By: Alison MacGillivray (’20)
Occasionally, I have a student come into the writing center, antsy to finally finish their paper and move on. It often confuses these students when, rather than jumping into a stream of corrections and criticisms, I ask questions like: “What is the main idea of this piece?” and “What are you trying to say?”
Students are so wrapped up in the end product that they rush their writing in order to be finished. This rush is the root cause of many problems, such as a limited argument or a string of inconsistencies. In the writing center, we work to encourage taking it back a couple of steps, all the way back to the main idea. Writers who rush find themselves losing grasp of the main idea in their work, as they veer far off topic and don’t allot themselves the time to go back and revise that.
When a student brings an essay into a writing center session, I like to work through each separate paragraph with them. This allows us to encounter every “I don’t know what to say” statement with a plan. As the student finds themselves stuck, I ask the question, “what is the main purpose of this paragraph?” A student often produces the answer that they had been looking for as they walk me through the meaning of their writing.
As Emily L. Loney says in her article, “Revision Takes Time: Teaching Inefficiency in the Writing Center,” moments of pure brainstorming and conversation, though seemingly counterproductive, often produce further development in a piece of writing than simply reading it and pointing out flaws. This open conversation allows a student to create their own original ideas, then use the help of the tutor to put those ideas onto paper. Furthermore, the discussion aids in the fundamental relationship between tutor and student.
When faced with a difficult assignment or prompt, students are so overwhelmed with the complexity of the project that they take hold of the first idea that they have. But as Brad Hughes highlights in his article “Starting a Slow-Writing Movement,” finding the answer to a difficult problem does not come easily, and students should not expect it to. Acceptance of this reality allows the student to open themselves up to the idea of taking their time.
In order to take full advantage of this idea, students need to prepare for a long writing process. Saving all of their questions and concerns for a single tutoring session right before the due date does not provide ample time for this method. The idea of slow writing should not be confused with procrastination. Both are done over a period of time, but slow writing is consistently practiced over this time, while procrastination waits until the last moment to do the work. A student really motivated towards this style of writing should consider visiting the writing center multiple times over a few weeks. Skyline’s writing center tutors adapt their tutoring skills to each individual student, understanding that everyone has different methods of writing. For some students, this slow-writing movement drives them crazy, but for others, this is what they have been searching for.
Hughes, Brad. “Starting a Slow-Writing Movement.” Another Word, 24 Jan. 2011, dept.writing.wisc.edu/blog/revision-takes-time-teaching-inefficiency-in-the-writing-center/.
Loney, Emily L. “Revision Takes Time: Teaching Inefficiency in the Writing Center.” Another Word, 12 Mar. 2018, dept.writing.wisc.edu/blog/revision-takes-time-teaching-inefficiency-in-the-writing-center/.