Look at all the work we did!
Look at all the work we did!

How to Make the Work You Do Work For You

Stuck.

Blank-page-blinking-cursor-aching-retinas kind of stuck.

Okay, to be fair, the page wasn’t exactly blank. All right, so it was 10 pages.

But I was indeed stuck. I had worked with this paper so much that I had actually started rehearsing it in the halls. I was quoting myself on the way to the dining hall. And I was way too familiar with my works cited page. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t even tell what was working and what wasn’t. I needed help. And, luckily, I knew just where to get it.

Since I became a consultant in the Writing Center back in August, I have become very comfortable working in the cozy office located in the basement of the library. But this time, when I walked through the door I wasn’t a staffer reporting for duty. I was a student eager to make an appointment. I marched right up to the desk and told my coworker: “I would like to make an appointment for this afternoon please.”

She looked up at me from her thesis homework and laughed.

I couldn’t help but smile. As consultants, we work with writers so often that the tips and tricks we pass on to our clients typically get absorbed right up into our own brains. In the past semester alone, I must have performed five or six mock consultations for my own papers, going back and forth in my head, playing out the roles of both student and consultant. I would pose questions to myself that I would have asked in real life if I were the student bringing my paper into a session. But this time was different. I knew I needed help, the kind my own brain could not supply.

When I sat down with my consultant, Kelly, she understood immediately.

“A fresh set of eyes, that’s what you need,” she said, taking up my paper and starting to read. I scribbled down notes on a separate sheet of loose-leaf paper she had given me while she analyzed my paper’s argument. Once she had read through the dual-lensed, critical analysis of Joyce’s The Dead and Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Kelly asked me what I had written down. Going back over my notes, I told her what I jotted down—the main things I wanted to say in my argument. She nodded along with each point as I read it out, assuring me that she had picked up on it all in my essay.

"Kelly and I after a successful Writing Center consultation."

“Kelly and I after a successful Writing Center consultation.”

That made me feel great, since it’s always a good thing to have a paper the audience can easily access, but I wanted to go deeper. I was pleased that I had managed to get my points across in the paper, but I wanted to see whether or not I had vacationed for too long in the dreaded fluff zone—the bane of any college student’s existence. So Kelly suggested we take a look at my introduction to see how I was presenting the paper to my audience.

She read the first page out loud to me. Suddenly, I heard my voice coming out of her mouth and boy did I sound convoluted! When she got to the end of the page, I stopped her. We realized that this was an area in need of work. Together, we went through the rest of the essay, picking out the key points I made and which ones needed to be introduced earlier on. From there, we mashed down the general gist of my paper into two sentences. There. That was what I needed to help guide me through. I swapped out the complicated mess of information I had previously dumped on the reader for the clear, concise ideas I had just constructed. When we read through my paper again, the argument flowed naturally. Now I could clearly see what was fluff and what was not. I was so pleased!

I left the consultation satisfied with my new introduction and ready to sit down with my paper to de-fluff it. I’m a consultant, but now I realize that that doesn’t mean I can’t use the resource for myself. Sometimes even consultants need a second pair of eyes to help them identify the weak parts of their writing. I’m so glad that I was brave enough to bring my own work to the Writing Center for help. After all, that’s what it’s there for.