Category Archives: ellen weeren

College Essay Writing Tips Series

Since so many students are stressing about their college essays, I’ve decided to write a series of College Essay Writing Tips. The links to each post can be found below:College Essay Writing Tips - the full list

Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques

Tip # 2 We Are All Beginners at Some Point

Tip # 3 The Writing Process

I will update this page as new posts are published.

Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!

College Essay Writing Tip #2 – Remember We Are All Beginners at Some Point

pen and paperThis 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.

Why readings are important…

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.

  • Readings are not in my wheelhouse. When I read in front of others, I sound like a hoarse frog that’s fallen off its very comfortable lily pad smack into very cold, murky water. Which is super weird because I’m quite comfortable speaking off the cuff in front of people.
  • Readings are an amazing experience. Ultimately, you’ll be glad you did it. Pinky swear.
  • Practice a few million times before you actually stand up to read.
  • Attend the readings of the other writers in the group and support them the way they supported you–clapping when they are done, not pointing out they sounded like a cold/wet frog, etc.
  • Respect the time limit. You will look like a disrespectful amateur if you don’t.
  • You must respect the time limit. (Nope, that’s not a typo. I meant to write it twice. 😉 It’s really important.)
  • Stop at a point that leaves the audience wanting to know more. This is especially true if you are selling books afterward.
  • Remember to breathe. If fact, if these were truly in order, time limit would be number one and this would be number two. Take breaths. Frequently.
  • Be familiar enough with your work that you can look up at the audience every now and then. It will make everyone more engaged. (If you’re like me, it might also make you more nervous when you look up and remember there are for real people in the audience. Just remember to breathe.)
  • And have someone take your picture.

Since Yale, I have read three other times. Once more at Yale, once at the Kenyon Review Workshop, and once at the One Story Workshop. I know. I know. I’m practically a frog professional.

Here is Yale. The first time.

2013_June_11_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_99And the second time at Yale.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-10I much prefer the podium.

And here is One Story…see how I am getting more comfortable? Practice makes comfort.

one story workshop-224At 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.

A chance to write a story with One Story’s Hannah Tinti

In this week-long course, under the guidance of One Story’s own editor in chief Hannah Tinti, you’ll build a short story from scratch, learning the ins and outs of storytelling structure along the way. New lessons—in video or text—will be shared daily, but exercises can be done on your own time, and an active message board will allow you to communicate with fellow students and ask questions. For complete details and to register, visit www.one-story.com (look under “events” and then “online classes”).

This is an amazing opportunity to learn from one of the best editors in the business!

Grammarly….

I’m back with another review. This time it’s for Grammarly – an editorial program. (Just as an FYI, I was not compensated for this review – other than being given a free two-week trial to test things out. Otherwise…ahem…no review because how would I know if it works.)

This is actually a pretty cool program. You upload or cut/paste a document into Grammarly and it analyzes it for you, giving you feedback in a number of areas, like:

  • spelling
  • passive voice
  • commonly confused words
  • split infinitives
  • vocabulary use
  • capitalization
  • verb use/tense
  • confusing modifiers
  • split infinitives
  • wordiness

This is an excellent program for reaching beyond spell check and evaluating the basics of writing. It catches those supposedly simple mistakes that we all make.

A huge bonus is that it can also evaluate your text for plagiarism. This is a terrific feature because not only does it tell you if your text matches other text, it also gives you 3 different formats for citing your sources. The text I used had a quote from the internet and Grammarly found it and formatted the MLA, APA, and Chicago Style Manual citations for me. (Seriously, where was this little gem when I was in college?)

As you might imagine, there are some limitations of the program because it is, after all, a computer program and it can’t have a sense of voice or understand creativity in sentence structure. But it is a very valuable second set of eyes to catch the mistakes we as writers/students don’t see because, when we edit ourselves, we tend to see what is supposed to be there rather than what is there.

Here is a screen shot of their sample document.

Screenshot 2013-10-25 06.30.54

It’s great to have all of these tools in one place.

So now, you are probably wondering how much it costs. Here’s the breakdown from their FAQ page…

Grammarly offers a seven-day free trial, as well as the following subscription plans:

  • Monthly – $29.95
  • Quarterly – $59.95
  • Annual – $139.95

Grammarly also offers enterprise subscriptions for bulk users in K-12, higher education, enterprises and government.

You do have to enter a credit card number for the free trial and your subscription will start automatically (and your credit card will be charged) on the 7th day, unless you cancel your subscription before then.

It’s a little pricey but would quickly prove a valuable resource for students and writers. Go check it out – www.Grammarly.com.

 

Some great writing articles…

I don’t think I’ve ever written a “best of” post, so here goes.writing pig

There have been some fabulouso writing articles on the web recently and I’m gonna share ’em – just in case you missed ’em.

A Simple Way to Create Suspense by Lee Child at the New York Times.

How to Keep a Story on Track by Lisa Cron on Writer UnBoxed.

A Simple Approach to Revisions by Cathy Yardley on Writer UnBoxed.

The Mentor/Mentee Benefit by Vaughn Roycroft also on Writer UnBoxed. (This is an older article, but a good one.)

That’s it for now. Happy Weekend!

Let the writing begin – NaNoWriMo

Participant 180x180 (2)November is the month when many novelists commit to writing at least 1,667 words per day – every single day of the month. It’s called National Novel Writing Month – yes, we writers are a creative bunch coming up with such a clever title as that. The acronym is NaNoWriMo – which doesn’t make us look so clever . (Seriously – I’m not even sure how you say that.) Most people just shorten it to NaNo.

I’m taking on this challenge – so please wish me luck! If you are interested in participating, you can sign up to record your progress and connect with the other 300,000 authors doing the same thing at the website www.nanowrimo.org. If you meet the challenge of writing 1,667 words per day, at the end of the month, you will have written 50,000 words – nearly a novel.

Today my journey begins. This morning I got up, got the kids out the door, and took a shower. I even got dressed like a normal person who leaves the house every day. I figured if I got dressed as if I were going to work, I might actually work. Then I even put on makeup and proceeded to spill lipgloss on the sweet little ruffle on my fancy cream-colored shirt. Fabulous. ergh.

Then I went to the potty – and got some snacks ready – and turned off Twitter and Facebook . Now I have no excuses for getting up from this chair.

The famous “they” say that the biggest key to being successful this month is to just write – no editing – just writing. (“They” also say that December is the time for editing.) This will be a super huge challenge for me because I have a hard time leaving a chapter.

The posts here might be even more infrequent than usual – but that will be a good thing because it will mean I am writing The Alligator Purse. Yippeeee!