WRITERS (UN)BLOCK

Expert volunteers will help alleviate prose woes

The new U.P. Writing Center, located in the historical Savings Bank building at 101 South Front Street, provides assistance to anyone in need of help with writing projects. Volunteer staff members include (from left) Brandon Hansen, Madeline Gardiner and Heidi Stevenson.

Story and photo by 8-18 Media
“Help! Help! I’ve started a piece of writing and I can’t finish it!” is something we’ve all wanted to scream at 11 p.m. while attempting to finish a paper last minute. Now, with some prior planning, we will be able to avoid this situation in the future. Adults and students alike can take any piece of writing; an essay, a résumé, a fictional story, even a spark of an idea, to the Upper Peninsula Writing Center for help. The Upper Peninsula Writing Center is located in Marquette, nestled in the historical Savings Bank building at 101 South Front Street, Suite 1.
One of the Writing Center’s co-founders, Heidi Stevenson, explained how the Upper Peninsula Writing Center came to be.
“We are located in the Comunitaria Language School, where you can take language lessons. They take a broad approach to language and the director of the language school knew that I was interested in community Writing Centers and offered me a chance to start a Writing Center here, right here in the language school, so we are part of their offerings,” Stevenson said.
The UPWC is staffed by volunteers who have a lot of experience in, you guessed it…writing!
Stevenson has her Ph.D. in Composition and Rhetoric and taught writing classes at NMU as well as directed the NMU Writing Center. UPWC volunteers Brandon Hansen and Madeline Gardiner also have extensive experience in writing. Hansen has a degree in English Writing from NMU, and a few of his creative stories have been published. He also works as a tutor for the Princeton Review out of New York. Gardiner has plenty of experience under her belt from working for about four and a half years at the NMU Writing Center. With all their combined experience, it is safe to say your writing project is in capable helping hands.
Why start a community Writing Center? Hansen explained the mission of the UPWC.
“We are aiming to help people write and more specifically help people communicate in whatever means they need to, so if you are writing cover letters, your résumé, we can do that kind of stuff. If you have a creative project we can help with that too,” Hansen said. “Basically, anything written we can help with. Pretty much on any level, if you are just starting out or if you just need to go through and clean stuff up. I think we have a lot of experience with all levels and all types of things.”
Stevenson expanded on how they are able to help everyone with literally any type of writing.
“We have had people come in with nothing written and just had ideas. They don’t know how to get started. You know how that can go? Even with school assignments, where you just don’t know how to start? You can come in then or you can come in when it is mostly done and you just want to make sure it’s perfect and just how you like it. We work with academic assignments at all levels, but we work with adults too. Everything from tattoo texts to business proposals to anything,” Stevenson said.
Maybe you have only a small idea of a fictional story in your mind and are overwhelmed with how to bring your ideas to life. All three Writing Center volunteers have ways to help you get started. Stevenson said you should never be afraid to put something down on paper, because you can always go back to it and change it. Hansen suggests using prompts or going for a long walk for inspiration. Gardiner suggests starting with something that might not seem like it’s related to writing, but really is.
“I know when I start writing I get stuck if I just go straight into it sometimes. It helps maybe to do a brainstorm of ideas that you are interested in or like let’s say you have an idea of about where you want it to be, a place, the characters you want included, even just a non-stop list of things sometimes helps for me,” Gardiner said.
What if you’re in the middle of writing a piece and you just can’t quite figure out where to go? Your ideas have dried up. No worries, Stevenson has great advice for that dreaded writer’s block.
“Let it go. Don’t worry about whether it’s right or on topic, just start writing. It’s a lot easier to go back through a piece of writing and say, ‘that doesn’t fit… hmmm…I don’t like that sentence anymore.’ It’s easy to take stuff out. It’s ok to write down stuff you are not going to keep.”
Stevenson said that often times people are hesitant to come in to the Center and share their writing, but she knows how to lure them in.
“We have candy and we are really friendly. In my experience, this is the third Writing Center I have worked in, and in every single one I have encountered people who are afraid to come in and we see that through messages they send us. They will ask us a lot of questions and just be really worried. Sometimes there will be people just standing outside the door of your Writing Center kind of looking in, thinking about it. There is no wrong reason to come into the Writing Center,” Stevenson explained. “We are here to help. If you have any questions about any part of writing: content, ideas, the arrangement of them, the boring stuff, the punctuation and formatting, we can help with any of it and we’re happy to talk about all of it. We really love writing and it’s fun for us. If you don’t come into the Writing Center, and you want to, you are denying us some fun. We really enjoy this, and we think it is important work.”
Hansen says that people should never be afraid to come in and get help with writing because it will never be a corrective space.
“I think we genuinely love writing and working on writing. You are not coming in to have something fixed. We are going to improve upon it together,” Hansen said.
Stevenson says that coming into the Writing Center will not only help with current problems, but future ones too.
“Our work, all of our training in this is meant not only to help you fix that piece of writing, to help you with whatever you want to fix that day, but to help you avoid what went wrong in your future writing. It’s easy to think you’re not a good writer, but it’s never true. Everybody has that potential. We all have inherent weaknesses; we all have things we keep doing wrong in our writing and recognizing those patterns can be really happy because then you can avoid them. There is something we used to say at the NMU Writing Center and that is we are working our way out of business in that we are giving you tools to move forward, not only with that piece of writing, but with writing in general.”
Don’t just sit there with a piece of writing that isn’t working for you, be brave and bring it to UPWC. Remember, they have candy (bonus) and there are no costs to use the UPWC. They do accept donations to help offset some of their operational costs, but they believe in offering their services to the community for free. Their current hours are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. Follow the Upper Peninsula Writing Center on Instagram and Facebook for more information on an upcoming workshop series, and contact information.
(Written by Anna Martinson, 14, with contributions by Anja McBride, 14, Ella Falk, 10 and Ivy Pomeroy, 9.)

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