When You’ve Run Out of Ideas

We all know that feeling of writer’s block. It sets in right around the 14th page of a required 15-page paper. Just when you’ve gotten to a great point in your short story or when that cursor is blinking on a completely blank screen. Writer’s block always sets in at the most inopportune time and can sometimes linger to the point where you’re not even sure you’ll have any more ideas. I have written for many different outlets ranging from business social media to creative writing, and sometimes I just feel like I won’t ever think of that next great tweet or short story.

What’s a writer to do? I’ve hit this wall plenty of times and sometimes it has led me to give up on a project completely. I don’t want that to happen to you, so over the years I’ve developed some ways to keep myself from getting completely off track, and I thought I would share them.


Source: The Collaborative Writer

Brainstorm. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind, you never know when a great idea will hit. Sometimes I will have the craziest dream that I know could be turned into a great short story, or I’m driving the hour-long ride home and I’ll think of an idea for something to blog about. I always have to have a pen and paper nearby so that I can write down anything and everything that comes to mind. Especially with dreams, they’re always vibrantly painted on the back of my eyelids when I wake up, but as the day goes on the details become fuzzier and fuzzier. So, I find it’s best to write everything down in as much detail as I can right when I wake up. (more…)

Dive In: A Culture Shock Resource

Culture is an iceberg. Most of what we immediately think of is just what’s above the waterline – food, music, holidays. But so much of the cultural norms are hidden below the surface, and it can be overwhelming to try and navigate all the hidden expectations when you’re thrown into foreign waters. To ease the experience, CAITLAH (Center for Applied Inclusive Teaching and Learning in the Arts and Humanities) created Dive In with the help of WRAC faculty member Cheryl Caesar.

Dive In is a forum where students can talk about their experiences with culture shock in the MSU community. This website gives students an outlet to discuss the differences in culture and to express their struggles in acclimating to MSU’s culture.

dive in website screenshot

Over the years, Caesar has asked her first-year writing students to expand their audience beyond their classmates, to write beyond their culture bubble. For First-Year Writing classes at MSU, this is a ubiquitous goal. However, Caesar wanted more for her students. “ I got tired of asking them to imagine they were writing for a particular audience — why not do it for real?”

In 2012, Caesar submitted an idea to the FYW Program for a new pilot curriculum based on culture shock. Part of the curriculum included a written personal narrative about students’ experience with culture shock. The necessity for the Dive In website came later, “I began receiving so much wonderful, thoughtful and creative material that I could not just keep it to our classroom,” Caesar explained. She began dreaming up a website that encompassed campus and beyond, stock full of information on various cultures as well as local and campus resources.

The project quickly gained traction and soon other MSU staff and students jumped on board. “A senior in Teacher Education, Caren Kadri, is interested in taking it on as a research project. Also, two groups of students from Kate Fedewa’s WRA 150 are doing research in order to contribute profiles and FAQ. One group, headed by Alex Heavin, will be presenting this research at UURAF (University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum) in April,” said Caesar.

The heart of the website though, is student stories. One such story comes from Q:
“Living in a different culture is like a double edged sword. Not only people can learn another culture, but they also can feel culture shock as I had. I still have a language problem, but I am better in English now than I was before. And I have learned about American behavior such as eye contact and have become used to it; so I can respond to people while they are talking, even sometimes other people avoid my eye contact while I’m talking. Moreover, I have found many entertainments with friends in the US besides my playing style in Korea, so I can spend and hang out with others more time. Fears can make your situation worse. Do you want to make new friends? Have a little courage.”

Currently, Dive In has been a great tool for students in FYW; however, Caesar would like the site to be more widely known and used by students, campus organizations, and professors. “I would like to see it known to all new students [. . .] And I would like students to take it over as their own forum, with a chat room and whatever else they might envision,” she said. Caesar is hoping to extend the reach of the project by one day getting the website to become part of orientation or become a freshman seminar.

You can get involved by writing about your own experiences, offering comments or suggestions, or sharing resources on culture shock (such as events, articles, and FAQs). Caesar can be contacted at caesarc@msu.edu.

Seeking Communication Management Interns

WRAC has been very fortunate to have three outstanding interns for the past several months who have been steadily growing and cultivating our online community. Dan Nufer, Noelle Sciarini, and Vanessa Levin-Pompetzki are the department’s second group of Communications Management Interns and they have done outstanding work maintaining and expanding WRAC’s presence on the web and in social networks. Unfortunately for us, Dan and Vanessa will be moving on after this semester, so the search is on for someone to fill their very big shoes for summer and fall. They still have some time left this semester, so Dan, Noelle, and Vanessa took a moment to talk about the internship, what it entails and what they’re taking away from it:



If you’re interested in being one of the WRAC Communications Management Interns for summer or fall 2011, or just want more information, contact Laura Julier (julier@msu.edu). Complete details about the position are available below.


Community Builders: WRAC’s First Interns

WRAC’s redesigned website launched this past September, built around features that demand a great deal of attention and maintenance. Without someone watching over them, social media venues stagnate and a blog quickly grows stale. To avoid this common mistake and ensure that fresh and interesting content be produced on a regular basis, WRAC developed a communications strategy that outlines what types of content needs to be produced, sets production timetables to be followed, and establishes responsibility for creating the content: the Communications Management Intern.

As described in the communications strategy, the intern is to be recruited from the vast talent pool that is the Professional Writing program, and has the primary responsibility of listening: talking regularly to department administrators and staff, maintaining office hours during which anyone may drop in and talk, and paying attention to listservs and social networks where faculty and students regularly discuss their work. What the intern learns through listening becomes fodder for blog posts, social networking messages, and an official department calendar and newsletter.

As the fall 2010 semester ends, so does the tenure of WRAC’s first Communications Management Interns, Ali White and Laurel Sutherland. If you have enjoyed a story on WRAC’s new blog, a post or event on WRAC’s new Facebook page, or a tweet or conversation on WRAC’s Twitter feed, you have these two outstanding Professional Writing students to thank. They have helped grow and maintain these new communities and have established a number of precedents for all interns going forward, including an editorial workflow and a style guide.

As the end of the semester neared and their replacements needed to be recruited, Ali and Laurel put together this short video describing their work as interns:

We asked Ali and Laurel each to identify a piece of writing they prepared this semester and reflect on what they learned and why it was significant to them.

Laurel Sutherland – This semester, I learned a lot about communicating, writing, and editing. I enjoyed connecting with the WRAC department through each piece I had the opportunity to write, but there is one piece that I am especially proud of. In October, I wrote “Student Interns Involved in the Community.” This piece stands out to me because it aligns wonderfully with WRAC’s communication strategy: it showcases the skills of WRAC students, illustrates their involvement in the community, and the dynamic, professional experiences they are gaining during their time in the Professional Writing program.

While writing the piece, I had the opportunity to work with several primary sources. I learned a lot from listening to what the students had to say about their internships and synthesizing their diverse set of experiences into an informative, engaging, and effective piece of writing. I liked the piece because it showcased accomplishments of students doing really important work in the community. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write about the way PW students are learning through real world experiences (while gaining valuable writing experience of my own!).

Ali White – I wrote many different pieces this semester, from short summaries of conference attendances to long analyses of projects in WRAC courses. It’s difficult to say which piece I’m the most proud of. The two pieces I wrote about the 4Cs conference–”Malea Powell Brings Big Changes as Program Chair” and “Creating the Schedule”–were the ones I spent the most time on, from the initial interview to the review process. I feel that the first piece in particular communicates what we do in WRAC: as students and faculty we are creating big changes and trying to cross boundaries.

The most exciting aspect of these pieces was having the chance to meet with Malea and Daisy Levy, and to see their enthusiasm for the conference. Although it keeps them extremely busy, they are genuinely excited about it. I got to see the behind-the-scenes processes of the conference, and I enjoyed taking photos of their organizational methods. The most difficult component was understanding the diverse audiences of the pieces, inside and outside of WRAC; Malea and Daisy are the primary stakeholders, but the changes made in the 4Cs will affect many of the faculty and graduates who plan on attending or presenting at the conference.

Finally, these two pieces went through our workflow and the editorial process more thoroughly than any other pieces I wrote. I feel my writing was developed and improved, along with my content and organization. It was helpful that there was a lot of time available before actually posting the material, allowing several edits and changes to be made.

Ali and Laurel both did outstanding work producing content, building community, and establishing editorial procedure during their tenure as Communications Management Interns. They leave big shoes to fill, and the next interns – Dan Nufer, Vanessa Levin-Pompetzki, and Noelle Sciarini – will benefit greatly from the precedents and examples established by Ali and Laurel.

Seeking Communications Management Interns

WRAC has been very fortunate to have two outstanding interns for the past several months who have been steadily growing and cultivating our online community.  Alexandra (Ali) White and Laurel Sutherland are the department’s first Communications Management Interns and they have done outstanding work getting WRAC’s presence on the web and in social networks established and engaged.  Unfortunately for us, both Ali and Laurel will be moving on after this semester, so the search is on for two people to fill their very big shoes.

They still have some time left this semester, so Ali and Laurel took a moment to talk about the internship, what it entails and what they’re taking away from it:

Complete details about the position are available below.  If you’re interested in being one of the WRAC Communications Management Interns for spring or summer 2011, or just want more information, contact Mike McLeod or Laura Julier.

Communications Management Intern

Hours: Approximately 10 hrs/week
Start Date: January 3, 2011
End Date: May 13, 2011 with a possibility of extending to other semesters
Supervisor: Michael McLeod


The Communications Management Intern of the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures department is responsible for implementing and maintaining both inter- and extra-departmental communication. This includes, but isn’t limited to, developing promotional materials (web content, press releases, etc) and sustaining an active departmental presence inside social networks. This position requires a person who is outgoing and sociable and actively engaged with faculty, staff, students, and the public. Hours dependent on academic program’s internship requirements, if any, but are ideally 10 hours per week.
**Please note this is an unpaid internship.


  1. Working with a content management system;
  2. Actively listening to “channels” of conversation (face-to-face, email, Facebook, Twitter, listserv, etc.) for significant and interesting conversations or observations amongst program members
  3. Attendance at and documentation of program events
  4. Researching stories by communicating with primary sources
  5. Writing in multiple genres (listserv messages, blog posts, press releases, social media updates, etc.) and cross-promoting that writing in other mediums
  6. Maintaining regular office hours

Required Qualifications

  • Outgoing and social personality
  • Attendance of and participation in Writers’ Bloc events
  • Presence in and working knowledge of social networks (esp. Facebook and Twitter)
  • Ability to edit and manipulate images (Photoshop, Gimp, Picnik, etc.)
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office
  • Reference from at least one Professional Writing instructor

Desired Qualifications

  • Experience writing in xHTML and CSS
  • PW junior or senior, or graduate student
  • Ability to write in and maintain WordPress
  • Advanced Acrobat PDF creation skills

Application Process

Submit resume (with references), cover letter, and sample press release (or similar professional writing sample) to Michael McLeod by December 15, 2010 (only if applying for Spring 2011; an announcement of summer deadlines will be announced as that semester gets closer).

New Videos Describe Professional Writing Courses

Professional Writing faculty and students talk about some of the courses in the PW curriculum in these videos–produced over the summer of 2010 by PW alum Ben Froese with interviews conducted in April by PW alum Sarah Aldrich–that are now linked to the program’s website. The videos are an effort to get richer, more personal narratives and descriptions of courses to majors and other students interested in the major. Students in Professor Bump Halbritter’s WRA 417 are redesigning and producing five more videos this semester.

WRA 202 Introduction to Professional Writing, with Dr. Jeff Grabill and PW alums Ainsley Elder and Jennifer Wilkinson:

WRA 260 Rhetoric & Persuation, with Dr. Stuart Blythe:

WRA 308 Invention in Writing, with Dr. Leonora Smith:


“Phone is the New Pencil”

The results of a survey conducted this past spring have been released by the WIDE Research Center. Researchers surveyed first-year writing students from institutions across the country examining their writing behaviors, particularly the types of writing they do most often and the types they value the most. Entitled “Revisualizing Composition: Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students,” research partners found the following:

Working from the assumption that students lead complex writing lives, this study is interested in a broad range of writing practices and values both for the classroom and beyond it, as well as the technologies, collaborators, spaces, and audiences they draw upon in writing. Initial findings include the following:

  • SMS texts (i.e., texts using short message services on mobile devices), emails, and lecture notes are three of the most frequently written genres (or types) of writing
  • SMS texts and academic writing are the most frequently valued genres
  • Some electronic genres written frequently by participants, such as writing in social networking environments, are not valued highly
  • Students’ write for personal fulfillment nearly as often as for school assignments
  • Institution type is related in a meaningful way to the writing experiences of participants, particularly what they write and the technologies used
  • Digital writing platforms–cell phones, Facebook, email–are frequently associated with writing done most often
  • Students mostly write alone, and writing alone is valued over writing collaboratively

These findings, along with others reported in this white paper, shed light on the writing practices and values of contemporary college students. In particular, these findings point to the pervasiveness of writing in the lives of our participants and the importance of hand-held devices like mobile phones as a writing platform.

The complete findings have been published in a white paper that can be found at the WIDE website or downloaded (PDF, 766 KB). Comments or questions can be directed to Jeff Grabill, WRAC professor and WIDE co-director, or Stacey Pigg, PhD candidate in Rhetoric & Writing.

Updated (10/07/2010):

The study has been making its way through local and national media: