USF Writing Studio

Archive for January, 2016


Staying Focused: Strategies for Time Managing a Writing Session

Friday, January 15th, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Writers, teachers, and scholars enjoy working as writing consultants for a variety of reasons, such as working one-on-one with writers of various levels and in various disciplines and having the opportunity to observe writers as they develop confidence in their writing ability. Many of us also enjoy the work of consulting because it makes us better writers, teachers, and scholars ourselves, as the act of consulting encourages us to examine and make adjustments to our own habits.
While the writer’s toolkit is certainly vast, two important tools for writers, particularly those in academic settings, are planning and time management. Although planning can sometimes be the most difficult part of the writing process, it is a valuable way for a writer to organize his or her thoughts. 
Luckily, planning and time management are two skills that can be easily incorporated into writing consultations, not only by addressing them directly but also by modeling these skills within the context of the session. In this post, I’m going to focus on strategies for opening and closing the standard, 50-minute writing consultation that will allow you to model planning and time management for your writers.

Opening the Session
Taking the time for a thorough intake process allows you and the writer to make an effective plan for the session, while also allowing you both to develop a plan for revision past the session. I suggest asking the following questions to help you assess the writers’ needs:
What type of document are you working on? What are the requirements/restrictions on this document (i.e. topic, page/word count, source or citation requirements, etc.)? [Asking these questions should help you to better understand the document, and will also allow you to gauge the writer’s understanding of the document requirements.]
When is the document due? [Asking this question will allow you to better plan the session as well as manage the writer’s expectations. For example, if the document is due later that day, your recommendations for revision would be much more restrictive than if the writer had two weeks to revise the document.]
What stage of the writing process are you in? [Asking this question allows you to determine if the writer is in the planning, writing, or revising stage of the document, and can also give you an idea of how long the writer has been working on the particular document. For example, the feedback you offer to a writer who has written a first draft of an essay will be much different than the feedback you might offer a writer who is working on polishing the final draft of an essay that he or she has been working on for several weeks.]

What do you want to accomplish in this session? [Asking this question not only helps you to assess the writer’s needs, but it also reinforces the agency of the writer. Additionally, this question can allow you to manage a writer’s expectations, when necessary. For example, if a writer tells you her goal for the session is to address organization and grammar in a 20-page paper, you can explain to her that you might get through 5-6 pages in a standard, 50-minute session.]
After asking these questions, I find it very helpful to work with the writer to develop a plan for the session, and I recommend sketching this plan out on a piece of paper. While it is not always necessary to attach time frames to the elements of the plan, in some sessions, time frames can be very helpful in keeping the writer (and yourself) on track.
As an example, imagine that you are working with a writer who tells you that he is working on a second draft of a 10-page term paper for his Film and Culture course, which is due in 2 weeks, and requires 10 academic sources, cited in Chicago style. The writer tells you that his goal for the session is to focus on organization and focus, and that he is particularly concerned about making sure that his argument supports his thesis statement, but that he is also worried about making sure that he is citing his sources correctly, both in-text and in the bibliography. The writer also understands that you may not make it through the entire paper in one standard, 50-minute session. In this situation, you and the student might create a plan like this one:
  • 10 minutes – intake
  • 5 minutes – focus on introduction and thesis statement
  • 5 minutes – writer verbally outlines his plan for the paper, based on his thesis statement
  • 20 minutes – read through paper, focusing on organization, focus, and in-text citations
  • 5 minutes – briefly review bibliography; point writer to resources for Chicago style
  • 5 minutes – close the session by briefly reviewing the session and helping the writer to develop a plan for revision
Closing the Session
Closing the session can be just as important as opening the session. While it can be tempting to actively work with a writer until the very last minute of a session, doing so can leave the writer feeling confused about how to execute the ideas discussed during the session. So, it always a good idea of leave the last 5-10 minutes of the session to talk about how the writer can move forward with the revision process.
First, you’ll likely want to remind the writer of the main suggestions for revision you discussed during the session. To extend the example used above, you might remind your writer that, in addition to reorganizing the body paragraphs to mimic the organization of ideas in the thesis statement, he should also make sure that each paragraph has a strong topic sentence. Additionally, you might remind the writer that some of his in-text citations contain a comma, which is unnecessary in Chicago style.
Then, you’ll want to help the writer articulate a plan for revising, which might include making additional appointments. For example, our writer’s plan might look like this:
Today: 1/15/16
  • Revise based on today’s session: 1/15/16-1/18/16 (3 days)
  • Begin with focus, making sure that each paragraph has a strong topic sentence that supports the thesis.
  • Next, reorganize paragraphs to ensure that the organization of ideas in the body supports the organizations of ideas established in the thesis statement.
  • Then, make sure that all of your in-text citations are consistent.
  • Second Writing Studio appointment: 1/19/16
  • Revision based on second Studio session: 1/19/16-1/25/16
  • Final Writing Studio appointment: 1/26/16
  • Revision based on third Studio session: 1/26/16-1/27/16
  • Proofreading and Edition: 1/27/17-1/28/16
  • Submit assignment: 1/29/16
Not only will a plan like this one help your writer begin to process the work of the session, and also allows the writer to envision how to approach the often daunting task of continued revision. Additionally, encouraging writers to make additional appointments before leaving the space can also encourage them to maintain momentum in the revision process by providing a deadline of sorts.
I hope you can see the benefits of using these tips not only for your writer, but for yourselves, as well. In order for you to provide each writer with your full attention and the best possible feedback, it is important than you have time to recharge and reorient yourself between sessions. Extending your session past the closing time, or taking a writer early, is not beneficial for the writer, yourself, or your fellow consultants. However, making sure that you begin and end sessions on time establishes the Studio as a place of reliability and consistency, while taking the time to plan at the beginning and end of the session extends the Studio’s mission of approaching writing as a process and recursive practice.

By Sandy Branham, PhD candidate in Texts & Technology and Assistant Coordinator for the University of South Florida’s Writing Studio
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