When writers sit down to work with writing consultants, they immediately engage in “work mode,” right? Laptops are open, scratch paper is handy, and the writer and the consultant dive into whatever piece the writer has brought, working at a furious pace and stopping only when the allotted length of time has expired. This scenario plays out 100% of the time in your sessions, right?
If you’re scratching your head and saying to yourself “None of my appointments ever follow this format,” then you’re not alone. As writing consultants, we have to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay if a fraction (maybe even the majority in some cases) of the time in our consulting sessions will inevitably be spent doing other things. It’s simply the nature of the job.
To illustrate my point, I’ll give you an example involving one of my “regulars” that happened a few weeks ago. Let’s call him Sammy. Sammy came in for his weekly appointment as usual. Nothing about his demeanor or facial expression suggested anything out of the ordinary. However, as he sat down at the table and opened his laptop, Sammy’s attitude changed.
I asked him how a paper he recently submitted for one of his classes was received by his professor. That’s when the floodgates opened. In a flurry of complaints, sighs, and protestations, Sammy proceeded to point out all of the professor’s inconsistencies among the assignment guidelines, the rubric for the paper, and her specific feedback regarding Sammy’s paper. I sat beside Sammy, calmly nodding and only replying in sporadic monosyllables.
This went on for about 30 minutes. When he had finally exhausted himself, I agreed that he made several good points during his tirade, and I advised him to raise these points in a conference with his professor during office hours (while stressing the need to do so in a composed, respectable manner). He agreed, and we spent the rest of the session talking about a few MLA conventions that his professor had pointed out.
I relay this exhaustive story to demonstrate an important though often overlooked aspect of our jobs. As writing coordinators, it’s important that we allow writers to voice concerns about their work, talk about their days, and, occasionally, vent about an issue they’re facing. Of course, our primary goal is to help them improve their writing, but the creation of a safe space – one that makes the writer feel comfortable communicating with the consultant about whatever is on the writer’s mind – is extremely important in our field. Letting the writer know that he or she is welcome to use some of the appointment time simply to vent is vital in fostering relationships with writers that best serve their academic interests.
Here is a link to an article that addresses this issue of effectively listening while someone is venting.
By Seth Spencer, MA student in Literature and Writing Consultant