A Pep Talk for Writing College Essays (and Getting @%#* Done)
Let me introduce you to your Inner Editor (we all have one). I’ll call him IKE. He’s that voice inside of your head telling you that you are doing this quarantine all wrong. You’re not vigilant enough now that you’ve stopped wiping doorknobs with disinfectant. Or maybe you were too vigilant declining that socially-distant book group invitation. With all your extra time at home, how have you not alphabetized your spice drawer or baked bread from scratch or planted a victory garden? Why is your child locked in his room all day, eyeballs pasted to screens, still clomping around at 4:00AM, yet unmotivated to start writing college essays, and you do nothing about it?
What is wrong with you?!
My Inner Editor is strutting around like he owns the place these days. More time on my hands means digging inward. My birthday was June 16th (lots of candles) with my whole family present this year—what a gift. I’m grateful for having so much love, bounty, and safety amidst the plagues upon us—coronavirus (new) and systemic racism (festering all along and finally spotlit). I know that indulging my Inner Editor is unproductive and self-centered when much more serious concerns fester all around me, and still IKE nags, “How lame are you for ordering take-out again when you could’ve cooked?”
Each summer, I work with students writing their college essays. It’s one of my great joys. Every year, they pour their big dreams and hope onto the page, and I thirstily gulp it in. At some point in the writing process, their Inner Editors will sneak out and say, “Everything you are writing is garbage, and you will never get into college or have a successful career or happiness in life.” The transition between draft one (creating) and draft two (wrangling a hot mess of words) is IKE’s favorite moment to intervene and implant his usual self-sabotaging talk. This year, IKE seems to be sneaking in earlier than usual, editing my students’ every thought before they’ve even written a single word. (I don’t need to tell you this is not a normal year!)
Does this ever happen to you? You’ve got something high stakes on the horizon—a presentation, a paper, a report—and you sit there stressed and frozen, not doing it? You may have called it procrastination, or writer’s block, or fear of failure. I call it IKE.
Here’s what you or your kid can do when it’s time to write but IKE inconveniently bullies his way in: First you have to acknowledge his presence and address him directly. “IKE,” you must say, “We will have none of your shenanigans.”
Then take IKE by the hand (don’t hurt him—later, he’ll serve as an excellent proofreader!). March him up to the attic (I picture the rickety winding staircase in the Disney Cinderella movie. You’ll need a lantern for that final flight). Shut him in and bolt the door.
Then back in your study (or kitchen or screened porch), stand before the inquisition of the blank page and strike a pose like a superhero with perfect posture, legs firmly planted on the floor at hip width, fists on hips, and an expression that says, “Do not mess with me. I will prevail!” Hold that position until you feel your power. (This is a scientifically proven empowerment tool. Seriously. Try it.)
Next, sit your powerful derriere down in the chair before your computer and remember this: No one ever has to see anything you write if you don’t want them to.
This is not a final polished draft to cc to the entire company (or submit to colleges). You’re only getting started. With your Inner Editor locked in the attic, relinquish control to your Inner Superhero (we all have one of those too, a built-in confidence provider). Anything goes. Let yourself experiment on the page, try stuff that might not work, make mistakes you can correct later, surprise yourself with excavated memories, and have a little fun!
As I write this, IKE is tucked away in my attic, and I am the almighty goddess of this newsletter. Later, I will crush a stroganoff for dinner, substituting the stew meat in the freezer for tenderloin, heavy cream for sour cream (because that’s what’s in my fridge), and I will add double the onions because I like onions and BECAUSE I CAN! I will transform feeding my family (who always seems to be here and wants to eat dinner every single night) from a chore into a fun project. No, IKE, they won’t notice that I used heavy cream instead of sour cream because cream + butter + garlic + wine conquers all skepticism and sorrows.
Download my Quarantine Beef (or Chicken or Veggie) Stroganoff Recipe (with substitution ideas for every ingredient in case you can’t get it) if you’re feeling the power and want to try it.
My hope for you is that you banish IKE from your life for long enough to get *$^# done. Go ahead and share my pep talk with your child before they sit down to attempt their college application essay. Your kid has got this. So do you! And your Inner Superhero has got your back.
Have a great weekend, Oh Mighty One!