My oldest is a senior this year, which means we are knee-deep in (dum dum dum!) college application season. Because my son is applying to some programs that require essays above and beyond the basic Common App essay, I’ve been getting loads of critique practice. I’ve also been getting loads of eye rolls and looks that scream, “Mom doesn’t know what she’s talking about even though she’s been a professional writer for 12 years,” too. But I digress.
One essay in particular was a challenge for him. It was for a college that has a unique degree that combines my son’s two passions: science and music. He *really* wants to attend this college but his first draft was, frankly, dull. (And this is from his mother!) There was no sparkle, no life. No HIM.
So I handed it back to him and told him to start over.
I encouraged him to think about the moment when he really and truly realized he loved physics and wanted to spend his life learning about the universe and everything in it. And how he’d fallen in love with music the moment he laid his fingers on the keys of a piano and then later fell in love with the bassoon. I told him to write from the heart and not to put down what he thought the admission folks would want to hear.
The result was the terrific essay that really shines, full of terrific metaphors and lively descriptions and deep insight. And, more importantly, it carries my son’s passionate voice. There’s no way the admissions committee will turn him down - of course, I’m a wee bit prejudiced!
I think this is an important lesson for all of us. As writers, we sometimes write what we think publishers or readers want. That work may be okay but we’ll always fall flat if we don’t pour ourselves into our writing. Our work needs passion. Our passion. So we’d better pick ideas we genuinely love. If we don’t love what we’re writing, the reader will know.
And there’ll always be some editor or agent handing our work back and telling us, “Start over.”