I’ve been tickled by the arrival of Chat GPT, the sleek, A.I. algorithm that can transform our jumbled brainstorms into pristine sentences. I’ve been asked if I was worried, but I’m not terribly concerned. In fact, Chat GPT and I have something in common: the “chat” element.
Sentence x Sentence Dispatches from the Pursuit of Good Writing
A student of mine once wrote about an art assignment that involved a blank canvas, paint, and a salt shaker. These were his tools. His purpose: to let process dictate a subject — what would he see by experimenting with these materials?
The first thing she saw was the open kitchen cupboards. Then she heard a crunch underfoot. She looked up and saw the window — which opened onto a fire escape — ajar. And she knew, with a shiver, that she had a problem.
I once helped a college applicant who wrote beautifully about a terrible place to swim. It was a stretch of bay marked by strong currents, stinging sea lice, and a pungent smell when the tide stole the water altogether.
I’ve always known how overwhelming the college application process can be, but this is the first time I’ve experienced it firsthand with my own child. I’m continually struck by the level of accompanying stress, but what I didn’t see coming? The stress I would feel as her parent.
I tend to ask a lot of questions, especially of college-application writers. If you’re talking about preparing for a robotics competition, then I want to know where your team gathered, what songs you jammed to while you drew the designs, and the fact that you nicknamed the robot “Sparky.”
Early in the writing process, performing is my worst enemy. The cursor keeps blinking while I keep staring. The problem in these moments is that I’ve leapfrogged over writing, straight to publishing, and to what I think the audience wants from the final draft. And then … I’m frozen.
As we come face-to-face with the anxiety of where this essay is going, I’m reminded of trying to walk my son to school on time. Once we hit the street, he’s fascinated by everything he sees. Don’t tell my son, or I'll despair of ever getting him to school on time, but college essay writers should be like him!
I often imagine college essays as first-impression outfits. Sure, it’s nice to be stylish, but college admissions officers don’t need to see you in your wildest clothes. If you look in your closet, though, and see no wild outfits at all, that doesn’t mean you have nothing to wear.
One of the most helpful things that a parent can offer is context and perspective. The writers always know what is most meaningful to them. But in most cases, a parent has the ability to provide a unique view of the child’s experience. There are some benefits that come with age, after all!
Here’s an incomplete list of things we don’t typically think about when we think about writing: the doodled-on diner napkins, the hastily-scribbled notes on the backs of receipts, the three cryptic words on a palm: “mulch, apple, Volkswagen.” The scattered moments of potentially promising thought.
When I started writing in elementary school, the stories flowed out of me like magic. I remember hunching over my paper, scribbling down each chapter as fast as I could. Writing was fun and effortless and — at least the way I remember it — I never agonized over ideas or phrasing.