It’s 6:00 pm on Sunday night, and I’ve just settled in at my computer with a rough draft open in front of me.
Marla*, a former weekly coaching student who now periodically uses On Demand Writing Help, grabbed this time from my calendar yesterday afternoon in order to give herself a writing deadline.
Mission accomplished. She’s finished a complete first draft and shared it with me so she can get feedback.
As our session begins, Marla tells me she’s got a feeling something’s not right. She’s thinking of starting over and completely rewriting her essay. But she’s not sure why.
For me, that is danger sign numero uno—jumping in to rewrite without having a plan. I’ve seen too many good essays lose their lives due to this kind of vague feeling.
Without a revising plan, it's easy to start unraveling your writing and soon end up with nothing. [Tweet that]
But I don’t want to make Marla feel overwhelmed or stuck. So I just say, “Let’s see what’s going on.”
The detective work begins. Since the essay is a personal reflection, it’s appropriate for Marla’s writing to be a little less formal and a lot more creative. She’s used this to her advantage with a compelling narrative voice.
But all of a sudden, about halfway through, that narrative voice changes. It shifts into first person and takes on a contrasting tone. The second half sounds like a completely different essay.
I point out this spot and we start talking about it. As we chat, it becomes clear that this is where Marla’s ideas change as well.
The mismatch in writing style is actually a clue! It signals a turning point in her thoughts!
Marla knew something was wrong. By chasing down that feeling to her style, and then asking why her style changed, we’ve now dug up something really deep: her essay states one theme at the beginning but another at the end.
Marla’s instinct was right, and her essay needs some structural revisions. But instead of just making random changes and hoping for the best, Marla will now be able to revise with a specific goal in mind.
We talk through a few solutions. Does she want to choose the first theme? The second one? Marla decides to incorporate them both and write about how her experiences changed her beliefs.
Marla is excited about her new idea, but she also knows it's practical: she'll be able to use about 90 percent of her current writing. With her final draft due in just a few days, this is the most realistic writing plan.
We jump in and start peppering her draft with comments and suggestions—ideas she can add in to emphasize her new theme, notes about where important shifts take place, suggested cuts.
Now we’re on a roll, and Marla begins rewriting some sentences to capture the inspiration that’s popping up as we’re talking. After a high-energy session, she tells me she knows exactly what to do. It’s time for a second draft that will follow her new plan.
Marla thanks me and we close the session. I sit back in awe. I never had that kind of dedication and self-awareness in my freshman year of high school. But then again, I never had that kind of support for writing.
It was only once I was in college that I experienced the space to talk about my writing in this deep way, to bounce ideas off of an expert, to ask for help spotting what wasn’t working.
So much of what I do as a writing coach is to provide the help I wish I had had as a student. To save students from that panic of finishing an essay they know just doesn’t work. To help them think through their ideas and really develop them fully. To ask them questions that will spark ideas. To tell them where I see gaps. To offer different strategies for presenting their thoughts.
And when a student says what Marla said—”I know exactly what to do! I’m going to write my second draft!”—I know that my work is making a difference.
As Marla left the session, I knew that she would have no problem revising and editing her work, and that if for some reason she got stuck, she would email me. She would likely get a high grade for her thorough work on this essay and file it away in her memory as another successful writing project.
But the more lasting effect is that Marla’s confidence in her writing will continue to grow. She’ll remember how she worked to think through this problem. She’ll have more insight into how she uses the writing process. She’ll feel good about asking for help and guidance.
Essay writing is an important skill for school. But learning how to get help, ask questions, solve problems, assess your own performance, and accept feedback and suggestions? Those are skills for life.
Are you ready to try On Demand Writing Help for your writing project? Learn more about how I can help you write your best!
*I've changed this student's name to protect her privacy.