Lurking in the shadows of walk-in tutorials, obsessing over sections of the UCWbL Handbook, guzzling Starbucks coffee by the pot, the new tutors wait to be unleashed upon the DePaul student body. One new tutor (let’s say her name is Marge) reviews grammatical concepts like parallel structure and the sequence of tenses. She studies the ins and outs of the five paragraph academic essay and all of its variations. She scowers the St. Martin’s Guide for the proper way to cite a journal article in APA format, then reads the chapter three more times to commit the information to memory. Now Marge sits near the front door of the UCWbL Office, waiting for an innocent ‘walk-in’ to become her first victim.
That’s when little Edgar walks in.
“You think you can help me with something for a poetry workshop?” he asks.
Marge’s new tutor intuition clicks from “standby” to “emergency evacuation.”
“MAINTAIN SAFE DISTANCE OF FORTY METERS FROM POETS AT ALL TIMES.”
“TAKE COVER IN WRITING CENTER STAFF CUBBY.”
Though it is not a genre of work that is brought in frequently, creative writing shouldn’t be ruled out as a potential encounter in the UCWbL. To prevent the above reaction to poets and other creative types when they visit, it is important for tutors to consider how they will work with this type of material. Contrary to what you might expect, Marge can approach this poem in much the same way that she would approach an academic essay, saving little Edgar the tell-tale response of a terrified tutor, “excuse me while I run to the bathroom (and suck my thumb in cowardice).”
To all writing center tutors, but particularly the newbies like myself, when a student walks in with a short story, screenplay, or other creative work, DON’T PANIC. And before you frantically scan the St. Martin’s Guide or AP Stylebook for a poetry section, please save yourself some gray hair by reading what Kenneth G. Pobo (Widener University) has to say about creative writing tutoring.
In his article “Creative Writing and the Writing Center (The Writing Lab Newsletter),” Pobo argues that a poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction writer and a composition writer have more in common than most tutors and instructors would think.
“What the student needs, ultimately, is a sensitive reader, one who is willing to ask questions, show concern, and gently push the student to ask his/her own questions…”
Though Marge may not be familiar with poetry, she can still give the piece a read and comment on structure, word choice, and clarity of images and themes. By encouraging the writer and asking questions, Marge can help Edgar to think more critically about his work and remain open to suggestions for improvement. As is often the case with academic essay tutorials, simply reading through the work a few times can help the writer notice areas that need further attention during the revision process.
Pobo makes an important point about the writing process when he states, “The more students are able to articulate their thinking about the creative work, the sharper the work will, in the long run, become.”
Take out the word “creative” and this quote can be applied to any genre of writing. From writers of research papers, to writers of silent plays, all are following the same basic steps toward a completed work. Fear not writing center staff, you already have the necessary skills to provide useful feedback for any creative writer, even a timid poet like Edgar.