Meet Patch Blogger Kim Lifton of Wow Writing Workshop

The Huntington Woods resident, who shares tips on how to write effective college essays in her posts, talks about how she and partner Susan Knoppow, also of Huntington Woods, transformed helping neighborhood kids into a small business and more.

Patch blogger Kim Lifton thrives on helping people tell their stories.

The Huntington Woods resident and former journalist has used her experience to guide myriad Metro Detroit students along the path to college admissions. She serves as president of Wow Writing Workshop and writes a popular Patch blog on how to write effective college essays.

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"I am a news junkie, naturally inquisitive (a bit nosey) and interested in everything and anyone," she said. "Everyone has a story; I want to hear them all."

The small business owner and her Wow Writing Workshop partner Susan Knoppow, also of Huntington Woods, this summer launched Wow Online – College Essay, a tutorial for college application essay writing. They also continue to offer private workshops, brainstorming sessions, essay reviews and college essay workshops in classrooms, as well as teach ACT writing classes.

Lifton recently took the time to answer a few questions to help Patch readers get to know her better.

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Anwer: As a teen, I bought newspapers at every rest stop during summer road trips with my family. My father thought something was wrong with me. He would ask, “How can the news be different in each paper?” I liked (and still like) knowing what was going on in each town or city. It was fun to see how the national and international stories were reported.

After years of working in journalism and corporate communications, I co-founded Wow Writing Workshop with my friend, Susan Knoppow. I had been helping my friends’ kids find their own stories and write their college application essays for decades; Susan had been teaching writing and working in the corporate world as well. There was a void in the college prep market, and we decided to create a new model for teaching the college essay.

I live in Huntington Woods with my family – and around the corner from Susan. I spend most of my time with her, or driving my daughter, Sarah, to and from her various social activities, drinking too much coffee, walking to Royal Oak with my husband, Kevin Shea, scrapbooking, posting on Facebook, swimming, doing pilates and going to James Taylor concerts.

Every night before I go to sleep, I spend a few minutes thinking about my twin sister, Hope, who died when we were 40. I am grateful to be 51.

Q: Tell us about Wow Writing Workshop.

A: Wow Writing Workshop, launched in 2009, teaches high school students how to tell their stories in their own words and their own voices so their college application essays stand out from the crowd. Initially, we ran workshops in classrooms and small groups, and in private sessions.

In October, Wow Writing Workshop introduced Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing. The tutorial is built around the 10-step Wow Method, which teaches students how to reflect on their lives and to look at writing as a process so it is less stressful.

The tutorial provides students with the same level of instruction offered in our classroom sessions, yet also allows them to work independently at their own pace.

Wow Online – College Essay is also designed to be a teaching aid for teachers, counselors and educational consultants. They can use the tutorial to guide their students through the challenging college application essay process. Parents can follow our review and editing guidelines to assist their children.

For students who request additional services, Wow offers private workshops, brainstorming sessions and essay reviews.

While we are focusing on the new tutorial, we also teach ACT writing classes in Metro Detroit and will continue to offer a limited number of college essay workshops in classrooms.

I am president; Susan is CEO; Andrew Denis of Prescott, Arizona, is our chief technology officer; Anne Osmer, also of Huntington Woods, is a member of our marketing team; Marc Kay of Farmington Hills is a member of our teaching team; team photographer Kevin Shea and MVP Collaborative of Madison Heights produce our videos; Cindy Romano of Royal Oak is our graphic artist. David London of Paramount Studios of Clawson designed our corporate logo; Jerry Knoppow, a retired CEO of West Bloomfield, is our business coach.

Q: What lessons did you learn and resources did you discover as a small business owner getting Wow started?

A: We knew it would be challenging to start and grow a business, but we had no idea just how much work or how many hours would be required. Running a business requires more than skill – it requires patience, tolerance and flexibility. We learn new things every day.

We had amazing resources to help us get started. We developed a business plan, and we use it as a working document. We have short-term and long-term goals. We meet regularly with a business coach and seek expertise from accountants, attorneys, small business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing strategists, venture capitalists and bankers.

Q: What have been some of the high points for Wow during the past year and what's new on the horizon?

A: Launching Wow Online – College Essay, our online tutorial, was the high point for Wow this year. We introduced it with a soft launch over the summer leading up to the National Association for College Admission Counseling conference in Denver last month. It was the perfect place to launch the tutorial, and the product was well received. Another high point came when we secured some of the early seed money from a new Hebrew Free Loan Association program, the Marvin I. Danto Small Business Loan Program. The program provides interest-free business loans to Jewish entrepreneurs and small business owners in the greater Detroit area.  We plan to introduce more online writing products in the next year.

Q: What drew you to the art of crafting effective college essays?

A: Journalists are always the go-to people for everyone else’s writing projects. Of course, friends, their kids and relatives have always called me for help with writing projects. Over the past few decades, the pleas for help with college essays topped the list of calls. I saw an opportunity.  Students were stressed and didn’t know how to think about the essay. They sat at my dining room table, where I interviewed them so they could come up with ideas and write their stories. The problem was, I never charged them, and I couldn’t get them to leave my house. Clearly, I needed my life back. I turned to my go-to project partner, Susan, and asked if she could create a curriculum for teaching college essay writing for a classroom environment. I had to get it out of my dining room.

She loved the idea – even more than I did at first. This was a natural concept for Susan, a writing teacher, poet, instructional designer and queen of process and order. I am a networker with a knack for marketing and idea generating. We had worked together many times over the years on various projects. We were always better as a team.

She developed the original curriculum and taught me how to teach it in a focused, organized way. Now we are interchangeable. We are moving quickly, bringing the online tutorial to market, and we are still as excited about the potential as we were on Day 1. This has been a fabulous, educational journey. We believe the best is yet to come.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers and why?

A: Tom Henderson (Blood Justice, Darker than Night), Joe McGinniss (Fatal Vision) and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). I am a journalist who loves true crime, newspapers, magazines and biographies. In the spirit of balance, I also enjoy some lighter reading, like The Wedding Beat by Devan Sipher, formerly of Detroit and a Vows writer for the New York Times.

Q: How do you feel when you see menus and billboards with incorrect punctuation or spelling?  

A: It irritates my 14-year-old daughter. I get more worked up over improper contractions in Facebook posts (your/you’re), overuse of the word impact (I heard it on a radio show one morning six times in an hour) and the phrase, “At the end of the day.” I cringe every time I hear it.

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which recently launched Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing. Lifton writes a weekly blog about the college application essay and the journey to college admission.


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