How To Write… A Guide to the New Writing Center

Harry Scholes

How does one write?

I understand this is not a question readers wish to see in a newspaper article, but it’s an important question. We like to think we know how to write eloquently; we think of it as a part of growing up, as a rite of passage. We get enough practice during our school career (maybe too much) and by the time we go out into the world we feel prepared to persuade, plea and ply anything we set our pens to. It seems as simple as riding a bike, or kicking a ball. As a result, we think that writing is something we should just know, and this can prevent us from seeking to improve it. However, there is always room for improvement, and the new Writing Centre aims to help the community at Latin do just that.

When I walked into room 505, I was treated to a warm, introspective and insightful talk with Mr. Lombardo and Ms. Lorber-Crittenden. Each is clearly passionate, motivated and driven to create a friendly institution where writing in any form can be honed and discussed. When I asked what had inspired them to found the workshop, Mr. Lombardo responded, “There are so many good writing teachers here, and I was very keen to give a space to writing, so we could exploit that.”

The new Centre is designed to “take focus away from the teachers” and the more formal, didactic structure of the classroom, to create a communal, collaborative environment where writers can share and discuss ideas, and where students “are equipped to help each other.” Ms. Lorber-Crittenden hopes it will be “a living iteration of what writing does and why language is important: not an editing centre, but a place for conversations about writing, for developing ideas and voice. After all, writing is really about communication.”

Mr. Lombardo’s inspiration came from observing the work of student editors in Polyphony HS, a national literary editing magazine for high school students (of which he is the co-founder and managing editor). “I noticed that the writing of our editors changed dramatically for the better,” he reflected. “They became far more precise as writers, because of the benefit in close reading and analysing how a piece is behaving. In articulating that, their skill improved.” He continued, “It’s really a win-win situation for tutor and student, because each helps the other out.”

 I next asked what they hoped to achieve through the centre. “We want to change the climate around writing,” Ms. Lorber-Crittenden replied. “It’s not just an academic thing, but it’s personal too.” Many do not feel comfortable being so personal in the cerebral world of academia, and the workshop will thus provide a good outlet to those who might otherwise be dissuaded from displaying their voice, not only in analytical papers, but also in college essays, poems and short stories. Creative writing is not often as represented in the school curriculum, and the Centre will thus provide a safe and encouraging place for students to honestly display their work. “It will be less scary,” said Lorber-Crittenden. “It’ll strengthen the community, too. It’s not just for experts and you don’t have to be perfect. Nor is this the best place to come if you think you are, because then you won’t learn anything. It will provide a good combination of personal and intellectual growth.”

Mr. Lombardo complemented this, remarking, “When my first book came out, my life changed completely. Suddenly I had a great way to connect with my humanity. People had to accept that I had put words to my life, that I had gone some way towards self-realisation.” Now he hopes to share that with others. “We hope to work with people of different and diverse ideas, so that everyone can learn from everyone else, with no formal template.

So what will be the format of the tutoring centre? Initially, it will be a structured tutoring program where Upper School students teach Middle School students, but Mr. Lombardo hopes it will branch out beyond this to peer teaching and an informal, chat-room setting. “Everyone has a different specialty, and I envision a place where students could come in to discuss that specialty with an expert. For example, if somebody wanted to talk about poetry with Ms. McGlinn, it would be a lot easier to drop in and have an informal discussion.” Before long, he hopes the Centre will become a place of truly collective learning irrespective of age or status. “What I look forward to,” he commented, gesturing to the bare and cosy space with a beautiful panorama, “is the first time I see a sophomore tutoring a senior.” This may be a difficult thing to picture, but the new Centre will seek to ensure that it is a relaxed place where anyone can find help from anyone else. Other possible additions include video reviews of books, plays, or poems, a special extravaganza during LitFest, and extending writing aid to others in the school; not only to Upper Schoolers, but also to faculty, alums, and even parents’ writing.

 This new and engaging addition to the school’s facilities provides an invaluable resource and outlet for our talent in the written word. We ought to count ourselves fortunate to have such a dedicated, enthusiastic faculty, and an opportunity most other schools could only dream of. Whatever your verse, whatever your voice, there will always be a place for your skills in this language of ours, and the new Writing Centre will help to cultivate and enhance your ideas.