How A Spanish Professor Writes

Elaine Shenk, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish and Sociolinguistics

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
which means eccentric in Spanish

Favorite punctuation?
Dashes. I know that I shouldn’t, but I like dashes!

What are you reading now?
It’s called The Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg, and it’s all about adolescence because I have an adolescent.  I’m trying to understand him, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read about adolescence.

SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written?

ES: In college, we had this little booklet that was creative writing . I’m not a creative writer at all really, but I got the idea that I felt like writing a fictionalized account of something that had happened in my family. It was about my dad. He had a pretty bad farm accident and was sort of close to death, so I wrote it, and it was this ethereal ending where you couldn’t really tell if he died or not.  It’s bizarre, but I remember being really caught up. I don’t know if it’s just because I was a young child when it happened, or it was my brain’s way of processing that that happened to my family and the crazy impact that it had on us for the rest of my life.  So, I found myself just riveted to writing it, and I’ve never felt since or before like that.  I will never forget how I felt writing it. I was so in the flow.

SJU Writes: What is your least favorite aspect of the writing process?

ES: Trying to go back to a piece of writing that I feel is unwieldy and making it work.  Especially in my academic papers, I tend to put it all on the page and get it out there so that I end up with a twenty-page, single-space document when I actually need about a ten-page, single-spaced document.  I hate having to take sections out that I feel I worked really hard on and realizing they aren’t crucial.  

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?

ES: Revise, revise, revise. Before that, think in Spanish, not English. Then if you feel like your structures are really simple based on what you can produce in Spanish, you can always expand on that. You can put linking words to connect sentences.  But don’t take from English and try to translate into Spanish because that will never work. And then, revise, revise, revise.  It gets down to just little tiddly grammar, little pieces that aren’t that important, but they do make an impression with the overall result. I think sometimes students in my discipline feel like, “It’s just a couple accent marks or agreement.  Why does it matter if it’s really ‘o’ or ‘a’?”  But, if you work on that at the very end of your writing, you will come across as a much stronger writer.

—Hayley Burns ’20