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A Foolproof Cure to Writer's Block

November 11, 2019

Orientation week my freshman year, I remember touring Mudd Library and learning about the Writing Center. The student in the center explained that the Writing Associates Program taught students how to help peers improve their writing and communication skills. Language nerd that I am, I immediately wondered how can I do that?

This past fall, I found myself in the Writing Center during orientation week again, but this time I was the senior writing associate telling first-years about the program. 

The Writing Associates Program—though I knew nothing about it before coming to Oberlin—has been one of the most influential parts of my college experience. I cannot praise it enough for the new relationships it has allowed me to form with other students, with professors, and with the writing process itself. 

First a little background about how the program works. To become a writing associate, students take a Rhetoric & Composition class called Teaching and Tutoring Writing that focuses on writing pedagogy. Despite my expectations that the class would be full of only English and Creative Writing majors, students of all academic backgrounds are encouraged to take the class since writing at a liberal arts college applies to all disciplines.

While enrolled in the course, members of the class also work in the Writing Center to apply the techniques they learn in Teaching and Tutoring Writing to, well, actually tutoring writing. After completing the course and working in the Writing Center for a semester, writing associates can then continue working there or become a course writing associate who works with one specific class and professor for a semester.

One of the best parts about becoming a writing associate is the community I’ve found through the program. Since all the students in Teaching and Tutoring Writing also work in the Writing Center together, I ended up spending a lot of time with the people in my class. Those relationships have continued past that semester as most of my classmates and I became course writing associates. We still get to see each other at program trainings and events and it’s always fun to catch up and debrief about our experiences as writing tutors.

I have also been able to form unique relationships with the students I tutor. My opinion is obviously biased, but I believe the Writing Center is one of Oberlin’s best resources. Students can bring any piece of writing they have—whether it’s for a class, job application, or even if they’re writing a novel on their own time—and get feedback from peer tutors. Because of this policy, there was never a dull moment in my time working at the Writing Center. I loved shifting gears between different subjects and assignments as students brought in their work. 

One of the best parts of the job is that the students who come in with writing end up teaching as much to the tutors as the tutors do to the students. Writing associates are trained to be non-directive in their tutoring, meaning that we never act as copy editors or instruct people how to change their writing. Instead, we focus on asking guiding questions, suggesting revision techniques, and having conversations with students about their concerns so that they maintain complete ownership of their writing while also receiving helpful feedback.

As I moved into my current role as a course writing associate, I was also able to develop new relationships with the professors I have worked with. As a course writing associate, you work specifically with students in one class, meeting with them to work on assignments for that class and acting as an intermediary between students and the professor. Last semester I was the CWA for an English class called Shakespeare and the Limits of Genre, and this semester I’m the writing associate for a First-Year Seminar about North and South American magical realism called Questioning Realism. In both cases, I have loved learning not only the material of the class, but also various teaching techniques from the professors I work with. 

It’s an amazing opportunity to be mentored by professors I really respect and to learn about their own pedagogical philosophies. Being a course writing associate has allowed me to see behind the curtain of classes a little bit and has given me more perspective on how professors structure their classes from a pedagogical standpoint. Aside from helping me strengthen my own skills as a peer writing tutor, learning more about how much work goes into creating and teaching a college class has made me appreciate the classes I take even more.

Finally, and maybe most impactfully, being a writing associate has completely changed my relationship with writing itself. For all of high school and the beginning of college, I was petrified to show anyone a piece of writing I was working on that wasn’t polished or in the final stages of revision. Writing was a totally solitary process for me and I never questioned that. But being a writing associate has made me realize that writing can be (and in my opinion should be!) collaborative—because that’s how it functions in the “real world.” Any piece that is published is usually looked over and critiqued by various people in multiple rounds of revisions, but for some reason I was convinced that I needed to be stuck in my writing before I got help from others. 

Now, I’ve become a lot more comfortable reaching out to other writing associates or friends earlier in my writing process and the results have been super rewarding. For one thing, my writing has definitely improved, but more exciting is the fact that I now have a community of other writers through the writing associates program who are equally as passionate about the benefits of a collaborative writing process as I am.
 

If you want to learn more about the program, check out the Oberlin Writing Associate Program website and its blog!

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