A big part of our business at this time of year is listening to the minds of the young share their life stories as part of their college application process. The autobiographical writing process for anyone is grueling, but the young doing so under the time constraints presented to them as part of the overall college application process, push many to the limits of what is possible for most of us. As someone who has been through this unique storytelling process for years, it is truly amazing to watch our youth struggle to tell their story in a way that is unique to their life experience. Most effective writing starts with thoughts, ideas and words coming together through a brainstorming and outlining process, then proceeds into a drafting process that eventually yields a story. What better way to begin the college admissions essay writing season, then to have the legendary science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, teach us about the writing process from his introduction to Dandelion Wine?
This book, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise. I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer. Before that, like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixed its eyes on eternity, and dies.
It was with great relief, then that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.
I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.
Let’s all begin today to tell the stories of our lives and may the world be all the richer for such effort. I, for one, look forward to another season of storytelling, at the hands of our next generation, who begin to share with us their fears and hopes and all else that makes up the beauty of their lives. College applications require autobiographical essays, but those stories are always so much more than the application itself to those who truly write them as stories, instead of just another part of a tedious application process that they wish was over. Life makes the storyteller, whether the story helps get them into college or not.
Long Live The Storyteller!
Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.