How English Professors Write

Ann E. Green, Ph.D.
English Professor

Quick Facts:

Pen or pencil?
Straight on the computer or pen

Favorite word?
Yes

Favorite music to write to?
Beyoncé when writing comments

Favorite punctuation mark?
Semicolon


SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you do right now?
AG: At the moment, because I am president of the Faculty Senate, I write a lot of memos and emails so I would say my work writing is instrumental. For my creative writing, I took a spiritual writing course over the summer and I try to write 3 pages every day, but I’m not always successful.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?
AG: I really love revision. I really love structural revision. I really love, after I’ve written a good chunk, or writing and looking over it, or having someone else look over it with me and I find a new structure for it because it often takes me a long time to figure out what I need to say. So if I write something long, I may figure out that I’m really supposed to start in the middle and I cut a lot and write more.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?
AG: The way my life works right now, I always have to find time to write as soon as I can even if it’s bad. And if I know I have a deadline, I block out time to write.

SJU Writes: What’s the best or most difficult thing you’ve ever written in your life?
AG: I wrote my dad’s eulogy and that was in December and I wrote it really quickly. I wrote it in one draft and I think I was able to do that because I had written a lot about my dad when he was alive so, in that moment I was proud to write that eulogy. To try and capture what Dad was for eighty-two years was also really challenging. And to try to speak to an audience of people who knew him but knew him in different contexts, like people that knew him since he was a little kid, people he worked with at different times and then my sister and my mother—it was difficult.

SJU Writes: Who’s the best or most influential writing teacher you have ever had?
AG:I had freshman studies in fiction writing and it was a year-long course with a woman named Myra Goldberg. She was my advisor, so I met with her every week to talk about writing and about college and she really appreciated what I was trying to do and that I didn’t really fit in at my college because it was an elite place, and I didn’t have parents that went to college. She was the best listener as a writing teacher; She is a great writing teacher.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?
AG: Read a lot. Read everything—the good and the bad. Get to know what other people are writing about. Find certain writers that you love and read everything by them…and also, just write. You can talk a lot about writing, but if you want to be good at it, then just do it. You have to learn by doing it. And you also have to learn by screwing it up. You’re going to write and you’re going to fail. It’s not going to be the best American novel or an “A” paper all the time, but you just have to keep doing it.

—Dominique Rolle ’18

 

How a Chief Diversity Officer Writes


Monica Nixon

Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
Serendipity.

Favorite punctuation?
The vocative comma.

Misspelled word?
Commemorate


SJU Writes: Why is writing important to work in inclusion and diversity?
MN: With concepts that can trigger immediate responses, writing can be a way through that response mechanism. Writing allows people to digest, to have an initial response—even if it’s one that negative—and to revisit. Because inclusion is so broad, being able to target how I describe this work to the aspirations of the group helps people see that this work matters and it matters to them.

SJU Writes: One of the ways I’ve noticed your use of language in inclusion and diversity work is how you use the word “minoritized.” Can you explain that term?

MN: In some cases there are groups who historically have been numerical minorities, and, given systems of power, have been on the receiving end of oppression. In others, folks may be in the numerical majority but still be in a group that experiences oppression, again given our structures of racism, sexism, ageism, a lot of different  “isms.” I think “minoritized” says something about who creates minority status, whereas “minority,” a less active descriptor, removes agency. I realize I’m just creating new jargon, but I’m trying to be more specific.

SJU Writes: What’s your favorite thing that you have written?
MN: When I was in fourth grade I entered this short story competition for the city. I don’t remember what I wrote; what I remember is that I won a prize for it and I got a ribbon and I got to pick out a pumpkin from this weird pumpkin patch at the awards ceremony. But I just remember this feeling that I wrote something, someone read it, and I got positive recognition for it. So that’s what I take away from that experience even though I don’t actually remember what I wrote.

SJU Writes: What was your most difficult writing moment?
MN: Writing my dissertation. The way my program structured dissertations was in five parts: the lit review, the problem statement, the methodology, results, and the findings. What I learned over time is that I need to outline what I want to say because I get lost in my own information. In my initial draft of my findings chapter I repeated entire sections; I was so immersed that I didn’t realize if I had already included something.

SJU Writes: How did you overcome that?
MN: One of my committee members told me not to feel bound by the artificial structure. My final draft had nine chapters because she let me create a chapter for each area of significant finding and make the structure work for me. She also reminded me I was telling a story. When she told me that, I think my jaw dropped. I ended up throwing out entire sections, which hurt, but they didn’t fit the story. I prioritized what I wanted to say and had freedom to really tell the story. I remember when I turned in the draft, I was exhausted. But with this opportunity to rethink my approach, I dived back in with all of this energy. When I turned it in again, I didn’t feel exhausted; I felt like I had accomplished something in telling these stories.

SJU Writes: Kinda like when you got the pumpkin.
MN: Exactly!

—Ann Marie Maloney ’18

How Campus Ministry Writes

Beth Forth McNamee
Assistant Director of Campus Ministry

Quick Facts

Pen or Pencil?
Pen

Favorite word?
Discernment

Favorite music to write to?
88.5 WXPN

Favorite punctuation mark?
!


SJU Writes: Can you describe the kind of writing that your job entails?
BFM: I like to make connections between Philadelphia and Camden partnerships, students, and faculty at SJU. So I write in a way that is inclusive and mostly through email. I do a lot of social media posting which forces you to distill your message clearly. Occasionally I’ll do journalistic writing for the [Campus Ministry] newsletter and the handouts for the Mass. I’ve also written for the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Hawk.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?
BFM: Emails, I just write. If it’s a little more formal, like an announcement to the university, I’ll have it sit in my draft folder for a little while. I’ll proofread it a million times. If it is something I have to generate that is more substantial, I’ll keep an electronic document, and I take time to brainstorm. I usually write the piece below where I wrote all of my brainstorming, and I’ll refer back to it. If it is something that’s being published, I will usually have other people look at it.

SJU Writes: So what I’m gathering is, that it’s a continuous process? You don’t simply sit down, and finish it in one sitting?
BFM: No—I taught as an adjunct for four semesters, and I could tell when students sat down and finished assignments in one sitting. It reads like a stream of consciousness. I strongly discourage that.

SJU Writes: Is there a particular book or article that has influenced your writing?
BFM: Reading so much fiction over time really influenced me. I read a lot of journalistic writing and some academic pieces. The more that I read, the more I have a sense of what my writing should look like.

SJU Writes: Do you have a particular favorite book?
BFM: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It talks about writing and about life.

SJU Writes: Is there a particular environment that you do your best writing in?
BFM: I don’t have a lot of writing routines at this point in my life; I feel like having a small child will take that from you. I do love a good space. I do great work in the morning—it’s when I’m at my best. I definitely need coffee. Otherwise, a good table, bright sunlight, and a computer are all I need.

— Jennifer Nessel’20

How Golf Writers Write

Tom Coyne, M.F.A.
Associate Professor of English

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
Grace

Favorite music to write to?
None. Silence.

Favorite place to write?
Coffee shops in Europe, but I hate how pretentious that sounds.


SJU Writes: How do you start your writing process? How do you get into the mindset?
TC: The way I start any writing session is just going through yesterday’s work and cleaning that up a little bit which leads me into what I want to do today. But in terms of timing and when, I’ve had to get a lot better at just starting whenever I have a moment because now I have kids and a family. Staying up all night and waiting for inspiration doesn’t fly anymore. It was a great luxury when it did.

SJU Writes: How do you overcome things like writer’s block?
TC: Writer’s block is funny. I’ve never really had experience with this thing where I sit down and can’t write anything. Touch wood. That’s never been my experience. I’ve had good writer’s block, where I’m just writing crap or things that will never see the light of day or things I’m not happy with. In terms of just sitting down and not writing, that’s just never really felt like an option to me.

SJU Writes: What do you mean by good writer’s block?
TC: I’ve been blocked from writing anything that I feel is going be good. I’ve certainly experienced that where I feel like I’m in a rut just spinning my wheels. Or I’m just working on something that I know is going nowhere. I’ve experienced that, but at least I’m still writing. At least I’m still getting something on the page. Even if I just find a sentence or two that’ll be part of something else, or will lead me off into another direction. The idea of sitting there and saying ‘I have writer’s block, so I’m not writing’ is a cop out. Writing is work, and other people don’t show up to their job and say ‘I just can’t work today.’ You just slog on. If we all sat around and waited for the perfect story, the perfect sentence or the perfect paragraph or the perfect chapter, if we’re not going to write till we have that, we wouldn’t write at all.         

SJU Writes: You just have to keep at it?
TC: You just have to keep at it. The writers who’ve ever taught me anything, or that I really admire, are writers who always kept at it.

—Rob Roy, ’19

How History Professors Write

Alison Lewin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History

Quick Facts

What’s a word you always misspell?
Florence and authority.

Do you compose on the computer or by hand?
More so on the computer but still somewhat by hand.

Favorite time to write?
Morning.


SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you currently do?
AL: Mostly I’m writing a book. Sometimes when I’m upset I jot down odd personal thoughts to get feelings out, but I haven’t written in that vein for a long time–so I guess that’s a good thing!

SJU Writes: What’s your book about?
AL: A lower middle class artist from the late 1300s named Bindino di Cialli di Travale. Near the end of his life, he wrote to his sons a lengthy narrative about events in Siena, his adopted home town. What intrigues me about Bindino is how he knows what he knows. He is a type of person we don’t hear from often. He’s not elite or knowledgeable in Latin, and yet he seems to know a lot about what’s going on. My working title for the book is “Through an Artisan’s Eye: Popular Culture and Knowledge in Siena.”

SJU Writes: Do you write with the influence of someone in mind?
AL: Yes, Duccio Balastarcci, who wrote The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth-Century Tuscan Peasant. Balastracci found records of the peasant’s family for most of the century. He has become my model for what can be done historically when you have limited access to direct sources.

SJU Writes: Was there a piece of writing that was particularly difficult for you? Why?
AL: In graduate school I had to write a short paper about a source, which normally would be a piece of cake. I just couldn’t get started on it. I had never experienced writer’s block before, but I really had it on this one. So I just decided to write my professor a letter about the source: “Dear John, I was reading this and here are some thoughts I had.” I let it sit for two days, came back to it, took out the letter part, and then handed in the paper.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?
AL: First, start with the evidence. Second, decide what question you want to answer. Third, write paragraphs in no particular order and come back later to organize them. Then, walk away and start again. Read as if you’ve never seen the paper before. Ask yourself, is this evidence forwarding my argument? Sometimes you write a really great paragraph but it doesn’t belong. You have to be willing to throw stuff out if it’s unclear or irrelevant to the paper. Last but not least, read it aloud to somebody. Ask that somebody to tell you if the paper make sense.

What I just described to you is how I write. [During the research stage,] I’ll go through and develop a shorthand of abbreviations. As I read through the evidence I’ll put a symbol next to information that resonates with me. Then I think, what’s the relationship? And then I start writing paragraphs. Sometimes I’ll print and physically cut them up so I can rearrange and see how they fit.

Nobody writes as well the first time as the third time. Nobody. That’s why you can’t write it all the night before. It takes time and reflection. If every student becomes his or her own best editor, then we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

SJU Writes: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AL: Like a lot of people, when I need to write something I dread the idea, but once I start writing I get in the beautiful flow state where I get lost and time ceases to exist.

—Courtney Brouder, ’19

How Playwrights Write

Tom Smith, ’18
Co-Head Writer/Treasurer,
Followed By a Bear Student Theater Company

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil?
Mechanical pencil.

Favorite punctuation mark?
&  (One day I’ll figure out how to draw it.)

Oxford comma or no?
Absolutely, surely, and always.

Favorite music to write to?
Tons of movie scores & soundtracks. My favorite is Jurassic Park.

 

 



SJU Writes: What kinds of writing are you focusing on right now?
TS: Colin [Mallee ‘17, co-head writer of Followed By A Bear Student Theater Company] and I are facilitating a two-act play, which we’re working on with the Followed By A Bear writing team, and our goal is to have it done by the end of the semester. I’m also in a television production class, and we’re writing and producing a TV show which will be finished by the end of the semester. Besides that, sometimes I write other short skits which I hope to film one day.

SJU Writes: What, in your opinion, is the best thing you’ve written in your life?
TS: I really like the scene I wrote for the forthcoming Night of Scenes for Followed By A Bear. It’s about two guys who are on top of a building about to jump, but they don’t know that the other is there at the same time. It’s an awkward situation that delves into black comedy as the piece gets darker and more emotional toward the end; I really liked how I handled it.

SJU Writes: How did you come up with that idea?
TS: Honestly, we had a due date for our scenes, so the night before I was just brainstorming what could make a good dramatic situation. And I thought, “Suicide’s pretty up there. How can I deconstruct that and look at it from a different angle to make it not as serious?”

SJU Writes: What is the earliest thing you remember writing?
TS: When I was in fourth grade, I really wanted to write and direct movies, so me and my buddy had this whole character that we created. He was a superhero with a hook for a hand, but the hand was a candy cane. It was the craziest thing! It was probably a fifty-page screenplay on Microsoft Word.

SJU Writes: When you’re confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it off the bat?
TS: When it comes to writing a scene or any kind of fiction, I approach it by looking at other writing that inspires me – movies that I like, fiction with similar themes. And I ask, what did and didn’t work about them? Especially finding what didn’t work. That helps a lot.

SJU Write: Do you write with the advice of a particular person in mind?
TS: Not a particular person, but other playwrights, authors, and filmmakers whose works I’ve read or seen. No good writing is done alone. You have to get as much input and do as much research as possible and see what does and doesn’t work about drama and fiction. So, I just think back to my favorite authors and what they believed and wrote about.

SJU Writes: How do you feel when you’ve completed a writing project?
TS: I tend to feel pretty proud of it. I’ll want to show it to friends, just to say, “Hey, can you give me feedback?” Even though it’s done I’ll still want to see whether or not people like it. For the most part, I’ll be proud of it, then come back to it two years later and think, “What did I just write?” 

—Rose Weldon, ’19

How Campaign Directors Write

Sean Coit, ’10
Communications Director, Sen. Chris Coons (Del.)
Former Campaign Director, Katie McGinty, ’85,

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
Sanctimonious.

Favorite place to write?
Coffee shop.

What are you reading now?
“If Nuns Ruled the World” by Jo Piazza.

Word you always misspell?
Oeuvre.


SJU Writes: How long does it usually take you to complete an assignment?
SC: I finish writing projects in my day-to-day on the campaign trail. The timeframe of a campaign is pretty darn fast, so you have to have a stump speech and work from that. Typically, I edit other people’s writing and write directly for Katie. When I have something to start, I’ll show it to her and bring in her perspective and personality.  We like to start with a couple facts and go from there, so if we’re talking about college debt, we start with the average debt for a Pennsylvania college graduate, for example.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of your various writing processes? What is fun for you?
SC: There’s this saying that all politics is local. My favorite part of writing is when we’re able to find a local issue that really matters to people, and hitting that well. Katie actually met an 84 year old grandmother on the trail, whose daughter and  granddaughter had student loan debt. We didn’t expect to talk to her about student loans, but sure enough that’s what we talked about. So Katie opened her speech that day with that woman’s story. That’s what we want to doㅡto find a real life example to illustrate issues in a relatable way. Anyone can rattle off facts. It’s important to find the real people behind the facts.

SJU Writes: What is the hardest part about writing?
SC: Particularly in politics, you never want to be “out of touch.”  At the end of the day, what we’re doing is talking to people about their world. The difficult thing is staying aware. If Katie’s in Pittsburgh and something important happened, we want to get it in our remarks.When she’s ready to get on stage, I’ll quickly check Twitter.If there’s breaking news, I’ll grab her and say “we need to change this section of your speech.” You never want to just say “it’s great to be in Scranton, it’s great to be in Philadelphia!”

SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written?
SC: Well it certainly wasn’t in college! Oddly enough, it was a eulogy. I was working for Senator Patty Murray of Washington, when the former Speaker of the House Tom Foley, also from Washington, passed away. Senator Murray went to the funeral. I did a lot of research and ended up knowing a lot about him. I talked to Senator Murray to get her input and stories about him. He had been in Congress for a long time when she first entered the Senate and he actually took her in and showed her around. The story she told me was the story I used to end the whole thing.

SJU Writes: Does anyone’s advice echo in your head?
SC: As far as teachers, Dr. [Jenny] Spinner was too good to me. Also Fr. [Patrick] Samway, a Jesuit. I think more than anything else, I try to copy my favorite writers. I’ve always loved reading the newspaper, even as a kid, and I still love reading through to see all the different ways people make their arguments. If I see  a really good argument, I’ll try to remember how they made it.

—Julian Lutz, ’19

How Management Professors Write

Lisa Nelson, D.Sc.
Visiting Instructor of Management

Quick Facts

Favorite place to write?
A 35-year-old rust-colored velvet chair that belonged to my late grandmother.

Favorite word?
The pop culture fanatic and marketing major in me appreciates a nice portmanteau–except when it comes to names, like J-Lo and Brangelina.

What are you reading now?
“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco.


SJU Writes: What types of writing do you do normally?
LN: The majority of my writing is academic. So, right now, I’m writing chapters on a historical figure in management, Mary Parker Follet, and the theories, concepts and philosophies she has espoused.

The other types of writing are very operational: writing for students and crafting emails in a way so that you are giving instruction and guidance.

SJU Writes: What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
LN: The best thing I ever wrote was probably in the first grade. I had to write about why my mom was the best mom in the world. That was good. You scoff, but I would argue that some of the best things that I ever wrote were very early in my appreciation for language.

I would also say my rejection letters.You have to walk the fine line between saying “You’re not right for this particular job” and “Here’s some coaching and encouragement because you’re going to do it someday!”

SJU Writes: What or who have been some of your greatest influences?
LN: My sophomore English teacher, Gene Ann Bradley. She didn’t just teach me how to use a semicolon. She taught me all the interesting aspects of language and how to use language. I appreciate the teachers who taught me how writing and language can serve justice. I would say a transformational experience for me was reading Richard Wright’s Native Son. As I moved on in college, I started to read more and more experiential books. I started to read more about writing for social justice, writing for purpose and writing for activism. I would not call myself an activist, but I appreciate the use of language in that regard.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?
LN: Simplify and be patient. One of the elegant things about business writing is that it’s a whole different skill. When you learn creative writing, you learn clever and florid language, imagery and impact. Business writing, in my view, and some people think I’m nuts for it, can be just as exciting. You are writing for impact; you are writing to illicit a reaction. You should leave your reader energized and ready to act. Describe, theorize, analyze and recommend.  But I think students need to be patient with themselves. We’re taught in school to be elaborate and expressive, whereas in business writing we’re taught to do the same, but with more pertinence. It takes time.

—Michael Kokias, ’19