Desire Paths; or, The Audacity to Wander

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My writing experience continues to show me that I am much more of a reviser than a writer. I not only complete multiple iterations of every writing opportunity, but I also am constantly revising my own writing process and the way I view writing instruction. Despite my best efforts to establish a set of writing habits or a ritual to follow that culminates with my “best” work, I find the way I engage each writing opportunity looks different.

During my undergraduate career, this lack of a clear path to follow proved incredibly frustrating. I tried putting on the same piece of music each time I began writing to create an aural cue for my brain to warm up and get ready; I tried free writing and mind mapping; I rented rooms in the UCI Science Library and spent hours – all while listening to the same piece of music – walking around the room and outlining my essay on a whiteboard with different colored markers; I tried reverse outlining rough drafts and reordering paragraphs, sentences, and phrases. At the time, I did not recognize that I was utilizing a variety of different techniques for different learning styles. Even though I would ultimately feel confident in what I wrote, I longed to discover the mythological process.

Gradually, however, I grew increasingly comfortable with this fluidity because I revised how I saw my own writing habits. I recognized that I did not need to create a writing system with a clear series of codified steps to follow. Writing within and across disciplinary boundaries for different audiences is far too complicated to allow for a simple plug-and-play formula.

Coming to understand and even appreciate my ever-changing writing process greatly influences my work in The Writing Center. New writing-center staff members, especially peer tutors, sometimes feel as though they must become guides who lead students along the writing path. I know I felt this pressure when I first started working as a peer-writing tutor at UCI. To counter this mentality, training in my center focuses on the fact that writing-center practitioners collaborate with students and introduce them to the tools that can help them develop their own singular voices. After all, no one brainstorms, outlines, writes, or revises in the same way. Therefore, my team and I work to find innovative approaches to writing instruction that students can add to their compositional toolkit and utilize how and when they see fit.  

In my center, my team and I work to revise how students think about writing in order to show them the value of not just the words they write, but how they come to write them

While listening to Jackie Grutsch McKinney's keynote address at the recent Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) conference at Virginia Commonwealth University, I was introduced to a concept that provides a productive metaphor for my experience as a writer as well as the mission of my writing center: desire paths. Desire paths are formed when individuals venture off established paved routes to form a new path, one that usually provides a shortcut to their destination (see the photo above).

Unlike those who have the audacity -  as well as a flagrant disregard for quality landscaping - to step off established routes to form a desire path, I spent much of my educational career longing to discover the official (and Strunk and White approved) writing path I could follow every time I sat down to write. To my undergraudte self, the writing process was a path forged by others to which I owed due reverance. 

As a writing-center practitioner, I now work with my team to empower students and give them the audacity I lacked in my earlier days as a writer, the audacity to forge their own desire path(s) through the writing process

~

Randall Sessler