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Portrait of the Tutor as an Artist October 2, 2012

As tutors we come into contact with dozens of essays, projects and presentations every week, through our writers. As we comment on and nudge along in our tutorials, we have a sense of aiding a writer in their work – but what about our work? Is our impact on the paper or Powerpoint more than just that of a nursemaid? I don’t know that most of us would call ourselves “authors” after working with others’ writing, but is tutoring in itself a creative act?

To answer that question, we can look back at what “authorship” used to mean, back in Renaissance days. Authorship, especially in the theater sphere, was a group effort. Someone like Shakespeare might write a play, but he would consult various colleagues while drafting it, talk to theater directors and financial advisors, and basically collaborate on the writing process with everyone who would be eventually affected by the play’s success or failure. There was no such thing as a “final” product, either; the play would go through rewrites and retooling every time a new troupe of players put the show on, and the final editions that we know of today in worn paperback copies are the result of publishers making lots of judgment calls as to which version was the “correct” version, and even then, you have the debacle of the quarto version versus the folio version, and so on.

The notion of the single author is very much a modern concept but it has definitively beaten the idea of collaboration in the publishing industry. When you go to a bookstore, you buy a book by an author, not an entire publishing house, right? However, the publishing house has had a major role in the creation of the book and an even bigger impact on the final product. A writer writes, but the book that the writer wrote is rarely the exact one that shows up on the bookstore shelf. Agents, editors, marketing directors, and big wigs have all shaped the book you hold in your hands. They play a creative role in helping the book find its way.

For me, what we do as tutors isn’t so different. By working with a writer’s work in an appointment, you are contributing and collaborating with them, even though they remain the “author.” You, as a tutor, have a creative role because the work can’t come into contact with you, the tutor, without being changed by it. To be sure, tutoring is an act of service and education to the writer but it is also a creative act on the tutor’s part.

Perhaps that’s taking too much credit, though. What do you think? Do you feel that you are a collaborator, a co-creator, with your writers?


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