I recently wrote a message to our team in anticipation of our summer work with students who will be writing out of their life experiences for their college applications. I share my reflection here because it provides a look inside our coaching for those who are curious to know who we are, what we do, how we think, what we talk about.
Sentence x Sentence Dispatches from the Pursuit of Good Writing
We emphasize student ownership of the writing process, and choosing a coach is a great place to start! Our best advice is to have the student visit our coach profiles to learn about our creative projects, our experiences, our curiosities, and our quirks!
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.
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 a young writer, I often felt I needed to write about something beyond myself — something accessible only to writers older, more intelligent, more talented than I was. This pressure often resulted in stagnant, dreadful writing, full of clichés.
The fall of my senior year, I spent a very long time not writing my Big College Essay. It was a project I was already supposed to know how to do — two pages with just one job: to capture, in entirety, who I was.
Every joke depends on sentence design. Just as a stand-up onstage is alert to the structure and style of delivery, I listen with students to their original ten sentences.
After learning of the delight I take in exploring the evolution of a good sentence, a friend sent me “A Stand-Up Joke is Born" from the New York Times. I didn't expect to see so many parallels between the way comedians work on a joke and the process I've developed at Hillside.