As writing center tutors, we want to help writers as much as we can. We want to make sure that if a writer makes a one-hour appointment (or a half-hour, or two hours), we give them as much help as they require in that hour. But what happens when you’re halfway through an appointment and you feel like you’ve covered everything? (Hint: you probably haven’t). What do you do when the conversation stops dead?
Sometimes, a writer will come in with a paper you could talk forever about, and still not cover all of its nuances (or trouble spots). Other times, you’ve made a few comments, asked a few questions, and that’s it. Your mind stops dead, your writer’s not speaking up, and the silence stretches out. What I like to do, then, is to ask the writer some more questions. Do they feel uncomfortable with any parts? How do the introduction and conclusion feel to them? Did they have trouble writing any particular part, or difficulty getting their point across, that they can remember? Let the writer find their issues; they know their own work better than you ever will, and they know what parts are rubbing them wrong. They might find something you missed.
If that’s not working, think back on their main points, and question them about some of their assertions. Put the burden of proof back on the writer, and ask them to explain their own reasoning. In my tutorials, I’ll often ask, “But what did you mean by this?” if one of their conclusions seems unfounded, or lacking the evidence to back it up. Usually the writer will begin to detail their reasoning for that part, and then you can suggest that they incorporate some of these explanations into their argument.
Even just talking about the assignment in more general terms can use up some more of that time (and help the writer think more deeply). Ask about the class, the readings, the argument they chose, the points they use. Ask the why’s of this particular piece, and talk about the process of developing this idea. Talking about the assignment can give the writer new ideas, and can give you a better understanding of what the writer wants their paper to say. Sometimes writers haven’t given a lot of thought to these kinds of questions, and that might be why they’re at the Writing Center in the first place. At the very least, you’ve opened up a larger conversation about the topic.
If you’ve really exhausted all of your options, it might be best to just let the writer go. Not all writers are thinking about choosing the right appointment-length for the assignment; if your writer has booked 90 minutes for a statement of purpose, you’re probably okay if you can’t stretch out your discussion that long. Dragging out the appointment could also obfuscate the points you made earlier in the appointment, and when the writer goes to revise, they might not remember your advice. There are times when less is more. Most of the time, however, there is more to talk about – a lot more – than you’d think.