Last night I ran into Laurie Zimmerman sitting in the English office with a senior who was bent over a draft of his college essay. I could see the essay on her computer, the Word editing boxes filled with suggestions and stacked like matchboxes in the margins.This is the time of year when many seniors are working to finalize their college application, jiggering sentences and images, fiddling with rhythm, finding the right tone, looking for the appropriate anecdote. Laurie is something of a magician as she guides her students through the process.
Writing is layered, beautiful, and maddening. In the challenges associated with getting the words right are the lessons that can be transposed on to so much more of life. It's an iterative process and there always is a better way. If you simply look at the page and wait – as with life - nothing happens. One needs to stumble, to fail, pick oneself up, and begin again. It’s a good lesson for us individually and collectively.
I've always marveled at the writing process and the perpetual myths of ease that surround it, the most stubborn of which is called “the one draft wonder.” Haven’t we all sat down to a laptop or faced a blank piece of paper, and believed in it? Thought to ourselves, “ It will happen today!” All of the synapses firing in perfect sequential order, the mind’s reach effortless, and an essay of staggering beauty and genius takes less than an hour to complete!
It never happens. Ever.
I remember listening to Donald Hall talk about the process of writing poems. It must have been over 20 years ago, and he was speaking to a packed auditorium of students after a reading. Someone asked the question about drafts: how many did it take to write a poem? Collectively the students in the room slumped their shoulders when they heard his answer. “Really? That many?” He spoke about writing dozens to get to a poem, and time that stretched far beyond a single day.
For so many of our seniors who are putting the finishing touches on their essays of application, and for all of us regardless of innate ability, the process of writing slows us down and reminds us of the value of perseverance and patience. It humbles us. It may be wrenching, but it is also revealing in the lessons that go far beyond the simple words on the page.
Thank you for reading. Share your thoughts below.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Head of School - Proctor Academy