The following is a response to “The Idea of a Writing Center” by Stephen M. North
I love writing. But, love isn’t easy—and neither is writing.
When people ask me what I want to do with my future, I tell them of my passion for Rhetoric. Their reactions are always the same: confusion, then doubt, and eventually, there is always a tidbit thrown into the conversation about the flourishing job markets in medicine, science or engineering. As if writing is merely an art lacking any academic foundation. (Not to hate on art. Art is beautiful, but writing is different.)
Slash, thanks for the advice guys, but, I absolutely hate seeing people in pain, I struggled ridiculously in Honors Chemistry in High School and I couldn’t even tell you what an Engineer does—well maybe I could—no, no I can’t.
Writing is often dismissed as a simple art form. While writing does require immense creativity and hard work, it is different than art—it can range from academically informative to amusingly creative. Written pieces can be a parody, satire, fictional story or realistic narrative. Writing is broad, it is complex and it requires intellectual, creative and dedicated work. And even though writing is often perceived as a solitary activity, a single person cannot compile a published piece of work on his or her own. There is always a draft, there is always an editing process and there is always additional involvement—the involvement of another person.
A Writing Center is a place where writers can mirror this process for their respective pieces of work, no matter the size of the paper, or the audience they write for. Stephen M. North discusses “The Idea of a Writing Center” and their actual purpose, as opposed to the misguided perception people have on their function.
It’s ironic to me that writing, as an academic discipline, is often overlooked. Writing Centers tend to get the shaft because of this very dedication to a discipline perceived as simply solitary.
Yet, people don’t realize that every professional textbook, publication, academic journal and even book, no matter the genre, has undergone intense scrutiny and editing, by a multitude of people. Especially in college—we are required to read so much for class, no matter the major or subject matter. Reading is vital to learning. Every time we read, we are dissecting someone else’s work in writing. A piece of writing that was refined through editing processes, dialogue and discussions. “Writing centers, are simply one manifestation—polished and highly visible—of a dialogue about writing that is central to higher education. [Writing Centers exist] to talk to writers” (North, 440).
Writing is improved through discourse and collaboration. No written piece was constructed perfectly on its first attempt, and sent out to publishers without intense changes—be it in grammar, style or clarity of ideas. There is always, and inevitably, a process before publication. The process allows for enhancement, so as to perfect the piece as much as imperfect humans (note the plurality) can manage. “[Writing Centers aim] to fit into—observe and participate in—this ordinarily solo ritual of writing” to stimulate growth and improvement (North, 439). Although there is usually a single author for a written piece, dedicated and responsible for the core idea and direction of his work, humans thrive in communities—we are better together. The author’s work is not changed, but rather enhanced. “The essence of the writing center method is talking”—Writing Centers aim to bring out the student’s highest potential by focusing discussions on the student, and their vision (North, 443).
“Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together” –Paul Ryan
Writing Centers are student-centered at their very core and in “the strictest sense of the term” (North, 443). They dedicate their practice to this complex process. It’s brave and admirable. Writing is so personal. Even though we can talk to people easily, we develop intense shyness when it comes to displaying our written work—essentially a compilation of our voice and thoughts on a concrete paper. Writing Centers require a certain level of trust. The writer must realize that the goal is “to produce better writers, not better writing” (North, 438).
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” –Chinese Proverb
Writing Centers focus on the complex process of writing. I love discussing my writing with people. I come up with my best ideas through dialogue. I have to talk to someone to help me figure out my own thoughts. Discourse helps me formulate the ideology I will present in my paper. North’s paper essentially echoed the thoughts in my head. Hence why I am not apart of the target audience—“[this paper] is addressed to the opposite [of a writing center audience]: those not involved with writing centers” (North, 433). And I understand completely where North is coming from—many of my papers “began out of frustration” (North, 433).
As a “writer,” I cannot express how useful it is to visit a community of people whose ultimate goal is to help me improve in my area of study. Writing Centers allow me to find a community of tutors “whose primary responsibility, whose only reason for being, is to talk to writers”—like me (North, 446).
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” –Napoleon Hill
Yes, it is frustrating when people disregard the value of writing and urge me to take on career paths I would inevitably fail in, but, that is what love is all about. You fight for what you love, and you fight for what you believe in. I believe in the beauty of writing, the potential for it to raise awareness and incite change, and mostly, I believe that Writing Centers can gain prestige, as long as we keep advocating for it.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. 46.5 (1984): 433-446.