From Blogs to Applications

October 1, 2009 at 5:52 pm 37 comments

Nobody in my class ever actually said that they expected senior year to be a breeze – but in all honesty, we were all sure that it would be a free ride. Senioritis kicked in halfway through sophomore year, we have easy classes on our schedule, and besides, we’re seniors now. Doesn’t that mean teachers are supposed to give us a break?

The first couple weeks of school were easy enough. The homework was nothing but syllabuses for parents to sign and simple worksheets that reviewed instead of taught. I had plenty of leisure time to bake, browse my favorite blogs, and take long walks with my camera pressed to my cheek. School was a short occupation for a few hours a day, but never on my mind once the final bell rang.

Unexpectedly, those unassuming “pass classes” began assigning huge chunks of homework that took hours to complete. I spent a memorable, horrible day studying for a psychology test, thinking to myself, “Oh, right… I’d almost forgotten what this was like.” Environmental science, which had seemed no harder than planting  seeds in empty pop bottles, assigned a slew of projects and presentations without warning. And my stats class… oh, that’s a true nightmare. It may be my most hated class of all time, all four years of high school and all three years of middle school included. It’s that dull and unpleasant – and it’s the class that gives me the most homework.

But even if high school hadn’t just kicked into gear, I’d still be busy. College applications are proving to be one of the most intimidating, frightening pieces of work I have ever faced. I can’t help but feel like so much of my future depends on that application…  no first impression has ever held so much at stake. And surprising as it might be, the toughest part of the application for me right now is the essay.

I know I have it in me to write a good essay. I love to write, I even want to go into writing as a career. And yet, every time I sat down to write an essay, I felt as blank as a peeled potato. Nowhere to begin, nothing to say, and no ideas to put into words. I wanted so badly to come up with something meaningful and vibrant, but all I could think about was, “Everyone is expecting my essay to be fantastic.” And the slow but steadfast pressure of it all seemed to compress every creative impulse in me. I spent thirty minutes looking at the cursor blink on the word document before finally giving up.

Feeling stressed and a little uneasy, I decided to work on a new 17 and Baking blog post. I assembled the photos, opened up wordpress, and started to write. I was halfway through the post, describing the warmth of toasted hazelnuts in my palms and the sweet scent of pineapple sage rubbed on my fingertips, when it hit me. Ten minutes earlier, my writer’s block had been so severe that I couldn’t continue. But now, with the stress of college and expectations lifted, I was free to really capture the words that formed in my head and the emotions that stirred in my heart.

Writing a blog post is so different than writing an essay. I don’t need to feel anxious about grammar, word choice, tones and themes and figurative language. I enjoy writing essays and writing comes naturally to me, but it would be a lie to call it easy. Writing an essay takes time, work, and a lot of thought on my part. But whenever I write a blog entry, the words simply flow out, fluid and easy. I never prewrite, or even plan what I’m going to say until I’ve sat down and begun to type. It takes no longer than 15 minutes to write a post, and it captures my voice so clearly that you, the reader, probably know me as well as anyone does.

I began to tackle my college essay the way I tackle 17 and Baking – I pretended each essay I worked on was a blog post. There was no need to be perfect, just to write what was in my heart. The words began to come out now, slowly, but without squeezing my mind through a funnel. I wanted to write about baking too, and for inspiration I went through every single post on my site, picking out the ones that were potential college essays in themselves. They’re all roughly a page long, describe me, my life, my passions, and my motivations, and talk about baking – something that I hope will stand out among a sea of “the big game” and “the day my grandmother died” essays.

Yesterday, I wrote a draft of the first college essay I’ve been happy with so far. I felt the knot loosen slightly in my stomach as I printed it out, and then I laughed and baked cookies to reward my perseverance.

Entry filed under: Cookies. Tags: , , , .

Cello Birthday Cake School, Seattle, The Northwest… The World?

37 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jayson @ bigjobsboard  |  October 2, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Yum! it looks good. i love cookies. Thanks for sharing it.

  • 2. Dolce  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:18 am

    The writer’s nightmare: a blank page. I am happy to see you found a way to tackle your college essay and will keep my fingers crossed until all your application are submitted and you get the acceptance of your choice!

    (great cookies as always :) )

  • 3. Amanda  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:45 am

    This post is a writing teacher’s dream. :) You’ve hit on something that I’m still trying to convince my student’s of: readers are only as interested and engaged as the authors were when writing. I have no doubt that focusing on what you know and what you like to write about helped you draft an essay that will impress application readers.

    And… just know that writing application essays isn’t easy for anyone. PhD program applicants face the same terrifying blank page when it comes to writing the personal statement. And the same thing happened to me when I had to write cover letters for teaching jobs. For some reason, it’s really really hard to write these personal essays. So congrats again for finding your own way in! :)

  • 4. Kim, Rambling Family Manager  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:58 am

    You are a fantastic writer and any college would be lucky to have you; I’m positive your essay will be a stand out if it’s anything like your posts. I’m showing this entry to my 16 year old, who’s right behind you on the college applications thing! :)

    Best wishes as you send off those apps.

  • 5. nutmegnanny  |  October 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Those cookies look great! Keep all your hard work up. I remember senior year being a little rough but it’s totally worth it. When you get accepted to college you realize everything you worked so hard for:)

  • 6. Erin Chaney  |  October 2, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I love to read your blog, you do write beautifully. Have you thought about or considered going into pastry? I am positive you could get into one of the CIA’s…

  • 7. Baking Monster  |  October 2, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I half way know how you feel about senior year. I thought it was going to be a breeze and it’s not that it was extremely hard it’s just that our teachers still expected us to work. I don’t knw if your school does it but we had senior projects we had to do so it kept us busy until a few days before graduation. I didn’t have to apply to abunch of colleges so on that part I haven’t experienced but I did do scholarships and talking about baking is the best way to go because they can tell it’s something your passionate about. and I never knew that if you put bread in a cookie container it would make the cookies soft thanks for that!

  • 8. Yumi  |  October 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Good luck with your applications! I went through the nightmare last year (my mother bullied me into applying for 14 schools–DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME), but once applications are all in you get an enormous dose of relief. Until the letters start arriving, that is. But don’t worry, I’m sure your essay will be amazing and you’ll have the Admissions people all drooling.

    Wherever you go to college (and presumably, you’ll likely be in a college dormitory…) I hope you keep up your baking somehow and keep us all posted!. It’s been tricky for me, but thus far I have done my best with the *gasp* microwave (yes, all you real bakers can just shoot me now). Best wishes~!

  • 9. Memoria  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    I know what you mean about writer’s block when it comes to academic essays versus blog posts. I’m going through something very similar. I need to write my dissertation proposal, and I can’t get into it, but i can write a blog post all day long for the same reasons you mentioned.

    Anyway, the cookies and your photos look great. Good luck on the rest of your essays!

  • 10. Wendy  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I totally understand the writer’s block you were experiencing, well maybe because I’m not such a talented writer, but that was exactly what happened to me whilst I was writing my Personal Statement too. But I’m glad that my applications are (sort of) over, I was literally jumping with joy after I handed in the forms and pressed ‘submit’ on UCAS. Who on earth would know that writing about ourselves would be so hard!

    I hope your senior year goes well and I’m sure you’ll get into the colleges/unis your want! For me, senioritis kicked in like…a week since school started for me.

  • 11. Eliana  |  October 3, 2009 at 7:34 am

    These cookies look great. And good luck with your applications. I know you will do great.

  • 12. Shannon L  |  October 3, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I cant imagine next year. Im a junior right now and the work load has been insane since the 3rd day of school! Yay for AP Bio, AP US, AP English and AP Art History, not to mention my honors pre calc, honors anatomy. I get one fun class and its photo, but we have like a gazillion projects. I use to visit your site at least once a week during the summer. Since school started in the middle of August, this was the first time I could look at it. I dont know how I will do it next year with college apps. At least I dont need to take the SAT until January but I have to study for the PSAT. I love school, but I hate it at the same time. I guess heres to going to a good college. Thats what we do it all for right?

  • 13. Kim  |  October 5, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Hi Elissa,
    Keep baking and writing! Your future is VERY bright!
    I saw cookie cutters are on your wish list. Two summers ago while in Seattle I discovered a complete cookie cutter store in Ballard. Not sure if they’re still around.

  • 14. Making my Mark  |  October 6, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Ahh, I know all too well the college application time that you’re going through. I have also used blog posts as inspiration for other papers.

    Writing comes naturally to me too, but we all want to deliver out best work to college. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll want to turn in a fabulous paper to your professors as well, and if you approach it as a blog post, you will. :)

  • 15. Making my Mark  |  October 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I must add that I LOVE oatmeal cookies with raisins too.

  • 16. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction  |  October 6, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Just saw your cookies on TasteSpotting… They look fantastic! Glad I discovered your blog… Very impressive! Love your photos.

  • 17. Elissa's Dad  |  October 7, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Hey, you know I just love the occasional chocolate chip in my oatmeal raisin cookies! I shocked it wasn’t even added as an optional ingredient.

    I think someone is grounded :D

    • 18. Elissa  |  October 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

      Dad, that completely scared me for a minute!

      And there actually are chocolate chips in here… whoops, I’ll add them to the ingredients!

  • 19. Yumi  |  October 7, 2009 at 6:22 am

    Hahaha Elissa your dad is awesome. I wish mine had that kind of sense of humor.

  • 20. Elissa's Dad  |  October 7, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Well you’re still grounded just cause I can, at least until this time next year when you’ll be away at college. But then I’ll just ground you and your roomate too! Yeah, that’s what I’ll do….

  • 21. vincent  |  October 8, 2009 at 12:13 pm


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  • 22. Mr D  |  October 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Elissa-
    Totally stunned that a piece of bread will soften my cookies-Love that. Blog is looking great and as noted above, colleges will be thrilled to have you, the big question for you will be finding a good match. You are interviewing them as much as the other way around. Keep rockin and keep us posted.
    Mr D

  • 23. Misa  |  October 14, 2009 at 1:01 am

    These look awesome. Can’t wait to try them tomorrow!
    Love your blog, and good luck with the college apps!

  • 24. Tisha  |  November 20, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Elissa,

    I heard about you and your blog on KPLU the other morning and thought I’d check it out. Wonderful stuff and fun to read! I can relate to the writers block. I had to wirte an Artists statement that took two days it’s seemed. I was telling someone about it then they started asking questions about what drives my passion with art. I began to babble and get all excited about out conversation. That’s when they said, “just write down what you just told me and you’ve got it!!” How is it that a blank page can be so intimidating?

    I also wondered if you had a location (perhaps I missed it somewhere) to leave or share recipies. I have a wonderful recipie for Ginger cookies that was passed down to me in 1993 by my then, 98 year old neighbor. I’d love to pass it on to for you to try.
    I can’t wait to try some of yours!

    • 25. Elissa  |  November 20, 2009 at 9:28 pm

      Tisha – I don’t have a spot like that for sharing recipes, but please email it to me! Ginger cookies happen to be my favorite and yours sound great! My email is 17andbaking [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • 26. KristineMarie  |  December 26, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    These photos bring back memories of the best oatmeal cookies I ever had…made by a lovely Bed and Breakfast owner in Charlottesville, VA. She is no longer there, and I so wish I had her recipe. All I know is those oatmeal cookies were thin, crisp and had that brown sugar sweetness that was unforgettable.

    I also understand the pressures of writing and sympathize. For myself, not being able to put things to a page is like being all tied up into knots. The relief of writing is something I look forward to, much like a good massage;)

    Happy cooking, writing and living!


  • 27. Friday Favorites – Episode 29 | my kitchen addiction  |  January 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    […] to 17 and Baking, the blog of another young, talented blogger that I recently discovered.  These oatmeal cookies look absolutely amazing… […]

  • 28. The College A Team  |  February 25, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    You’ve described something that all good writers feel sometimes, but it seems to be most prevalent for college applicants around essay writing time. In my experience working with students, I’ve found that the pressure to write the perfect essay has a lot to do with it.

    I spend a lot of my time trying to downplay the importance of the essay, which is odd because I am a professional college application essay editor and my job security is directly tied to the importance of the application essay. However, applicants tend to put so much pressure on themselves that they can’t write optimally if they think their entire future depends on how well they write their essay. It doesn’t.

    Applicants who are trying to write a perfect essay won’t be at their best. Applicants who are trying to write a good essay will.

    The key is to mentally separate the writing process and the editing process. Make the essay good when you write it; make it great when you edit it.

    By the way, Elissa, baking is a great topic for you, so I’m glad you chose that. Your writing style is naturally enjoyable, so I’m sure you nailed it.

  • 29. Nancy  |  July 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    These cookies look delicious!But I coudnt find the recipe :/. I was wondering if you could share you rmost healthiest dessert recipe :). So far my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe is by Nick Malgieri, you should check it out. Ohh and by the way I love your blog..Great Recipes!!! =D

  • 30. Yiran  |  August 20, 2010 at 2:03 am

    These cookies look great, except for one thing… I can’t help but notice that the recipe is t included in this post – either that, or I’m completely blind.

  • 31. Yiran  |  August 20, 2010 at 2:04 am

    These cookies look great, except for one thing… I can’t help but notice that the recipe is t included in this post – either that, or I’m completely blind..

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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