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

Resources for Writing Instructors & Upcoming Incomplete Boot Camp

Two New Resource Sites
Teaching Central highlights Bedford St. Martin's collection of resource guides, background readings, and bibliographies for writing teachers. The collection is searchable by publication date, author, and title, as well as topic (teaching advice, workshops and symposia, adjuncting, and more).  

Teachnet is a blog featuring advice, resources, and links, with an emphasis on teaching with technology. Recent posts include "10 Tips for Grading Writing with Less Stress and Frustration" and "Accelerating Community Through Online Writing."

These sites have joined the Handbook for SNL Writing Instructors Digication site on the Key Resources & Websites page

Upcoming Incomplete Boot Camp: Wednesday, December 18
If you have students with incompletes outstanding or other projects to work on over break, please consider inviting them to the next Boot Camp, which meets on December 18 from 5:30-9PM at 14 E. Jackson. Students should contact to register.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Writing Showcase Is Accepting Submissions

If you had students who produced particularly good writing this past quarter, please encourage them to submit to the 2014 Writing Showcase. The Showcase celebrates the hard work of SNL student writers and provides inspiration for other students working on writing projects. The submission period is open until April 1, 2014, and winners will be recognized at the Spring Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information, past winners, and an application form. 

Tuesday, November 26, 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 25, 2013

Collaborative Writing on the Web

Last month Brooklyn-based writer and computer programmer Paul Ford reviewed for the MIT Technology Review several new web-based writing tools: Fargo, Editorially, Medium, Svubtle, Marquee, Scroll Kit, Quip, and Ghost

A teaser for the review explains that “a new crop of startups is gearing up to change the way we write, taking on traditional authoring tools such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and WordPress. The newcomers don’t just promise to make it easy to create documents or write blog posts—they promise to make you smarter.”

Ford finds Fargo, a simple yet powerful outlining tool, particularly appealing, noting that “with an outlining program, you don’t need a clumsy numbering system, because the computer does the bookkeeping for you.” Ford also appreciates the flexibility in such programs, describing an outliner as something that “treats a text as a set of Lego bricks to be pulled apart and reassembled until the most pleasing structure is found...That’s the thing about outlines: they can become anything.”

Editorially is a pared-down text editor that, like Fargo, runs in a web browser. Ford calls Editorially’s focus “rigidly on composing,” describing its editing screen as “one huge blank field with only a few options.” However, with this simplicity comes useful options for collaboration; every edit made by collaborators (or a single author) is tracked, and a timeline function lets users go back to a past moment in the text’s creation. 

Medium, yet another web-based platform, is better suited to blogging and other web writing by an individual. The program suggests a structure for the piece, and once the text is published, other uses can leave feedback for the author in the form of comments that, in this context, serve more as marginal notes. Ford says that “the ‘Medium Post’ is emerging as its own sort of thing—not quite a blog post, not quite an article, but something in between.”

Ford describes but doesn’t review a number of other platforms still in development. Marquee calls itself a “flexible platform that’s perfect for telling stories,” while Scroll Kit is “a new type of content editor that allows you to own the page in one click.” Ghost is a blogging platform that Ford characterizes as “a sort of modernization of WordPress.” A departure from these web-based platforms is Quip, an iOS app.  

One thing most of these new tools have in common is that they’re designed for collaboration. According to Ford, the developers of these new platforms are “building tools for reflective thought. They expect their users to contemplate, revise, collaborate—in short, to work more the way writers historically have written, and as the pioneers of the digital revolution expected people to continue to write.” To Ford, the proliferation of such collaborative efforts proves “that there are enough people willing to give up the quick pleasures of the tweet or Facebook post and return to the hard business of writing whole paragraphs that are themselves part of a larger structure of argument.” 

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

Upcoming Incomplete Project Boot Camps

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, please instruct students to contact

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

November 16, 9AM-1PM

November 23, 10AM-2PM

Oak Forest
November 23, 10AM-2PM

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SNL Writing Faculty Publish on Teaching Writing to Veterans

An article by Michelle Navarre Cleary and Katie Wozniak was recently published in Composition Forum, in a special issue focused on veterans and writing. 

Considering veterans in the context of research on adult and nontraditional students in college writing classes, this article proposes Malcolm Knowles's six principles for adult learning as an asset-based heuristic for investigating how writing programs and writing teachers might build upon existing resources to support veteran students. 

Navarre Cleary and Wozniak explain that many institutions take a deficit-based approach to evaluating the needs of veterans and subsequently find their resources lacking, while those that take an asset-based approach find they already have many of the tools to support veterans. Moreover, the deficit approach reinforces the idea of the veteran-student as outside the mainstream, when in fact research on teaching composition to veterans aligns with that of other adult, nontraditional students. As such, the six principles of andragogy identified by Knowles are well-suited to informing conversations regarding improvements to practice and examination of existing knowledge and resources. 

Read the full article here.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Distractions in the writing process

Last week, I attended SNL’s “Craft of Composing” panel, which included expert writers from the school's faculty, staff, student, and alumni populations. Near the end of the Q&A, an audience member asked the panelists how they “unstick” themselves when they’re writing. Among journaling, “writing trash”, and the “Just Do It” approaches, one of the panelists talked about a writer they knew who would spend time vacuuming, brushing their teeth, vacuuming again, brushing their teeth again, vacuuming again…you get it. In “Bird by Bird”, Anne Lamott talks about deciding it’s the perfect time to floss just as she sits down to compose what she calls her “sh*tty first drafts”. What’s up with teeth cleaning and the writing process? I never in my life pictured those two activities overlapping in a Venn Diagram -- until I got to college, started writing for a living, and realized that other people have the same bizarre habit. Distraction.

I can relate. I have never cleaned my house so thoroughly as when I have had a huge writing project looming. Where tumbleweeds of cat hair coasted between piles of old textbooks and bags of clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners, now an intoxicating Pledge scent lingers and the cat slides across the freshly waxed hardwood floors when I call her for supper. And, yes, I can see my reflection perfectly in my polished – and blank - computer screen.

A friend of mine who also writes for a living told me that when she works from home, she’ll sometimes take two showers in a day, almost as if the shower is her only escape from the madness of composing. I read in a Mental Floss article recently (yes, yet another “Distraction”) that taking a hot shower releases dopamine in our brains. Scientists gathered that this must be why so many creative thoughts just happen to appear in that very private place. (And, sadly for us writers, the only place that’s not conducive to writing. But never fear: someone created a waterproof notebook!)

After reflecting on this over the weekend, I realized that I tend to clean – like a lifetime employee of Happy Maids - not just when composing, but also when some life-wide problem needs to be solved or some painful stressor needs to be managed: coming down from the adrenaline rush of a heated argument with a family member; waiting to hear back from the doctor about test results; coping with the unexpected death of a loved one. In these times, my hands are prunes from washing dishes, washing floors, washing counters, washing my hair, washing my face.

If you search “distraction in the writing process” on the web, you’ll find a lot of “avoidance” language and tips for “overcoming barriers”. Some of my favorite composition theorists have entire articles and books about how students can best “stay focused on their writing tasks.” All these best practices involve some sort of Jedi Mind Tricks that you need to play on yourself to prevent you from wandering over to your kitchen or shower and keep you chained to your notebook, working until you get it right. I have never been able to master those tricks. I’ve even repeated the “Use the force” mantra to myself -- to no avail.

I argue that distraction is not a barrier to overcome but a necessary part of the process of overcoming. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to let distraction happen, and that, perhaps, between drafting and proofreading, there is a bubble in my writing process flowchart that says “clean the kitty litter” or “turn off your computer” or “go be”. The key is accepting our natural need for distraction. Our brains want it. Our bodies want it. Our spirit wants it. It is a primal switch to keep us creative, to keep us from going over the edge, to keep us clean, to keep us healthy, to keep us human, to help us cope -- to keep us “unstuck”.

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 that may be of interest to your students: "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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Am Not Going to Get Up Today: How I wrote 50,627 words in 30 days during the 2012 SNL Month of Writing

Steffanie Triller Fry

I did not get out of bed. That’s my big secret. That’s how I reached my 50,000 word goal for SNL’s first annual Month of Writing last October. I did not get out of bed until I had reached my word count goal for the day.
            Bed was a familiar place for me last October. I was in my first trimester of a first pregnancy. I wrote with a granola bar and a water bottle beside me. Some mornings, despite the granola bar and water bottle, morning sickness hit anyway. My brain is never fully present to the world until I’m up and moving. When I’ve just woken, I’m still in a foggy, dreamlike trance. The covers are warm and the room is cool: my mind tends to wander in these moments. In these minutes, I do some of my most effective thinking of the day. I plan my day, work out problems, write drafts of emails on the insides of my eyelids. This is my time of uninterrupted creative expression. Last October, I used it to my advantage. Each morning, I set a goal of 2,000 words. I often wrote more: if I was on a roll and time permitted, I let myself keep going. I wrote quickly. I didn’t think too much about what I was writing. I was working on a novel – the first I’d ever attempted – about four children who travel back in time to a key moment in their parents’ lives. I did not plan much of the story beforehand; rather, I let it unfold in these early morning hours. Often, in this warm haze of pre-dawn, I found that my fingers worked without my direction. I write best when I don’t look at the keys. (After all, we all have our unwashed socks that we wear on game day to help us to hit the home run, right?) My characters interacted in ways I never thought possible. They found new relationships; they found words of dialogue. They found reasons for traveling in time. Words mounted; the story grew. It changed direction a few times, after all, it was only a first draft. At some point, I realized that I had written over 40,000 words and I needed to start bringing the story to a close. I had done it: I had written my 50,000 words, with a few hundred extra for good measure.
            Besides not getting out of bed, a few other tricks worked for me:
            Most days I woke at the same time. I subtracted three hours from the time I needed to leave, and set my alarm. I kept the computer next to my bed so that I would not have to break the spell of sleep. Somehow, if I did not leave the bed, I could convince myself that I wasn’t really awake yet. Somehow, I thought I had mastered writing in my dreams, still asleep, still blissfully unaware of the dark outside the window. The first week was hard, but once it became expected, became routine, it got easier.
            I didn’t talk to anyone. When I talked to someone else it became harder to hear the characters talk to each other.
            When I got stuck, I read what I had written the day before, or I went back to the beginning and started reading. Particularly on the mornings after I had taken a day or two break, it was helpful to ground myself in the story and the characters.
            I outlined every day. I wrote an informal list of places that I wanted to go in the story. The next morning, I could pick up with whichever scene most moved me. Because I always woke with a goal and direction for moving the story forward, I didn’t have to do this difficult work of structuring the story early in the morning, when my mind wasn’t working this way anyway.
            I gave myself a reward. I’ve come to love facials. I’ve only ever had two. But I told myself that if I completed my novel, I could get another facial. My favorite part is the neck and shoulder rub.
            I ran the event. Because I’m the SNL faculty member in charge of the month of writing, I would have been pretty embarrassed if I hadn’t met my own goal.  
            What are your unwashed socks? What tricks help you complete your writing tasks? This October, I invite SNL students, faculty, alums, and staff to challenge themselves to meet their own writing goals, even if it means refusing to get out of bed in the morning.

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 in 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 students, alumni, staff, and fellow 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).