Dream Shard Blog: The Scintillating Adventures of Our Household

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Oct '06

Writing Center

A little-known fact about me is that I used to be a tutor in the BYU Writing Center. This was eons ago, but little has changed. I know this because I went there today for the first time in six years.

I wrote an article I’m going to submit for publication in a children’s history magazine this weekend, and I needed some feedback. I entered and signed in (I knew to do this because I remembered from working there that new clients always walk in and stand around uncomfortably before they realize they’re supposed to sign in). Then I stood uncomfortably while I waited for a tutor to come get me. The room was cluttered with wooden tables and buzzing with the low conversations of the other tutors and clients.

After a minute a smiley guy named David approached me and whisked me over to an unoccupied table. Instantly I remembered life as a writing tutor: feeling somewhat qualified, somewhat unqualified, nervous, excited, all at once.

To help him, I immediately launched into a detailed explanation of why I was there, what feedback I wanted from him, etc. In the middle of my speaking I became aware of him pursing his lips, like he was holding his breath. And he was clutching his pencil in a very urgent way.

So I interrupted myself and asked him if he was wanting to say something.

“Well,” he exhaled that breath he had been holding, “I was going to say that for things like this we usually send you to the publication lab in the library. We mostly just do academic papers and stuff here.”


“But, I mean, I can still help you. If you want. But I’m supposed to send you there. ‘Cause they’re usually bored and we’re not.”

I looked around at the full tables. He was right. They were busy. But I wanted his input anyway.

One thing I had decided when I worked at the WC was that writing tutors may be better writers than the average Joe, but it was a special talent to take another’s writing and skillfully help them craft it into something better. It was a skill that most writing tutors didn’t have. I’m not sure I had it. But what I did have, and probably what keeps the WC running today with its tutors, is the ability to be a good reader. I could read a paper and give the person my opinion about it. It wasn’t necessarily scientific in terms of the rights and wrongs of writing, but it was an educated observation. A well-founded second opinion is often what jumpstarts healthy revision and makes for a better end product.

So that’s what I got from David. He did his best. I didn’t agree with all his suggestions, but I didn’t say so. Although I did take his foremost suggestion to change certain words that were too old for the audience, and that has helped the article.

Overall, the Writing Center seems to be about the same it was when I worked there. The tutors are the same young writers trying to appear more qualified than they actually are, and sometimes getting away with it. It’s not a bad place to visit, but I’m glad I don’t still work there.

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