Category Archives: narrative

It’s College Application Essay Writing Time. Fear NOT…

This week I started meeting with students to help them with their college application essays. It’s so interesting to see their different approaches to the essay. There seem to be two reasons that students are intimidated by this part of the process.

The first one is that they fear they don’t have anything to write about. That is never true.  You cannot live for 17 or 18 years and not have stories to tell. The real problem is that most students think they don’t have anything “good enough” to write about. Also not true. This essay is very simply a story that captures who you are and how you’ve grown into the person you are.

So if you get stumped here, fear not. Think about those moments in your life that have mattered to you. When did you learn something about yourself that you hadn’t yet realized? Slow down and let those memories simmer. There is power there. Embrace it and then grab a pencil.

If your memories don’t help you, start thinking about the objects in your room that are meaningful to you. What do they symbolize? Why are they important? Why do you keep them? And then get writing.

The other reason students dread the essay is because they have something they very much want to write about but they fear other people will not want them to write it (parents, this is usually you).

I cannot say this strongly enough. If you feel compelled to write about something, you must write exactly about that thing. Remember, you do not have to submit that essay but you really should explore the idea of it. All other topics are likely to fall much more flatly on the page until you’ve written what you want to write.

This is where parents get nervous. What if family secrets are revealed? What if parents look like the bad guys? Here is where I caution everyone to just relax. Remember that these essays are not being submitted to the Washington Post. They will only be read by a handful of people. Quite honestly, if the admissions panelists remember your essay then you have done a very, very good job. Most of the essays they read are sadly quite forgettable.

Also, when students write these essays, they are rarely about what parents fear they will be about. They focus on the student’s journey and reactions. They are quite often amazing.

I once had a student who wanted to write about her relationship with her brother. Her parents said she could not write it because her brother faced unique challenges that were hard on the family. I never spoke to her parents so I don’t know what their specific hesitation was but I encouraged the student to write two essays. The one her parents wanted her to write and the one she wanted to write. (And then I encouraged her to share both essays with her parents before deciding which one to submit.)

Guess which one was better?

The first one was about her experience of giving speeches and it read like a list. Basically–I gave this speech, I gave that speech. I learned I can give a great speech.

The second was about playing a game with her brother. It captured a specific moment when her brother had a reaction that was hard to handle. The essay wasn’t about her brother but about her. There was absolutely no judgment in the essay at all–not about her brother, not about her parents, and not about herself. It highlighted a moment of clarity, a time when she was able to see her brother and herself in new ways. It was a beautiful story and I remember it all this time later–even after reading hundreds and hundreds of other essays. It is one of the few that sticks out in my memory.

The bottom line is that you cannot edit a blank page. So get busy writing. The magic of writing happens in revision anyway. You have at your disposal trash cans, erasers, and delete buttons. You alone have control over what you send out into the world. So just write, revise, and decide later what to do with it.

 

Fall for the Book at George Mason University

George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia is at it again. The annual Fall for the Book festival will be held October 11th through October 14th. Most of the events will take place on George Mason’s main campus but check out the 2017 schedule for the full line up (except where noted, events are free and open to the public – yes that means you! and yes, really free).

This is a reader’s wonderland. The headliners are:
Jennine Capó Crucet
Lev Grossman
Mohsin Hamid
Colson Whitehead

And yes, generally you can actually meet them after their presentation. And there are tons more of awesomesauce writers. The entire list is here and they cover all categories of writing. SOME of those are fiction, poetry, children’s books, non-fiction, story-telling, sports, graphic novels, publishing, history/biography, politics/current affairs, literary criticism, memoir/creative non-fiction, and MORE!

Right now you are probably thinking, holy moly, I should go to some of those events. Yes, yes you should! See you there!

And just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up, here is the schedule again. 🙂 And if you are feeling generous, here is a link to donate to the festival.

The Art of the Story Writing Workshop with Tom Jenks in San Francisco…..

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 Art of the Story with TOM JENKS

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.)

Class Dates:
San Francisco           January 15—18, 2015
San Francisco           January 29—February 1, 2015
San Francisco           February 26—March 1, 2015

Application deadline:

November 15, 2014

To apply or to receive more information:

  • 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:

Rick Bass
Richard Bausch
Ann Beattie
T. Coraghessen Boyle
Janet Burroway
Robert Olen Butler
Michael Chabon
Frank Conroy
Don DeLillo
E. L. Doctorow
Andre Dubus
Stuart Dybek
Jennifer Egan
Gail Godwin
Donald Hall
Ron Hansen
Charles Johnson
Min Jin Lee
Bernard Malamud
Anthony Marra
Peter Matthiessen
Jill McCorkle
Arthur Miller
Susan Minot
Lorrie Moore
Alice Munro
Maud Newton
Joyce Carol Oates
Jayne Anne Phillips
Annie Proulx
Kirstin Valdez Quade
Philip Roth
James Salter
Scott Spencer
Robert Stone
John Updike
Kurt Vonnegut
John Edgar Wideman
Tom Wolfe
Tobias Wolff
Richard Yates
Alexi Zentner

If you enjoyed this post, you can read about other workshops here.