DH pointed out to me that DC1 will allow hir work to expand to take any amount of time allotted for it. A lot of this is wasted time or hidden goofing off (something I am prey to as well). Basically during the school year zie steals little bits of time to websurf and forum chat etc. and never has large pockets for things that are actually fun like composing or video games or movies or even books. We talked about why that might be and came up with the fact that whenever DC1 looks like zie isn’t busy we always have suggestions for things to do (usually stuff zie should be doing anyway, like hir laundry or emptying the dishwasher, but not always).
It also has become very apparent during the last year that DC1 hasn’t been taught any writing skills since fifth grade when we were living in Paradise. Zie just hasn’t had to write. And hir first draft isn’t generally that great. (We only noticed this in the last 6 weeks because prior to that there were few writing assignments and what writing assignments there were, DC1 would work on verrrrry slowly and not get a draft done that zie was willing to show us until they were actually due.)
Sidenote: some college applications have the option of turning in a graded essay as a writing sample. DC1 does not have a single thing zie could turn in. The most writing zie has done (other than lab reports that “don’t count”) were FRQs (aka practice AP test writing) from hir history classes. I wouldn’t trust hir own English or History teachers to be able to write anyway (with the exception of the late AP US History teacher who was writing rec letters from the hospital before his death). Hir racist World History teacher wrote a terrible rec letter for my friend’s son which was both badly written and made him sound like a jerk, which he isn’t. (She started with basically, “He may seem like a tyrannical leader” and then had kind of word salad and ended sort of, but not clearly, saying but that would be incorrect? It didn’t say what she thought it said.)
My friend’s kid who is going to Brown next year has perfected putting things off to the last minute and then doing a reasonably good job on them in a short amount of time. DC1 does not have that skill. My friend’s kid also put off doing college essays to the last possible second which caused my friend a lot of stress (though zie still got into Brown, so…)
So we decided that this summer DC1 will practice personal narrative writing in the form of college essays. Zie will learn how to brainstorm and how to write a first draft quickly. And, this is important, once zie has a good essay, zie is done for the week (other than picking out the next week’s question).
We started off small with a short Harvey Mudd Essay about the ideal humanities/art class. Brainstorming was a little painful– zie still seems to have a bit of that perfectionist streak. But in the end we got some ideas on paper. I gave hir I think an hour to get a first draft from the brainstorming. The first draft was ok, but it wasn’t very punchy and there were a few items that were obviously clear to DC1 but not to the reader. DH and I went through and cut out repetitious parts, suggested different ways that sentences could be moved around to make the narrative punchier, and requested clarification for the parts that weren’t clear. The second draft was perfect. And we were done for the week.
I’m hopeful that this trend will continue as we get into more obnoxious essays (zie has been looking at the Amherst page– the essay prompt back in my year, “Barbra Streisand sings that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, but Sartre says that Hell is other people, which do you agree with and why?” was so sickening that I ended up choosing not to apply; it looks like in 2021 they offered some choice, though I’m deeply offended by the anti-math prompt from a physics professor).
There are a lot of guides for writing essays out there, but these essays have kind of an almost flippant tone that neither DC1 nor I like. There’s a sort of sameness to them. I told DC1 that zie doesn’t need to emulate them, but zie does need to have hir own voice come out. Narrative essays (blog posts, essentially) are not the same as technical writing. I’m not sure how good my advice is. My sister’s common app essay, in retrospect, did kind of emulate these essays (she talked about destroying my stuff as a kid and how dance and physics intertwine) and she got in everywhere she applied while mine was more of a “here’s a social problem illustrated by my experience volunteering” and I didn’t get in everywhere I applied. But… my sister had a better overall application than I did (team captain for award wining all-girls poms and math teams, knew she wanted to do mechanical engineering, etc.) so I can’t just blame the essay.