Friday, December 20, 2013

SNL Student a Finalist for Essay Contest

While enrolled in instructor Nicholas Hayes's Writing Workshop, SNL student Diana M. began an essay about caring for her father. She continued to revise the essay when the course ended, and she eventually entered it into the Shield HealthCare Contest. Diana is now a finalist competing in the Reader's Choice Contest. 

To read and vote for Diana's piece, click here (scroll down to Diana M., Caregiver for her father, Riverside, IL). Voting for the contest ends on January 31, 2014. 

Congratulations Diana! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Incomplete Project Boot Camp: December 18

Sponsored by School for New Learning Student Association (SNLSA) and SNL Writing

Do you have an incomplete grade? A final project that is dragging on?

Finish your missing assignments, ILP or AP through Writing Boot Camp and attend one or more free, faculty-led sessions. The program is designed for SNL students who currently have an incomplete grade on their transcript or students working on writing assignments. Sessions are set up to increase the likelihood students will complete necessary courses to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Sessions offer a supportive academic environment, writing assistance, and help with library services so that students can get assignments completed.

Refreshments will be served. 

To Register: Email your name, DePaul ID# and the incomplete course title(s) you wish to work on to at least 3 days prior to your desired sessions (messages to this email are reviewed by DePaul / SNL college faculty and staff only)

Items to Bring to Session(s):  Please bring a flash drive, your copy of the incomplete contract, all prior assignment preparation, including research material, assignment instructions, and assignment writing format (APA/MLA). Please let your faculty mentor know you plan to attend.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Submit to the 2014 Writing Showcase

If you received an “A” on a project or essay or glowing feedback on an Independent Learning Pursuit (ILP) this past quarter, please consider submitting your work to the Writing Showcase, which celebrates the outstanding writing of SNL students. By submitting your work, you not only share your accomplishment with others but also provide inspiration to your fellow SNL students.

The submission period closes on April 1, 2014, and the winners will be recognized at the Spring Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information, past winners, and a submission form.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Lessons in Failure

by Kamilah Cummings 

Write 50,000 words in one month. That was the challenge for the SNL Month of Writing (MOW), and I joined the challenge. Although I rarely set goals that I deem unrealistic, I somehow thought that I might be able to climb mount 50,000. I set out on my mission despite the glaring absence of logic in the thought of me accomplishing the lofty MOW goal. In hindsight, or perhaps foresight if I am honest, I was not equipped to embark on this journey at this time in my life. Like so many other lessons that I am currently learning, my failure to write 50,000 words in 31 days is a reminder that life does not always follow the script that I write, no matter how many times I revise it. Needless to say, as it so often does, reality had already penned a different script. 

I registered for the MOW with every hope of writing 50,000 words by Halloween. I convinced myself that a hearty mix of pride, a love for writing, and a desire to succeed would thrust me across the finish line regardless of mounting personal and professional responsibilities. The desire was there but the opportunities to write often eluded me. I found the task of juggling personal and professional responsibilities with the MOW difficult at best. This made me think about students in this writing-intensive program who, regardless of the priority placed on earning a degree or the desire to do well in school, struggle to fit school into their busy lives. A 2013 Public Agenda report titled Is it Worth It for Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School found that a top concern for adult students is balancing “school with work and family obligations” (Hagelskamp, Schleifer and DiStasi). As I struggled to meet my writing goal, I took a harder look at my students last quarter. Several of them started out with earnest desires to do well, but quickly found their school work taking a back seat to unexpected personal and professional situations. 

I have always tried to be an empathetic and supportive teacher. As teachers, we sometimes walk a precarious line between supporting, enabling, and downright handicapping adult students because of an awareness of the constraints associated with returning to college later in life. With that being said, after receiving my personal invitation to sit at the table of unforeseen challenges and requisite demands during the MOW, I have a new found appreciation for my students' challenges. As students spoke with me, emailed or telephoned about issues preventing them from submitting work, I found myself almost commiserating with them. My inability to secure time to write even when I wanted to produced a new layer of empathy. 

My failure to reach my goal also made me think about the psychological impact that teacher expectations have on adult students. The Public Agenda report found that “many also worry whether they will be able to keep up academically” (Hagelskamp, Schleifer and DiStasi). As I plodded along in the writing challenge, I wondered how my students feel when they do not meet course or individual assignment expectations. This led me to create an unofficial survey of students in one of my classes. One of the questions that I asked was what they were most/least proud of regarding their participation. The thing that most disappointed students was not completing assignments. Over the years, I have seen that some adult students are equally disappointed when they do not earn A’s. I admit that as the weekly writing totals were tallied for MOW participants, I felt increasing disappointment at my low numbers in relation to my peers. After sitting with my disappointment for a while, it was easy for me to move past it because my lack of achievement was devoid of ramifications. However, the same cannot be said for students who are financially and emotionally invested in their school work. 

After several weeks of missing my writing goals, I reset my goal to a more realistic 5,000 words. I ultimately met that goal (barely) and felt a sense of satisfaction in doing so. While readjusting my goal, I thought about the Olympics and said to myself, a gold medal would be great, but silver and bronze also make it to the podium. Achieving my 5,000-word goal made me feel like I was on the podium being draped in bronze. I plan to work more on communicating this message to my students. I want them to feel motivated to achieve certain goals, but I do not want them to feel defeated or disappointed if they do not meet “A” expectations. In fact, sometimes just completing an assignment amid a chaotic time might feel like winning gold to a student, and I want to make sure that I acknowledge that. 

It can be difficult to fail at something as seemingly innocuous as a writing challenge. However, this experience reinforced the idea that the failure to achieve a goal is not in itself always a failure. The pursuit of a goal can sometimes yield a more profound result than the attainment of it. It certainly did for me. Despite failing to pen 50,000 words last month, I learned lessons that I think will ultimately improve my teaching. 

Works Cited 

Hagelskamp, Carolin, David Schleifer and Christopher DiStasi. "Is College Worth It For Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School." Study. 2013.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Month of Writing 2013 Wrap-Up

During the month of October, SNL students, faculty, and alumni created over 700,000 words. A special congratulations to Cynthia Stevens, Karen Snyder, and Katie Wozniak, who each met their goal of 50,000 words and created a combined total of over 170,00 words during the Challenge.

Planning for next year's Challenge will begin in August 2014, so check back in with the Digication site next summer for details on how to participate. In the meantime, we now have a full video recording of last month's Craft of Composing panel discussion available, which you can click here to watch. 

Again, congratulations to all the writers, and we hope to see you again in 2014.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Missing Assignments? Working on an ILP or AP?

Just in time for finals, Incomplete Project Boot Camps will be held at all campuses in the next few weeks. Boot camps are free, faculty- and tutor-led sessions during which students can work on assignments and other writing in progress. Refreshments are provided. To RSVP or for more information, email

November 16, 9AM-1PM
November 26, 5:30PM-9PM

November 16, 9AM-1PM

November 23, 10AM-2PM

Oak Forest
November 23, 10AM-2PM

Monday, October 21, 2013

Challenge Update & Tech Tools for Productivity

Congratulations to our Month of Writing Challenge participants on another productive week! Last week the Challenge writers produced 98,950 new words, bringing us to a collective total of 286,438 words.

Even if you're not working toward a 50,000 word goal, we all know that staying focused while writing can be difficult. If you do the bulk of your writing on a computer, you may want to look at two programs designed to eliminate distractions. Freedom temporarily blocks your Internet access for a set length of time, while Anti-Social blocks only social networking sites (that is, your email and other important sites will still be easily accessible). Both Windows and Mac OS are supported, and free trial versions are available. Another useful tool is a simple (and always free) program called Caffeine. Its sole function is preventing your computer from entering sleep mode, so if you step away for a few (or more) minutes, you're right where you left off. Like the other programs, it's available for both Windows and Mac. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

This Thursday: Craft of Composing Panel

Just a reminder that this coming Thursday, October 17, is the SNL Month of Writing's "Craft of Composing" panel discussion. Click here for more information about our accomplished panelists. The event will take place in room 1451 of 14 E. Jackson and begins at 6PM. 

In other news, the first count from the Month of Writing Challenge is in! Writers from throughout the DePaul community produced 147,848 words in the first week of October alone, and the tally is only going up! Click here to visit our Month of Writing site, which is updated weekly.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Month of Writing Challenge Begins & UCWbL Workshop

Today is October 1, which means the start of the SNL Month of Writing Challenge! But it's not too late to join--click here for more information about our challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of October and work toward a collective goal of 1.5 million words. 

The SNL Writing Program has also partnered with the Office of Advancement to help the Month of Writing make a meaningful contribution to the SNL community. I'd like to draw your attention to our new Giving page. Your support will both motivate writers to work toward our collective goal, and, moreover, allow the Dean to award a scholarship to an SNL student thanks to the efforts of our Challenge writers and their friends, family, and colleagues. 

Finally,  the UCWbL's Collaborative for Multilingual Writing and Research is hosting an upcoming workshop on academic writing: "How Do I Cite This?: Incorporating Sources and Understanding Academic Integrity." The workshop will take place on Tuesday, October 8, from 3-4:30pm in the DePaul Center, room 8005. Email the CMWR to reserve a spot. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Join Us on October 17 for the Craft of Composing Panel Discussion

On October 17, the SNL Month of Writing will host "The Craft of Composing: A Panel of Writers Discuss the Writing Process." Panelists this year include Rochelle George Wooding of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance; SNL faculty member and author Ann Stanford; award-winning author and SNL faculty member Molly Dumbleton; and SNL alum and Writing Showcase winner Megan Stemm-Wade. Click here for more information about our panelists. 

And remember, the Month of Writing Challenge begins on October 1! Click here for more information and to register.  

October 17, 2013
6:00 - 7:30PM
Loop Campus
14 E. Jackson
Room 1451

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Month of Writing Challenge Website Is Live!

Registration is open for the SNL Month of Writing 2013 Writing Challenge! 

Please visit our new Digication site for more information about signing up, the Challenge itself, upcoming events, and more. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Coming This October: SNL's Month of Writing Marathon

Get ready for SNL's annual Month of Writing Marathon! This October, accept the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month, working with fellow students, alumni, staff, and faculty toward a collective goal of 1,500,000 words. More information will soon be available on the Writing Guide; also feel free to contact for more information on how to participate. 

Also this October, instructor Steffanie Triller Fry is offering a course in conjunction with the Marathon: AI 196 - WriteNow: SNL Writing Marathon. This is a late start (10/3) course that students can take for one competence (A2X, A5, FX). 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Imaginative Reading List for Writers

When’s founder Maria Popova was asked by the New York Public Library to curate a selection of books for its bookstore, she decided to create four reading lists: books on NYC, books on pets and animals, books for young readers, and, last but not least, a collection of wisdom on writing. But rather than simply gather books for a tabletop display, Popova partnered with artist Kelli Anderson to construct a papercraft diorama showcasing each title in painstaking detail. The resulting installation is both beautiful and a fantastic resource for anyone looking to be re-inspired before Autumn Quarter begins.

Click here to see Popova’s write-ups of each book and the full list of titles, which includes works by Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Henry Miller, and Susan Sontag, as well as several edited collections of essays.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A New Use for Google Books

The English language is a living thing: words become obsolete, others become popular, and new ones are created. We’re all aware of this process, but have you ever thought to yourself, “I don’t remember using or hearing that word very often, but now it seems to be everywhere overnight.”

Has the popularity of the word truly skyrocketed? Or were you just not paying attention before?

With Google’s Ngram Viewer, you might be able to figure it out. This nifty application—which really should come with a procrastination warning—uses texts from Google Books to graph word usage over time. You can trace a single word or phrase’s written frequency over time (hipsters got a lot of attention in the 1960s and were all but ignored in the 1980s) or you can compare several words (you’re unlikely to see either these days, but tell your friends that verily was always more popular than forsooth).

Lexicographers, linguists, grammarians, and people who simply like a good dictionary were all atwitter when the venerable Oxford English Dictionary announced its decision to add a new definition of tweet: “to  submit a post to the microblogging service known as Twitter.” (Ironically, microblog hasn't yet made the cut.) The Ngram data set only goes back to 2008, so we can’t see the jump that has almost certainly happened in the last five years and which prompted the OED to break its own rule about only adding a word after ten years of documented popular usage. Still, it was interesting to find out that tweet also experienced a heyday around 1810 but that apparently no one had much to say about birds in the 1850s.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Writers' Conference at Northwestern

Registration is still open for the Northwestern University Summer Writers' Conference, which takes place August 1-3 at Northwestern's downtown campus. Participants may register for one, two, or three days, and manuscript consultations are available for an additional fee. 

The program features workshops and panels led by over two dozen authors and publishers, including DePaul LAS faculty members Miles Harvey and Christine Sneed. 

Click here for a day-by-day schedule and online registration.   

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Author and SNL Alum Rita Leganski on Publishing

In 2011, SNL alum and instructor Rita Leganski's debut novel, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, was accepted for publication by HarperCollins. Two years later, Bonaventure is on the shelves, and Rita was willing to share her experience getting it there.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

And no one knows for sure who said that—could have been Somerset Maugham, Oscar Wilde, Bret Hart, Mark Twain, or that prolific writer, Anonymous. Whoever it was, most days I agree with him. Getting published is another story. There are definitely some rules about that, and they have to do with polishing your manuscript and securing a literary agent. (Yes, even in these days of self-publishing, you’re still better off with an agent.) I was successful in not only getting an agent but also in having my manuscript acquired by HarperCollins. Here’s how it happened:

In May of 2009, my last assignment in grad school was to write a short story. I turned in The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow; it was thirteen pages long. I graduated and got on with my life. I also got on with the story. New characters came along and brought new situations, and when I had about eighty-five pages I thought I was on my way to Noveldom. When I thought I had actually produced a real live book, I set to work on a query letter—a letter in which you have a single page to convince an agent to read your manuscript. I knew I would only get one chance at an agency actually reading my query, so I spent a lot of time on it. In February of 2010, I began to submit to literary agencies and didn’t stop until I’d sent out seventy-one.

Responses began to arrive—some rejections, some wanting to see more. I’d heard that an author will receive seventy-five rejections before the first acceptance, so I saw each one as bringing me closer to my goal. I’m lucky anyone wanted to look at my submission, since in the query letter I had proudly stated: “Complete at 47,000 words…” Little did I know there’s a rule of thumb in publishing that a novel should be at least 65,000 words to merit attention. Luckily, some of those agencies I’d submitted to read the included excerpt anyway. Six of them asked to see the entire manuscript.

During the first week in May, I got a phone call from a literary agent. She asked for an exclusive for one week, which means an agent wants time to review the manuscript before the author submits it to other agents. At the end of that week, I signed with her agency. My agent’s first words: it needs to be longer. So over the next several months we workshopped the manuscript through phone calls and emails. By November, it was about 68,000 words and ready to be shopped around to publishers. There was enthusiasm for it but no takers. The consensus was that it lacked a good dramatic through-line. Back to the drawing board. I secured the services of a well-respected professional editor to perform a conceptual edit, and she gave me wonderful advice. Onward.

I came up with that dramatic through-line, but then I had to weave it through the story from beginning to end—painstaking, to say the least. My agent started to shop the book again after the Christmas holidays.

In March of 2011 (ten months after signing with the literary agency), an editor at HarperCollins contacted my agent, who set up a phone call. When we spoke, the editor said she would "get with her team” and that she looked forward to working with me. At Harper (and perhaps at all publishing houses), a book must be approved unanimously for acceptance by a team. There were three people on my potential team who had doubts. They insisted that I address such things as characterization, plot points, plot resolutions, and how I would strengthen that dramatic through-line. They wanted more suspense. I put my nose to the grindstone and gave them what they asked for. It was finally accepted. On April 11, 2011 (four weeks after that initial call from the interested editor), Harper officially acquired my work for release in 2013. Imagine my dismay at the thought of such a long wait. Little did I know that the real work was about to begin. I got through another conceptual edit and several revisions, always improving the work. It took months.

By November of 2012, the book had grown to over 97,000 words and was nearly in its final state. But the editing continued: another conceptual edit; grammar, punctuation and usage edits; concision and cohesion edits; a copy edit; an edit by a person well-versed in all things southern (the story takes place in and around New Orleans); as well as a proofread and another edit, this one conducted by someone well-versed in Catholicism (a key element in the story). My work got the fine-tooth-comb treatment. Here’s an example: In the story, I have a character referencing a Bible quote. I’m Catholic and used my own Bible to obtain the quote, which ended in “said the Lord.” The editor wrote in the margin: “Author—the character referencing this quote is a Southern Evangelical and would have used a King James Bible. The quote should end in ‘saith the Lord.’” Yes, ma’am.

The revising continued. After the final proofread, I was told there would be what's known as a P.S. Section added to the book, which required me to provide acknowledgments, a piece about how I, a northerner, came to write a story that takes place in the South, and recommendations for further reading. I was also asked to supply an author photo.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow was released on February 26, 2013, nearly two years after it had been acquired by HarperCollins. Can I get an Amen?

If you ever decide you need your own agent, here are the steps you need to take:

1.   Identify your genre.

2.   Write a concise synopsis of your novel—something appropriate for the book jacket. If it's literary fiction, you should point out its theme or message. Find a plot point in your own work and describe it. Here’s an example:

Atticus Finch's appointment to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl, was a mere formality; the verdict had been reached before the trial even began. However, Atticus chose to give his client the best defense he could—an act of courage in 1930s Alabama.

3.   The query letter may be the most important document you’ll ever write, so make it your best effort. (I’m happy to share mine with anyone who is interested.)

4.   Agents accept submissions electronically. The next step is to consult a publication that lists them. Subscribe to (there's a fee but it's very reasonable).  It's the on-line version of what used to be a hard copy book. There are definite advantages to it: the site is constantly updated (the book was obsolete before you left the store with it), you can sort through the site to get to agencies that represent your genre, and you can easily track your submissions. The site is very user friendly. First, you give the parameters of your search; then, clicking on a name will take you to an agency's entry. After that, it's a matter of going to their individual websites (a link is provided in the entry) and finding out exactly how to submit to them. Some of them ask for the query and a synopsis, some for the query + 10 pages, some for the query + a chapter, etc. DO NOT SEND THEM MORE THAN THEY ASK FOR. I always tailored my query to address specifics the agency gave in its listing. I sent out multiple submissions without waiting to hear back from one agency before sending to another. That would take forever. In my opinion, if an agency refuses to be part of multiple submissions, skip it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writing Center Summer Hours

The University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) has announced its summer schedule:

Summer Session I & II (June 17 - August 23)

Lincoln Park Campus Writing Center
(773) 325-4272

Monday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Tuesday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Wednesday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Thursday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Friday: 10 AM - 3 PM
Saturday: closed
Sunday: closed

Loop Campus Writing Center
(312) 362-6726

Monday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Tuesday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Wednesday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Thursday: 10 AM - 5 PM
Friday: 10 AM - 3 PM
Saturday: closed
Sunday: closed

CLICK HERE for instructions on how to register and make appointments. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Rules" and When to Break Them

At some point in your education—elementary school, junior high, high school, perhaps even college—you likely had an English teacher who would have told you the following sentences are grammatically incorrect:

“And the class went out for coffee after the exam.”
“She needed to immediately get the notes from a classmate.”
“Which chapter did you find that quote in?”

Each of these sentences illustrates one of the common myths of English grammar: don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction; don’t split an infinitive; and don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Each has an easy fix:

“The class went out for coffee after the exam.”
“She needed to get the notes from a classmate immediately.”
“In which chapter did you find that quote?”

But did these sentences need fixing? Not at all, according to an article from Smithsonian magazineThe first rule—don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction—likely came about as a way for English teachers to encourage sentence variation and avoid writing like this from their young students: “And then we went to the park. And we watched the baseball game. And my favorite team won.” The second and third—don’t split infinitives and don’t end a sentence with a preposition—are the result of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century academics trying to impose the rules that govern Latin grammar on English.

That said, there are plenty of grammar and usage rules that we do need to follow, rules that even experienced writers sometimes have trouble with. Just don’t let the ghost of your seventh grade English teacher keep you awake at night.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Finals Week at the Writing Center Filling Up Fast

The University Center for Writing-based Learning has posted its finals week schedule. The calendar fills up quickly, so if you're considering making an appointment, click here. If you don't yet have a WCOnline account, click here for registration instructions. Remember that in addition to face-to-face appointments in the Loop (Lewis 1600) and Lincoln Park (McGaw Hall), the UCWbL offers Written Feedback by Email for students who can't make it to campus.

If you're not able to schedule an appointment during a preferred time, email and request to be added to the cancellation wait list.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Upcoming Chicago Literary Events

Next weekend (June 8-9) marks the 29th Annual Printers Row Lit Fest. The Fest takes place on Chicago's historic Printers Row, on Dearborn from Congress to Polk. In addition to independent booksellers, second-hand book shops, and literary and cultural organizations, the Fest hosts a full slate of presentations, lectures, and panel discussions. This year's schedule includes several DePaul faculty members, including Amina Gautier, Ted Anton, Christine Sneed, and Kathleen Rooney. All events are free, though some do require reserved tickets

This year's Chicago Writers Conference will take place from September 27-29. Click here to sign up to be notified when registration goes live.

About Chicago Writer's Conference:

We bring together writers, editors, agents, publishers and social media experts at an informative annual conference, and at workshops and events throughout the year.  Enjoy personal connections with other writers, publishers and agents. Our annual conference is not genre- or niche-specific. Writers of all levels and all genres are welcome! Our goal is to provide practical advice to help writers learn how to sell and promote their work. You don’t need to have a completed manuscript to attend — just a willingness to learn, exchange ideas, and have fun!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 Writing Showcase Winners

SNL Writing is pleased to announce the winners of the 2013 Writing Showcase! The Writing Showcase celebrates the outstanding writing of SNL students. If you have received an “A” on a paper or glowing feedback on an Independent Learning Project (ILP), please consider submitting. More information and the 2014 application are available on the SNL Writing Guide

By submitting your work, you not only share your accomplishment with others but also provide inspiration to your fellow SNL students as they work on their writing assignments. The submission deadline for next year is April 1, 2014. Students who will graduate between now and next April are welcome to submit. 

2013 Writing Showcase Award Winners
Carol Hillman: "Eternal Silence"
Sarah Gottlieb: "Urbalism"
Helene Bryant: "Positive Psychology in Professional Development: Using Strengths-based Development"
Jillian Gryzlak: "Cultural Symbols and Textile Communication: The Documentation of a Woven Symbolic Textile"
Ruth Rose Sachs: "Privacy and Marketing Online"

Friday, May 17, 2013

On "Forced Creativity"

In "Forced Creativity Experiences (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)," teacher and author Michael Jarmer reflects on his recent experience with NaPoWriMoNaNoWriMo's poetic cousin. Jarmer's take on these "forced" creative experiences is generally positive; ultimately, you're simply using the experience to kickstart the creative impulses you already have. That said, having a successful Forced Creativity Experience does depend on a few conditions: the desire to do it, an invitation to do it, a specific but intensive goal (usually a short period of time), and a supportive community in which to work. When an experience meets all four of these criteria, you're likely to have a positive result. 

As for less-than-perfect experiences, Jarmer looks to his own life: 

"Especially when the rigors of a career and family life take hold–how does one find the motivation and time to write?  And for those of us who are similarly compelled, what are the consequences of not writing? ... I've got some fathering and husbanding to do, and my part of the housework to finish, and a full time job, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It’s just not in the cards."

SNL students can likely sympathize; after all, what is the best way to incorporate a creative drive into an already writing-intensive program? SNL's own Month of Writing programs and events are certainly a great place to start (and meet all of Jarmer's criteria, of course). 

For Jarmer, the answer's fairly simple:

"What we need instead is a space to work, some cheering from the sidelines, and at the end, after our 30 poems or 6 songs or draft of a novel, some appreciative nods and smiles.  Maybe a thumbs up."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

So What Are You Working On?

In “Draft No. 4,” a recent piece in The New Yorker, author John McPhee offers sage advice on the writing process, all the way from those first torturous days of dealing with writer’s block through to the final line-by-line edit. “So what are you working on?”, well-meaning friends and family ask. For many writers, even professionals, that can be a terrifying question. 

Lucky for us, McPhee begins with a call to take heart: “if you lack confidence in setting one word after another…if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this…you must be a writer.” “How could anyone ever know that something is good before it exists?” he asks.

By extension, how could we know that something is bad? Why should we let ourselves decide that it’s all a mess, that the project is irredeemable, before we’ve gotten to the final page of that first draft? We all know that the first draft is usually the hardest. McPhee advises writers to simply “blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft.” His advice echoes that of author Anne Lamott, who famously (and in more colorful language) urges writers to embrace the “shitty first draft.” The SNL Writing Guide agrees, and you can find a number of suggestions for getting through this tough stage in the Drafting section. Be prepared for this stage of writing to take the longest; McPhee estimates that he spends about four times as much time on the first draft as each subsequent draft.

After the “first awful blurting,” McPhee moves on to the issue that guides the rest of his essay: revision. “Revision,” he asserts, is “the essence of the process. The adulating portrait of the perfect writer who never blots a line comes express mail from fairyland.” At this point, he’s still focusing on what you might have heard called “global” revision or “higher order concerns." Ideas are still shifting, paragraphs are being cut or expanded, structure is still being worked out. In fact, it’s not until “Draft No. 4” that McPhee feels ready to move on to his strategies for “local” revision, or “lower order concerns.”

And he starts with boxes: boxes around words or phrases that don’t seem quite right, or words that may present an opportunity. “While the word inside the box may be perfectly O.K.,” he says, “there is likely a better word…a word right smack on the button, and why don’t you try to find it?” At first glance, McPhee seems to be recommending what writing teachers have worked long and hard to communicate: that revision is much more, and much harder, than pulling out a thesaurus. But McPhee is quick to caution us: “thesauruses are useful things...They are also dangerous. They can lead you to choose a polysyllabic and fuzzy word when a simple and clear one is better.” (For more on the value of simple words, read Richard Lederer’s excellentand appropriately shortessay “The Case for Short Words.”)

McPhee’s essay offers some useful examples of the pitfalls of developing a case of “thesaurusitis.” It’s the dictionary, he believes, that we should be reaching for instead. Thesauruses can be helpful, but “they don’t talk about the words they list.” When we’re presented with a slew of synonyms, it’s hard to decide which is truly the best fit (or, le mot juste). The dictionary, on the other hand, can provide us with not only the denotation of a word—its literal meaning—but also its connotation, or what we can use the word to imply. McPhee describes these subtleties as “hues,” similar to the differences we assign to colors. For example, “gleam” appears in a list of synonyms for “flash.” If we want to describe someone who is angry, we might say, “her eyes flashed,” but we’re unlikely to say “her eyes gleamed,” instead reserving that word for a happier person.  
The trick is making sure you have a good dictionary. DePaul’s library provides access to several comprehensive dictionaries, including the gold standard, the Oxford English Dictionary (which, if you’re truly curious, will provide all of the above plus etymology—how the word developed or was first used).
Finally, McPhee discusses the last step in the writing process: the line-by-line, word-by-word edit. Authors like McPhee have expert copy editors for this task. For the rest of us, there are a number of reference books, such as Garner’s Modern American Usage, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and the Saint Martin’s Handbook, to help us decide whether our sentences are parallel and our verbs agree, whether we need “constitute” or “comprise,” or whether they’re “Dickens’s novels” or Dickens’ novels.” 
And, at last, when the nerve-wracking first draft has been transformed into the carefully, thoughtfully revised final product, we have the pleasure of starting all over. And once again, friends, family, and colleagues ask, “So what are you working on?”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Upcoming UCWbL Workshops

The UCWbL has planned a busy spring! See the list below for details on a number of upcoming workshops at the LPC and Loop campuses. Topics include citation styles, Digication, and resume and cover letter workshops designed specifically for veterans. 

For more information, contact the Outreach Team at or visit the UCWbL's website.

Tuesday, May 7, 12-1pm. Loop, Library Instruction Room: 
Library Research Workshop (through Driehaus ACE):
Work with UCWbL tutors and research librarians to familiarize yourself with best practices on how to get started on a research paper. This workshop will focus on research from a business perspective.

Wednesday, May 8, 12:30-2pm. LPC, McGaw 203: 
Chicago Style Workshop:
Work with UCWbL tutors and learn the proper Chicago format for in-text citations and works cited pages. Also, get tips on how to avoid plagiarism. Bring in your current papers and projects!

Tuesday, May 14, 12-1:30pm. Loop, Lewis 1600: 
Cover Letter and Resume Workshop for Veterans:
Work with UCWbL tutors to learn strategies for creating cover letters and resumes specifically for veterans. Bring in your current cover letters and resumes!

Wednesday, May 22, 12-1:30pm. LPC, McGaw 203: 
Cover Letter and Resume Workshop for Veterans:
Work with UCWbL tutors to learn strategies for creating cover letters and resumes specifically for veterans. Bring in your current cover letters and resumes!

Tuesday, May 28, 3-4pm. LPC, McGaw 203: 
APA Workshop:
Work with UCWbL tutors and learn the proper APA format for in-text citations and works cited pages. Also, get tips on how to avoid plagiarism. Bring in your current papers and projects!

Wednesday, May 29, 12:30-2pm. LPC, McGaw 203: 
MLA Workshop:
Work with UCWbL tutors and learn the proper MLA format for in-text citations and reference list pages. Also, get tips on how to avoid plagiarism. Bring in your current papers and projects!

Tuesday, June 4, 12-1:30pm. Loop, Lewis 1600: 
Open Digication Workshop:
Work with UCWbL tutors and continue to develop your Digication ePortfolio! You’ll learn how to create your own banners, use CSS coding, and customize your portfolio. Students should bring their own laptops.

Wednesday, June 5, 12:30-2pm. LPC, McGaw 203: 
Open Digication Workshop:
Work with UCWbL tutors and continue to develop your Digication ePortfolio! You’ll learn how to create your own banners, use CSS coding, and customize your portfolio. Students should bring their own laptops.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

See What Shakespeare Has to Say About Your Writing

And not only Shakespeare: you could have Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Dickinson weigh in as well. This nifty little tool from Google Docs gives writers the chance to experience, for better or worse, what it would be like to collaborate with the greats. As you type, Google uses its search algorithms to insert edits based on words, phrases, and passages regularly associated with these authors, thus allowing each to leave his or her stamp on your work. Here's one author's test run, in which Poe and Dickens express some strong opinions about an apple seed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bridging the Gap Between Teacher and Student: How my teaching has changed since I've returned to school

By Steffanie Triller Fry

This January, I returned to school full-time to earn an MFA in Creative Writing. This is a degree that I had coveted for more than a decade, and that I finally decided I was ready to earn. My program is a low-residency distance-learning program, so I attend seminars on campus for ten days in January and June, and submit the rest of my work via email to my faculty mentors and instructors.
            On the fifth day of our first residency, my new mentor, a published writer whose work I knew, led a workshop on my own fiction submission. She began by asking each person in the workshop what my story was about. She then told me what she thought my story was about, and went through it page by page, pointing out the character details, descriptions, and turns of phrase that didn’t work. “I think you can keep about 30% of this story,” she told me.
            By the time the critique was over, I knew what I needed to work on, but I did not know how to do it well, or if I had ever done it well. Yesterday, I prepared my third submission for this same mentor. My work was due at midnight, and I turned it in at midnight. Stymied by anxiety, I kept making revisions to my fiction moments before it was due. Plagued with procrastination, I had only begun the story days before, even though I had a month to work on it.
            As an adult student, I bear much resemblance to our own SNL students. Though I regularly tell students to begin writing early, to explore various techniques for revision until they find what works, and to consider my feedback when they revise, I find it challenging to follow this same guidance from my own instructors.
            With a different instructor, I’m taking an interdisciplinary studies course in travel writing. Our main assignment is to “write a travel story.” That’s it. That’s the assignment: “Write a travel story.” There is no word count, page limit, or suggested content. In the course we are learning the elements of a good travel story. We are reading multiple examples of published travel stories. We submit drafts and receive feedback. Some of my feedback includes comments like: “delete,” “change to,” “avoid dangling modifier,” “comma,” “this sentence is awkward and long.” Comments like “delete” and “dangling modifier” remind me of tendencies I am already aware of: to be unnecessarily wordy and to misplace my modifiers. But comments like “change to,” of which there are many, confuse me. These are edits; I will make them gladly, easily, but I will struggle to learn from them. Moreover, I struggle to see how these in-line edits connect to the instructor’s narrative feedback: that I need more personal information and a theme in my story. This feedback is painfully familiar: I offer it on nearly every student draft! But, I’m not sure which is more important or more humbling: my need to find a central theme in my piece or my need to be less lazy about my grammar.
            I’m no neurologist, but I suspect that we use a vastly different part of our brain when we wear our teaching hats from the part we use when we wear our student hats. As I co-exist in the roles of both teacher and student, I’ve realized that I need to bridge the gap between teaching and learning for my adult students; moreover, I need to heed my own advice and be my own best instructor. After all, at SNL we operate on a definition of learning that requires the student to take what they already know and apply it to future situations. The more we can teach students how we teach, and how they can teach themselves, the better they will learn.
            To better help students to teach themselves, here are three specific ways my teaching has changed since I have also returned to being a student:
  • I do more meta-teaching.
I have theories behind why I do what I do, and I share them with students. On first drafts, for example, I offer little feedback, most of it narrative. I prepare students for this, and teach them beforehand how to read and use this feedback.
  • When I offer both narrative and in-text feedback, I coordinate the two rather than duplicating my efforts.
So that a student, like me in my travel writing class, does not get a different message from the narrative feedback and the comments, I consider how I can offer comments that enable the student to enact the revisions suggested in the narrative feedback. I reserve highlighting for grammar errors, so that students can better separate the local revisions from the global revisions.
  • I write clear assignments; or, if I want to leave part of the assignment up to the students’ discretion, I explain why.
As an adult student, I find myself in a tender relationship with my instructors. While they may not have more knowledge than me about writing, they have had more experience and more success with their skill. Leaving an assignment “open” respects that knowledge that students already have, if they are told why the assignment is being left open in the first place. This is different from failing to give clear guidelines and then marking a student down afterwards because they failed to meet invisible requirements.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An SNL Graduate's Story

The following email arrived at SNL this morning: 

I am a graduate of DePaul SNL 2009,  and I wanted to send a note of thanks and let you know how my DePaul L-7 Collaborative Learning Class has served me.

My mother passed away 3 years ago and afterwards my 4 sisters and I began really talking about our memories of growning up, etc.   We decided to write a book.   I am the youngest so I would begin each chapter and then email it to my other sisters.  They would then write their parts and send back to me.  I would then compile everything together.

We wrote the whole book this way so I was the only one to see it all till it was finished.  After it was done we submitted it and had it published.  We officially released the book on December 18, 2012 and so far have seen great sales and have really connected with people.

I do not think I would have had the confidence and ability to do this project has it not been for my DePaul Education.

Anita Lewis
Proud SNL grad.
Co-Author of 
Fluffy, Funny, and Fabulous: A Tale of Five Sisters

To learn more about Anita's story, see

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dry-Erase Dictator: Reflections on Student Comfort in Writing Workshop

By Nicholas Hayes

Sometimes on Sunday mornings, I wake naturally. My partner snores gently. A cat stretches over my chest and belly. Another cat, balled tight, leans against my calf. In these moments, I don't have to worry about my inadequate health insurance or my student loans. These mornings are the navel of my world. Everything on the queen-sized mattress seems right. In these moments, my comfort is supreme. But eventually, inevitably, the adorable ball of fur will swat the cat on my chest. They will hiss and spit. Eventually, inevitably, I have to think about my finances. I have to get out of bed.
            Students who have enrolled in Writing Workshop are often running from the bad dreams of previous academic experience or doubt in their own academic ability. Their nerves can be so frayed that I find myself wanting to create the academic equivalent of the Sunday morning bed for them. I don't want them to worry. I just want them to sit in the classroom, talk with each other, and find that this can be a comfortable environment.
            In the classroom, I want students to know they are not alone. I talk to them about my own struggles with writing. At times, I will even show them drafts of papers I am writing. I show them the notes I make on my work. I point out the errors I have made. I insist that they are not alone. Most people have made the same bed and take the same steps to get out of it. I invite students to talk about their writing difficulties. They see they are not alone. I try to show them they do not have to be uncomfortable when they write or when they are in class.
Having created this environment, many students find ease in silence when I ask a question or request a volunteer for peer review. Some think they can hide in the silence. But I break this silence by saying I will take "voluntary volunteers first, and then involuntary volunteers." Everyone needs to participate not because of some grading checklist, but because attempting to answer and finding the confidence and comfort to share work is the only way to build a worthwhile learning experience. Some students try to bargain. They'll share their work if they can do it anonymously, but I have tried to do this in the past. And when their classmates were unshackled by anonymity, their feedback was blunter and the anonymous students' found less comfort than in the open peer review.
Certainly, comfort is not always conducive to learning.
From my own educational experience, I learned the most from the teachers who made me uncomfortable. Those instructors who inhabited tiny, book-cluttered offices would clear a small square on their desks so that I could set my work out for them to scrutinize. If my reasoning or translations were unsound, Dr. B would sigh, "Nicholas, I didn't think you were any idiot but [the quality of that thought was lacking.]" In graduate school, one of my advisors would disdainfully slide my short stories back to me. She grit her teeth and made me map out each sentence and explain how the syntax fit the nature of the story. The anxiety from these experiences still makes me want to vomit. But the lessons I gleaned from these experiences are clear and indelible. When students ask me to hit the metaphorical snooze well past the time we need to be challenged, I imagine Dr. B whispering in my ear to stay firm for the students' sake. This academic daimon knows I must demand clearer thinking and finer phrasing. I push (but with a softer touch than Dr. B could manage.)
A vocal minority of students who believe they can only learn from a dry-erase dictator armed with a free-flowing red pen complicates this reflection. These students think education is to be battle hardened. But they miss out on the fact we need to know we belong. At times, I have to send these students to their metaphorical beds to look at the good work they have done. 
Workshop more than other classes requires balance between comfort and challenge. So many students have been traumatized by past educational experiences that they are reluctant to attempt writing. Providing an environment in which they can salve their wounds is the first step in getting them on track. Of course, once students know they can be comfortable they need to start the difficult task of writing. Finding this balance changes from class to class, and it requires instructors to use the soft skills of reading a room. Most importantly it requires instructors to remember Writing Workshop prepares students to find comfort in an academic community that will challenge them.