Personal statements are the worst nightmare of even a confident writer. A mysterious amalgamation of ego and sycophantry, decisiveness and open-to-influenceness, personal statement writing often begins with wild listmaking and doesn’t get much further until a panicked, last-minute rewrite at 1AM, wracked by guilt and accompanied by a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michele.

As a writing consultant, coaxing a sophisticated personal statement from a writer is one of the most difficult challenges we face. It takes a certain level of interpersonal connection, which is often not possible in our time-constrained work environment. What are your childhood dreams? how do they connect to the program at [insert school name here]? what conflicts have you faced that specially equip you to research croaking grasshoppers in Malaysia/androgyny in Renaissance painting/Marxist revolution in Harry Potter? 

My students know me well enough to know that I will always ask them to cut their work by at least a third. First-timers are always horrified, but returning students value my insistence on brevity, specific details, and illustrative examples.

Rarely, a productive session will leave a student invigorated to make revisions, and their engagement in the process of detailing their scholarly journey will thrill even the most jaded writing tutor.

More often, though, the student will resent the tutor’s suggestion to start from scratch through a thin veil of politesse, barely masking deep-seated panic. The tutor will notice the resentment and choose to ignore it, or acknowledge its presence and propose channeling that same energy into a stellar rewrite.

Recently, I met with a student outside of my formal tutoring space to go over what I was told was a personal statement. Actually, it was a 7 page letter petitioning the university that the student did not get accepted to the first time around. The student also sent me their detailed college and high school transcripts, their 5-page personal statement submitted with the original application, and various supplementary forms from admissions officers detailing the student’s graduation plan, course schedule, etc. Wow.

Without the auspices of the writing center to justify my non-directive pedagogy, I struggled to clarify what I could offer the student: comprehensive and supportive feedback, suggested edits, assistance in developing writing skills overall and not just for this assignment, blah blah blah. The student balked: couldn’t I just rewrite the letter for them?

In the writing center, I would have kindly explained that writing someone’s paper for them was unethical and wasn’t one of the services offered by the writing center staff. But I wasn’t in the writing center. People hire writers to edit work for them all the time, right? Why can’t I offer a variety of services for a variety of circumstances? The only thing holding me back was my deep-seated devotion to writing center pedagogy.

Further, while presuming competence is one of my primary ethics as a writing tutor/editor, this student was so riddled with what seemed like ADHD that I could hardly get them to answer a super precise question like, “why do you want to major in International Studies” without them going on a 10-minute diatribe about sports, the Korean military, and their favorite burrito place in North Seattle.

In the end, I elected to offer this student comprehensive edits, a full rewrite, and basically to remove them from the text except for their personal details. I wouldn’t offer this in every situation, but the extreme anxiety and lack of focus from the student forced me to choose an approach that worked best for my own wellbeing–once a student veers wildly from their own work, the amount of social & emotional labor that I have to put in directly affects the services that I will offer. When I can use writing center pedagogy to redirect, I will. And when the struggle is just too real, I will offer an alternative.

This realization is freeing as I continue to expand my freelance writing and editing responsibilities; I will continue developing my intuitive skills to accurately gauge which kind of writing help each client needs.



I’ve been wanting business cards for such a long time. I never felt quite right making them myself–I’m such a big supporter of graphic designers and artists, I felt like designing my own cards was sacrilege.

Enter my cool coworker McKenna, who designed these groovy business cards for me. She’s got such a clean aesthetic, and she’s as into Georgia (the font–not the state) as I am! Check out her cute website here.

Business Cards McKenna Haley

Yum. And for my writing clients, you’ll recognize the quote as possibly my favorite thing to say in sessions to drive you to the brink of insanity. You love it.


I’ve never been a joiner. For someone deeply into so many cultural things–film, veganism, games, feminism, natural healing, poetics–I have just never found a clear-cut group with which I identify.

The closest I have ever come to this was–weirdly–in my hometown, when I was still in high school. While most of my close friends were very different from me in terms of interests, we all balanced one another out in a dynamic way. We glowed with energy: debates blossomed, flamed, and receded; we could introduce each other to things we loved: designers, artists, filmmakers, music, novels. I have often wondered if this was because every one of us were artists in some fashion or another–or if we were just immensely lucky to have the kind of chemical rapport that we did. It came naturally as breathing.

In years past, I have lamented the loss of this space. Friends moved far away or dropped out of contact, busy with relationships or drowning in work. I myself got into less-than-savory activities and lost focus on my writing and the relationships that mattered to me. My communities began to revolve around parties, substances, and shutting out unpleasantness rather than inviting intellectualism and art in.

Now, so physically far removed from any of the communities that I worked to create and maintain, I am realizing that my disinterest in joining may actually be a gift–alongside with the difficulties of being unaffiliated, I have the space to move free and fluid within and without spaces of my choosing. I am not betraying a group by taking space away from it–I am in flux.

Part of me yearns to join the clique at my job–to dye my hair and drink tall boys of Rainier on the beach taking selfies; part of me wants an MFA–an insular group of sheltered creatives shuffling towards meaning; other parts want vegan friends–white yipsters bleating about local foods. But these parts of me clash.

What I really want is curious and critical friends of many persuasions–and I am very lucky to have somehow made that happen. I didn’t join a pre-established community; I have always worked to create my own, sometimes to flourishing success, and often to shrieking failure.

I am proud of the time I have spent creating space for myself. I am more proud of my active role in my own communities than I would be defaulting into a crowd.

Sometimes I am lonely; sometimes I feel alienated. But I am always capable.