I’ve taken to calling myself The Turtle. People who know me think it’s an absurd characterization. They know me as a gal who’s constantly planning and worrying about plans, not as someone who stands still a whole lot. It is true; I do like to know what comes next. But when it comes to writing—slow is the only way to go.
My pseudonym is a means of protection and deceit. If I say, “I am The Turtle,” then I deflect my habituated anxiety around planning and operate from a different perspective. As far as I can tell, a turtle doesn’t worry a whole lot.
Beginning anything can be an exciting, if harrowing experience. But beginning to write about one’s self has much more to do with being than with doing anything at all. So, who are you? To know the answer, you must slow down and shift your focus inward. This seems like a simple adjustment, but it can be accompanied by a significant physical response and emotions. In my case, a beginning harkens change, and change has always evoked stomach churns, sleepless nights and self-doubt. Not something to look forward to.
Fortunately, The Turtle in me is very wise, even when I am not. The brave little reptilian calmly asserts her perspective and declares: Do. It. Anyway! Do it even though you are afraid, doubting and frustrated. She begins with one small step and builds slowly but concertedly forward, concerned only with the practice of movement, not the end result. From The Turtle perspective, writing a new essay is a heck of a lot more enjoyable.
For students who want to begin finding their college essays, you are welcome to borrow The Turtle “hat” and just sit there with it on your head for a while. Take a few slow deep breaths. See what comes to mind. Don’t do anything! Be The Turtle. As you do, observe whatever negative thoughts arise (ugh, I can’t think! I can’t write! This is stupid!), but don’t indulge them; they grow with attention.
And when they pass (as they will do once you acknowledge their flimsy premise), write down what floats through your mind next. Observe gently. Try on a different hat, one that says, “I rock” or “silly putty” or “ice cream sundaes” and write some more. What will be the perspective you write from today?
Your first turtle’s step—one word, one sentence, one concept —will take you somewhere. It will lift you out of the mire for now and set you on a course for creativity. And that is what a personal essay is: a creative act that anyone can write. Only you can find the right hat.
For help with hats and all things related to the college essay, visit www.naomivladeck.com/events/ for private coaching or to register for my college essay intensive at JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown.