MARIAN E. WRIGHT WRITING CENTER

Serving students and faculty since 1971

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Grandma Knowknow

Eat Your Peas and Carrots and Don’t Split Your Infinitives.

Dissociative Infinitive Disorder (a.k.a. split infinitive disease) is a linguistic ailment associated with early grammar trauma and characterized by adverbial intrusion of the full infinitive.

What Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder?

Most of us have experienced mild cases of infinitive dissociation, but to fully understand split infinitive disease we will first need to clearly define what an infinitive is. According to Wikipedia, “an infinitive is a grammatical term used to refer to certain verb forms that exist in many languages.” Well that’s not a very satisfying definition. Leave it to Wikipedia to utterly fail in its attempt to profoundly contribute anything useful to academic research. To further clarify, the English language has two types of infinitives: bare and full. Bare infinitives are simply the verbs one is most likely to easily find in the dictionary. Some examples are: understand, define and fail. A full infinitive, on the other hand is simply a bare verb with the word ‘to’ placed in front of it. Some examples are: to understand, to define and to fail. To ‘split’ an infinitive means to carelessly place an adverb between the ‘to’ and whichever verb one chooses to cleverly employ. Some examples are: to fully understand, to clearly define and to utterly fail.

Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder a Real Problem?

Grammarians have begun to genuinely wonder if Dissociative Infinitive Disorder is an ailment to really worry about. It might help if speakers and writers were to completely understand the origin of the ‘split infinitive’ rule. To fully appreciate Dissociative Infinitive Disorder we must resolve to admiringly thank our Victorian ancestors whose devotion to Latin led to many of the grammatical rules that we are forced to faithfully learn in grammar school today. Without going into a primer on Latin, basically the Victorian grammarians decided that, since Latin does not allow speakers to ever split infinitives, neither should English.

The Outlook for Those with Dissociative Infinitive Disorder.

The good news for those of us that tend to inadvertently insert adverbs between the ‘to’ and its infinitive verb is that the rules of common usage (common sense) are coming to quickly rescue us. The bad news, however, is many teachers don’t fully understand Dissociative Infinitive Disorder and delight in their ability to easily find split infinitives in student writing. So, at least in academic writing, it is best to always avoid splitting infinitives. It appears that those of us who suffer from Dissociative Infinitive Disorder will continue to vainly struggle against the overbearing tendency of academia to blandly throttle our creativity.

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Writing is a stop-and-start process for me.  Yeah, groundbreaking stuff here folks.  This is true for most writers I talk to, but I’ve found my own stops-and-starts can be identified by category, or conspirator. I’ll explain.

Some are interruptions. I’m a husband and father of three, so even if I’m barricaded in my office with “do not disturb” instructions, it’s only a matter of time before someone bursts through the door with some urgent demand like, “Hey dad, come check out this funny thing on TV (trust me, this is urgent).” What’s more, we have three dogs (yes, you read that right), so I’m certain to be interrupted by canine clamoring to be petted or barking that demands to go outside in futile pursuit of yet another squirrel. Interruptions are simply uninvited breaks I blame on others.

Some are distractions. I can be slave to a short attention span when I write. I need something to eat, or I need another drink (or now my bladder’s full and I need to visit another room in the house); or my phone beckons as someone just texted me, or I’ve got new email; or “hey, I see a squirrel out the window,” or “I think I hear a funny thing on TV.” Distractions I have no one to blame for but myself.

Some are necessities. I have to go to work, or class, or attend my son’s school activity. Sometimes my brain is fried and my eyes are glazing over from staring at a monitor for too long. Sometimes the clock reminds me to go to bed. Necessities are life.

A strange and increasingly favorite category is what I call the “3AM wake-up call.” Maybe you can relate. Deep in slumber, my brain itself conspires to wake me at the oddest hours, refusing to let go of a fresh or relevant piece to the textual puzzle. Depriving me of sleep, these awakenings can be nuisances, leading to an inner debate to get up and write immediately or to convince myself I’ll remember later if I go back to sleep. I’ve learned the hard way that if I do remember, it’s with far less clarity. These lessons have led to the habit of keeping a writing pad next to the bed, for fear I’ll miss the next jewel.

I now both expect and mostly (the dogs can be annoying) welcome these breaks—these moments of stepping away from a writing, for one simple reason. Even when I’m away from the text, I’m never really away from the words. As I change environments, my mind continues to mull and churn, often rewarding me with a new idea or solution to a wording problem I couldn’t resolve before. I recognize breaks as an invaluable part of the writing process, so I leverage them in any writing project.

Embrace writing’s “stepping away,” in all its forms, the next great idea or key to unlocking that essay might await.

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In our quest for knowledge, we write in order to express ourselves, but we must first read if we ever hope to gain any of that knowledge.

As a writer I am able to express my thoughts and ideas. I am free to open my mind and unleash it upon the world, but before I can even think about unleashing anything, I must first learn to open my mind. Before I can open my mind I must first feed it, so I read…

Reading gives us knowledge, inspiration, it feeds our imaginations, and can unlock knew doors within our minds that we may never have known existed. Reading is the fuel for our minds and the sustenance for our souls.

Reading and writing have always been an important part of my life, so I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the inspirations that have fed my mind. At a young age my first memorable book was “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a pioneer of the fantasy genre that we all know and love today. “The Hobbit” is a quick fun read. If you are a fan of the movies I suggest reading this book. I will make the same recommendation for “The Lord of the Rings,” if you are a fan of the movies these books are a must read. Being a huge fan of the fantasy genre I would like to recommend, not only the all popular “Game of Thrones” series by George Martin, but also a series called “The Sword of Truth” by Terry Goodkind. Goodkind is a captivating writer that seems to have the ability to always keep you guessing. At times I found myself reading as fast as I could in anticipation to see what was going to happen next. For the science fiction fans out there I would like to recommend “Robot Dreams” by Issac Asimov. “Robot Dreams” is a collection of short stories by Asimov about anything from robots questioning there existence and discovering their sentience to immortal energy based creatures traveling throughout the universe searching for the meaning of life. My favorite short stories from this collection are “Eye’s do More Than See,” “Does a Bee Care,” and “The Last Answer.” Finally I would like to suggest “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. This enlightening book is a refreshing read about the life of the first Buddha, Siddhartha. In this book we stare into the depths of the human soul as we follow Siddhartha down his path of life, an experience of both harshness and beauty, as he searches for his inner “Om.” Reading this book gave me a sense of inner peace and a clearer perspective of life.

In any case, whatever genre you may prefer, make sure to have a good read every once and a while. A good book can brighten the mind and illuminate the soul!

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Act One

I adore literature.  My mom used to say that she only recognized me by the top of my head because of the time spent engrossed in a book.  If you ask me what book is my favorite, I will have a hard time choosing.  There’s the one that makes me cry with each read.  But then there’s the one that makes me laugh out loud every time.  My gauge depends on how the writing engaged my heart.

 

“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”

James Michener

What about you?

How many times have you sung along with a love song, wondering how they knew just how you felt?  Found a poem that spoke your heart?  Composed a letter that captured your thoughts in just the right way?  Devoured a book, marveling that the writer described your experience precisely?  Writing that moves us reflects what it really means to be human in this world.

 “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain

and goes straight to the heart.”

 Maya Angelou

 But have you tried to write that poignant poem?  Attempted to capture your experience so readers will understand?  Watched the words fall into place?  Know that phrase is just right?

 “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean;

not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”   

Robert Louis Stevenson

  Yet, the beauty of writing is that it is possible to capture that common ground.

 

 

Act Two

A true love story that haunts me…

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 The doctor slowly entered the office, reserved and solemn.  “Your wife will not be getting better,” he said.  The young husband sat still, taking in the news.  “She’ll be able to walk around, but she’ll never be independent again.  She won’t regain her speech…or her personality…or her memories.”

Only ten years into their marriage, this woman developed a sudden medical condition that robbed her of herself.  She would require constant care for the rest of her life but remain inert, unresponsive, a mere shadow of the person he loved dearly.

 

His family said, “Institutionalize her.  You won’t have a life otherwise.”  He did not.

His friends said, “Divorce her.  You’ll be financially devastated otherwise.”  He would not.

 

Thirty-five years later, he still is married to her, shouldering the burden of her care.  She cannot speak…has not regained her personality…and does not remember him.

His friends say, “Why do you continue to do this?  She doesn’t know you.”

 

He quietly replies, full of tenderness, “But…I know her.”

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Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

( all quotes from http://www.brainyquote.com)

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Hello reader. Today we’re going to talk about what I’m currently studying.
I would love to talk about what you’re studying, but unfortunately I am the writer and I am calling the shots around here.

In Professor Zeff’s Women & Ficton course, we’ve been reading work by Virginia Woolf.

Every time I begin a study of a writer, I always find myself googling her name and seeing what interesting bits of information I can discover about her without actually having to apply myself to my assigned work (this is an example of procrastination if you are that one college student who has never procrastinated and wouldn’t be able to spot it if they saw it).
So far, one of my favorite things about Woolf is the way in which she analyzes literature; the way it works and the way we appreciate it. While reading through a list of quotes, I stumbled across a gem of hers that I wish I could email to a sixteen year old me who spent too much time arguing my “superior” (my partner is rolling his eyes as he reads this) taste in everything:

“…but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions — there we have none……few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him” (Woolf, The Common Reader, Second Series)

If we had all read and accepted this quote when we were sixteen, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have saved time wasted on useless debates about taste in music, film, and writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about critique and giving my opinion, but I would like to take back any of the times I ever shoved that opinion down the throat of someone who happened to think differently.

And that line, “Do not dictate to your author; try to become him”? That is what we are all about here at the writing center. We’re not going to tell you HOW to write, we’re going to talk about you as a writer and what we can do to facilitate that role for you, or at least put you at ease with the idea if you’d never considered it before.

Anyway, that quote is just a taste of Woolf and what I am studying.
Take it with you and keep it in mind the next time your roommate wants to argue about what the best shows on Netflix are.

And if you think I deserve extra credit for researching and blogging about Woolf in my spare time, please see Professor Zeff.

(photo courtesy of bloggingwoolf.wordpress.com)

(I’m mostly kidding about the extra credit)

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Sometimes you find yourself in some sort of sticky situation, or dark time.

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Everything seems impossible or improbable. The odds seem to be against you, and no matter what you put to the page, you just hate it. You’re hard on yourself and don’t give yourself the breathing space to realize it’s just a first draft and you can always make changes later. You’re so busy with all your obligations, and commitments, that when it comes to this part of your life, whether you wanted to write just for personal stuff or in hopes of getting published one day, it feels like it’s unimportant by comparison to everything else, or you have to push it off repeatedly, or you’ll never find the time you want to get those ideas down.

I’ve been going through something like that these days. I try to write, and for some reason, it’s difficult to get this story I’m working on out of my head and onto the screen and the page. I’ll stare at it, and try to write about it, and write stuff and then erase it, and so on.

Of course, everyone has something that works for them, but I’ve been finding, as I’ve been stuck on this piece, that talking to people about it has helped tremendously. Having a conversation is a form of collaboration, and it also happens during writing center appointments.

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Every time I’ve made an appointment or spoken with a friend or a mentor, it helped me to center my ideas for the project and focus on them, reevaluate and assess them, meditate on them, make changes, etc. Being asked different questions about the story and also being given a chance to vent about it has also helped me consider how plausible some things were and ask questions about the logic behind events and setting, characters, etc.

This is not something that I would have been able to accomplish as effectively on my own. There’s just no real adequate substitute for encountering and listening to another person’s perspective. You can try to write it out for yourself, and have a conversation with yourself, record it, and that can work to an extent, but in all of that, you’re still working with just your perspective. You can try to pretend to look at it with another’s eyes, but being the closest person to your story, you’ll see things differently than the people with whom you share it.

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That’s just a distance thing– it’s like looking at an art piece in a gallery– if you see the canvas up close, you see details, expressions, fine lines, color variation, etc. However, from that distance, it’s also hard to see the entire composition. When you step back, you see the whole of what’s going on. The figures whose contours looked stretched from where you stand now become straighter. There was a boat there– from where you stood, you didn’t even see it. Out of the corner of your eye, it looked like a rock.

When you’re stuck in this kind of situation, it can be tempting to put the piece away for a while. Out of sight, out of mind. You can try to find distance from it, and some people find this successful. It can be okay to occasionally step away from the problem.

But sometimes, this is just plain running away from it. The story got hard to work with, so you begin to make excuses. Suddenly your job becomes a bit more interesting. You start to do more homework instead of procrastinate with it.

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But if you’re a writer, and the kind of writer who wants to finish their writing, no matter what they choose to do with it in the end, you are also an artist. And artists, by definition, are also problem solvers. If they make a mistake on the canvas, or whatever medium they are working with, they have to find a way to make it seem like the mark was intended all along, or hide it so that it blends in with the rest of the piece, becomes a harmonized part of it.

That will take work. Staying away from the piece won’t change it. As a writer, if this is really a part of you in general, it’s also your job to stay true to it, to spend time with it, work with it, try to understand it, nurture it, grow from it until something finally clicks.

Then you walk away with more experience. And an accomplishment. You finally pulled through, you made it, the storm passed, and you can move forward.

But in that moment, when it gets tough, and you feel lost, and are unsure how you want to go about it, who knows? Maybe just one conversation will help you get back on track.

 

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Scholarship applications for UM-Flint are coming up fast! The application process opens December 9th, 2013 and remains open until February 14th, 2014. Also, check out the Financial Aid website for other great scholarship opportunities.

The scholarship essay is a critical part of the application process, and at the Marian E. Wright Writing Center, we can help you get started and go over drafts of your essay. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing your essay:

1. Be sure to cover everything the scholarship prompt ask for, and follow the directions exactly. There are many reasons why scholarship committees ask for things the way they do. So, don’t give them a reason to throw yours out.
2. Be specific. Avoid writing something that 500 other applicants might also say. For instance, if you want to be a teacher, don’t just rely on “I want to teach because I like children.” That won’t help you stand out. However, showing a moment when you worked with a child and made an impact on that child’s life, and in turn how that moment made an impact on yours, shows not only your commitment, passion, and qualities as a teacher, but it also serves as the “proof” so to speak of your dedication to children and teaching.
3. Think about the important markers on your path, and how your life experiences have shaped you, challenged you, and helped you make decisions about future goals. Don’t forget those great classroom moments, and mentoring moments with professors!
Lastly, once you have a draft of your essay, have someone else look at it, and give you feedback. Sometimes what we write and what we meant to write are a little different. You won’t be there to explain your essay, so make sure it says and means what you intended.

The Writing Center can be a great second pair of eye and ears. Come in and see us soon!

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brainbulb

 

  1. Realize that changing a light bulb is never easy or predictable.
  2. When changing a light bulb one can never follow a guide sheet that some other light bulb changer typed up when he had nothing to do.
  3. Introduce yourself and make sure to get the light bulbs name.
  4. Find out when the new light is needed.  Don’t waste your energy changing a bulb that will never be used.
  5. Attempt to make your light bulb and yourself as comfortable as possible.
  6. Get the bulb to talk about his luminous life.  Where is he emotionally?
  7. If the bulb has never been changed before, explain the process and put the bulb at ease.
  8. Ask if you may touch the bulb.
  9. Place the bulb in a position that both you and the vacant receptacle are visible.
  10. Speak aloud to the bulb as you go through the process of insertion.
  11. Don’t do all the work.  Make the bulb share the load.
  12. Insert the bulb as is.  That means blemishes and all.
  13. Resist the temptation to stop twisting after the insertion process has begun.
  14. Once insertion is complete and bulb is functioning, go back and address any problems you may have noticed with the process.  Try to wrap criticisms in between complimentary statements.
  15. Focus on global issues of installation first; then regional; then local.
  16. Ask the bulb if he has any questions.
  17. As the session winds down suggest priorities for revision of the changing process.
  18. Encourage future visits.
  19. Instill a positive attitude about the changing process for the bulb.
  20. Do not rip the light bulb to shreds.  We want all bulbs to finish the process feeling good about themselves and their work.
  21. Last but not least – make sure the bulb fills out the writing center survey after the session has ended!

Written By Our Resident Sheriff and Code Hero

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Sometimes, getting started is the worst part of writing.  I always tell writers I work with to first figure out what you are going to say and then worry about how you are going to write it.  Sounds simple enough.

But, what if you have no idea of what you want to say?

Often, I guide writers through the invention process by resorting back to writing invention techniques we all learned in elementary English classes.  I cringe at the thought of telling college students to try elementary aspects of a writing process—such as clustering, outlining, and free writing—but, by resorting back to our roots we are able to transform a complex problem into an elementary challenge.

However, what does a writer do when fundamental invention processes do not work?

A collaborative conversation about a writer’s invention woes is the valedictorian of the invention process.  The magnificence of conversation is the opportunity to collaborate on what the writer wants to say. Then, the writer learns what to write. The writer becomes engaged with her ideas, learns what she wants to say, discusses how she wants to write it, and ultimately practices an advanced writing process, without realizing it!  Simply talking about the challenges of not having anything to say begins shaping what we want to write. A writer, after talking with another writer, soon learns that she actually does have something to say—and writes a lot!

But, what happens when what the writer wants to say doesn’t fulfill what she is supposed to write?

Currently, I am in the process of applying to graduate schools.  My task: write a personal essay.  Sounds simple enough, but this has been my most challenging writing assignment to date—and I have written thoughtful yet entertaining research papers based on tediously boring dusty theory.  Aside from the added pressure of writing an essay that could potentially change the future course of my academic career I am now burdened with the added pressure of knowing the admission review board has a rigidly defined set of expectations.  I am required to meet writing expectations that make me yawn with boredom and frustration because of the box in which I must be confined.

For me, this type of writing experience is agony because I don’t want to write in a tone that reads like implicit ass kissing—but, isn’t that expected?!  I despise implicitly bragging about my accomplishments—but, isn’t that expected?! And, I honestly have no freaking idea of what I am going to study while at their institution because my interests are as vast, complex, and varied as my inquiries—but, a defined theoretical focus is definitely expected. Nor do I have a solid idea of what I plan to contribute while I am there—but, that is definitely expected.  This is the most important essay I will ever bullshit my way through and, as a self-proclaimed bull-shitter of excellence, for the first time I have no idea how to do it by giving them what they want.

Since I explicitly know what I have to say—and I know how my audience expects me to write it—what do I do now?

Resorting back to the advice I give to writers won’t help because the loss of content—the what isn’t a problem—it’s the rigid stylistic box I am being shoved into that is the main problem.  Providing what my audience desires has been holding me up on committing words to the first draft of the page.

I resorted back to that secret aspect of the invention process:  I spoke about my struggles with getting started.  The result: I received elementary advice that is actually ingenious: write what I want to say, how I want to write it, and toss the audience expectations aside.

The idea of temporarily tossing aside the audience expectations was so bluntly obvious that I mentally smacked myself on the forehead for not thinking of it myself.  Since I know what I want to say and how I want to write it then I will go ahead and say it without limiting myself to the rigid writing constraints I am fighting against.  In so doing, I am able to relish the enjoyment of writing the essay on my own terms, in my own words, with my own voice.  Freedom from rigid writing expectations is freeing.  Allowing myself to satisfy my principals as a writer fulfilled my goals to write what I wanted to say the way I wanted to write it. Then, I can revise which will finally free me to write a new draft of what they want me to write the way they want me to say it.

Now, hopefully, everybody is happy.

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The writing center isn’t just a place for essays and what’s typically considered academic. It’s also a place for creative writing. We can work with you on any kind of writing you want to bring in, at any point of the process. We can brainstorm with you; we can help you figure out how you want to revise, and everything else in between.

Sometimes rumors and myths about the writing center can scare people away. Maybe bringing up some of these to debunk in the course of this series can help clear some misconceptions about what kind of place the writing center is.

 

Myth: No one knows how tutors get to work at the writing center.

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Fact: Every tutor that works at the writing center takes a course through the English Department—Seminar in Collaborative Theory and Writing Practice. The course teaches them about different tutoring styles and includes a practicum, where they observe tutors working at the writing center and gradually begin to practice with other students and even in simulations.  After taking the class, there is a chance to apply for a position in the writing center. This means you get to work with a trained individual deemed qualified by the admins at the writing center.

 

Myth: When you work with tutors, they tell you what to do with your writing and how to write the way everyone should write.

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Fact: We don’t believe there’s a specific way to write. When you work with a tutor, you’re working with a student just like you who has developed skills in working with writers with no power structure barrier between you. They aim to help you develop skills as a writer to help you develop more confidence and independence when you approach your own writing.

 

Myth: We ‘critique’ your work. We tell you what’s bad and how to fix it.

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Fact 1: We don’t believe in bad writing. We look at writing as being in a process—it might start out not looking at all like what you want it to be, but as you look at it again and again and decide if and how you want to change parts of it.

You should see some of our first drafts. If we papered a haunted house with them, Stephen King’s rejection letters would pale by comparison.

Fact2 : We don’t want to tell you what to do. We can make suggestions and feedback that you might consider, but that you don’t have to take if you don’t think it fits. Different tutors may have different styles to go about this, but this is still a general focus.

Instead, we try to help you find the direction you want to take with it by asking you questions about different parts of your writing in discussing it. This might open your eyes to different aspects of your piece you weren’t thinking about before and help you figure out what you want to do with it.

 

Myth: You have to bring in writing.

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Fact: You don’t. We look at writing as a process and part of the process is generating ideas and content to write about. We also do brainstorming appointments just to talk with you about your ideas.

 

Myth: We only care about grammar because that’s all writing is.

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Fact: We see grammar as only one part of a larger process. We are not that old school librarian stereotype with the glasses, the ruler and the iron fist about how you should write. Writing can be equated to a conversation—the way you might structure how you say might be confusing to the person you’re speaking to if you don’t clarify it. But it’s what you’re saying and how you organize the main ideas you’re talking about that matters too. So we try to look at those things with you as well.

 

Myth: Only bad writers go there.

Fact: THERE ARE NO BAD WRITERS. There are, however, writers who feel like they don’t like where they’re at.

All kinds of writers can work here and want to. We even have professors come in for feedback on what they’re working on. It even seems like people who would be perceived as more advanced in their writing stage stop by even more frequently and with less anxiety about appointments because they’re looking for insights and feedback produced from the discussions in session.

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Which brings us to: Why would writers WANT to come to the writing center?

 

Coming up next: Anxieties and Advantages!