The Rolling Stones and Working in the Writing Center by Tyler Smith

posted Nov 30, 2017, 9:54 AM by Writing Center
For the past couple weeks—be it laziness, admiration, or gross indifference—when I get into my Jeep to drive the commute down the 215, only one song has played over the radio. That song? “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones.

There’s a moment in this song after Jagger sings the refrain a few times where he follows it with, “But if you try sometimes well you just might find / you get what you need.” That transition when The Stones go from singing about what you want to what you need is always a powerful moment for me because, sadly, it brings back memories of my childhood.

I say sadly not because my childhood was particularly sad or sorrow filled; on the contrary, it was pretty damn good. I say sadly because I was one of those kids. You know the type, the ones that run through the grocery store with their parents and, well, point out everything that they want under the sun, and if they don’t get it, there’s suddenly an operetta of screams that is staged that borders, one might suspect, on a pivotal life moment.

Sadly, with me, that was not the case; I usually got what I wanted. Although I got what I wanted most of the time, what I needed was a swift kick in the butt. And that brings me to the Writing Center.

How, exactly? you might ask.

When I started out in a writing center back in Wisconsin, I wanted to approach consulting sessions the same—look at the introduction, the body, and the conclusion to make sure they were clear and concise and on point with the topic.

Initially, this approach served me well because, as many of us know, undergraduate writing can be immensely formulaic in its design and construction. My duty, then, as a consultant was to, as I saw it, get a writer’s paper up to code or guide it to where it needed to be.

My Achilles heel, or loose spoke in the wheel (I’m a wheelchair user), then, was working with multilingual writers. For the life of me, I could not approach these particular writers in the same manner as I approached native speaking writers. Oftentimes with these writers, their writing was jumbled, articles and prepositions were either too plentiful or missing altogether, and sometimes the thesis couldn’t be found even if the writer pointed to it.

After a semester or two of consulting on papers in this way, I realized that the problem wasn’t in the language barrier with multilingual writers (I mean, it was but wasn’t), rather it was me. My approach to consulting on papers was off key.

If you think about musicality for a second with The Rolling Stones, it makes sense that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” sounds nothing like “Paint It Black.” Fundamentally, they are two different songs. In terms of tone, content, and sound, they are so far apart that they do not even register on the same note together.

Similarly, no two sessions will ever be the same. Sure, similar movements and influences will sometimes creep in to separate writings, but, invariably, each session is like a new song; it has its own set of elements and stylistics that make it unique. As such, each consulting session should be approached from an individual standpoint, and the focus should not be on how to get this paper where it needs to go, but rather how to improve upon what it’s already doing.

Quite simply, when working in the Writing Center, think not about what you want to happen in a particular session (because that invariably will not happen or will happen in an entirely different way), rather think about what might need to happen in regards to a piece of writing you come across and how you can, in that moment, improve that writing in its own right.

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