Although I do have a few vlog-style videos about my grad school experience that came after the first two videos, the next advice/single-subject video was just completed today. The video is one I have been meaning to make all along, but I had to work up the courage and the wherewithal to find the right words because the subject is mental illness in college.
If this video helps you in any way, please don't hesitate to let me know. We need to stick together and support each other!
When I started grad school, I began making a series of videos for my YouTube channel about my experiences. I wanted to share my advice where possible. Here is the first video in that series, beginning with the assistantship application process.
The next video details the paperwork process for once a student has acquired an assistantship.
So, writer's block.
I have come to the realization that writer’s block is not it’s own mental state or “problem” or “thing”. It (appears to be) always some other underlying issue the writer is having. We just call all these different things writer’s block (maybe because it’s an easier term).
So far, I’ve concluded that writer’s block can be a variety of things:
If I don’t have any motivation, I’ll find or make reasons to get off my butt and do something that makes me happy.
If I don’t have any inspiration, I’ll carry a notepad with me and look for new sources of inspiration everywhere.
If I’m afraid of creating a mediocre poem (or story, painting, sculpture, doodle, etc.) then I will remind myself to separate myself from my work. Keeping myself personally attached on the intimate level that most artists keep with their art, means that I will think mediocre work = mediocre creator. This is not a true statement.
If I think burn-out may be my block, I will pace myself better and take plenty of breaks. I love putting my hands in all the cookie jars, but I have to remind myself that I can only eat one cookie at a time!
This is the best way that I have found helps me with my creative block. Nonetheless, at the end of the day I also have to remind myself that if I am experiencing a block and none of the above solutions are working, it is okay to take a break. It is okay to step back for a while and focus on something other than writing, art, homework, or whatever task has me feeling blocked. You don’t have to be making masterpieces every day of the year. You don’t have to be creative or totally productive every day of the year.
Hello everyone, this is a very long post but I hope you will find it helpful! It took me six years and two schools (community college and four-year college) to get my undergrad degree, so I had plenty of time to hone my email skills. I never had much trouble with it though, because I preferred email to phone calls and in-person meetings because of how shy I am. So I hope my experience will be beneficial!
Please don’t be intimidated by emails if you are having trouble writing them. These tips should help. Also try to remember that the recipient is a person just like you! Writing an email doesn’t have to be that much different than writing a real letter or making a phone call.
Professionalism is based on a hierarchy. If you are emailing someone above you in the hierarchy, ere on the conservative side in terms of how formal your email correspondence with them is. Use business block letter format. Some people suggest that once the higher-up person drops formalities with you, you may drop formalities with them.
I say this should be on a person-to-person basis. If it is your boss or academic advisor and you have been working with them long enough to know that they are very laid back in personality and you speak in more familiar tones when you are face-to-face, then yes, you should be okay to drop formalities in email.
However, if you are new to the job or your higher-up person is still very formal when interacting with you in person, then you probably shouldn’t drop formalities.
Even if they drop formalities, I think it is better for you to remain formal instead of risking offending them, especially if they have some power over your job, livelihood, or education.
Another thing to note is that they may drop formalities with you very quickly in email but may be very formal in person. This is typically because they don’t have the time to continue writing out business letter format in an extended email correspondence. They likely get tons of emails each day. You likely need to continue writing out business letter format for quite a while in the conversation before it would be acceptable for you to drop formalities. This is not to say that your time is less valuable than theirs or that you are any less busy than they are. It is just a tough fact of the professional hierarchy.
Professionalism is about showing respect in the hierarchy. You don’t usually get to decide if someone “above” you has earned your respect or not; you are just expected to give it if you want to keep your job, have a successful experience with school administration, etc. You have to keep displaying extremely high levels of respect long after the higher person has already shown you that they don’t have the time to put the same effort into the conversation.
Please don’t take this personally. Most administrators, especially professors (in my experience), do not mean it as an affront against you. They really just don’t have time.
You can also think of it this way if it reassures you: your higher-ups are often going to be at least one generation older than you. They are often not as fast with typing and technology as you. If they are a professor, they may get tons of emails each day and most of them will be from students who don’t try whatsoever to write a professional email, which will take time away from that professor for responding to you.
I know this is hard to accept. You are very busy too! Why should you have to spend your precious extra time creating well- written emails for everyone you need to communicate with, but you can’t expect anyone higher in the hierarchy to reciprocate that after an email or two? Again, it’s just a standard that has been long-standing in the world of professionalism. You have to let it go!
On to some more university-specific tips for communicating with professors:
If the professor has specific rules for email communication in their syllabus, follow them very carefully! If they felt the need to write it out (or to verbally explain it) something gave them a reason to specify rules.
For instance, one of my undergrad professors explicitly told us not to give him any business letter format. He did not want a single extra word in the email except for what we needed to ask him. This is because he checked his email on his phone while on the go and he didn’t have the time or the attention span to read a drawn-out email. He also wanted it this way because when he replied to our email with his phone, ninety percent of the time we were going to get a one word response: yes or no. He didn’t want us to be offended by this so he made his reasoning clear to us on day one. This was a third-year level English class so he expected us to be professional enough to stick with his request and mature enough not to be bothered by his hasty responses.
On the other hand, my brother took a first-year level English class in which the professor demanded spell-checked business letter format emails for every single email you sent her. If you didn’t follow her rules, she ignored your email! Her reasoning was that too may students were sending her text message abbreviations and horrible spelling. She was tired of it. Students who took her class were required to already have freshman composition, English 101, or whatever your school calls it, so they should be able to spell check and write complete sentences, which most of us learn very early. She must have felt very disrespected since her students didn’t even take the time to click the spell check button.
The point is that every professor may have their own approach. Both the aforementioned professors were very laid back in person, but had very strict and very different rules for email. You can’t guess what the person above you expects if they don’t mention it, so it’s better to use business letter block format unless they tell you otherwise!
Of course, if the professor is your academic advisor and you’ve known them for several years, you will know if you feel comfortable sending them a different level of formality than the professor or admin you’ve never met.
Keep in mind that when I say “drop the formality” I don’t mean that you should suddenly start emailing this person the same way you would text your best friend or the same way you would leave them a comment on social media. I mean you can use a little bit more relaxed language and less business letter format.
For instance, when I start emailing someone less formally, I use “hey” or “hi” instead of “hello” and my email may not be divided into block format paragraphs or it may not have a formal closing.
Some final tips, now that I have babbled on long enough:
Sample emails and advice regarding business letter format:
Here is OWL Purdue’s business letter instructions
These instructions show you how you would write an actual business letter, but it is still pertinent to email.
Of course, you skip the addresses and date in an email. Start with the salutation. I personally find “dear” (which is what OWLP suggests) to be weird when writing a professional email. I start with “hello” or skip it.
If you don’t know the person’s gender or professional title, look it up on the school or company’s website. If it is still unclear, go with “Professor ______” (if they are a professor at your school) or “Mr./Ms. _____” at your work.
Note that I used “Ms.” and not “Mrs.” For whatever (perhaps misogynistic) reason, in the past (and perhaps still today) married women in the workplace were considered less professional than their unmarried counterparts. Perhaps the male-dominated work force believed that women should be homemakers once they got married and that a married woman who didn’t stay home would be less focused on her work. Even though that’s totally false, it is still the norm to not refer to women in the professional world as “Mrs.” whether they are married or not.
There is also some debate about using commas versus colons in the salutation, but it doesn’t matter much in my experience! To me colons are *too* formal so I avoid them. OWLP used them, though.
Here’s an example of a more professional email I would send. Note that both still have all the parts of a proper/complete email/business letter (opening/greeting, body, and closing/salutation) and both use a clear/detailed subject line, and academic spelling and grammar.
Here’s an example of a more informal email I would send:
Some articles about great poets of past and present!
If you are interested in poetry and improving your writing, I strongly encourage you to join the online workshop community www.neopoet.com. I wouldn’t know half of what I know about creative writing without the dedicated and talented writers and mentors you will find there!
I've got some ideas for ways to phrase constructive comments for those times when a reader just doesn't know what to say about a poem. Like my last blog post, this advice comes from a reading about writing centers and tutors from my job. The text is Talk About Writing: The Tutoring Strategies of Experienced Writing Center Tutor by Jo Maciewicz and Isabelle Thompson.
Their strategies are designed for writing centers, meaning they are designed for teaching writing skills and helping students understand the goals of their writing or identifying concerns for their writing. Yet, I think they are useful for workshops as well.
Telling: Commenter uses little or no mitigation to direct poet to lower the face threat of their advice (not really advisable)
Suggesting: Use mitigation to lower the face threat of their advice
Explaining & Exemplifying: Commenter offers reasons for and illustrations of their advice
Pumping (terrible term, great strategy): Commenters ask questions (or use inquiry statements) that get poets to think. Suggests reading aloud and thinking about the questions aloud
Responding as a reader or listener: Commenter tells poet what they take away as reader (or listener), paraphrasing what they think the poet has written or what it means
Referring to a previous topic: Commenter refers poet back to earlier occurence of idea or issue
Prompting: Commenter sets up responses from poet by providing partial responses or by leaving a blank for them to fill in
Showing Concern: build rapport with poet by demonstrating that they care
Praising: commenter points out poet's success with postive feedback
Reinforcing Poet's Ownership and Control: commenter asserts the poet's ultimately makes the decisions
There are more options listed, but I feel like these are the most pertinent. I hope they help for anyone who gets stuck or wants to develop their skills in workshop or peer-review situations.
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean is a reading I had to reflect on for professional development at my job at the University Writing Center at ECU. We read the chapter "Responding to Student Writing" and I think a lot of the advice can apply to Neopoet (or any other workshop environment), if we change the nouns from "teachers" and "students" to "writers" and "readers".
The most valuable advice from the reading comes from page 320. This section emphasizes the value of mitigating “negative” comments with genuine praise. This helps make the response to writing the most constructive because writers aren’t put off by solely critical feedback. They know what they did well and what could use some more work.
The next most valuable advice comes from page 321-322 in which the authors suggest that we should use feedback to “coach revision”. By using feedback to prompt revision, readers can give writers the chance to improve even after they feel like they’re done with the poem. For the poet, it helps them learn that “writing is never done, only due or let go” but that they’ve almost always got another chance, which is very encouraging.
From a writing consultant’s standpoint, this advice is valuable as well because we are usually responding to drafts and are on a strict deadline. If we feel like we’ve got to mark every “error” and give feedback on every single thing we’d suggest to do differently in a paper, we’ll just end up bombarding most students, who are likely already stressed, with overwhelming feedback that may make them not even want to try to wade through all the suggestions.
In an online poetry workshop, poetry isn’t necessarily due, and to complicate matters, the poets may be more inclined to consider a poem done because there’s no consequence like for a student whose work is due; however, this advice still stands because it allows the reader to open up new possibilities for the poet that the poet may not have considered. From the poet’s standpoint, knowing that commenters may be working off this model allows them to avoid saying “This poem is done, you don’t have to give suggestions/I’m not listening/etc.” At the end of the day, the poem still belongs to the poet and they have the agency to decide what get’s done to the poem, if anything, but potential squabbling can be avoided if both parties are willing to engage with these types of comments.
We should all want to “stimulate meaningful revision” (322), not just point out every “error”. We should hope for meaningful comments from each other and give them as well. We should all strive to always be learning and to treat our craft like students.
I'm just your average fictional creature, living in a swampland by the sea.