workshops & tutoring

In Your Words –     
Private creative writing workshops for youth and adults
Individual personal essay and writing tutor

contact:   Kirsten@Neff.Org


the personal essay

Today, everyone seems to have a story to tell.  Memoirs, essays, and personal testimonies are a dime a dozen.  Book and blog promotions swirl across the internet.  Large College Essay companies are available to write "personal" stories for college applicants.

What will make a young writer's words stand out at a time like this?  It is quite straightforward:  a unique story, told clearly and thoughtfully, and, most importantly, told in the student's own words.  People who read thousands and thousands of essays speak about the way certain students' voices will rise above others.  Sometimes the student will tell an extraordinary story.  More often, it is the authentic  voice of a student describing a powerful life experience.

Writing a personal essay for a college application can feel like an overwhelming endeavor because, as we have heard repeatedly, this is the way applicants distinguish themselves amongst a stack of excellent applications.  The essay is the equivalent of what is called the "elevator spiel" in the book publishing world.  The idea behind the elevator spiel is that if you end up in an elevator with a big-wig from the publishing world you will be able to describe, in the course of one elevator ride, what is distinct and compelling about your work.

The personal essay is an opportunity for students to describe what is absolutely distinct and compelling about themselves, why they are so much more than a list of grades and test scores.  Spirit trumps numbers, and a student can distinguish himself or herself in a single essay if he or she has made the right choices for subject and tone.

My role as a personal essay tutor is to help students make the right choices.  I do not make those choices for the students, as so many College Essay companies and tutors do these days.  I do help students enjoy the process of finding the most revealing, impressive stories they have to tell.  I help students access the language they already know so their story unfolds, clearly, and in their own voice.  Only through authentic voice can words shine.

The way I work is as follows:

    - We meet in person (if you are outside of the Bay Area, we speak on the phone) to discuss where you currently are in the process.  This meeting usually takes one hour, but can be up to two hours, depending on where you are in the process and how many essays you need to write.  At this point, if you have not determined the subject matter for your essay(s), we will do that.

    - Now we move to email.  Depending on where you are in the process, you either send me a first draft, or I will send you a line-edited copy of your first draft with some overall notes about your writing and how you can improve the essay(s).

    - The exchange of drafts usually happens only once or twice.  In general it takes me one hour to complete a thorough response to a first draft with clear directives about how to complete and improve the essay.  Responses to subsequent drafts will take less time.

Please contact me at Kirsten@Neff.Org to discuss my rate and determine an estimate for cost.  I am open to a sliding scale for families with financial needs.