Friday, September 29, 2023

But I'm a Professional Writer

“Nope. I’m good.”

I didn’t expect that answer from my daughter.

“But I’m a professional writer. I can help. Even if it’s just to catch a typo or fix a verb tense.”

“I’m good, Dad.”

She had just told me she had finished the essay to accompany her college applications. And she didn't want me to look it over.

These are big stakes. The essay is the opportunity to set herself apart from the other kids who are applying. And her first-choice school has an acceptance rate of about 20%.

Stubborn high school student with arms crossed

A few weeks ago, she had let me know she had decided her essay's subject. Even though I had suggested she bounce ideas off me, she hadn’t. 

I didn’t even know what the essay was about.

And now she wasn't going let me read it before she sent it in.

Goddammit. I could offer her an edge.

I was fuming. The stakes were high and she was making a mistake. 

I was about to tell her that, when it sunk in (with help from my wife's side-eye) that I was the one about to make the mistake.

Instead, I said, “That’s great news. You must be relieved to have it done.”

She wasn’t telling me she didn’t think my input would help. She was telling me she wanted to own the win or the loss.

I was so very proud of her.

My ego as a writer took a hit, but it was a big win for me as a dad.

A month or so later, she was accepted.

I asked to see her essay.

It was good. 

I would've made a few suggestions to tighten it up.

That would’ve been a mistake.

I’m so glad she stopped me from making it.

Did I mention how proud I am of her?

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Best College Application Essay of All Time?

It's September and in the United States many students are filling out applications to the colleges and universities they feel will best prepare them for their future.

A dreaded part of this high-pressure, anxiety-inducing process is the application essay. It's the chance for the student to show why, above scholastic achievement and extra-curricular activities, they are a good fit for the school they are applying to. In a highly competitive process, it's the chance to get an edge over other applicants with similar resumes.

Students in high schools across the country are worrying, "What will get the attention and win the hearts of the admission application screeners?" "What have I done that is noteworthy?" What can I write that will make me stand out from everybody else?"

That's what Hugh Gallagher was facing when he applied to New York University (NYU) in 1989.

The essay he submitted (below) not only helped him get accepted, but it was named the winner of a 1990 Scholastic writing contest. 

Many college admission professionals consider it to be the best college application essay of all time. 

The Best College Application Essay of All Time



I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.



And then there's the story of a college essay from one of my kids:

But I'm a professional writer.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

View from a Café. Cinque Terre (Part 1)

Parked at a sidewalk café sipping cappuccino I drink in the flavor of the town with the parade of passers by.

Frothingham in Chique Terra

Orders called out as staff preps the restaurant. Surfaces wiped, menus stocked, napkins stacked, a rainbow of umbrellas unfurled.

After 15 minutes he has given up trying to dissuade his granddaughter from pursuing an unreciprocated friendship with a pigeon.

An overweight Jack Russell terrier strains at its leash until both front feet are lifted from the sidewalk. Ready to protect his Chianti sipping owner from a lazily approaching pug in a ruffled pink harness.

Priority One: Selfies. She's stopped at a dozen or so spots on the tiny plaza. All the exact same well-practiced pose and facial expression.

A seagull swoops in and scoops up the pizza crust over which 2 pigeons were arguing rightful ownership. There's a lesson here that I doubt the pigeons learned.

Taking full advantage of four pockets even though the chinos are boa constrictor tight. Front right: cell phone. Front left: vape pen. Back right: wallet. Back left: keys. I can clearly make out 6 keys on a leaning tower of Pisa key ring. 

How do you say, "Your shoe's untied" in Italian. She's striding with such energy that a shoelace instigated stumble seems inevitable.

Six men in black peaked hats adorned with ornate silver insignia, black uniforms heavy with ribbons, sidearms in black leather holsters. Walking abreast followed closely by two black police Alfa Romeo Giuliettas.

Round turquoise rimmed sunglasses and a straw hat worn backwards. One hand holding mommy's; one hand holding daddy's She might only be three but she owns the plaza. And she knows it.

Their investment in their photographs includes the amount of their equipment and the effort to lug it around. Is my satisfaction with photos taken with my iPhone based on laziness or low standards?

He wanted the blue brimmed straw hat. She nicely told him it was not flattering. He stepped inside to see if there was a mirror. She followed. He left wearing the hat. She left wearing a look of exasperation.

When I was a kid, I was told you could tell a man's status in life by looking at his shoes and his watch. If that's true, today I have been in the company of kings. One of them in shorts and a 7-Up t-shirt.

"Desposito" played on a solo clarinet is popular based on the number of coins being tossed into the old man's case. He seems to enjoy playing, coins or not. Is his virtuosity from years in an orchestra or from years busking.

His neon orange Chicago Bulls uniform still has the fold marks from packaging. It's 2 sizes too big for his scrawny 11-year-old body ... but he doesn't care ... he's Michael Jordan.


Join me for coffee in Amsterdam: View from a sidewalk cafe. Amsterdam.


NOTE: Cinque Terre is actually 5 different villages. I've combined the highlights of café sitting observations from three of them (Monterosso, Vernazza, and Manarola) and nearby Porto Fino over 4 days in June 2023.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Using ChatGPT to Beat Writer's Block

I was asked, "Can you use AI to beat writer's block?"

Using ChatGPT to Beat Writer's Block

I offered a couple of suggestions, but then I thought, "Why not go directly to the source?" 

So I entered this prompt into ChatGPT: Write a list of ways ChatGPT can help a writer overcome writer's block ... here's the response:

Here's a list of ways ChatGPT can help a writer overcome writer's block:

    1. Writing Prompts: Ask ChatGPT for creative writing prompts to spark new ideas and get the creative juices flowing.

    2. Brainstorming Assistance: Engage in a conversation with ChatGPT to brainstorm plotlines, character arcs, or ideas for your story.

    3. Character Development: Get help from ChatGPT in fleshing out your characters, their backgrounds, motivations, and personalities.

    4. Setting Descriptions: Describe the scene you're trying to write, and ChatGPT can assist in vividly portraying the setting and ambiance.

    5. Dialogue Crafting: Struggling with dialogue? ChatGPT can assist in formulating realistic and engaging conversations between characters.

    6. Overcoming Plot Holes: Discuss your story's plot with ChatGPT to identify and overcome any inconsistencies or plot holes.

    7. Editing and Revision Suggestions: Share your written work with ChatGPT for feedback, editing tips, and suggestions for improvement.

    8. Genre-specific Assistance: Tailor your queries to ChatGPT based on your specific genre (e.g., romance, mystery, sci-fi) to get genre-specific ideas.

    9. Article and Blog Post Ideas: If you're a content writer, ChatGPT can provide you with fresh and exciting ideas for your articles or blog posts.

    10. Writing Exercises: Ask ChatGPT for fun and challenging writing exercises to flex your writing muscles and break free from the block.

    11. Overcoming Fear of Blank Page: Share your writing fears with ChatGPT, and it can provide encouragement and motivational tips.

    12. Writing Productivity Techniques: Seek advice from ChatGPT on time management and productivity techniques to stay focused and efficient.

    13. Incorporating Feedback: If you've received feedback on your writing, discuss it with ChatGPT to brainstorm ways to address the critiques.

    14. Exploring New Genres: Ask ChatGPT to help you explore new genres or writing styles you haven't tried before.

    15. Finding Inspiration: Engage in a conversation about your interests, hobbies, or favorite books to find inspiration from unexpected sources.

Remember that ChatGPT is a tool to aid your writing process, and while it can be incredibly helpful, it's essential to supplement it with your creativity and unique voice. Happy writing!

And, yes ... ChatGPT wrote that last line as well.


Here is what I tell copywriters about writer's block (without the assistance of AI):

Copywriter's Block

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