I am sitting in my den, the overhead fan whirring along with a box fan in the corner. The temperature is pleasant, not too hot or too chilly. The eastern light coming in through the big bay window is filtered through the green leaves of the tall Nandina bush with its clumps of bright red berries. It is early evening now and cars are zipping up and down Doheny Drive as people go home from work or out to dinner. Cordelia is asleep on the floor; Frankie is sitting on the footstool with an attentive look, clearly keeping watch so no intruders barge into our house or yard.
My student, a young man who will be a high school senior in the fall, sits on the leather couch across from me, computer in his lap. He is working on an essay for his Common Application, which will go to most of the colleges he will be applying to in just a couple of months. He is currently writing in ten minutes intervals. Writing, then reading what he’s written, then writing more after being prompted by my questions. “Where are you? Describe the room. How old is the other person you’re talking to? Do they have any distinguishing characteristics that will add to their description? Add that in. Make me see, taste, touch, hear or feel what you felt in that room at that time with that person. Don’t worry about word count now. We can edit later. As Ray Bradbury is famous for saying, ‘Throw up on the page. We’ll clean it up afterward.’” And so it goes.
Essay writing is not easy. Pulling a reader into a scene and keeping them interested long enough to read all the way through and actually feel something can be a challenge. This challenge is complicated by the fact that the stakes feel very high to these high school seniors. They are hoping these essays will tip the scales for their application to highly competitive schools. Often the simpler the story, the more powerful the message. Finding a symbol that distills the meaning can also be very helpful and speaks to the reader on multiple levels. A little humor never hurt. Dialogue that breaks up the narrative is always nice. A few unexpected twists and turns are even better. Not an easy order, but definitely possible with a little elbow grease.
That’s where I come in. I encourage the liberal application of elbow grease as well as suggest specific areas where it can be applied.
That’s it for today.
I’ll be checking back in again tomorrow!