Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques
Tip # 3 The Writing Process
I will update this page as new posts are published.
Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!
Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques
Tip # 3 The Writing Process
I will update this page as new posts are published.
Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!
This might be the most important tip that I will share with you because it speaks to confidence. Believing you can write a great essay is the very first step to writing a great essay. Measured confidence can take you pretty far because you won’t be afraid to fail. You’ll just dust yourself off and sharpen your pencil again.
The beauty of the college essay is that it remains hidden until you decide to release it into the world. If you hate what you’ve written, you don’t have to submit it. It’s that simple. So go for it!
You must remember that writing is like anything else. Baseball players don’t show up at The World Series final game without practicing (a ton). Pianist don’t show up at Carnegie Hall without practicing (a ton). Teachers don’t show up to the classroom – Doctors don’t show up for surgery – Magicians don’t show up to the stage – Preachers don’t show up to the pulpit without a ton of preparation.
When you sit down to write your essay, remember that you are very likely a beginner. This means that it might be challenging in ways you didn’t expect. Just keep writing and revising. You will get there!
Here is what Ira Glass has to say about being a beginner…
So trust your writerly instincts and get busy creating that first draft!
P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.
For the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing about the dreaded college application essay. Most students not only dread it, but actually fear it.
No, really. It’s worse than monsters under the bed even. How do you transform nothing into the most amazing story ever (and in 500 words or less)?
Not everyone can afford to hire an essay tutor, so here are some things to think about.
Write two drafts before you show it to anyone. The first draft will never be your best work. Magical writing happens in revision.
Read your essay out loud. Trust me. This is an amazing (and very inexpensive) way to find inconsistencies, over-used words, and grammatical errors.
Have some one else read your essay. After they read it, ask them these questions:
These questions will help you see the strengths and weaknesses in your essay. It’s important to remember that this is not a time to explain to the reader why things were or were not the way they seemed. It’s a time to reflect on what the reader’s take-away was and if that was your intention. Remember that you will not have the opportunity to “explain” any aspect of your essay to the review committee. It will have to stand on its own.
Then revise, revise, revise.
Happy Writing (and revising!)
P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.
It’s obvious what the hero’s journey is as an overall story idea where the main character goes on a quest or possibly runs away from a quest. But somewhere (and I cannot remember where, sorry smart person who said it first) I heard it spelled out. Lightbulb Moment.
Here’s breakdown–you can think of it as a map for the hero’s journey:
This makes me think of almost every Disney animated movie but especially Kung Fu Panda.
I have not attended this workshop yet – but I will soon because I just got accepted yesterday. Yea! It promises to be amazing! Check it out…
One of my very sweet, and possibly delusional friends, mentioned that if I ever get famous enough for Mr. Jenks to
admit claim he’s worked with me, my name would appear below Kurt Vonnegut. That would not be awful! 😉
The class will meet every day for four days, with a morning workshop and an afternoon seminar focused on craft. For the seminar, there will be reading assignments and study of works by well-known writers. Each participant will have one manuscript workshopped in class and a second manuscript reviewed for an individual conference with Tom. We will study storytelling and the formal elements of fiction, including voice, point of view, characterization, imagery, plot, and theme. Attention will also be given to scene building, sentence making, and the dramatic movement of descriptive writing.
Enrollment is limited to twelve participants. (Acceptance into the class will be based on evaluation of a submitted manuscript.)
San Francisco January 15—18, 2015
San Francisco January 29—February 1, 2015
San Francisco February 26—March 1, 2015
November 15, 2014
- Please send an email to Workshops.
- The classes often fill quickly, well before the application deadlines, so if you’re interested in a class, we encourage you to contact us promptly.
WRITERS EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY TOM JENKS INCLUDE:
T. Coraghessen Boyle
Robert Olen Butler
E. L. Doctorow
Min Jin Lee
Joyce Carol Oates
|Jayne Anne Phillips
Kirstin Valdez Quade
John Edgar Wideman
If you enjoyed this post, you can read about other workshops here.
Over the past few posts, I’ve been chronicling my experiences at various writers conferences and workshops. You can check out the entire lineup here.
Many workshops offer the chance for participants to read their work aloud to a sympathetic and engaged group of readers. They will even clap loudly for you at the end, no matter how eloquently (or not) you were able to share your words.
I first realized that doing a reading was a possibility for me at the Yale Writers’ Conference a year and a half ago. Our workshop leader made the announcement as if she were adding broccoli to the lunch menu, “Oh, and by the way, you’ll all have a chance to do a reading. I suggest you try it. It’ll be good for you.”
That caught me completely off-guard. As you might have read here, insecurity ushered in my application for the Yale workshop. I mean, it’s Yale, right. And, as if submitting my novice work to be read and critiqued by others wasn’t brave enough, I was being encouraged to read it aloud. Where was that little tidbit in the application materials?
Honestly, the only reason I did it was so that, one day, when someone asks me if I have ever done a reading, I can answer, “Why yes actually, my first-ever reading was at Yale.” Hopefully, I won’t have to clarify, “Yes, the one in New Haven.”
So here’s what I learned about readings.
Here is Yale. The first time.
And here is One Story…see how I am getting more comfortable? Practice makes comfort.
At One Story, I read a very personal piece–a poem about a friend’s suicide. Even though I wrote it about 3 years ago, I had not read it aloud before. This is a really important thing to consider. I knew this audience provided a safe, accepting place for me to read this very private poem and I wanted to share it. But, I broke down and cried half-way through. Someone in the audience reminded me to breathe and my fellow writers were extremely supportive, waiting for me to catch my breath. I wiped my eyes, sucked in a deep breath, and made it through the piece. But it was hard. Brave and hard. I have wondered if I should have read something else. I’ll never know if it was the right choice. I do know that everyone was gracious after and I hope maybe my words touched someone in the audience. A few people cried right along with me. I will forever be grateful for that.
So, if you get a chance to do a reading, do it! And if you participate in a writing group, consider making reading aloud part of the meeting. Each writer can just read a few pages–it doesn’t have to be the whole piece. Words have a different echo when they are thrown out to grab oxygen than when they are simply lying flat on the page. Reading them aloud will make you a better writer. Pinky swear!
It’s also important to attend readings of authors you admire. It’s a chance to thank them for the many hours they spend toiling away on a story that has touched you. And it’s often a chance to meet them and get them to sign your book. Squee! It really is important to become a part of the larger writing universe. We can’t spend all of our time at our lily pads in our own little corner of the pond. Reading and attending readings is a great way to accomplish that.
When I decided that I actually am a “for-real” writer, I ordered The New Yorker because in order to be a “for-real” writer one must read The New Yorker. Right? R.I.G.H.T.
Flipping through the pages kind of felt like my 8-year-old-self wearing my mother’s high heeled shoes, mink stole, droopy pearl earrings, and possibly my grandmother’s satin opera gloves. But then I saw it–an ad for the Yale Writers’ Conference. I might have even giggled. It certainly sounded marvelous but I hesitated, thinking “Yale? Who are you kidding?”
Ultimately I thought, “Why not!”
I showed the ad to my husband. When he didn’t laugh, I took it as a sign that the universe was pushing my newly established writer-self out of the nest to test out my pencil wings.
So, I applied with the beginnings of my novel in progress “The Alligator Purse.” While I waited for a response, I reminded myself to breathe. And then I waited and waited, for what seemed like a really long time. Forever really. (That might have been a by-product of the watched in-box never boils syndrome. Maybe. Okay, probably.)
When the email came inviting me to attend, I was beside myself–proud, disbelieving, believing, and more than a little nervous. I mean, it’s Yale. What were they thinking letting me in but thank you Jesus, they let me in!
So if you have any of that self-doubt, erase it now. Right now. The Yale Writers’ Conference is so welcoming. They accept 140 people each year. So that’s 140 chances for them to say yes to you. And please know that you do not have to be an established rock star writer to attend. You do have to submit a quality writing sample that is polished and then re-polished. And then polished five more times. But, there is plenty of room for those who are early in their writing career. Please understand that this doesn’t mean there isn’t talent at the conference – there is and a lot of it! People who invest in their writing generally take honing their craft very seriously. (Remember I said to polish your submission! And then polish it again. And then
one five more times.)
Terence Hawkins (with his trusted sidekick Victoria Rinkerman who is nothing short of amazing herself) is the man behind the magic that is the Yale Writers’ Conference. He is a writer himself and is eager to help all of us succeed.
Here are a few things that are good to know:
The less expensive option is to stay in the dorms. The un-air conditioned dorms. When I was in college, I lived at home so I actually loved staying in the dorms. But they aren’t fancy and if you are used to your own bathroom and A/C, you should know that the dorms do not equal the Ritz Carlton. You should also know, however, that most people stay in the dorms and that it is fun to be there. (So it’s really a positive masquerading as a negative.)
The dorms are gorgeous (from the outside 😉 ).
Session I is ten days. That’s a long time to be away from work and family (possibly another positive masquerading. I guess that depends on your job and family. 😉 ). Session II is shorter if you really like your family and/or your job.
The rest is all up side.
Did I mention the conference is at Yale? Yes, “the” Yale that you’ve heard so much about. It’s magical to walk the streets of New Haven in the spring.
For ten days, you will talk and learn about writing with some very talented/committed/enthusiastic writers and instructors. You won’t wash any dishes or drive a car. If you pack enough clothes, you won’t have to do laundry. Someone will cook breakfast and lunch for you buffet-style. (Dinner is not included but New Haven has tons of fabulous places to eat.) You might not even watch tv. It’s heavenly. You’ll meet in large sessions to hear amazing guest speakers and you’ll meet in groups of ten to workshop each others writing. You’ll even get to attend one master class workshop with a guest speaker of your choosing (This is why it’s smart to apply early. The earlier you get accepted, the more choices you have.)
You will eat, sleep, and breathe writing for ten days. Ahhhhh.
In effort not to keep you reading this post for hours on end, I’m consolidating my experiences from two years into one post. (I’ve been to Yale for the past two years and the only reason I’m not applying this year is that my son is graduating from high school around the same time as the conference.) That means I won’t be able to tell you every fabulous thing about the conference, but here is some of what I learned…
From Richard Selzer (Mortal Lessons)
From Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang)
From Deborah Treisman (Fiction Editor, The New Yorker)
She was asked “what makes a story stand out.” She answered that you just know it when you see it. She looks at the story’s ambition–what it’s trying to do–and figures out if it’s doing it.
From Z. Z. Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere)
From Joe McGinniss (who sadly lost his battle with cancer this past year)
From Tom Perotta (Nine Inches)
Get the story going before you give backstory.
From Susan Orlean (Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin)
From Sybil Baker (Into this World)
From Chuck Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat)
From Colum McCann (TransAtlantic)
From Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune, McLaughlin Group)
From Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death: A Novel)
Okay, I don’t know about you but I’m tired. So, I’ll be back later with more. (You can read Part 2 here.) Come back soon for Yale Part II. And you missed the other workshops I’ve written about, you can read those
This is another post in my writers workshops series, where I give you the scoop on the writers workshops/conferences I attended this year. The Woodbridge Writers Retreat was hosted by Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, and Tom Zoellner in May 2014 in Woodbridge, Virginia. If you are a reader/writer and you don’t know about these guys yet, you’ll be very glad you read this post. (Richard is on the left, Tom in the middle, Robert on the right.)
I met Richard Bausch when I was an English Major at George Mason University a few years, ahem, okay, decades
ago. He was the professor whose words stuck with me truly for a lifetime. When I was his student, he gave the class a short story assignment. I had never written a short story before and was completely intimidated. (Yes, the class was probably called “writing short stories” or something very vague like that–thank you for understanding why I was surprised by the work we were asked to do.)
Luckily it was a small class and he must have seen the look of shear dread in my eyes. He asked what was wrong. I sheepishly told him I didn’t even know where to start. (Yes, rookie mistake. Don’t ever let other people do the dirty work for you. In order for you to be invested in it, you must own every step of the process.) So he kindly created a prompt for me. I wrote a story based on that prompt and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.
But rather than tell me to give up on writing, he told me the truth:
“You took the easy way out on this one. You can do much better than this.”
He was right. I had very much taken the easy way out. I wrote the story quickly and put it aside as if the first version of anything is ever good enough. I never edited it. I never reconsidered optional story lines. My characters were flat. It was awful. (No, thankfully, I do not still have a copy of it. No need for such evidence.)
I was worse than a rookie. I was lazy. And embarrassed myself.
Fast forward many years later. I had joined a writing group and we decided to attend the AWP writers conference. When planning out what sessions I wanted to attend, I realized that Richard Bausch was going to be a speaker. Squeeeee.
So like a good little groupie, I excitedly waited for him to come into the session. As soon as he sat down, I rushed over to him and gushed about how he had been my professor and how he had inspired me by telling me the truth and blah, blah, blah. I even gave him a flashdrive with a copy of my work-in-progress to show him that I was no longer “taking the easy way out.” (Yep, still rocking the rookie. Thankfully I stopped short of asking him to sign my t-shirt.)
He was very sweet and said thank you. He even accepted my facebook friend request. But I didn’t really think I would get a chance to see him, much less work with him, again.
That is, until I met his brother Robert Bausch at the Algonkian Writers Workshop in Sterling, Virginia. He was a guest speaker and there were only about 8 of us at the conference, so we all got a chance to chat with him. He had us completely engaged. There is no doubt that Bob is extremely talented with many books, short stories, and even a movie under his belt. But he is also passionate. He reads like crazy, he teaches, and he writes every day. And he is funny as hell. (Just like his twin brother Robert. Yep, twinsies. Awesome.)
What I love most about Bob is that he loves writing and teacher writing, even after doing it every day for years on end. He hasn’t lost his zeal and that makes me hopeful that I won’t either. (Richard is the same way, by the by.)
As he was walking out of the conference, I asked him to please let me know if there were any workshops he was teaching and gave him my email address. When I hadn’t heard from him after a while, I went from rookie to near-stalker and googled “Bausch” plus “workshop” and found the Woodbridge Writers Workshop. His brother was going to be there too. Both Bausch Brothers at the same conference, teaching me? I might faint. Sign.Me.Up.Now.Please.and.Thank.You.
Tom Zoellner was also a workshop leader. I had not heard of him before but that was reader error on my part. He is a fabulous non-fiction writer and journalist. He takes subjects that most people don’t think too much about – speed traps in small-town Georgia or Uranium for instance – and writes engaging, almost fictionesque prose about it. He turns facts into stories and draws the reader deeply in.
The workshop was small–only ten writers. Yes, that’s right. Ten writers and three workshop leaders. That’s damn near miraculous. All three of the leaders are teachers as well as writers. Yes, that’s even better. The workshop lasted 3 days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
We spent most of the time workshopping the different submissions, but we also had craft talks and ate dinner together each night which allowed the workshop discussions to continue on well into the night. Each writer was allowed to submit up to 20 pages. Each participant was expected to submit something and read/critique everyone else’s submission.
Because the leaders are so entrenced in the teaching world, many of the attendees were also teachers, either creative writing or composition. I loved that.
The feedback from this workshop was invaluable. The leaders spent a lot of time reading and considering everyone’s work. The attendees were also smart readers and invested time in each story.
These are the wonderful writers who attended the conference.
Some of the advice/things we learned were…
Richard also has a “ten commandments” list on his website. You can read that here.
As always happens at writers conferences, several books/stories came up as recommendations to read…
So there you have it. If you ever get the chance to attend this conference. Do it!
The link to the workshop is here.
Oh and it turns out that all three of the workshop leaders have books out this year.
Here they are …
Throughout the next few posts, I will share my experiences at the writing workshops I’ve attended this year. (Spoiler alert – they were all really good and if you are a writer, you’ll want to know about each one.) I started off the year at the fabulous Tin House Winter Workshop. It was held at the end of January 2014 in a small town called Sylvia Beach on the Oregon Coast.
Imagine going here…
Where each room is decorated for a different author…
And this is your view every.single.day…
And a super sweet cat roams the halls…and your room, if you let her (if cats are a no-go, you can just keep your door closed). But she is so smooshy and sweet…
And learning the craft of writing from Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Now You See Her), Vanessa Veselka (ZAZEN, The Truck Stop Killer in Best American Essays), and Jon Raymond (Rain Dragon, The Half-Life)…
All hosted by the talented and gracious Tin House folks who also shared their insights on writing and publishing and karaoke…
You even get to see the Tin House office space where all the magic happens…
Yes, you might just think you’ve done died and gone to writers heaven, where muses sprinkle glitter out of magic pencils and writers block has been abolished because it’s been deemed too cruel a punishment for the creative mind to endure. Ah, yes, heaven indeed.
Tin House accepted 18 writers for the workshop out of 200+ applications. (The great news is that this year there will be two workshops – one fiction, one non-fiction – so 36 spots.) Yes, lucky me. But the real message here is polish, polish, polish before you apply. And then maybe polish one more time. Then set it aside for 3 days, and polish again. Rinse, repeat. Then apply.
The workshop was three days – workshops in the morning, panels/craft lectures in the afternoon. Each workshop group had only 6 writers – yes, that is beyond fantastic! We critiqued two manuscripts in each session, so each writer got about an hour and a half of dedicated individual attention and every participant provided written feedback, as did the workshop leader. The writing was top-notch and the participants were careful readers who offered tremendous insight into each piece. (My workshop leader was Whitney Otto – she was a very wise choice.)
One of the real benefits of workshops is that you get to analyze writing that is not your own. I tend to learn at least as much from the discussion of other writers works as I do from the discussion of my own. I’m not invested in their writing the same way I am invested in my own story and can see it as it truly is, not as it was intended to be.
Because it happened to me (no one else, just me), I will share a little bitty lessons-learned with you. So, if you want, you can meet at the Tin House office (yes, please) and ride with the other workshop participants to the hotel. If I remember correctly, it’s just under 2 hours. You do not need a car while at the workshop so this is a really great option.
Unless, that is, unless, you are someone who might get a tad nauseous in a warmish van filled with excited writers journeying up a curvy mountain road.
Maybe that was me. Perhaps I should have sat in the front seat. Undoubtedly I should have taken dramamine or at least TUMS, before–yes before–I got nauseous.
I started feeling cruddy and rested my head on the seat in front of me and the other riders started to worry and asked repeatedly if I was ok, which was very nice but when I raised my head to answer…well, let’s just say that probably didn’t help. 😉 I thought I could make it–until I finally realized I simply.could.not.make.it.one.more.curvy.turn and asked the driver to pull over.
But he couldn’t do that immediately. What? I hear ya. Excuse me?
Well, you see, the road is narrow (and curvy) without much of a pull off shoulder because it happens to be on.the.side.of.a.mountain. and there.wasn’t.a.lot.of.room. Whatever. This is a case where poor planning on my part does happen to constitute an emergency on your part. So Sorry.
The good news is that the driver was able to pull over quickly enough and I was able to dash out to the back of the van and lighten my nauseous load. The bad news is that the editors from Tin House and the workshop coordinator were driving by us just as I got sick. So much for fabulous first impressions. Ergh.
The best part of the story is that we were about 2 miles from Sylvia Beach when I got sick. Two minutes longer and I could have totally saved face. Oh well. Luckily, we all laughed about it later. The Tin House folks are gracious people and let me live it down (relatively) quickly.
Back to the workshop. Did I mention it was fabulous? Well it was.
Here are a few tidbits from what we learned:
– Tin House is a top-tier literary magazine–wait, we knew that already–but they reinforced that belief over and over again. Even though they have every right to be literary snobs, the people who work there are approachable, talented, knowledgeable, and supportive.
– If you want to be published in a journal, get to know the magazine–support it by subscribing to it, reading it, and sharing it with your writing community. But most importantly, get to know what kind of stories they publish.
– Don’t worry about what the story is trying to mean – you’ll see that at the end. And if you are lucky it will mean different things to different people.
– Be careful that multiple POV characters aren’t just telling the same exact story over and over. Each POV must move the story forward and reveal something new.
– Writing should feel a little out of control and not too neat. You can write the life out of something and make it feel dead on the page.
– Most professional writers are very open to editing. Not being willing to edit something you’ve written
might will make you look like an amateur.
– Authorative voice is what the writer takes with her from piece to piece. The story varies but the authority remains.
– Narrative voice is the charisma on the page.
– If a story feels stuck about 1/3 of the way through, the writer might be relying too heavily on voice.
– Fiction allows the writer to take something private and make it public.
– We also learned about the fabulous essay by Betty Flowers called Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process
At these types of workshops, books are always a big topic of discussion. Some of the book recommendations that came out of this workshop are (I’ve not read all of these, so I cannot testify to how good they are but these were some smart readers, so there you go)
Of course any of the books listed above by the workshop leaders
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of my favorite books ever)
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (very good)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
Telling by Marion Winik
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Tenth of December by George Saunders