid, but I did think I was supposed to know everything about writing and grammar and the entire English language. I thought I had to know every little detail about proper MLA citations on papers or every single instance a comma should be inserted or deleted. Before my directors gave any advice on what to do or how to do it, they comforted me and helped me to settle down.

My first day as a writing center tutor laid the blueprint for how all other sessions were to go. I came to the writing center and opened myself up about the ways I felt uncomfortable or insecure. I was quickly comforted in my insecurity and given some direction that made me feel more at ease. We do this all the time. This is essentially one of the points of the writing center—comforting students when they are exasperated, talking with students about their apprehensions. Students constantly come into the writing center feeling uneasy, with questions about their papers or their overall writing styles. At the start of a tutoring session, there is always a bit of awkwardness because students are laying their mistakes and insecurities bare in front of someone who they perceive is more knowledgeable than they are. This is an act of vulnerability and wisdom. It is pretty rare that we do this in our life, admit our shortcomings and seek help. Yet, we almost always find comfort in our distress when we do this. A lot of people don’t feel confident in their writing. A lot of English majors don’t feel comfortable in their writing. The beauty of a writing center is that it is there to provide comfort and guidance.

So much of what tutors do in the writing center do is emotional reassurance. “Yes, you have strong ideas here. I love the way you wrote this here.” We also deliver constructive thoughts gracefully. As a reader, this is a bit confusing. How can we make this better? A common feeling among students who leave writing center sessions is relief. I realized a day or two ago that I end every tutoring session with the question, “How do you feel about this paper?” I don’t ask, do you think this paper is good? Do you think this paper is going to get a good grade? I am always asking if students are feeling more confident in their abilities, more attuned to their personal style, less anxious about the process of writing a paper.

There are many reasons to come to the EIU writing center, but finding some comfort in the difficult process of writing a single collegiate paper is one of the best ones. The writing center is not for people who are bad at writing, it is for everyone who is seeking some reassurance. There are grad students who come to the writing center. There are tutors who ask to do sessions with other tutors. Admitting our vulnerabilities and asking for guidance is a good principle for life, but at the very least, it is a great idea for writing. If you find yourself stuck and frustrated, holding back tears in the library or at Starbucks surrounded by a bunch of old men and junior high students or in front of your roommate’s cat, come to room 3110 in Coleman hall to the writer center. We will ask you the first question we ask everyone—"What can I do to help you?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Helpful Tips to Manage Stress by Connor York

Dealing with stress is easier said than done, but there are several steps you can take to put your mind and body at ease.  

Your mind has a lot to do with stress in your life whether it is school related or if it is personal. Regardless, any situation can cause you to go into panic mode. Stress is normal, but an excessive amount of stress can affect you, mentally and physically.  

The first step to trying to put your mind at ease is accept that you cannot control everything. By doing this, it can help you focus on things you do have control of such as, procrastination or not getting enough sleep.  

Another step to alleviating stress is to stop aiming for perfection; it’s not possible to achieve and you should be proud of however close you got. The best way to maintain a healthy mind is to try to remain positive in a stressful situation—try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. If you know what triggers stress in your life, that’s a start. It’s always a good thing to recognize the issue. A good way to help ease whatever is going through your mind is to write it down in a journal. If that doesn’t work for you, find some way to lessen the stress in your life whether it’s by napping, taking a walk, or beginning a new hobby. Just try to do something for you.  

What a lot of people don’t realize is your body has a lot to do with your stress levels. The best way to lighten stress is to get a good night sleep. Yes, again, easier said than done, but when your body is stressed, it needs additional sleep and rest. Take a moment for yourself and relax. What goes hand-in-hand with sleep, is the food you put in your body. Eating a well-balanced meal and keeping energy-boosting snacks can lead to a clearer mind. Another way to help balance stress is to try to work out. Even if it’s for thirty minutes or less, taking the time for yourself can help put your mind at ease.  

If you are struggling with how to manage stress, it is okay to reach out to someone. Talking to someone can help relieve weight off of your shoulders and improve the way your mind works. A lot of times humans just need to blow off steam. Remember to take some time for yourself whether that means watching Netflix, working out, or learning relaxation techniques. It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s the imperfections that make us who we are.  

School assignments are stressful. Take advantage of EIU’s Writing Center to help ease the stress that comes with writing papers. If you feel stuck in any part of the writing process, come to The Writing Center to receive assistanceThe tutors collaborate with students for a variety of issues such as citations, grammar, proofreading, brainstorming, etc.  

If you are feeling overwhelmed, take advantage of the Health and Counseling Services on EIU’s campus, and talk to someone about your struggles. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to need to ask for help. If you or someone you know has any questions about stress or other mental health issues feel free to contact the HERC at (217) 581-7786. If you would like to talk to someone soon please make an appointment with the Health & Counseling Services: Counseling Clinic, 217-581-3413.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

From One Procrastinator to Another by Kelly Pierce

It’s 3 AM.   

Red, bleary eyes blink to focus on the screen as black letters march sloppily across a white page.  Every blink of the eye feels like eyelids are trying to remove the Sahara.  There is no telling at this point if those letters are forming coherent words or ideas, but the deadline is approaching and the page limit has almost been reached.  The teacher asked for proofreading, but who can proofread when it is 3:30 in the morning and the paper is due at 8?  But the page limit has been reached and all that is left is to upload the essay or email it to the teacher or print it out.  And then, sleep, and the hope that this late-night monstrosity will result in something higher than an F. 

This is a familiar scene to many students throughout the education system.  The reason procrastinators need to stop waiting until the last minute is really a selfish one.  When students get an assignment done early, they are less stressed and better able to enjoy the side benefits of college life, like friends, family, and sleep that lasts more than three hours.  I will be honest, there is no hard and fast way to stop procrastinating.  The main reason most of the procrastinators like me continue to put off work until the last minute is because, so far, it has not caused them to flunk out of a class.  For some students, even that is not enough to stop them from pushing an assignment off until after the deadline has technically passed.  Those students generally rely on the kindness of their teachers, which is something I do not recommend pushing 

One way to help yourself out is to read the assignment sheet over multiple times before the assignment is due.  They are generally pretty short and almost always have the main points to focus on when you get started on an assignment.  That, really, is one of the worst things about procrastinating.  If you wait until the last minute, and you have not even read the assignment sheet closely at least once, you run the risk of pulling that all-nighter and realizing somewhere around 2 a.m. that those 3-5 pages you just wrote had nothing to do with what your teacher wanted.  So read that assignment sheet and write down your ideas as soon as you are sure you know what the teacher is asking for.  When I read the assignment sheet, I also like to make notes about whatever immediately comes to mind on the subject I will soon be writing about.  It may not be the idea I stick with by the time I turn the paper in, but it does get some ideas flowing. 

Another way to help yourself is to get started on the research as soon as possible.  Print that stuff out or open it up on your computer in a way that will allow you to take notes.  I am old school and prefer to print my research out whenever possible so I can write on it.  It is one thing to read research, but if you really want to understand it you need to either write on the research itself or about it in your notebook.  This is called annotating and it can help you organize your thoughts when you sit down to write the essay.  Even if you only give yourself one day to run through the research, if you take notes on what you are reading while you go there is a chance that what ends up in your essay will not only make sense, but will actually make your essay better.  Plus, if you find some good quotes that match what you are trying to say and cite them correctly, that is at least a paragraph worth of words you do not have to come up with on your own. 

Now, when it comes to fighting off procrastination, there is a place on campus that can help with everything I have mentioned and more.  If you go to the writing center, some very nice graduate students from the English department will assist you with any and all of writing needs.  If you know you are a habitual procrastinator, take that assignment sheet into the writing center as soon as the teacher lets you out of class and ask for help with brainstorming.  The consultant will help you with that and then set you up an appointment so a consultant can talk to you about research, writing the first draft, and looking that first draft over before you ever have to turn it in.  No, they will not do the work for you, but they will guide you through the steps so that, maybe, on the next essay you will know the process to do it on your own.  And if you do not, then keep coming back to the writing center, because those consultants love to help people throughout the entire process, even if they won’t stay up until 3 a.m. with you.