Wednesday, January 4, 2012

IWSG: Confidence Regained!



It’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group.  Anyone is allowed to participate.  Just click on this link and join the group.  And, if you haven’t already, join Alex’s army of followers.  Now, on with the show...
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There’s a lot to be insecure about when you’re a writer:  Does the story work?  Is the writing beautiful?  Are the characters sympathetic?  Is it full of tension and emotion?  Will readers enjoy it?  On and on it goes, ad nauseum.  I agonize over these issues and many others on a daily basis, but over the last twenty-one months, I’ve learned a great deal about the craft.  I feel much more confident now than when I first started, that’s for damn sure.


Then came a huge test—in the form of the college essay.  First, let me say, no, I’m not applying to college.  I’ve already done my time and then some.  It’s my seventeen-year-old son who has applied to a buttload of colleges and universities up and down the West Coast, seventeen in all, I believe.  The two major California university systems, UC and Cal State, have their own online common applications.  The other public schools he’s applied to in Arizona and Washington State, where we currently live, each have their own unique applications, and five of the six remaining private schools he’s applied to all use the Common Application which allows an applicant to submit his information on one website, though each school has its own supplemental requirements.

Each application requires a general essay that should demonstrate—beyond standardized test scores, grades, and GPA—exactly what makes the applicant unique on a personal, not academic, level, what sets him apart from every other applicant, why he would be an asset to that particular school.  Well, for the over-achieving brainiac or all-star athlete, this might be an easier task, but for the average kid, yeah, not so much.

Now, my kid does very well in school.  As a Running Start student, he’s been taking a full load of college level courses at a local four-year college since the beginning of his junior year in high school, but while his GPA is well above the three and a half mark and he’s been getting straight As for the last three quarters, he’s not a perfect 4.0.  Nor does he have the athletic prowess to participate in school sponsored sports, varsity or otherwise.  But does this mean there’s nothing special about him, nothing that would make any college accept him into their hallowed halls?  Hell, no!  But how, exactly, do you make an average kid look anything but?


Well, I read a few books on successful college admission essays (the one above is great, by the way), learned the key to honing in on those qualities that make an individual standout, and, most importantly, how to draw a correlation between those unique qualities and how they exemplify good character, profound skills, influential motivation, and valuable accomplishments.  No easy task, let me tell you, but I was able to instruct my overwhelmed son on how to write an essay that showed him in the best light imaginable. 


Aside from the one general essay which was sent with each application, most schools required supplemental essays that asked specific questions like:  How have your disappointments led to personal growth and success?  What are your thoughts and experiences, good or bad, regarding diversity and inclusion?  How will you help this university carry out its core mission to promote learning so that its students acquire the knowledge, skills, values, and sensitivities needed for success as persons, professionals, and architects of a more humane and just world?


Yeah, those are some tough questions, baby, and my son had some remarkably expansive, candid, profound, and poignant responses.  In fact, one private college remarked that his essay was the deciding factor when they accepted him for admittance.  But even still, his essays, however thoughtful, needed a great deal of both inspiration and editing.  And I can honestly say that I would never have been able to help him as well as I have had I not spent the last twenty-one months writing a novel, blog posts, and being critiqued while critiquing the works of others.  The skills I’ve acquired have taught me the vital importance of being able to communicate effectively through the written word.  


I’m incredibly proud of my child.  He’s five for five, so far, in acceptances, including two of his top three choices.  As for the others, we likely won’t be hearing from them until March.  Then April is the big decision month.  At this point, I can honestly say that even if my attempt at writing a novel comes to nothing, I still feel like it’s all been worth it, because I’ve helped my kid get accepted to some pretty distinguished schools.  It’s my last ditch attempt at sending him on his way, on teaching him to be an independent adult, which is the greatest challenge for any parent.  So, even though I know for sure things will change, as of this minute, I’m anything but an insecure writer. 
 

60 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nancy that's wonderful! You should be really proud of your son, and your efforts to help him. Your line about if you achieve nothing else nails it. Giving your son a shot at a great future - what greater accomplishment could there be for a writer?

Suzie F. said...

Congrats on your son's acceptances!

I know exactly what you're going through. My son has been applying to schools too (4 early, 6 regular). He's almost done! It's so much work, even w/ the Common App (all those supplements and scholarship essays!), I'm extremely proud of him, and have loved helping him edit even it meant putting aside my own writing for a while.

Siv Maria said...

Being able to help your son with your writing skills is a wonderful thing, and as a proud parent myself I know how wonderful it feels to be able to help. Wishing your son all the luck in the world.

Liza said...

I was where you were a year ago, and my daughter struggled with her essay(s). It was hard to find the balance between it being her work, or a piece over edited by me. Thankfully in Senior English last fall, their assignment was to write their essay, so she got a lot of comments from her teacher that mirrored mine. She's a college freshman now. All is well.

JeffO said...

Excellent! I can definitely relate, as my daughter just finished her applications. She's a tough one, though: she's very bristly about editing. If I tell her something's spelled wrong, or point out a grammatical error, she's fine. If I tell her that a particular line comes across as snarky (and trust me, she can get snarky in her writing), she vigorously defends it as 'Voice' and 'style.' I'll say 'good luck' even though it sounds like you don't need it, and you have every reason to be confident, both in your son and in your writing.

Laurel Garver said...

Congrats to your son! That's an amazing achievement. I've helped some youth group kids at my church with their college app essays. You're absolutely right that fiction writing skills can also help to make nonfiction clear and compelling.

L.G.Smith said...

Oh, man, I've got about two more years until I go through this with my son.

Confidence is a great thing to have. Good luck in 2012!!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

How fabulous! Congratulations to your son and to you. My nephew is going through this same process, so I have an idea of how tough and stressful it can all be, and how helpful writing skills are in getting ahead.

Cassie Mae said...

Yay! Congratulations :) I'm quite a ways away from that point in my son's life, but I'm hoping my love for writing will help him out too :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

That's awesome! Congrats to you both!

WritingNut said...

Ohh, wonderful news!! Congratulations to your son! :)

fairbetty said...

A big "YaY!" to that! \o/

Ah for confidence boosts :) They're always helpful!

Margo Kelly said...

YIKES! I'm in the same boat right now. I have two sons that are applying to schools and waiting to hear back from them. Interesting and strange process.

Anne K. Albert said...

Kudos, Nancy, to you and your son.

Thanks for the tag, btw, now I'm following you!

Patsy said...

Congratulations to your son. Just shows that the ability to write is helpful in more ways than simply crafting stories.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Nancy,

Thanks so much for the kind words (and the follow - I'm doing the same:) and just wanted to say I loved the raw pride you put into this post. It must be a great feeling to "have an assist" in your son's upcoming decision, which could shape his future for years to come.

It sounds like you've got a smart, young man (who listens to his Mama:) on your hands, so best wishes to him. (I wish I *knew* where/what I wanted to do when I was 17!)

Nice to meet you, too, and I look forward to reading your posts.

Patricia Lynne said...

Congrats to your son! Isn't it great when what we've learned as writers help those we love achieve something too?

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I love a good success story - thanks for sharing. New follower :)

MISH said...

Congratulations writer-mom! This just reinforces the importance of being able to write...

Eva Gallant said...

Congratulations on having produced such a smart progeny; You have every right to be proud!

Joylene said...

Our youngest told us for years that he wasn't having kids. It it was very difficult not trying to influence him to change his mind. But I didn't, even though I really really wanted to. How can you not want your son to know just how wonderful it is to be a parent?

I so understand how you feel, Nancy. And being able to help him accomplish his dream is probably equally rewarding.

And yes, I'm pleased to announce he & his wife changed their minds.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Super congrats to your son! How awesome to get so widely accepted so he can make a choice instead of having to settle.

Joanne said...

Fabulous! What a wonderful Mum and son. And thanks for sharing.
All the best for 2012! :)

cleemckenzie said...

How proud you must be of your son. Those college essays are huge hurdles, but it seems he's cleared them by a mile.

Thanks for stopping in at the Write Game to share in my Wed. Insecure Writers' Post. Love to have new visitors.

Empty Nest Insider said...

Congrats that your boy is 5 for 5! From here on end whatever happens, you know he's in a great position! I also love that your son is smart enough to actually take your advice about the essay writing. Talk about tough reviewers! Your son is so lucky to have you, and though you'll miss him when he's gone, you'll know he'll always respect you for helping him get there. Julie

Nancy said...

Nice to meet you, new follower here. Thanks for stopping by my blog, sorry I hadn't posted for the day yet. I have years of writerly insecurity that I'm happy to share it you want some :) Glad things are headed in such a positive way for you.

Carrie Butler said...

That's awesome, Nancy! Congratulations to your son. You must be so proud. :)

Jasmine Walt said...

Wow, that's awesome! I had no idea so much work went into the whole 'acceptance' process-- but that's because I go to a community college, lol. Still, 5/5 is really great. You must be really freaking proud of yourself. :D

Marta Szemik said...

Nancy, that's absolutely amazing! Way to go! My kids still have at least a decade before applying, but it opens my eyes to know that I can hopefully use my writing experience to help them.
You must be sooooo proud!!! Congrats!

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

My kids still have many years before we'll be doing a college research but I already know that this process is quite painful and it takes a load of time and energy. My friend's daughter did two years of a community college and then transferred to UW. Either way it is an exciting and emotional time for both, parents and children. I wish you and your son all the best and hope he will be admitted to a college of his choice :-)

Thank you for finding my blog. It amazes me how fabulous this social media is - we are practically neighbors but we got connected through a mutual writer friend (Alex) that lives in a different state!

I'm following you here and on Twitter, and also sent you an invite on FB. I will email you on Twitter so we can chat some more. Looking forward to getting to know you better :-)

Cate Masters said...

Kudos to you both for doing your research and applying it so successfully.

Rachel said...

Congratulations to you for gaining all that confidence, and double congratulations to him for all those college acceptance letters!

jamieayres said...

I loved this post! I was already following you but joined IWSG tonight because of it, so thanks:) The birth of my first novel actually came from the college essay. When it asked me to write about a challenge I'd overcome, I made a list . . . a really looooooong list, lol. I figured going through all that crap probably had a reason, so maybe I can help other YA's. Hopefully I'll get published one of these days:) My congrats to your son, and you!

Lisa L. Regan said...

You obviously did an amazing job since he is 5 for 5 and I predict there will be many more acceptances! This is really inspiring. I really want to spend more time studying the craft this year. Great post!

Peggy Eddleman said...

I am so not looking forward to helping my kids through that stage! I have a feeling I won't be nearly as good at it as you are. And huge congrats to your awesome son!

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

My neice is writing essays for prep school right now. It's a scary proposition, and you must be so proud of him and especially of the fact that he was clearly able to present his thoughts and feelings from the heart - I think that is what can be the differentiator. What a wonderful story.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

Good for you! Congratulations to your son!

I live in Washington State, too, and went to college at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma. That was a tough choice -- I grew up overseas and my parents wanted me to go to a school in Ohio and I wanted to go to PLU. I stuck to my guns. I'm sure I would have been happy no matter which school I attended, but boy, I'm sure my life would be very different now if I'd gone to Ohio! Such an exciting (and nerve wracking) stage of life, but I know he'll make a good decision and it's a big bonus to have such a supportive and helpful mom! :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Nancy, you've taught him well! That's awesome that he's got such choices--and that he paid attention and didn't blow his opportunities.

Dad Who Writes said...

I work in HE in the UK and this kind of application process generates a certain amount of controversy. I'm torn by this - on the one hand I would SO do this for my own children and probably will when the time comes. On the other, I worry about applicants, equally capable and able to succeed with the right support, who don't have parents able to hone and polish their essays

Kit Courteney said...

What a lovely post!

You have a great blog by the way :)

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, I never new it was so difficult to get into university in the US. And that editing and writing skills were useful there as well. Great post. I hope you son gets to go to the university of his choice.

Julie said...

What a wonderful post. And you must be so proud of your son, kudos to him. So glad to have found your blog through the IWSG, you have a great site!

Man O' Clay said...

Wow. I have a while to go until my boys are ready for this, but it makes my blood pressure rise anyway...

Tyrean Martinson said...

It's awesome to hear how you used your writing expertise to help your son! Congrats on his 5 for 5!

LynNerdKelley said...

You are one awesome mom, Nancy! Woot for your son getting accepted to his top choices! Great way to begin the new year, ain't it? Woot again!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Amazing - like mother, like son! Brilliance clearly runs in the family. :) How wonderful that your writing skills have helped him so much. I'm dying to know what college he'll end up going to... oh the suspense!

Melodie Wright said...

I'm going to have to pick your brain in a year. My oldest turns 16 soon and those college apps loom. *bites nails* He just took the PSAT and scored well but that's not even the start, as you know. Congrats on all those acceptances - would love to read some example essays when a little time has passed! I know they'd be a big help.
And do let us know what he decides in April!

Siobhan said...

Hi there. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. Just joined yours. Looks interesting!

Tara Tyler said...

what an awesome reward for writing! and editing!
congratulations!

Ciara said...

I guess he takes after you. That is awesome that he has so many choices. I grew up a few miles from USF. Boy has it changed.

M Pax said...

Sorry for my sluggishness in stopping by, Nancy. You should be exceedingly proud. Congrats to you and your boy. Woot! That's really fantastic about all of his acceptances.

I like how this helps you feel confident. The lesson I take is, we often don't stop to celebrate our daily successes and that sort of thing.

Have a great weekend, Nancy.

The Golden Eagle said...

That is awesome. :) Congratulations to you both!

Pk Hrezo said...

Outstanding, Nancy!! Congrats for all those acceptances. Those are some tough questions for sure. You know, nothing is wasted when we set our minds to learning. We may not have the book contract yet, but we have a wealth of knowledge that is invaluable. SO worth it! I used my knowledge to teach fiction writing to my son's first grade class... and it was wonderful.
Hey USF is in my town, so if he chooses it... and you make a trip down here.... let me know and we'll do coffee. ;)

Rachel Morgan said...

So awesome that you could put all those skills you've acquired to good use in helping your son. And congratulations to him for his acceptances so far!

Julie Musil said...

Holy cow, you have every reason to be proud of your son! Wow! My son is a freshman in high school, and I'm intimidated by all of this. Yikes. But your son is well on his way to achieving his goals, and that's awesome.

Lynda R Young said...

wow, I didn't realise there was so much work to get into college. It's not so strict in Australia. I think the most we do here (on top of test results) is fill in a questionaire.

Mel Corbett said...

Wow! Congratulations to your son and to your amazing editing skills :-)

Kittie Howard said...

I gave you a shout-out on my post today. (BTW, I don't think of you as insecure; everyone gets stage fright, tho!)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I flitted over here because of Kittie's shout-out. Your son's acceptance record is very impressive. Congrats to him, and to you for being able to help him so effectively.

Emma Lauren said...

Congratulations to your son! I remember being terribly stumped on my college essay and I was only applying to one college. I had a trusted English teacher guide me. (She also wrote one of my recommendation letters.) I think that one of the best ways to embrace our own security is to help other writers feel less insecure. Well done!

First time visitor, by the way. :)