Writing Woes, Be Gone!

by Helen Armstrong on October 12, 2016

A few weeks ago, I woke up early and showered quickly. I was eager to get to work because I had an important appointment with my very first Writing Center client. I’d worked at the Writing Center for three weeks at that point, but no one had yet scheduled an appointment during my time slot. That was fine with me; I was so nervous that I would have kept putting it off all semester if I had anything to do with it.

As I walked to the library, on track to show up a full 20 minutes early, I noted the crisp autumn air that had finally shown up to take an edge off of the summer heat. I slapped a sticky note onto my mental file of Writing Center Consultation Talking Points: The weather is nice! It’s finally like fall!

I haven’t forgotten just how much that one appointment changed my writing process. Because of it, I decided I wanted to be a consultant in the Writing Center.

I had been through training at the very beginning of the semester, and had the chance to watch some of my fellow consultants take clients, but none of this helped me to feel any more prepared. I worried that the student would be rude or unreceptive – something that doesn’t actually happen often at Arcadia’s Writing Center. And even if it did happen, we’d been trained to respond calmly.

Still, my nerves worked my stomach into a knot as I took my seat in the Writing Center, a spacious, well-lit room in the basement of Landman Library. There are always at least two consultants in the Writing Center. Students can drop in and see if any of the consultants are available to conference or schedule an appointment. (This can also be done online or over the phone.)

As I waited for my first appointment as a consultant, I thought back to my first year, when I had been required to make an appointment at the Writing Center for my First Year Seminar. I hadn’t wanted to come in because I thought my paper was good. Begrudgingly, I had made my appointment and dreaded it up until the moment I stepped inside the Writing Center, armed with a copy of my paper and the assignment sheet.

My consultant had welcomed me warmly and encouraged me to choose somewhere to sit. There were a few tables scattered around, and the room was so airy that it immediately dissolved the tension I’d had about coming in. The consultant then asked me what I wanted to do in our consultation. I surprised myself by laying out some areas of weakness in the paper, and he helped me to come up with solutions to solve the problems I was having. It turns out, I actually had two main ideas, which he helped me whittle down to one to keep the paper focused. This was something that, upon reflection, I realized I’d been doing in a lot of my papers.

Overall, it had surpassed my (admittedly low) expectations. I haven’t forgotten just how much that one appointment changed my writing process.

The Writing Center's cozy atmosphere makes you feel at home, rather than nervous.

Because of it, I decided I wanted to be a consultant in the Writing Center. Unlike some other campus jobs, I would have the opportunity to help people with their writing, an integral part of academia. In the process of helping others, I knew, my own writing would continue to improve.

I applied and was accepted! During training, I learned that my previous beliefs about the Writing Center had been unfounded; I had assumed that it was only for people whose writing was “bad”. I thought it was a “fix-it shop” for people who weren’t very good with grammar and spelling. What I wasn’t taking into account is that everyone’s writing needs improvement. Consultants tailor appointments to the individual needs of the student. While some students come in needing help with grammar and spelling, others need help brainstorming, organizing, finding a thesis – you name it. The biggest part of training is learning how to allow students to guide the appointments.

I kept all of this in mind as I waited for my first appointment. I remembered being resistant to the idea of even coming to the Writing Center during my first year, and wanted to make sure she felt as comfortable as possible.

When she showed up, we took our seats at a desk near the big window that lines one wall of the Writing Center. As soon as we started talking, my nerves disappeared, as had happened when I was a first-year student. The roles had reversed, but I was surprised to discover that, I still felt just as at ease as I had before. After all, at the heart of every consultation is what the Writing Center is all about – peers helping peers write and improve in a supportive, safe zone.