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Demystifying the Writing Process

By From the Department of English Newsletter

Author Gustave Flaubert became known for flinging open the shutters and reading his prose aloud to busy streets, desperate to hear his words to get a glimpse of what they sound like on the page. Boisterously reading sections of his latest book, Flaubert anxiously sought clarity and precision in his writing, welcoming criticism and the search for “le mot juste,” or the perfect word. He wanted his thoughts and words to share one meaning.

Writing is, first and foremost, a thought process. However, our words have a tendency to stray away from our thoughts. The ability to think critically and articulate accordingly remains a principle focus of the broader Wake Forest curriculum and a primary goal of the Writing Center in Reynolda Hall.

But like a double joint or an aversion to shellfish, many Wake Forest students think of writing as any other trait or quirk: you either got it or you don’t. The Writing Center aims to demystify this perception of the writing process.

Fostering a sense of motivation within students, the Writing Center encourages them to look at writing with a sense of audience and immediacy, not just making sure the commas are in the right places. All the while repeating a simple mantra that writing is just figuring out what you want to say.

While the Writing Center has taken on a unique niche in campus life, its history seems to highlight the prevailing misconceptions towards the writing and tutoring process. For many years, faculty and students treated writing as a concept to be taught in the abstract.

“If you want to demonstrate proficiency in an abstract sense, it just becomes another hoop to jump through,” concluded Tom McGohey, director of the Writing Center. This concrete side to writing is found in motivation and audience.

“We give them an immediate audience to say ‘this is what I got out of your paper, is that what you wanted to say?’ We try and match the intentions in your head with the words on the page,” says McGohey, whose job description finds him both in the center and in the classroom.

Critics of the center seemed to be equally confused about the concept of peer tutors. Not only do peer tutors run the risk of seeming unqualified; many were nervous that this sort of aid tiptoed the honor code. Now, with tutors on staff from a range of departments, the Wake Forest faculty seems to have warmed up to the idea.

But the tutors do more than simply highlight mistakes. Tutoring in the Writing Center takes place on a conversational level under the presumption that all good writers need feedback.

In any given session, tutors and students respond to goals and the idea that you can become a better writer through talking about your writing. It is “allowing yourself to have thoughts,” says McGohey, “Students learn to relax and become more confident, because, within that 50 minutes, we like to think there are at least one or two concrete goals, whether it is coming up with a thesis or creating good transitions.”

Another misconception to be addressed is the attitude that “good” writing is reserved for the English department. Regardless of the curriculum, purpose and clarity are the primary goals in communication. Elements of good writing are universal to all writing situations. In merely its presence alone, the Writing Cen-ter testifies to the importance of effective writing. Whether it is an English paper or an economics thesis, a need for clear communication is constant.

The Writing Center emphasizes Wake Forest’s focus on excellence and work ethic. Across the curriculum, it can be utilized in an attempt to cultivate an understanding that writing is learned, revision is necessary, and you must grant yourself permission to have thoughts.

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