Note that the title says “participant” and not “winner.” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) isn’t over yet, but it is very possible I will not make the 50,000 word count required to win. NaNoWriMo is all about quantity over quality, but it’s a surprisingly difficult task to write so much without getting hung up on revision! Someone asked me what my word count was the other day, and I refused to tell him out of shame. However, I’d like to own up to my word count now, and tell you why I’ve loved (and am still loving) this experience.

I haven’t written every day, but the four times I have, I’ve focused completely for two hours and churned out a surprising amount of material. Unlike some of the other more dedicated Scottie Wrimos, I did not have a plot or story in mind before I started writing. I began the moment I sat down at our first write-in and wrote whatever came to mind. The result of this first session was a mixture of a pep talk to myself, reflections on how difficult writing like this was, and a few detailed scenes in which various unrelated characters emerged. By the end of the write-in, one character began to take centerstage, Wilburt Clodfetter of Tennessee, a 12-year-old boy who likes baton-twirling and his mother’s green beans.

In my next writing session, I discovered Wilburt’s twin sister, Jima, a terribly shy little girl who hides under the stairs and applies her mother’s lipstick. Mr. and Mrs. Clodfetter are also present, but I don’t know them very well yet.

Despite my shameful word count, I’m having an amazing time taking on this challenge. I’m sure other Wrimos will agree that there’s something special about that word count building. No matter what I write, I feel a surge of pride every time I see that hundred-mark tick up, followed by the thousand-mark. The writing process is what’s important, not the product, and with this approach I see value in every word I think to compose.  

So what is my word count? 5, 072.

Whether you start prepping for next year’s NaNoWriMo or you just start writing on your own, I highly recommend the judgement-free writing philosophy that NaNo encourages—I bet you’ll be surprised what material happens.

I’d like to send big, heartfelt thanks out to Daren Wang and Tom Bell of the Decatur Book Festival and Agnes Writes for their support at our write-ins. Tom connected with two best-selling writers, Pearl Cleage and Patti Callahan Henry, who wrote inspirational advice on writing that we read aloud to the NaNo group. He also invited Joshilyn Jackson, a New York Times best-selling author and NaNoWriMo participant to join us last week. It was such a treat to write with her!

Shannon Yarbrough graduated from Agnes Scott College in May of 2009. She's a co-coordinator of the Agnes Scott Writing Center and the Digital Design Fellow.
Molly at the workshop
The Travel Writing Workshop is a special event co-sponsored by Agnes Scott College’s Center for Writing & Speaking and the Office of International Education. It is dedicated to helping students deepen their study abroad experiences through writing. This year, the event took place on November 18, 2009.

 Dr. Cozzens, English professor and director of the Center for Writing & Speaking, began the event by asking everyone to “always have your notebook and be ready to write,which topped her list of “Things to remember about travel writing of any kind.” According to Dr. Cozzens’ own experience, note-taking has proved to be an incredible way to record, discover and understand things we see during our trips. It has “transformed the way I collect information and hence the way I write,” said Dr. Cozzens. Ever had a hard time remembering what happened in that beautiful picture you took along the road? Next time, bring a notebook and write down the story so that you may relive the moment in the future the way you experienced it the very first time.

 The next thing to remember about travel writing is to do research before, during, and after the travel experience. This is especially important if you are to publish your travel story in a magazine, because you would want to hold yourself credible by giving the correct information. The last thing on the list is to follow your interests, instincts, whims and passions—jot down the things your heart is really drawn to, because they are most likely to evoke memories and emotions when you revisit your notebook later on.

 Dr. Cozzens went on to show the audience examples of her own journal entries and offered some useful tips for future travel writers, such as using your notebook as a scrapbook, capturing specific moments and examples to “let the experience speak” for itself, and using the present tense and lots of verbs to bring your experience to life.

 Shannon Yarbrough, co-coordinator of the Writing Center and the college’s digital design fellow, came on after Dr. Cozzens to talk about using blogs as a medium for sharing one’s travel writing. She showed the audience blog examples of recent Agnes Scott graduates, and introduced them to a few typical blogging styles that cater to the interest of different travel writers.

 For more information on blog writing, please refer to the Writing Center’s handout on this particular topic: (handout #68).
Zijia Sun is a senior and Writing Center tutor at Agnes Scott College. She is from Shanghai, China and a lover of travel writing.
Let’s admit it: most of us are a little uncomfortable with reading and writing poetry, yeah? When’s the last time you wrote a poem? Was it that haiku for 7th grade Language Arts? Do you think of poetry as necessarily rhyming? Does it strike you as the domain of either predominantly 200 year old white British men or emotionally overwhelmed teenagers? If you nodded your head 'yes' to any of these questions, perhaps it’s time you revisit the possibilities of poetry.

Writing poetry

I think the discomfort with writing it comes from some common perceptions of poetry, which I will swiftly dispel below so you no longer need quiver in your boots at the thought of taking that poetry writing class:

1)      You must have talent to do it. I recall my poetry professor, Sabrina Orah Mark, who visited Agnes Scott during fall ’07 and spring ’09, once said that writing poetry is about 5% talent and 95% practice. The words of a professional poet, y’all. 

2)      You have to have something interesting to say to write poetry. Poetry can be a medium through which you create or find something to say, something you may not have even known you could think of. Though poetry can certainly give voice to some profound metaphysical or political understanding, it doesn’t have to. Poetry can also be treated like a road trip without a map – the fun, adventure, and danger of it lie in not knowing what will come next. At the same time, a good poem follows a set of rules, and breaks them if necessary. Check out for exercises to jump-start your process.

3)      Poetry has to rhyme and have form. While formal poetry structures can be fun to play with, you certainly don’t have to box yourself into them. One thing I’ve discovered in my poetry classes at Agnes Scott is the way that form and content can inform and influence one another to shape the reader's experience of the poem. For instance, prose poems, blocks of text with stable margins which look like prose on the page, are often used to contain unstable and wild ideas, creating dissonance, a sense that the form is the one thing that is preventing the poem from exploding. You can find forms to play with here at; try the abecedarian.

Reading poetry

I have both noticed and experienced a fear of poetry, especially in the classroom. In part I think this stems from not knowing how to interpret it. Though I have no easy solution, I encourage those who are interested to confront this initial discomfort and assert your right to not understand a poem. Who does know how to read poetry? It is frequently ambiguous, complicated, and layered; it can keep secrets and tell lies. Try to cultivate a sense of curiosity about what a poem has to communicate. Be patient with the process. Reading poetry is an exercise in listening which requires all of your senses, your intuition, imagination, and intellect. Feeling bewildered, I've found, is the first step in reading a poem, and that's probably a good thing; once you've found yourself bewildered, you can begin to explore.

Get started now. Then bring that poetry into the writing center and let us know where you end up!


Katy Flinn is a junior and a tutor at the Agnes Scott Writing Center.

With the paper guidelines (a 5-6 page scholarly response) in one hand and my primary text (Shakespeare’s The Tempest) in the other, I walked back to my dorm after class, sat down at my desk, and started procrastinating. I thought of all the things I wanted to do: take a nap, watch TV, and even clean my messy dorm if it would give me a reason to avoid getting started on my paper. I knew I had a general idea of what I wanted to write about, and I knew I had some idea of how to use the text to support my argument, but I was dreading taking the next step: sitting at my lap top, just me and Shakespeare, and starting to write. As a writer who frequently stresses herself out about putting initial thoughts on the page, I can sympathize with those who have a mental block on starting the paper writing process. But don’t get sucked in by the temptation of a long afternoon of watching random YouTube videos and updating your Facebook status. Use that time to get started, even if it’s just the first few steps.

Try a ten minute, uninterrupted free write about your intended paper topic. Don’t worry about perfecting the ideas or editing the mental process of the initial brainstorm. You may even discover things in this process that are important to your topic that you didn’t realize were there. Before you worry about sentence structure and clarity of ideas, write what comes out and let it, if nothing else, get your ideas on paper and out of your head.

I often talk to my roommate about my initial ideas for papers, and even though she may not be in the class, she can offer good general suggestions and give me preliminary feedback on my approach. It can always be helpful to talk to a peer, especially a classmate or someone whose opinions you trust. Don’t hesitate to schedule a Writing Center appointment, even if you haven’t written anything yet! We tutors love to talk to you in the early stages of the writing process. And if you have any misunderstanding, questions or concerns about the assignment, schedule an appointment to talk it over with your professor. They are great people to bounce ideas off of and can tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

Finally, give yourself the luxury of time. Start early so that you don’t have to rush the necessarily gradual writing process. Complex ideas can take time to develop and come together, so allow them to “marinate” in your brain before you try and pull a paper out of them! And when you’ve written a rough draft, let it sit for a day or two. Get some sleep, some food, and some perspective. Doing so will allow you to start the revision process in a constructive frame of mind. When it’s all over, you’ll feel confident in your finished product. Go ahead and update your Facebook status, “I finished my paper!”


Leah Kuenzi is a sophomore and a tutor at the Agnes Scott College Writing Center.
Careers in technical writing are on the rise, and Auburn University in Alabama offers a stellar program that prepares its graduates for jobs as a writer, editor, information analyst, web developer, and proposal specialist among others.

On Friday, October 30, Jo
Mackiewicz spoke at the Writing Center about the Master of Technical and Professional Communication (MTPC) program at Auburn. In addition to honing writing and editing skills, students learn document design and production techniques of both online and print media. The masters’ program also sets students up to pursue compositional or rhetorical studies. Additionally, some choose to pursue doctoral study in technical and professional communication upon graduation.

The program is small, with approximately 14 people currently enrolled. For those interested in applying, Mackiewicz stressed they are looking for individuals who are highly motivated, with high GRE scores and good writing skills (though not necessarily with a background in English). Students come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including foreign languages and computer science.

Students who attended the information session asked Mackiewicz a variety of questions about the program and technical writing in general. One student asked about the opportunities for legal writing in the field. While the Auburn program doesn’t have any classes in this particular area, Mackiewicz said that a degree in technical writing would prepare someone for this career. Dr. Christine Cozzens, among others, asked about grant writing, as many students are interested in pursuing careers in a non-profit organization. They set up the possibility for a grant proposal workshop at Agnes Scott in the future, so those who missed out on this interesting talk might have another opportunity. 

For more information about the program, contact Jo Mackiewicz at or visit

Rachael Jenkins is a senior double major in English Literature and Political Science at Agnes Scott College.