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 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.
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.
At our new online home, we’re delighted to share how we look at writing and what it can mean for the writer. Our decade of coaching has deepened our belief in the enduring personal growth a writer experiences in the journey between the blank page and the final draft.
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.
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.