How to work through writers block....

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Registered: 05-13-1998
How to work through writers block....
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Thu, 10-24-2013 - 12:07pm

DD 16 is really struggling with college essays. She's an excellent writer generally but she's been working on it for months and it's just not happening. She is the most expressive person I know. She loves and loaths. Nothing inbetween. Everyone ELSE knows how she feels... it's all over her face, her body, her voice and yet, she's never been capable of "telling" you how she feels (seriously, she could be sobbing with a dead kitten in her hand and still not be able to come up with the word "sad.") We've tried to help her work through it over the years but here we are with her first deadline next week and the main essay not done. Well, she has an essay done and it's "OK" but it's not her voice. It is not the person any of us actually know. 

I thought we made some headway this week. I told her to write a story about herself in 3rd person and she did a beautiful job. It sounded like her. I cared about the person in her story. Then she tried to adapt it into an essay and she fell apart.

She's stressed. I know she's stressed. We can put off the deadline next week but honestly, I'm not sure doing that now will help her. She'll only feel like more of a loser for not making it happen and it will extend this for months longer. I just need some ideas to help her work through this if anyone has ideas.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Thu, 10-24-2013 - 2:35pm

Hugs to your D. Mine went through the same thing last year. She is also an excellent writer, but when it came to the essay, she struggled. It's the pressure. They think they have to show the sum total of who they are in one almighty brilliant essay, and everything they read and hear just confirms this. That's enough to stop anyone's creative flow.

I don't honestly think D's college essays were the most brilliant thing she'd ever written, but they were good (at least the ones she read to us). While she was struggling, we just encouraged her to free write about anything other than herself--poetry, song lyrics, prose--just to remind herself that she could still be creative when she wasn't forced to.  Then we reminded her (over and over) that she wasn't required to present her entire self, just a small part of herself so the people reading it would hear her voice.

I know she also just reread essays she'd already written for school, including English and history papers just to remind herself of the kind of thinking she could do when the stakes didn't seem so high. She decided not to apply ED or EA anywhere, so her deadline wasn't as early, and this allowed her more time to NOT think about the essay. In the end, she got them done, and your D will, too. It's not the end of the world if she applies RD everywhere. She will get in!

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Registered: 05-13-1998
Thu, 10-24-2013 - 7:38pm

Thanks Ashmama. It's good to hear from BTDT parents. Sounds like we've had all the same conversations. It's just so frustrating. She can put off the ED but in reality, putting off the essay will only compile her stress. Our state publics require 2 essays and are due in November. Plus, she needs the common app essay for another school that has an early cut-off if you want to be considered for scholarships. Others must think she's bee procrastinating but honestly, she's been working for months with nothing but a stack of abandoned drafts to show for it.

I know she's been writing some spoken word poetry lately. Going through some old work might be useful though. We'll give that a try!

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Registered: 04-09-2006
Fri, 10-25-2013 - 11:49am

I feel for her.  I hope she feels better about the essay  process soon.  My daughter (who has dyslexia/dysgraphia) struggled with hers for weeks before deciding to submit a video "essay", because she was asking for accommodations for dyslexia/dysgraphia anyway.  (At first the college was going to require her to go through a complete intelligence/personality evaluation as well, but after she'd been there a couple of weeks, nothing more was said about that...)  Now that she's in the first semester of college English, I don't think she'd have any problem with an entrance essay!

I think the "college essay" is actually a lot more of a learning experience for the applicant than it is valuable for the college.  As long as the essay is well organized and coherent and not a boilerplate and not plagiarized from "100 Stupendous Essays That Will Get You Into College With A Full Ride" type books, it will do the job.  And there is no essay that will get a "full ride" anyway...admissions officers know that essays are often ghostwritten or at least have substantial input/editing from parents and high school guidance counselors and the like.

Deborah

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Registered: 04-16-2001
Fri, 10-25-2013 - 2:37pm

Sorry to hear she is having a tough time.  Is there a teacher or mentor of some kind that could help her take the 3rd person story into a 1st person essay? Or coach her through the writing process?   Even a couple of sessions with a college counselor (normally not something I think is necessary or advisable but if it gets her over this hurdle it may be worth it). 

Also agree with the muddy that the essay is almost never the key that gets a kid in (especially in larger schools).  While the occasional brilliant essay may tip the scales for one kid, the overall package is what is critical.   

There are a lot of books on this topic that might help? 

One of my sons wrote an essay about the time he spent in a home-stay overseas after 10th grade.  It was fine, but I later read about how colleges hate those esays about living overseas and what it teaches kids.  It is almost impossible to not sound like the 1,000 other essays on the same topic. 

I feel for you.  It is hard to know whether to go for the ED application with an OK essay or wait and submit under ED2 (if there is one) or regular decision.  Good luck to her.  I hope the block breaks soon!

 

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Sat, 10-26-2013 - 12:03pm

Hugs to her!  This is part of the natural stress that comes with this nasty process.  The kids think they have to write a publishable piece that is not only authentic but reveals something unique and winning about them.  How many of us could do that?  Man, I'd rather sit the ACT, SAT, and several subject tests!  (Well, not really but can you tell how I feel about it?)  I don't know if it will help her to know that this is unfortunately, very typical, even for kids who write easily and fluidly, maybe even especially for these kids.  My eldest is a professional writer who is responsible for writing multiple articles in any given day and who wrote exceptionally well in high school and she struggled with that main essay too--and I have to say in the end it really wasn't all that good.  

What others have said is wise: the essay really isn't going to be the decisive factor in the overwhelming majority of cases.  Remember too  there are additional, focused, and less stress-inducing essays that can carry more weight than this one single essay.  It was one of these shorter supplemental essays that caught the eye of an admissions officer at one school for one of my girls.

Has she asked a teacher or other adult to look at her essay and suggest edits or new directions?   Maybe that can help.  One other thought:  Is it possible to leave the essay as a third person story?  I don't really know what the rules are but if the story carries the point she wants to make, I'd be mighty tempted to do that.

I am dreading this for my D next year.  She is already a kid who works and reworks and reworks and gets stuck in endless revision.  I hope your D gets through it soon, whether she decides to get the apps in for ED or not, without being too hard on herself.  

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Registered: 09-13-1999
Sat, 10-26-2013 - 12:07pm

Oh, one more thing I've learned.  It's important for your D to understand that this is a process, a painful process.  Those abandoned drafts are part of the process and we can't look at them as "waste" if you know what I mean.  They are getting her closer to her goal.  My youngest, the perfectionist, seems to get nowhere but to that place where she has the stack of abandoned drafts, some of which are really just false starts.  But, in order to get to the finished product, she has to go through all the false starts and abandoned drafts.  It's a process and those are the steps along the way.

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Registered: 07-23-2002
Sun, 10-27-2013 - 10:54pm

No experience here, just virtual {{{{hugs}}}}. Sounds like a lot of heart-ache for everyone involved. I'm sure it's a struggle for most students who hold themselves to high standards. Being a great writer doesn't seem like it protects you from the angst.

(I'm thankful that my ds, who is also a senior, is in Canada, where college applications are so much less onerous. There's no essay required here, just the odd cover letter particularly for scholarship applications.Today he began building a website CV to help with those but that's definitely neither expected nor required.)

I too wondered whether the third-person approach would be acceptable in and of itself. But I have no clue, not having been through the process myself as either a student or parent.

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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Registered: 04-16-2009
Mon, 10-28-2013 - 11:17am
Sorry to correct you Miranda but this depends on the university in Canada. The highly competitive ones in Ontario (i.e. Waterloo, U of Toronto, Queen's) require the students to fill out personal information forms which include short essays as part of the application process. The universities do use these forms in their acceptance decisions and not for scholarships. Scholarships are separate. The dean at the university my kids attended recently confirm this. How much weight the personal information forms are given depends on the faculty. The students also require references. Both my kids, now graduates, went through the process when they applied to those universities. The less-competitive universities (i.e. Ottawa, Carleton, York, MacMaster's etc..) at the time did not but I suspect that will change as entrance requirements at those universities increase.
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Registered: 04-16-2009
Mon, 10-28-2013 - 12:11pm

Miranda, every province is different. Here, in Ontario,there are no cover letters and no CVs required. I suspect it would be the same for out-of-province students.

Students apply on-line by the end of December. They are given personal access codes at school next month and then submit one general application, checking off all the universities and programs they wish to apply to. College applications (which you know are not the same here as in the US) are latter in the new year.

After the application deadline, in January and Feb, the students will be notified by those universities that require additional information (i.e. personal information forms) and given a deadline. If they do not fill in their PI forms as directed, their acceptance may be void. It is at Queen's and U of T. I do not know if those universities do a first pass through the applications and then send out the notices for additional information. I suspect they do not. (A prof at U of BC once told me that UBC uses their forms to decide on "border-line" acceptance cases.)

Many of the less competitive universities have already sent out their acceptances with offers of entrance scholarships, based on marks, prior to the personal information deadlines. Entrance scholarships, based solely on marks, are automatic. Depending on the scholarship (not automatic entrance ones or the huge ones restricted to one school-nominated candidate per high school), students may have to write essays. However, most of these scholarships are need-based. The student must be eligible to apply and receive government student loans. If the parents make above a certain income--forget it.

Two of the universities I know of (U of T and Waterloo) will offer acceptances to other programs automatically if a good student misses the cut-off for the program they applied to.  For example, if a student applied to study software engineer at Waterloo, they may be offer a place in computer science. By the deadline for acceptances (it varies each year but it is usually in May), students lock down their final choice. All acceptances are conditional, by the way.

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Mon, 10-28-2013 - 1:16pm

This is why I keep coming to this board. You guys always know how to make me feel better. It's good to see this isn't an unusual problem. We know a lot of kids applying or recently applied but the majority were auditioning into theatre programs where the essay means next to nothing (seriously, audition is 98 percent of the application in most cases.) They don't stress over the same things and I know DD has been feeling a bit alone.

We had success this weekend. I took some of your guys ideas. She read through some old stories. We suggested she finish the supplements for her ED application first as they were more straight forward, shorter and easier to answer. Finishing those seemed to boost her ego. We had a good talk about expectations and how she's expecting too much from this "dream" school. She talked to her mentor who seemed to give her a more rational perspective. Then I let DH take the lead. He's stood outside this process until now and he's always been better at handling DD in this state.

She did 2 rewrites of the personal essay trying to incorporate her 3rd person account. The first one was all over the place but when we tried to give some feedback, she fell apart. Her second attempt, while not her best work, was well written, to the point and clearly in her voice. We chose not to critique and she seemed greatly relieved. DH will go through it for grammar tonight and then likely to send it out.

Reality is, she's got a better chance at winning the lottery than getting into this school ED so I sort of laugh over the stress it's caused. However, she needs to do it and it'll help her move on and be more relaxed about the other great schools on her list that are far more likely.

Thanks for the hugs and advice. They helped a great deal in how we approached this weekend.

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