Before coming back to the MEW Writing Center at UM-Flint, I worked at a writing center at a community college. One day when it was a little slow, I struck up a conversation with another writing tutor. I asked him if he had used the writing center recently.
“Oh no,” he said right away. “I’m a good writer. I don’t need the writing center.”
I just about choked on my coffee. Don’t need the writing center? What?
I was beyond shocked at this admission; I was also really disappointed. This tutor held the same misconception that many students do; that the writing center is a place to go if you’re bad at writing, that the writing center can be beneath you.
I use the writing center all the time. I bring in scholarship applications, cover letters, essays that I can’t get started, essays that I’ve already rewritten three times. I bring it in.
Once in a while, a tutor laughs nervously when I come for an appointment. Tutoring a tutor certainly feels like the stakes have been raised. It feels like we need to catch every answer, like we need to be perfect.
But the writing center isn’t about catching errors. We’ll help you learn to catch your own errors, of course, but that’s not our mission. No writing tutor excitedly runs through the door, saying, “Let’s catch those comma splices!”
I don’t go to the writing center because I need someone to catch my errors. I go to the writing center because I need someone to talk to about the big, hefty task I have in front of me. I need someone to help brainstorm ideas. I need someone tell me how it sounds outside my head. I need a person to talk to.
Writing is a social activity. It involves people, lots and lots of people. Sure, I write my first draft alone somewhere, but I’m writing it for someone, for my teacher, for an employer, for a newspaper audience.
The writing center is for us social creatures, students, writers and learners alike. We help our clients organize their thoughts, make the best use of evidence, and follow through all the way to the end. We become the readers, and share the experience we had reading that essay, that story, that analysis. We tell writers what we got out of the piece. We ask important questions that may not have occurred to the writer. We’re going to show where we get lost and when we want to know more. We’re going to commiserate about the hard work writing is, and offer our best techniques for getting started or rewriting.
So everyone out there hidden in a dorm room or buried in a library cubicle, writing away, feeling alone with your thoughts, remember: the writing center is here for you. For all of you.