Writing as a Conversation

Bernadette_Devlin_McAliskey_and_Anthony_Farrar-Hockley_appearing_on_'After_Dark',_18_March_1988.jpg

By Amelia Graves

Like many college students, my first Writing Center appointment was as a freshman, and the result of a requirement from my English composition professor. I stubbornly made an appointment, despite believing that I was a “good writer” and “didn’t need help,” especially with two AP English courses under my belt and an English major status. I walked into the Writing Center, plopped my essay in front of my consultant, and wondered how quickly the next half hour would go by.

A half an hour later, I walked out of the Writing Center feeling different. I felt…refreshed? And excited to keep writing? I was completely shocked at the difference between my reluctant entrance and pep-in-my-step exit. After that 30-minute long conversation with my consultant–bouncing ideas back and forth with him about what to write about in the rest of my essay and how to go about some revisions– I felt reenergized and ready to tackle the rest of my paper. A half an hour had made me a believer: discussing my writing out loud with another person was one of the most beneficial essay-writing techniques I had encountered yet.

As I am a graduate student now, I have come a long way from that day as a freshman, and now make Writing Center appointments for almost every paper I write. I have found that when I write alone, my writing becomes something that only exists between my mind and computer, and it can be easy for my writing to become unclear, confusing, or wordy. Cohesive and coherent writing will guide readers through our thoughts, arguments, and insights with ease, but this kind of writing is hard to attain without the insight of another. Time after time, I have found the infinite value in sitting across the table from consultants who will read through my work out loud and immerse themselves in my writing alongside me.

Sometimes I make an appointment because I have no idea how to start an essay, so my consultant and I discuss my current ideas out loud, and then figure out where I can go with them, to then organize them into a meaningful essay. Other times, I make an appointment because I am in the middle or towards the end of my writing, so we read through it out loud, and look for sentence-level errors, discuss meaning and direction when it is cloudy, and converse about the effect that my writing leaves on the reader. Despite the context of the appointment, my writing leaves the page and becomes a conversation, alive and changing, during these sessions.

Painted at the top of one of the walls in the Writing Center is the quote, “For excellence, the presence of others is always required” by Hannah Arendt. Over and over again, I have been shown how collaborating with another regarding my writing has been one of the greatest ways to grow and improve it. Our writing should never be just words on a page. Asking questions about our writing, or seeking the assistance of another, is never something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Rather, this becomes a rewarding opportunity to continue the journey many of us are on- becoming better writers.

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