Writer’s block is sometimes just typer’s block

When we first started helping students with college essays, the first draft they'd send us often lacked the same emotion or energy that the student conveyed when he first told us the story in our brainstorming meeting.  The first draft didn't light up the way the student's face did when he was talking about playing the trombone or working at a daycare center or completing a physics project.  It wasn't surprising.  It's easier for most people to tell a story, one in which you don't have to edit yourself, than it is to sit down and actually write it line by line.

So we started writing down good "lines." 

When we brainstorm essays with a student, whenever she says something funny, emotional, or meaningful, we write it down (or better yet, we have the student write it down).  Sometimes a student will just use a great turn of phrase.  When that happens, we write it down.

That's how gems like this make their way into essays:

"Artistically, I peaked in kindergarten."  

"My mom is the only person I know who will get up at 5 a.m. to go buy a vase."

"I was in such a deep academic hole, I didn't think I'd ever get out.  I didn't even know how to start."

"Poker night has officially been cancelled because of me.  I'm that good."

"The guys on the team were really good to me.  They totally understood when I had to miss practices to take care of my mom."

"I absolutely hated Catcher in The Rye.  I loved my English class, but I hated that book." 

What we're doing is helping a student capture her best words as she says them.  Those sentences often become the best sentences in the essays.  And it's yet another step we take to make sure that the essay is the student's–her idea, her voice, and most importantly, her words.    

If you do any kind of writing at all, there are a lot of applications for this technique.  Here's an entry from the 37signals guys' blog they call "Writer's block is sometimes just typer's block" about how they made sure their emotional voice came through in their latest book.