How Early Is Too Early for the UWC?
February 29, 2016
By Bailey Faulkner
When I first came to the University Writing Center in the spring of 2014, I was pretty uncertain of what the experience would be like. As part of the Writing Center Practice and Theory course (R_C 3450) I was taking, I was required to come to the UWC to have a session of my own. I wasn’t actively working on any writing assignments, and the only idea that I had for my session was to bring in an assignment sheet for a paper that had just been assigned in my American Literature class.
When I went in, I thought that the session was probably going to be less helpful than if I brought in a draft of a paper. Now that I have been a consultant for two years, I have come to realize that some of the best sessions happen before the actual writing process has begun.
My first session was much more helpful than I ever could have imagined. Since my consultant and I didn’t have any text to focus on, we were able to collaboratively work through the first and (in my opinion) most important steps in the entire writing process: brainstorming and planning.
Throughout my two years of consulting, I have often seen clients struggle with organizing their thoughts. A lot of times, this doesn’t stop writers from attempting to get as much writing done as possible before coming to the UWC. I want to spread the word that coming to the Center earlier can be much more useful than you think!
Having seen firsthand what talking with a consultant during the brainstorming and planning stages of the writing process can do, I always get excited when clients come to the UWC before they begin writing. Instead of thinking that not having any actual writing would lead to a less helpful session, I now firmly believe that these sessions, when considering the writing process as a whole, are the most beneficial. Maybe I’m just a little biased about this, but I think I can make a good argument for why pre-writing sessions are often much more helpful than any other session. Let me throw around a little bit of writing center lingo.
While this is only a generalization and there is certainly overlap between the two, it is helpful to think about writing as consisting of two levels: the higher order and the lower order. Thinking about the higher order is considering the bigger picture. Organization and flow are two classic higher order concerns. These two aspects determine the “skeleton” of a paper.
The lower order deals with the smaller picture. Lower order concerns appear on the sentence level or even on the word level. Grammar, wording, subject and verb agreement, and sentence structure are all lower order concerns. Now that you’re in the know with writing center terminology, I can make my case.
Don’t get me wrong; working on the lower level is certainly important. However, it seems that more often than not, having issues with higher order concerns is much more serious than having issues with lower order concerns. This is why coming to the UWC early in the writing process is so important. It’s a lot easier to work on higher order issues before writing than it is to modify higher order issues after you have spent a substantial amount of time writing!
My first session in the UWC is a good example of taking care of higher order issues at the appropriate time. I showed up to the session with no actual writing at all. I was pretty concerned about the direction I wanted to take with my paper; I had a general idea of what I wanted to talk about, but I was unable to arrange my thoughts in a way that made sense as an argument. Luckily, my consultant was able to help! I explained my general plan for the paper, which allowed us to explore supporting arguments for my claim. Even without knowing the short story that I was referencing, my consultant was able to help walk me through the process of making a well thought-out outline that would later inform my entire paper. Without my consultant’s help, I likely would have produced a disorganized and unstructured paper. Now that I play the consultant’s role in the UWC, I want to help writers just as my consultant helped me two years ago!
Spending a lot of time in the prewriting stage probably seems tedious to a lot of people. I’ll admit it: sometimes it is! That’s why the University Writing Center is here to help.
So the next time you get stumped in the beginning of the writing process (or at any other point), just come on by the UWC. There’s no such thing as coming to the center too early in the writing process. At the very least, you’ll get to have a conversation with one of our awesome consultants!