I asked her to draw a map. This is something I do sometimes when a student tells me they have nothing to write about. I have them draw their hometown or a place they know well. I have them sketch landmarks and points of interest. No detail is too small. At this early stage in the writing process, our work is to deal with self-doubt by gathering possibilities.
The lights of the theater dimmed and all I could think was, "Is this really a good idea?" From a young age, I’d believed I was destined for a different kind of performance. But here I was, at age twenty-seven, backstage at Improv Boston, about to perform a sketch comedy show. Three years later, I would quit my electrical engineering job to pursue writing and teaching full time.
My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon and, for years, worked as a seamstress in a uniform factory. By the time I was born, she lived alone in the three-bedroom duplex. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered an entire room dedicated to frivolities: a mannequin, a collection of yardsticks, and notebooks written in a cryptic hand.
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.
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.