They are all better writers, with better stories to tell.
As a college admissions and essay coach, I hear how loud the inner critic can be when it comes to writing about ourselves. My students believe the negative inner voice that tells them that their stories and storytelling skills aren’t good enough. There’s also a misconception that the college essay needs to be about overcoming adversity. It doesn’t.
Adult writers believe a similar myth; only significant, earth-shattering stories deserve to be told. It’s another way that Fear, disguised as logical, smart Perfectionism, gets in the way. Luckily, many of us have been dealt a pretty good hand in life. So we may not have a giant challenge to describe. Thank goodness, I say.
I believe that everyone has a story to tell.
Yet most of us don’t believe our stories are worth telling.
Once I had a student we’ll call Toby. He told me for two days straight that there was nothing interesting or special about him. So I asked him about how he spent his summers. Well, I used to harvest dates on my grandfather’s farm. My ears perked up. But that was before I had my identity crisis and broke up with the Church. I smiled. Nothing interesting to say at all.
It turns out this boy was named after one of the founding members of the Mormon Church, but because of his sexuality, he felt abandoned by the very church that gave him a sense of belonging as a young boy. His college essay is about his relationship to his grandfather, to the farm, and to himself. “While we may disagree on religion, what my grandfather and I have in common is a dedication to kindness, hard work, and a love for nature. The date farm is a working ecosystem. Every plant, animal, and person contributes to the system. I believe, like the date farm, every person on the planet has a purpose and a place.”
His case is dramatic – an extreme version of believing he had nothing to say, only to uncover a powerful story. But it happens to me in my work every single day.
Recently, a student insisted that she had no good ideas for a topic. I asked her how her work at the pizza shop was going. She said, “I had my pay deducted for putting too much cheese on a customer’s pizza.” My ears perked up. Her essay ended up being about having an abundance vs scarcity mindset. “The idea that there is a lack of cheese, a lack of love, or a lack of colleges is absurd. I choose to have an abundance mindset, believing that there is enough to go around.”
We tell stories because we are human. But we are also made more human because we tell stories. –Amanda Gorman
Stories and storytelling are essential parts of being human. No other species has this ability. We need to tell stories to reunite with who we are. Personally, I write to connect to myself and to others; it is an exercise in empathy.
One of the best ways to begin is with a ten-minute free write.
We need a little pressure, (that’s the timed part), we need to know it’s going to end soon (that’s the short part), and we don’t need to worry about spelling or grammar or finding the perfect sentence to begin (that’s the free part).
I say to my students, No one is going to read this. Keep your writing loose and easy. When you get stuck, don’t stop. Write the words “I don’t know” or “idk” or “I can’t remember” until something pops into your mind.
Set your timer for 10 min. Start with the prompt, I remember…
What are we remembering?
For today, tell me about a time when you were doing a task or working a job where you were in over your head. Or tell me about learning to drive or serving tables or being in charge of other people’s children.
Get inside the moment(s) as you remember. What do you see, feel, hear, smell, taste?
Don’t think. Write. Memory runs through our heart and along our veins. The best way to access it is to bypass the logical parts of our brain and just start scribbling. Try the 10-minute free write.
Take risks and choose brave over perfect as you go. You are a beautiful, storytelling human.