I Have Writing Anxiety: Here’s How the WRC Helped Me

Nothing I learned as a tutor-in-training prepared me for just how ecstatic consulting with a tutor would make me feel. When I was a first-time consultee, I knew to anticipate valuable, perhaps even radical progress; I did not expect the elation that might accompany it. In retrospect, of course, my exhilaration makes perfect sense: in just over thirty minutes with my consultant, Bianca, we accomplished what would have taken countless hours and crippling amounts of stress and self-doubt on my own. Typically, my anxieties about committing to ideas and sharing my work prevent me from starting to write or asking for help. Making an appointment and working with a consultant allowed me to circumvent these obstacles, freeing my ideas and empowering me to challenge the way I approach the writing process. 

Simply making the appointment helped jump-start my writing process. The appointment date set a deadline ahead of the real one, leading me to prepare material far sooner than I would have otherwise. To avoid the possibility of blanking in the middle of the session, I free-wrote to get as much relevant information out of my head and onto paper as possible. My prep generated far more material than I knew I had. Here, my fear of embarrassing myself when sharing my ideas drastically outweighed my reluctance to begin writing. Ironically, my anxiety helped bypass itself. At the same time, I felt more comfortable writing freely because there was no grade accompanying this deadline. So, while I still maintained anxiety about both my writing and the appointment, even the concept of participating in a consultation began to lessen my anxiety’s effect. 

My seasoned tutor further alleviated my fears, first by skillfully establishing a friendly, open, and safe environment. I arrived at the appointment a bundle of tension and nerves; all of that stress began to melt away as soon as Bianca began to work her magic. She created a comfortable environment with such dexterity that I did not realize she was doing so until well after it had fully materialized. She built rapport through a smooth combination of small talk and conversation. Even this early in the consultation, Bianca assumed the part of the active listener, responding in a way that assured me that if she would listen with care to my thoughts about the weather, she would listen to my concerns about content relevance. Her relaxed demeanor persuaded me I had nothing to worry about. Bianca made it clear that she intended to help as a competent, knowledgeable friend rather than judge as a teacher; in doing so, she assuaged much of my anxiety about showing her my work.

Bianca dealt with my anxiety about committing to ideas by facilitating a conversation adapted to my personality. From the start of our work, she tailored her strategies to my needs by asking what would help me best. We began with writing an outline: I would talk through ideas and she would write them down. This exercise required me to confront my tendency to overthink before I spoke. She noticed this tendency quickly and adopted new strategies to push me through it. Rather than sit in silence while I reached for a thought, Bianca made the brainstorming a conversation. If I could not find the idea I was looking for, she would offer a possibility as a jumping-off point. If I seemed reluctant to express an idea, she would help me phrase it and offer validation. This steady stream of encouragement and facilitation slowly but surely bypassed my anxiety, and I began to trust my instincts more. Thinking out loud made the burden of committing to an idea a shared one, curtailing my anxiety. This conversation concluded with the creation of my thesis statement: alone, I would have agonized over the sentence for hours; with Bianca, it took five minutes. 

Never before have I so easily surmounted my self-doubt in writing, and that is a testament to just how valuable the WRC and its staff can be. I know how difficult it can be to ask for help, but, as the saying goes: two heads are better than one. Sometimes, a friendly face and some time to talk through your work can make all the difference. As a fully-trained tutor now, I continue to book more WRC consultations myself. With all the joy and success they have brought me, I would be a fool not to do so.

How My Time at the WRC Affects My Life as a Teacher

The WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber's house in 2019. Luc Nguyen is in the center (fourth from the left).
The 2019 WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber’s house. Pictured, from left to right: Zaira Mughal, Jessue Urgo, Sara Franklin-Gillette,  Luc Nguyen, Rachel Wilmans, Genny Thomas, Jackie Keshner, Davis Gold, Bianca Bowman.

When I interviewed for a position as a consultant at William & Mary’s Writing Resources Center during my freshman year, I spoke about my dreams of becoming an English teacher. I said that by helping my peers with their writing, I would be able to build skills that I would need in my future career. I drew upon my experience at my high school’s writing center and marveled at how much my own writing had improved once I was asked to explain good writing to others. The director of the WRC, the great Dr. Sharon Zuber, agreed and hired me.

Now, as a full-fledged English teacher in Fairfax County, I am reminded of my time at the WRC every day. When I meet with students about their writing, I conduct the conference just as I would for a consultation at the WRC. I ask the student to read their paper out loud, paragraph by paragraph. I jot down notes on a piece of scrap paper. I show students how to correct their mistakes and ask them to apply their new knowledge later on. I search for those priceless “lightbulb moments” in which students’ eyes widen and a puzzle piece snaps into place. I even reward students who come see me after school for extra help with a mint or piece of candy, just as I would at the WRC.

But when I think back to my time at the WRC, the memories that are most prominent don’t involve writing conferences at all. I remember afternoons spent behind the welcome desk, shooting the breeze with my coworkers as we waited for our consultees to show up. I remember late night “study sessions” after the WRC had closed, which usually turned into a contest of who could procrastinate on their work in the most creative way. I remember gathering with my coworkers at Dr. Zuber’s gorgeous home on the York River during finals week, soaking in sun rays while singing the praises of our graduating seniors. Don’t get me wrong; the actual “work” of writing conferences prepared me for my future in the classroom. But simply basking in the brilliance of my coworkers was invaluable in that it showed me the importance of supporting one another in the world of education.

Looking back, I realize now how much I leaned on my coworkers. They covered shifts when I had scheduling conflicts and reminded me to submit my payroll forms. They shared treats with me on nights I had missed dinner and comforted me when a consultation went awry. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t scheduled to tutor, I would just sit in the WRC and watch my coworkers work their magic. Everyone was just so brilliant in their own way, and I wanted to soak up every ounce of their expertise.

Teaching is no different. My job would be borderline impossible without the constant support that I receive from my coworkers. I borrow lesson plans and handouts, workshop ideas, and ask for advice about difficult classroom situations. At the end of the year, I realized that nearly every member of the English department had supported me in some way. The success that I have experienced so far is largely rooted in the generosity of my peers, from helping me to rearrange bulky furniture to offering kind words of encouragement at the copier. I hope that I can reciprocate their kindness as my career continues.

For a bevy of reasons, I have always felt a need to prove myself as someone who is capable of succeeding on my own. I suspect others feel the same, especially those at William & Mary. However, the WRC family reminded me about the importance of collaboration and community. As the world becomes increasingly polarized, I hope that others will glean some knowledge from my time at the WRC. To me, the WRC was so much more than a tutoring service. It was a microcosm of the ideal working world, one that collaboratively supported its individual members to reach incredible heights.

Formerly a consultant at the W&M Writing Resources Center, Luc Nguyen currently teaches English in Fairfax County. You can read more of his writing at https://medium.com/@lucnguyen14.

The Power of Collaboration

“Tutor.”  “Consultant.”  “Worker.”

As an employee at the Writing Resources Center, part of my job is to provide students with the tools they need to strengthen their writing, including the development of strong diction. It is ironic, then, that I find it so hard to find a single word that aptly describes my job at the WRC while conveying the immense benefits the job brings me. “Tutor” seems lopsided and authoritarian. “Consultant” evokes the image of stagnant, sterile office space. “Worker” implies a bitter lack of interplay. I find that the best word to describe what I do is one that can sometimes be taboo within the context of the Center: “Collaborator.”

Merriam-Webster states that to collaborate is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” As an employee of the Center, one of my central goals is to never take authorship over a student’s work. This definition of “collaborator” can mean just that; working “jointly” on a paper implies a co-authorship that steps beyond our reach as consultants. When I define “endeavor,” however, I don’t think of it merely within the scope of a paper. I think of it as the intellectual endeavor at large.

On a base level, working at the Writing Resources Center is collaborating with students to better their writing skills, thus helping them in their efforts to engage in the holistic intellectual endeavor. The goal of the Center is to give students the means to improve their writing themselves. We point out and explain grammar mistakes with the expectation students will fix them themselves later. We teach strategies for brain-storming and planning. We talk out ideas with our consultees so that they’ll better know how to articulate their ideas going forward. These efforts improve the ability of our students to communicate, and thus strengthen the college’s collective intellect.

It is not, however, just the consultees who gain writing expertise; I’ve perhaps learned more about good writing from students at the Center than I have in the entirety of my years prior. When I notice things that don’t work well in my consultant’s papers, it has a twofold effect on me. On a personal level, I recognize flaws in my own writing, thus allowing me to better express my ideas going forward. Meanwhile, on a consulting level, I become better at recognizing these flaws in others and helping them get past them. Additionally, I often recognize strengths in student writing I could use to improve my own. In short, consultations teach me a ton about writing, allowing me to improve as both a writer and consultant.

Beyond writing skills, collaborating at the Center makes me better versed in the intellectual world at large. Reading papers exposes me to topics I would never be introduced to in my own studies. Not only does this make me better versed in disciplines I would otherwise be uninformed about, giving me a broader view in my own scholarly endeavors, it also helps me become a better consultant. When I first started working at the Center, I was terrified any time someone came in with a paper in philosophy or history. After working with students in these fields, I’ve developed a far better understanding of what works in these papers and what doesn’t. Once again, my work at the WRC has improved me as a student and consultant.

With this constant give and take of learning and teaching, terms like “tutor” and “consultant” become obsolete. When I go in to work at the Center, I have no misconceptions about my job. While I hope a student will end up with a better paper through my consultation, this collaboration towards a better academic whole is what lies at the core of the writing center experience. We’re all inadvertent collaborators in each other’s learning, through exchanges as simple as small talk. The Center simply provides a place for the collaboration to be that much more conscious.