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Writer to Tutor: Looking Back June 5, 2012

As a MA student applying to the Writing Center one year ago, I didn’t really think that being employed as a tutor would change how I write.  At 21, I was pretty sure that my writing style was set – and serviceable.  There was no need for a major overhaul, even if the UCWbL materials promised improvement in my own skills as well as the opportunity to help others with theirs.  Even during the WRD primer class in Fall Quarter, I didn’t really believe that learning about tutoring equated to learning about my own writing.  Something shifted over the course of the last two terms, however; I found myself writing differently (but not completely, of course), and I began to wonder: one year on – has being a tutor made me a better writer?

I plan and prewrite much as I always have; beginning to look at an assignment up to a week before, jotting down notes, and usually starting to write about halfway through working on an outline.  (I don’t know that I’ve ever finished an outline and stuck to it in my life – sorry, purists!)  I do find, however, that I’m a more confident and natural writer while I’m writing.  Working with a variety of different writers has showed me that there is no correct style; moreover, it’s taught me that adhering too closely to an assignment can make your paper sound like a stranger wrote it.  And so, it’s preferable for me now if I plan out my paper according to the assignment, and then let it recede for a bit while I actually write the paper.  Where I once agonized over each sentence and continually stopped and started to adjust my language, I now prefer to write my drafts all the way through, then read them over for clarity and diction.  My priorities have changed: I worry more about whether a paper sounds like me than whether it sounds “right.”

Similarly, my revision process has always been to make minor, sentence-level tweaks rather than major overhauls (I like to start out with a framework, and usually that means that the final paper covers what I want to cover, in general), but now the tweaks have become a sort of aesthetic issue rather than assuming make-or-break importance.  I understand that I could use this word or that one, and that one of them is probably better or more specific than the other, but that both are acceptable.  Thus it becomes my decision, personally, which word to use, rather than a quality-control “let’s make it perfect” sort of thing.  If I don’t perfect all of my word choices, that’s all right too.  It’s just an idiosyncrasy of my writing, and maybe it’ll turn out differently (better) next time.  Writing is a personal activity, but it’s also a very amorphous one; there are a lot of different ways to be “right.”

Since I’ve started working at the Writing Center, my approach to writing has changed.  As an activity it has become less stressful; I still haven’t made an appointment for myself but I feel more comfortable bouncing ideas off of other people, and more comfortable making my own decisions in my writing.  I trust my own judgment as to when something sounds right, rather than whether I think the professor will think it sounds right.  Just knowing that other people struggle with their writing – writers who I respect hugely – has taken some of the pressure off of writing for me.  Everyone worries about their work, but that’s ok: it’s part of the process.  Overall being a tutor has allowed me to be more at home with my own writing, and that might be the biggest success of my first year with the UCWbL.


2 Responses to “Writer to Tutor: Looking Back”

  1. DePaul UCWbL Says:

    I think all tutors/teachers are affected by their work….its inevitable. Having to teach or explain writing really puts a new perspective on the whole process. I know I personally went through a similar phase during my first year at UCWbL. In my tutorial sessions, I emphasized the importance of solid introductions and conclusions, and the explicitness of the main argument. From then on out, I started to criticize my own papers based on these primary pillars. We get better because we spend so much time trying to make other people better!


    Conn B

  2. Martina M. Says:

    I definitely agree that working at the UCWbL has helped make writing less stressful to me. I also worried about how “perfect” every sentence sounds without fully fleshing out my ideas. Now, I feel that I spend more time getting what I think on paper and moving paragraphs around than sentence-level changes.

    Also, I really like how you described making a decision about which word to use–that’s a very nonthreatening way of looking at it (i.e. both are acceptable, but I’m making a choice.)

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