By Michael Hals, Writing Lab Consultant, College of Charleston
I am a creative writer, and I work in the Writing Lab. Often, I find that, while being a creative writer isn’t completely necessary for being a consultant, writing creatively has positively benefitted my work, making the process of helping others with their essays a little bit easier. It isn’t really the act of writing creatively that’s an asset, but rather the mindset I gain from consistently stimulating the right hemisphere of my brain.
The Writing Lab is different than most other labs in the Learning Commons (Center for Student Learning). We consultants don’t have the luxury that the math or science labs do, where there are consistent formulas and laws to fall back on. A grand majority of the time the craft of writing an essay feels like alchemy where a solution of words and ideas are mysteriously mixed together to produce a perfect, golden composition for the professor. While there are structural elements common to all essays—paragraphs, introductions/conclusions, and theses—the constructed rhetorical arguments are completely decided by the writer. Beyond that, the door is open to limitless possibilities.
The same goes for creative writing. I decide what to say and how to say it. Creative writing strengthens consulting because they’re both founded on the same principle: conveying ideas. I recently had a client whose essay was making an argument about a photograph from her childhood. The picture showed the client’s grandmother cradling her as a baby, and her working thesis was trying to prove the client and her grandmother had had an amazing relationship. But her heartwarming evidence (how they talked to each other about everything or the layers of trust they’ve built with each other over the years) focused on her current relationship with her grandmother, having nothing to do with what could be observed in the photograph itself. I had to kindly convey this point to the client and then provide some quick examples of new evidence that would fit the altered direction of the revised essay, like citing the adoring shine in her grandmother’s eyes and her tentative care when holding her new grandchild. In that way, the client had a starting point to work with, instead of just cutting everything and starting from scratch.
As a consultant, I must listen to the problems assaying a writer and come up with suggestions to fix them almost immediately. It doesn’t really matter if my suggestions are the “right” ones; sometimes a consultant’s job is just to get the writer’s mental cogs turning long enough for them to discover their own solutions. Creativity is an individual’s capacity for creation, and being a creative writer makes it easier to think spontaneously, act in the moment, absorb my client’s dilemmas, and spit out ideas in a moment’s notice. It has been a great asset for me in the Writing Lab, and I can’t imagine consulting without it.