If the number of people reading these posts about the college essay is any indication it looks like I’m meant to say a little more on the topic of writing. I see that my recent bungled job of caring for a little boy might offer instruction for us all: In spite of his having written me THREE laboriously hand-lettered notes, I still did not know that the child had been standing outside our bedroom door since 4am hoping to get our attention.
His first note says “When Can I get up? From Edward to TT” (I’m TT.) You can click on the word ‘first’ to see some truly inventive spelling. The second note, presumably written some 30 or 45 minutes later, reads “What time is it? To TT from Edward.” (This one really made me groan: how could we have forgotten yet again to put a clock in the back room where he was sleeping?) At home with his parents, he is told he can’t get up until 6. Good boy that he is, he assumed that rule held here at his grandparents’ house.) And the third and final note, above, as anyone can plainly read – ha ha OK not really eh? – says, “I am waiting patiently. Can you pick up the other notes?” again with the piteous ending “To TT from Edward.”
You must admit: this is some good straightforward writing, framed in three simple ‘asks’. No adverbs except the word ‘patiently.’ No flourishes.
Why can’t everyone write this way? That’s what Plymouth State Professor of Finance and Economics David Talbot wonders who said this two days ago:
Your piece could not be more timely. I am sending it to my 16 students over here in Ireland. They write essays each week for their Critical Thinking class. I am constantly editing their excessive adverbs to provide clarity and strength in their writing. I hope it helps to hear it from a pro.
But pity the poor high school seniors struggling to write that Essay on Anything for their college application! Can they even help it? I’m convinced they go on filling the page with platitudes because they’re nervous; because somewhere along the line they got the idea that it’s good practice to write in an inflated manner. In fact an actual professional in the field tells me she too feels merciful toward them. “Susie” at collegedirection.org wrote:
As a private college counselor, I couldn’t agree with you more. The college essays are my favorite part of the college admission process. However, I do think that the majority of students will write the best essays they can if they have someone to talk with them about possible topics that they might not even have considered. Too often they are focused on what they think a college admissions committee would like to hear and not what they would like to tell them. I love the essays that students write, especially when they are enthusiastic about what they have to say.
Here’s to the merciful Susie, I say. Some people, like young Edward, are willing to go on record as soon as they can hold a pencil and spelling be damned.
The rest of us need kindness and encouragement and often many many years before we dare speak in our own true if croaky voices.