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One of the sessions that I attended at NCTE14 was about writing college essays. Full disclosure: this was my selfish session. I did not go as a professional; I went as a mother of a high school junior and a high school sophomore. I was curious to hear what college admissions professionals would have to say about college essays.
Rebecca Joseph, Valerie Gregory, and Evan Read offered some great tips for college essay writers, but one of the most important take-aways for me had to do with journal writing. Every. Day. For just five minutes, but every day. A collection of moments.
This was an easy sell for me. I'm our district's writing coordinator. I love to teach writing. I love to write. I could get my family writing. I would get my family writing...
When I got home on Sunday, we went journal shopping. For the family members (we have a lot of family members) who weren't there, we chose for them. (I came home from NCTE with an inspirational journal which was my literary gift from Stacey!) Almost every night since, we have finished dinner by writing for five minutes. Of the three daughter who are still home, two of them are more compliant than one of them. My husband knew well enough to go along. My mother went along, and even my dad, who has significant dementia, has taken up writing every night. We all have the option to share or not to share.
Here are some results:
- My youngest daughter, who is 12, has written several stories in her new notebook. Her writing life in school has been pretty non-existent, so she is thrilled to have time and an audience. She has noticed things during the days that she may not have and written about them in the longer than five minute writing sessions that we have kept up for eight days. (We took Thanksgiving off.)
- My 15 year-old daughter has started a novel. Her sessions have evolved into chapter writing and we all look forward to the nightly updates on her characters who are stuck at sea.
- My husband has written about some of his worries that none of us realized were worries until he shared.
- My mother has gotten us all laughing with some of her recounts of family moments.
- My father has written psalms and songs and some of the connections that he has to them.
- Even Julia, the chief resister at age 16, has written some poems and some commentaries about the absurdities of high school life.
- I have a collection of vignettes, some of which I have realized would fit into the book I am working on, adding needed levity.
We have lingered at the dinner table, since many of the entries lead to more stories and connections. Even my father has lasted in the conversations. Even Julia, who is always in a hurry to get to her homework, has found herself sticking around and laughing with us.
I have worked hard to keep the time limited to about five minutes, but sometimes people keep writing while others are sharing. We have unofficially decided that this is okay. No rules seems to be working as the rules. No one has to share. No one has to stop writing. No one even has to keep writing when they feel done.
I recommend writing together as a family--not to come up with the best college essay, but to share silly moments and special times. We have found that we talk much more than we write as a result of our latest ritual. Hopefully, this one will have some staying power!