Like all tutors that I’ve talked to, I get my fair share of uninterested, unenthusiastic and uncommitted writers. They slump in, dragging their feet but somehow also eager to get this over with, much to the annoyance of tutors who just want to talk about writing, so badly. My perspective on this age-old situation changed, however, upon reading an essay by Natalie DeCheck about the connection between shared enthusiasm and motivation in the writing tutorial. According to this source, the key to inspiring a writer and increasing their confidence is to show enthusiasm for their work and writing, and to get them excited about their own work as well. But how can we do that? Here are a few ways to get your writers talking about their writing, and to see their work as worthy and interesting.
1. “So, tell me about your paper!”
I know, I know, the standard opening is, “So what are we working on today?” but jumping right to the problems and the proofreading and the “work” can be a little like putting the cart before the horse – or at least, that’s the way it might seem to the uncommitted writer. The writer just got here, and you want to start talking about what’s wrong right away? Ask the writer about his or her paper topic, ask them to explain the argument, and even inquire about what’s the class about, what do other people say in class about this topic, and do you like learning about it? Yes, they wrote a little bit about the paper when they made the appointment (hopefully), but getting the writer to talk about the paper in person will get them in the mood to talk about it more critically, and it will give you, the tutor, a better idea of what’s going on in this tutorial.
2. Ask questions, ask for clarifications.
I always like to stop my writers periodically during the read-aloud to ask, “OK, what did you mean by this?” Sometimes it’s because I’m actually totally lost and need the writer to explain what they mean in that passage, but more often I want the writer to go back and really think about what they wrote. Asking for clarification gets the writer talking about the topic of the paper again, and allows for some discussion of nuance. If you’re lucky, the writer may even volunteer extra information or a new way of phrasing a sentence, and then you’re off and running.
3. Offer related information from your own experience.
According to DeCheck’s case study, the writer and tutor formed a strong bond because the tutor often offered personal anecdotes that related to the writer’s paper, and helped her to figure out her ideas through a dialogue about shared experience. Being an active participant in the process with your writer shows that you care and that you want to help.
4. Respond to parts of the work that you find interesting or that ring true to you.
Positive reinforcement is always good, but be specific! Make your praise applicable to the writer’s topic and they’ll know that you’ve been paying attention, and that you want to hear more.
Writers often come to us after days, even weeks of working on the same paper. In a lot of cases, they’re probably sick of their own topic and frustrated with the writing process, but your enthusiasm and interest can help writers rediscover theirs. An engaging and dialogue-filled tutorial can make all the difference for the uncommitted writer.