Category Archives: Resources

How to Survive Your Next Cover Letter Experience

It’s cover letter season. Most of us, if we haven’t already, are scrambling around to secure an internship or job for the summer, and unfortunately, this means that all of our (abundance of) free time is spent writing (or avoiding) cover letters. To help you with your job or internship search, here are a few tips to make the dreaded cover letter writing process a little less painful.

  • Do your research. Before writing any cover letter, be sure to check out the company’s website, social media pages, and any other relevant sources. Take notes on the company’s main functions, values, and beliefs. Look back at your notes when you’re done. What does this company want in an employee? Incorporate this information into your cover letter and argue that you are the best fit for their company. Hiring managers will be impressed by your knowledge of the company, and this makes you stand out among other candidates.
  • Find a real person to address your letter to. Search LinkedIn or the company’s website to find the name of a human resources manager or recruiter. Addressing your letter to one of these people is more personal than addressing it to the hiring manager or hiring committee. It also shows that you’ve done your research.
  • Pull out key words from the job posting and integrate them into your letter. I like to print out job ads, pull out my favorite colorful pen, and then scribble all over the ad, circling words and phrases that describe traits and skills that I have. Pointing out the specific ways I fit the job description helps me organize my professional experience and write about it in a way that fits the job I’m applying for. Including key phrases from the job posting in your cover letter shows that you’ve paid careful attention to the position’s duties and roles within the organization.
  • Write a new cover letter for every job. Companies will recognize a cookie cutter cover letter right when they see it. Instead, customize your letter to fit the position and company you’re applying for. Mention specific information about their company and the position. This shows hiring managers that you’ve put in the time and effort to write a cover letter catered directly to their needs.

These suggestions cover only the tip of the iceberg. For more advice, visit careernetwork.msu.edu. And don’t forget—we’re always available to help at the Writing Center!

How to Choose the Best Music for Writing

Koalas music comic

Writing is hard. We all have different processes on how we do it. It’s almost impossible for me to write in silence (but maybe you do). In order to begin the process of writing, I like to choose a good playlist. There are tons of free ways we can access music, and personally I like using Spotify. The cartoon above illustrates the importance of finding the right playlist or music station. Likewise, I have to pick the right sound for the kind of writing mood that I’m in.

There are some pitfalls to listening to music while writing. For example, I occasionally chose a station that includes some of my favorite artists. It’s important to avoid these Spotify playlists because it furthers procrastination as I get caught up in the melodies, rather than focusing on writing. I sometimes pick a playlist with a sluggish beat and it negatively affects my writing pace. If I’m trying to make myself excited for a writing assignment, I frequently choose a loud, upbeat Spotify station.

However, what works for me won’t work for everyone. And what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow. Sometimes I need to try out a couple of stations before I find something that’s just right. The space that we place ourselves in is very important, and sound is a vital spatial element. Sound influences us in ways that we may not recognize, but I think that we can all agree that music plays a major role in how we think and feel. I need an enjoyable sonic space so that I can produce a piece of writing that I’m proud of. I consider music a tool to use during the writing process, as it is something that inspires and helps me make meaning.

To Fellow Writing Center Noobs:

Not only am I a first-year graduate student, but I’m also a new writing center coordinator. Being a first-timer, I had a great deal to learn from experienced writing consultants and students that visit our center. Although orientation prepared me for the job, I still wasn’t confident in the skills that I can offer as a writer. I am in no way the best writer or consultant out there, so I doubted how much assistance I could provide to clients. The first client I had was just as nervous as I was during our first consultation and it was then that I realized there is no way that any consultant can be perfect. I know now that if I’m unsure about something, then the client and I can work together to find an answer. In fact, I realized that I am constantly utilizing the boundless resources that the writing center has to offer. My biggest resource in the center comes from the support I receive from other staff members, and not to mention the endless amount of coffee.

Because this is a new experience, I often feel like I never know if I’m doing something right, however, it has been incredibly easy to ask anyone in the center for advice. I trust that the people working in the writing center care about me and this is something that I want to offer to clients that visit our center. I relate to every struggle and question a client brings to me because I have encountered these issues in my own writing. Even though I’m a new writing consultant, I feel as if I’ve been doing this work for a lifetime because not unlike my clients, I am still learning new things about composition every day. The equal relationship that the client and I have is what allows us to work on something as a team, rather being looked to as the expert. This multicolored writing center that houses diverse writers, and sometimes a dog, is a safe place we can all share, make mistakes, and collaborate together in order to create something meaningful.

So You Think You Might Want to Participate in NaNoWriMo (And You’re Scared)

I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (affectionately called NaNo) since 2007, a memorable year in which I distracted myself from my horrifically soul-sucking job by ignoring my duties and writing a cheesy romance novel. It was messy and poorly planned (I believe I may have started late that year), but it was also the first time I’d really tried to write a long story. The experience was stressful and terrifying and incredible.

nanowrimo_logoNaNo is a sort of lurking beast in my life—it’s always somewhere in my mind throughout the year—but it’s a beast I’ve fallen in love with. The best thing about NaNo is that it is all about process and journey. We operate in a world where there is an emphasis on product that can be borderline paralyzing. This mentality is actually the biggest reason I see people drop out of or talk themselves out of participating in NaNo.

The thing about NaNo is that while it is goal-oriented (word count), there isn’t anyone waiting at “the finish line.” You can’t really get it wrong. The purpose of NaNo is to get people writing—to create productivity, to encourage creativity, to push people out of comfort zones, and to foster positive feelings. I can’t stress that enough. NaNo is meant to make us feel good! We’ve tried something new. We’ve pushed past our comfort zones. We’ve been creative. Yay!

That right there, new friend, is all you need. Sure, it’s immensely gratifying to make it to that 50k words. But honestly, the NaNo that really feels like my greatest achievement was 2008, when I wrote 2000 words. Total. Because I had a one-month-old baby and sleep was a distant dream. But damn. I wrote 2000 words of a story I hadn’t planned with a one-month-old baby. That has win all over it.

In sum, you can do it. What it is can be totally up to you. What I love most about NaNo is the camaraderie. Friendships made, creativity spurred, and that feeling of “Wow, I didn’t think I had that in me.” Are you sort of on the fence? Come find me. I’ll convince you, and no matter where your journey goes, I’ll cheerlead the crap out of your journey, because it is all always valuable.

My NaNo success tips (tailor or ignore these at will):

Find an accountability buddy: Whether this is online or in person. Having someone to talk to, to motivate you, to keep you accountable to your personal goals has been so vital to my success every year.

Work in writing sprints: I do these with my buddy. We sit down—online, we aren’t in the same place— and either set a small word goal or a time limit (something totally manageable, like 20-45 minutes). We don’t talk or allow ourselves to do anything else. It’s just time to write. I find it super effective.

Set manageable goals: What time do you write best? How can you utilize your time? Are you goal- or deadline-oriented or not? I personally love making a spreadsheet. I have a daily word goal (1667 words per day for 30 days=win). My spreadsheet includes my total words as I go and also tells me how far ahead or behind I am. This is good because then I can plan for days when I won’t be writing, but can also allot time in the days ahead to catch up.

Be forgiving: Do not allow this to become a time or exercise where you beat yourself up. I cannot stress enough that this is supposed to be fun! Give yourself rewards! Celebrate your success on social media. Buy yourself chocolate. 

Interested in signing up or checking things out? Check out their website. There are a ton of resources there, including information on meetings and write-a-thons in your area. There are discussion boards for almost everything, including research help and genre specific information. And you can find buddies. Buddies are good!

DIY Autumn Retreat, Just in Time for Midterms

It’s time for sweaters, falling leaves, and tiny black kittens stealing your socks.  Longer nights and crisp autumn days conjure visions of apple treats and curling up with your favorite book.  So here are some key essentials for your adult autumn relaxation retreat.

Adult Hot Caramel Apple Cider: Looking for a cider with a kick? Look no further than this easy take on an old classic!

caramel_apples Favorite brand of Apple Cider, such as from Uncle John’s Cider Mill, heated for 30 sec
Caramel vodka
Pinch of cinnamon
Mix to your heart’s desire, and enjoy!

Mini Caramel Apples: These treats from At Home in Love might have Pinterest fail written all over them, but so long as you have some caramel and some apples in any form in the end, we’ll consider it a win. Be sure to tag #WCMSU in your #pinterestfail pictures though, because with this “October Meltdown” going around, we need the laugh.
 
Knitted Throw: If you have the time and needles, try one of these free, quick knitting patterns!

halloween_party_bookFor those who want instant warmth, check out your local yarn shop or boutique to pick up a cozy, inexpensive throw in your favorite colors.

A Good Book: If you’re feeling overloaded with school work and heavy reading, maybe a little light reading is in order. With that special brand of nostalgia one can only harbor during the back to school season, why not indulge in a double whammy trip down memory lane. Remember your favorite spooky stories as a kid? What better way to remember some great childhood memories with a little Halloween spice than to go ahead and grab an old copy of an R.L. Stine book? Or seventeen. It’s awfully cozy under that blanket, after all. No need to get up unless you’re out of cider.

 

The Writing Process, the Writing Center, and You

Dear Potential Writing Center Client,

I am writing this letter to you to inform you of the world of possibilities the Writing Center @ MSU can offer you. Through this letter, it is my hope that you open up to the idea that writing is a process and that we are here to assist you with that process, wherever it is you may be.

Strong, thoughtful writing usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you write something the night before it is due, then you are writing what is probably, as Anne Lamott would call it, a “shitty first draft.” And shitty first drafts are great! Sometimes you just need to get it out and after you have your initial ideas out, shitty or not, we (you and a tutor) can begin to engage in the writing process through revision.

I want you to open up to another idea: writing as revision. Writing, as a process, is something that ideally happens over time and is at its strongest when you can draft something and continue to revise it, or re-envisioning it (see what I did there?). If you can give into this idea, then, the writing process is something we can engage in together (at the Writing Center!).

A basic outline for the writing process is as follows: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, revision, revision, revision (do you get the point yet?), revision, editing. I will now go into detail concerning the individual steps.

All of these steps are proposed as a model. You might have a different model or one in a different order. If you are not doing writing in the way I’ve just prescribed, don’t fret! It’s just a model to give you a start.

Brainstorming:

This is the generative, imaginative, creative, and/or constructive part of the writing process. This is when you can begin bringing ideas together without any fear of linear thinking, making complete sense, or worrying if it will “work.” Brainstorming is a beautiful, magical time where you are free to roam the wilds of your mind and jot down anything that seems relevant. Techniques like making lists, bubble maps, and free-writing are simple tools you can use during this stage to generate ideas.

Outlining:

Outlining can be understood as the step between brainstorming and drafting where you take those many thoughts and start organizing them into a more coherent, but not perfect state. Outlining can consist of formal outlines with roman numerals, lazy outlines of your choosing (my favorite) or just organized lists. Outlining can also be a great time to discover if you need more research or not.

Drafting:

Drafting, for the purpose of this model, is the creation of the first draft (or “shitty first draft”) in an attempt to get your words into a more coherent, written-out-with-sentences form. Drafts don’t have to look like the final product. Drafts are an attempt at paragraphs and organization. Think of this as the starting step for what your essay or written text will become. A few tips for drafting: don’t over think it, just write as much as you can (more is better), and just let go.

Revision:

Revision is the possibly never-ending process of taking your draft and re-envisioning it. This is when you really need to start considering the form/needs of the genre you are working in and the global issues of your paper (organization, main argument, transitions, clarity). When you think genres, think about how essays are different from prose, are different from cover letters, are different from poems. For example, if you are writing an essay, where is the thesis and is it central in your whole piece? I say revision is possibly never ending because at this point you can revise to your heart’s content (or until the deadline) and leaving yourself the time to revise is of the upmost importance to the writing process. Like the old maxim from da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” There will come a time when you will have to say, “Okay, I think this is where I need to leave my writing for now. It makes enough sense and answers to the assignment/genre.”

Editing:

Editing is left for last because now that you have addressed the global concerns, you can go through and check your paper for local issues like sentence structure, syntax, and grammar. Editing is the time to “polish” your piece and consider your tone and how you are saying things. A good strategy for this is reading the essay in reverse order, one sentence at a time, to focus on the sentence meaning and not the linear, argument(s) being constructed.

The best thing we (at the Writing Center) can do for you is also help you figure out YOUR PROCESS. That’s the beauty of our approach to peer revision—when you become aware of your process, you can begin to tailor it for your own needs and purposes. That would be our highest and ultimate goal: to facilitate awareness of and define a process that works for YOU. A process you can engage in (and redefine) as you need, long after you stop using the writing center and even long after college.

Please come join us for a session at the center. I mean, you’ve already paid for it in student fees! And you never know what you might learn here, or what we can imagine together.

ECWCA Reflection

A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending the ECWCA Conference in South Bend, Indiana. For those of you who are not familiar with the ECWCA, the East Central Writing Center Association, is an organization that brings writing centers from across the Midwest together for an annual conference where consultants, directors, and administrators share what they have been working on for the last year.

This is my second time going and presenting at this conference and it is a great chance to see what other folks are working on. This year the theme focused on Ethics in the WC and I would like to take a chance to reflect on one of the keynote speakers’ presentations.

John Duffy is the founder of the Writing Center at Notre Dame and has maintained a working relationship with the WC at Notre Dame. He is now the writing program administrator for the writing program at Notre Dame. Dr. Duffy began his talk outlining what it means to ethically consult with students, describing ways to help students create ethical arguments and fact checking their opinions to provide solid evidence for scholarly research.

As the talk progressed, Dr. Duffy highlighted the responsibilities of writing consultants as a sounding board, bringing the long standing argument against WC work as peer to peer tutoring being one step away from cheating. Dr. Duffy discussed the many ways that this argument is ludicrous (it is rare to have a consultant working on the same assignment, WC’s aren’t copy editing services where students can drop off their papers and pick up polished essays, etc.) and provided context for the potential intervention moments consultants have to help students really engage in their ideas.

At the conclusion of his conversation Dr. Duffy provided some great advice on how to approach these kinds of conversations with clients, such as: ask the client if they have check multiple sources, talk with the client about how they are framing their arguments, try to find out what is the most important part of the argument to the client.

For me as a consultant these kinds of conversations are great, but I often feel that all of the outcomes of these conversations are based on the proverbial “difficult” client who needs to be helped. I also feel that these kinds of discussions start off with the assumption that the consultant is qualified and prepared to ethically engage with clients who have completely different world views and life experience.

During the discussion part of Dr. Duffy’s talk, it was clear to me that those who engaged Dr. Duffy were taking the assumptions as truths by the way that they conversations were framed. “Those students” are our client base and I take issue with placing all of the responsibility for ethical practice on the consultant. Similarly, I fear it is an even bigger issue to assume that our clients are unable to engage in ethical ways themselves.

At this point, I have to provide a disclaimer, I was one person listening and engaging with this conversation. It is totally possible that I heard/understood everything incorrectly during this discussion, but either way I do think that because of what I have been feeling in regards to all of this, it is an appropriate time to talk about it.

It is as much our responsibility to train our consultants in ways of ethical behavior and understandings as it is to work our clients on these ideas. It is not a safe assumption that consultants are prepared for ethical discourse, nor is acceptable to forget that consultants are students as well. We are not knowledge keepers and by putting the focus only on the client base, I believe there is a huge risk of distancing ourselves with the very folks we are claiming to help.

I have written multiple times about meeting students where they are at, but this is a reciprocal process. There are some things that I am great at as a consultant, but to assume that those things don’t need further work is a terrifying idea to me. As a consultant it is my job to continually investigate my position and knowledge base to best help clients, but more importantly it is my job to know that help looks and feels different for each client.

It is as much our responsibility to engage in our own ethical process as writing center communities as it is to work with our clients. I think the ideas that Dr. Duffy discussed are extremely important and are for the most part applicable, so much so that I would like to see conversations of how to make these ideas the focal point of consultant training modules.

At the end of the day, this is one of the reasons why I love being part of this community. My thoughts about the conference didn’t end when I left. I am still thinking about these ideas and still trying to figure out ways to best meet the needs of my clients. The ECWCA community is a great place to explore ideas and to meet like minded people.

Out of Cite, Out of Mind: Tips for Nailing Your Next Bibliography

At the Writing Center, we’re happy to help you through every stage of the writing process, but unfortunately, we’re not experts on every single citation style—nobody really is! The important thing is knowing how to find information on citations. Citing your work can be tricky, so to help you out, here are a few resources you can use while writing your next paper.

The Library

Did you know that you can find all the style guides at the library? All you have to do is ask at the circulation desk, and the receptionist can provide you with the AP Stylebook, MLA Handbook, Chicago Manual of Style, and APA Publication Manual, among others. Though you can’t take these books home, you can check out a book for two hours with your MSU ID. The Chicago Manual of Style is also available free online with your MSU library account, so you don’t even have to leave home to complete your bibliography.

Citation Machine (www.citationmachine.net) and Bibme (www.bibme.org)

Citation Machine is a website that allows you to pick your citation style and either search the name of your source or plug in the key details about your source. Click the “create citation” button, and you have your completed citation ready to go! Bibme is very similar to Citation Machine and offers the same services. Try both and figure out what works best for you. When working with sites like these, it’s usually a good idea to consult your style guide just to make sure the citation you received is correct.

Purdue OWL (www.owl.english.purdue.edu/owl)

Purdue OWL offers a wide variety of information, including citation examples for every style guide. Use the “Research and Citation” section of the site to view comprehensive information about bibliographies and citations for each style. Besides offering citation tips, Purdue OWL also offers plenty of other helpful tips about writing, so be sure to check those out when you’re in a writing rut.

Zotero (www.zotero.org) and RefWorks (www.refworks.com)

With Zotero, you can collect all your research and store it in your own personal database. The program organizes your sources into collections and then allows you to cite your sources in any style—Zotero offers thousands of publication formats. RefWorks is a similar site that also allows you to create bibliographies from your personal database. Both have slightly different features, so play around to find the website that best fits your needs.

Still stumped? Google is your best friend. Just make sure your sources are reliable. You can usually trust university websites, and if you’re still struggling, ask your professor for help.

The Connection Between Writing and Mental Health

How many of you knew that mental health awareness week was this month? My guess is not many of you. Unlike other health issues that receive more attention, such as breast cancer and heart disease, mental health issues often get pushed under the rug because of their stigma.

There is something wrong with this picture. How are we to understand mental illness and disorders and actively promote treatment and support for those affected by them? This is where writing comes in.

We’ve all read books for school (or for fun, if you’re a book nerd like me) that feature mentally ill characters. You and your peers might consider the authors of these books “crazy.” While this is certainly not the right way to label people struggling with mental illness, it may make you wonder why so many writers seem to struggle with depression and other related disorders.

Turns out, you’re not the only person who may think so. Recent studies have suggested a connection between mental health disorders and writers. Many successful and influential writers have dealt with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental disorders throughout their lives. Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf all battled mental illness. These are the authors of books you’ve read in your English classes throughout the years. These authors are brilliant. These authors demonstrate the power of the written word in coping with mental illness.

How can you apply therapeutic writing to your own life? I’m not suggesting you write a novel as a coping skill, but journal writing is an excellent way to cope with emotions. It’s helped me immensely over the years. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Scribble. Your journal might look like a two-year-old got ahold of it, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re getting all your emotions out on paper without inhibition. I know that when I am most upset, my journal entries are barely legible.
  2. Record your symptoms and treatment. Not only can this be therapeutic, it also serves as a great way to keep track of your mood, medication side effects, and possible triggers that could be causing certain symptoms. Being blatantly honest about the emotions and struggles you encounter sometimes helps you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Plus it serves as a great way to track the trends in your behavior and identify ways to cope with situations as you encounter them in the future.
  3. You don’t have to write every day. I always start out trying to write an entry every day, but it only stresses me out when I don’t follow my own rule. If you want to write every day, go for it, but you’re not obligated to. Write whenever inspiration strikes. Write whenever you’re feeling at your worst. Write whenever your head is overflowing with emotions and you just have to get them all out.

Journaling is a great coping mechanism for sorting through emotional issues, but be sure to also check out the resources that the MSU Counseling Center offers if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness. Visit http://www.counseling.msu.edu/ for more information.

Starting a Sentence With Because

I’m going to be honest with you, there are some grammar rules that I really don’t care about. Actually, there’s a lot of them. Really, most of them. That being said, sometimes it’s important to know and follow the rules, because other people care about them no matter how silly they are.

And so, today, we are going to examine one of the sillier rules of grammar: whether you can or cannot start a sentence with “because”. A lot of people will say that you can’t start a sentence with “because” and be using “proper” grammar. While it is true that starting a sentence with “because” is usually “incorrect”, it’s only because it results in an incomplete sentence. Thus, sometimes you can start a sentence with “because” and still be in the clear. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

“Because” is a subordinating conjunction. A subordinating conjunction is a word that joins two clauses, one of which is independent and one of which is dependent. I know that’s a lot of jargon, but basically what we’re looking at is this: we have a sentence with two parts, and “because” joins them together. The two parts have to be in the same sentence for the use of “because” to be “correct”. Otherwise, one of the clauses becomes a sentence fragment, which is a problem.

The reason you can’t usually start a sentence with “because” is because the sentence needs two parts for because to join together. Usually, “because” goes in between the two clauses, so if we start a sentence with “because” there is often only one clause in the sentence. Put simply, if “because” is in a sentence, the sentence needs two parts to be “correct”. Let’s look at an example.

We decided to go to the pool because it was hot outside.

The two clauses we are looking at are “We decided to go to the pool” and “it was hot outside”. “Because” links them together and makes them friends. Let’s look at what would happen if we were to split the sentence up into two.

We decided to go to the pool. Because it was hot outside.

Now that the two clauses are in different sentences, “because” can’t really join them together. The clauses can’t be friends and now they’re lonely, making the second sentence “incorrect.”

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Continue reading