Will you write my essay for me?
Nope. But I will coach you every step of the way—through every idea, through every draft, through every sentence, through every punctuation mark—until the end result represents you at your very best.
How do I choose an essay or personal statement coach?
When you speak with a prospective coach, ask yourself:
- Is this is someone with whom I can form an alliance?
- Is this someone I can talk with easily and frankly?
- Does she treat me with respect and a sincere desire to be of service?
- Does she read my work with deep but objective attention?
- Does she understand my intention and honor the uniqueness of my voice?
- Does she seem sympathetic to my material?
- Does she add to my excitement about my project?
- Do I admire her work?
Also, read testimonials. Speak with other writers who have worked with this editor.
What made you decide to work with students in the process of preparing essays and personal statements for college applications?
When I work with a young person during the time this essay composition is most commonly undertaken—right at the edge of launch into an independent life—I am witness to an emergence, a kind of birth.
When I work with college graduates on personal statements or statements of intent/objective for graduate school, I have the pleasure of helping them reach for the career that represents, for them, their deeper purpose.
Because colleges generally ask for essays that capture the essence of an applicant, the writer does well to cut quickly to the core. Facilitating that process is a privilege.
How is what you do different from a college counselor or private college advisor?
College counselors and advisors are able to help identify colleges that offer the most promising fit for each individual student, and often help guide students through junior and senior year preparations, as well as the testing process. Many also assist with the application essay as part of their overall offering.
I, on the other hand, am an essayist. I focus my attention on the essay, and the essay alone. That said, I work in happy collaboration with excellent college advisors in the Bay Area, who can focus on everything BUT the essay, so there’s no duplication of effort. We refer clients to one another, as well as share notes about how best to assist individual clients.
I’m a student just starting to think about my college application essays. What’s the most important advice can you offer me?
Begin early. Don’t leave these critical compositions until a last, panic-filled moment. Even if you’re one of those people who does her best work under extreme pressure, for this particular capital-E essay, you’ll need time to uncover your best topics. You’ll need time to write a rough draft, time to let that draft marinate, time to develop your piece over repeated drafts, time to polish and polish and polish, before your essay is ready for send-off. It’s a rare writer indeed who cranks out something brilliant and perfect in a single sitting.
Conduct some research about yourself. Quite often parents, friends, and teachers are able to illuminate essential characteristics and strengths you are simply too close to see.
Start with a scene. Fill it with sensory detail.
Let your readers see you BEING the qualities in yourself you want most to project.
Show, don’t tell. But be sure to analyze and reflect on the deeper meaning of your scene or story.
How much will it cost for you to help me create my application essays?
Oh how I wish I could tell you exactly! It depends on so many factors:
- The point in the essay-writing process at which a student contacts me
- The number of essays to be written
- How strong the writer is
- The number of revisions necessary to take an essay from rough draft to final version
- How familiar the student is with personal essay as a form
- How willing the student is to dig below the surface of his experience
- How quickly and thoroughly the student is able to respond to advice
- Whether the student needs help managing time and deadlines
But call or e-mail me so I can send you a graph of the costs for last year’s students.
What if I started late and only want feedback on one or two final drafts?
No problem. I work with students at any point in their essay-writing progression and am happy to provide only one comprehensive set of recommendations.
What’s the best way to communicate with you? How do we stay in touch?
After an initial meeting or phone call during which we’ll discuss your project, your goals for your manuscript, and any deadlines or time constraints you may have, the best way for us to stay in touch is through e-mail. When a conversation is called for, we’ll set up a time to talk by phone or Skype.
Do you work with people developing a personal statement for graduate schools and professional programs, like aspiring medical and law school students?
Do you work with non-native English speakers?
Definitely. About 15% of my students live in countries other than the US, and for many of these, English is a second or third language.
Besides your love of language, what other experience do you bring to the process?
Project management, stress management, time management, how to consume a large but unspecified four-hooved animal, not by running toward it full-speed with your mouth open, but by carefully carving it into manageable, bite-sized pieces.
Why don’t meet with people in person?
Once I began working via Skype and FaceTime with students on the East Coast and then overseas, I found it surprisingly easy to connect (and bond) with clients this way. I also discovered that students feel more relaxed talking with me from the comfort of their bedrooms, which is a definite plus. And finally, it costs the client less when the rituals of meeting and the offering of tea in my office, etc., can be somewhat truncated.
Once I send you my draft, what kind of turnaround time can I expect from you?
It depends on how many manuscripts I’m working on at the time. During my busiest times I impose a first-in/first-out system. On average, I’m able to turn an essay around in three of four days.
Why are you drawn to narrative nonfiction and the personal essay?
I take great pleasure in observing real people in real circumstances, and aspects of the world around me in all its delicious complexity. I especially love the process of translating into words what I see, what moves me, what makes me laugh, as accurately, completely, and as honestly as I can.
What is the most satisfying aspect of the writing process for you? The most uncomfortable?
I’m always delighted when I finish an essay, often after many drafts, and I know, in a visceral way, that it communicates my intention as clearly as possible.
I’m thrilled when a free-write, or a very rough first draft, begins to reveal something that surprises or amazes me.
I love finding myself in a state of effortless flow, when a confluence of imagery and insight makes it suddenly clear that I’m writing from a larger self, as if something is being written through me.
I’m always gratified when an essay finds a home in a publication I respect—acceptances from editors are as exhilarating as rejections are discouraging.
What’s uncomfortable? Sitting down to face a blank screen is sometimes hard when dashing off to Costco for laundry detergent sounds so much more productive.
How do you decide what to write about?
The process feels mysterious to me, but often it begins when a series of bright synchronicities leap out of the pastel fabric of daily life. I feel a story in there somewhere. I also like a good rant, especially if I can exaggerate my outrage over the edge into comedy. Mostly, though, I follow feeling.
Who are some of your favorite writers of nonfiction?
I’m fond of writers like Joan Didion, Vivian Gornick, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, E.B. White, MFK Fisher, Janet Malcolm, Jo Ann Beard, and Annie Dillard, as well as writers who make me laugh, like Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Brian Doyle, John Hodgman, and Sarah Vowell. I’m also a big fan of medical narratives written by people like Jerome Groopman, Atul Gawande, Abraham Verghese, Oliver Sachs.
I’m interested. What do I do next?
Send me an email. I’ll respond with some getting-started materials, including a topic brainstorming questionnaire for you to complete, a link so you can make a deposit, and some possible times for our video call.