By Zoe Hanquier
I have been a consultant at the Writing Center since January 2020, and now I am on the cusp of graduation and have been stressing the past few months over my applications to MFA programs in creative writing. I wasn’t sure where to begin with the process and the looming portfolio I have to submit for each application; in my uncertainty, I turned to my place of work. So far, I have had three appointments working on my portfolio, and they have been invaluable in finding direction, de-stressing, and building confidence. It has also been an interesting experience to see my coworkers in a different circumstance and notice how they hold sessions versus what I do as a consultant.
The most helpful part of the session was feeling like I was not alone in the process. I have been daunted by the task at hand—I need to create a portfolio of 10-15 of my best poems—and the prestige and competition that accompanies applying for MFA programs. Knowing that I had someone also looking at my writing and working to improve it was comforting. I could be honest about what parts of my work I was unhappy with, even if I wasn’t sure how to make it better in the moment. I have also struggled to revise my work, both because it is hard to view objectively and I have been working on my confidence with writing throughout my college career, so having a space to be supported and not need at the answers was infinitely helpful in just starting the process.
I have always been a fiercely independent writer. I think I internalized the warnings about plagiarism a bit more than intended; at the beginning of college, I was hesitant to even consider peer feedback, especially if they suggested specific changes or phrases. Academia tends to emphasize the idea of “earning” success and work, and I have always wanted to earn my writing.
Working at the Writing Center has greatly helped me deconstruct this idea and realize that writing is often a collaborative process. Scheduling sessions at the Writing Center was proof of my changes, but I found myself so much more receptive to the feedback of the consultant that expected. A large factor of my acceptance was I felt guided to suggestions—a lot of the “feedback” was questions that allowed me to think about my piece in a new way. For instance, I was working with a consultant on my poem “Love in the Times of War,” which I knew was a bit aimless. The consultant asked me what I wanted to accomplish with this piece, which gave me the space to think about purpose and common themes without the consultant telling me what I should focus on as I revise.
As I went through my sessions, I opened versions of my poems and noted the various comments and things I noticed through the session with Track Changes and comments. Each poem I shared was marked with various colors and many, many comments. This process was a bit hard to swallow—some of what I considered as my best work had moments of uncertainty or awkwardness that I had not noticed beforehand. However, I also noticed moments of precision in other work I was not confident in. As I have begun my personal revision, I have looked at the mass of comments and adjusted as I see fit, often disregarding some of the comments and radically changing other parts we had not even discussed but always keeping the thoughts from my session in mind.
My experience at the Writing Center working on this portfolio was overwhelmingly positive. I have worked as a consultant for a while and have not experienced the Center as a writer as much as I should have. The consultants are kind, thoughtful, and knowledgeable in their comments and interactions, and the dedicated time to work on my writing helped me focus and find the motivation to revise. Most important though was the sense of community these sessions
brought me. I recognize that not everyone is applying to an MFA program or even focusing on writing in their studies; however, there is still value in the support from the Writing Center. I know that I am applying to my schools as an individual and will be accepted/rejected as myself, but working with the consultants made me feel like others will cry with me when I get my results (either in joy or sadness). As an applicant, writer, and person, I am not alone in this experience.