The College Admissions Saga, Episode 1: The Dreaded Writer's Block: The intrusive tick of a crooked wall clock pierces the silence with conviction. Your fingers stand crippled and uncertain; their unique prints brush the standard keys, producing little originality. The glowing white screen intensifies your blanched exterior, placing the burden of its emptiness upon you...
Although the essay writing process may at times seem all-consuming, maddening, and inordinately challenging, do not panic! There is hope. Often, writer's block stems from the mountains of pressure placed upon this single piece as well as the inability to select an appropriate topic. So, if you are having trouble formulating ideas, simply can't seem to begin your essay, or are just a general hot mess (like I was), read on for some tips and tricks that will help you master the art of the first draft.
Brainstorming is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the essay writing process. Often, we have numerous, discordant thoughts that are difficult to unify into a cohesive topic. Sometimes, the expectations of others and the important nature of this essay pressures you to write what many believe admissions officers "want to hear." Nevertheless, here are some unconventional brainstorming techniques that will help you to select a relevant, engaging, and powerful subject:
- Mix up the Medium. For those of you enthralled by the expediency of technology (myself include), I am about to propose something radical. Hold on to your socks! Try, just for one day, to write with a pencil and paper. Yes, these mythical, archaic tools are still in existence. In fact, many of you even possess these rare artifacts in your own homes! Taking a step back from the computer screen is the perfect change of pace and will often trigger a fresh wave of thoughts.
- Word Vomit. Grab a piece of paper or open a blank document and write everything that comes to mind as you ponder your college admissions essay. This can be phrases, drawings, or fragmented words. Have no filter. Record whatever pops into your head and go from there. Everything.
- Talk to your Friends (or to yourself). Sometimes, introspection is difficult and an outside perspective is invaluable. Find the friends who know you the best and ask them to describe you. What makes you tick? What angers you? What are you passionate about? What makes you smile and light up even on a bad day? Furthermore, this is an exercise you can even do alone. Force yourself to consider difficult questions in hopes that a fitting topic will emerge from your answers. What kind of person do you want to become? What problems in the world keep you up at night with frustration? Is there somebody in your life who has helped shape or change your perspective of the world? The questions are practically endless.
Now, assuming that you have become a brainstorming master, composing your first draft is the next step. As I remember the countless hours I spent perfecting each individual word, phrase, and sentence, the best advice I can give is this...get it written, not right! Your first draft is just that, an initial, loose organization of ideas. It's not supposed to be perfect; you are expected to reread, revise, and rethink. There are several things to consider when constructing your initial draft:
Outline, Outline, Outline. And then outline some more! A first draft does not have to be perfected but it must be organized. Writing without an outline is like entering a maze without a bird's eye view. You'll get lost in the details, digress from the main idea, and write in a circular manner before coming to a bizarre and irrelevant end. Don't do it!
Think Outside the Box. Avoid the mechanical five paragraph structure of essay writing with SAT vocabulary (not so subtly) sprinkled throughout the piece. This is a story, not a research paper. You want your essay to capture your original tone, so write naturally and add personal flare.
No Fluff Zone. Do not add sentences that contribute nothing to your goal or topic because you simply like the way they sound. College admissions officers have years of experience and built in fluff filters. Write deliberately with each word, phrase, and sentence communicating an important aspect of your character or story.
Finally, many high school seniors (myself included) expect far too much from a single essay. It does not have to be a Pulitzer-worthy writing to accomplish its purpose. As a young adult, you are not expected to have a life-altering epiphany. You do not have to propose ground-breaking theories or answer the questions philosophers and intellectuals have been contemplating for centuries. This is YOUR personal narrative, unique and valuable because it reflects who you are. It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be you.