When M.M. initially reached out to me, I knew her voice was special and her story unique. M.M. wrote about her fraught international upbringing and how it influenced how she views her identity, both as a confused child and now as a confident adult who studied her heritage through an analytical sociological lens.
Her voice was so sophisticated at times that most of my edit focused on toning down the complexity to make sure the essay was easy to read and comprehend. I focused on tearing down the layers of complexity for a smoother narrative that doesn’t leave the reader in confusion. Additionally, perhaps because she chose to keep some elements private, there was a lack of necessary context throughout the essay that we need to understand her story, and therefore, her. You have to treat your essay like a journalist would treat an article they’re writing: make sure every reference to your backstory or immigration experience is thoroughly explained for the general public.
The original draft was closer to 1100 words (which I advise for your initial drafts), so a large part of my edit also focused on what to cut. When writing about trauma, it’s important to remember to focus on how you’ve overcome your adversity so that your tone doesn’t veer into the bitter or resentful. Those are absolutely valid feelings, but in this essay, the goal is to show perseverance not pettiness. When you’re done with your draft, ask someone to read it and be honest about how you come across and what qualities you’re showcasing. Remember that the most important part of the essay is to be likable.
After we finished our edits, she wrote, “Thank you for your editing magic - I'm oh so grateful for you, Ms. Shuster!" So I asked her to write something about working together and this is what she sent over:
”Yelena was so insightful and an absolute delight to work with–– not only did she help with the mechanics of my essay, she took the time to get to know me personally in order to add a special touch. I credit her with bringing my writing to life in addition to reading well on paper! Thank you for your editing magic - I'm oh so grateful for you, Ms. Shuster! " -M.M., Accepted to Princeton, Duke, UNC & USC