When you need to remember the images and details of an experience, it can be helpful not to worry about chronology and narrative as you begin writing, because fresh to the page, you might become stymied wondering how to fit everything together. In that state, you may inadvertently start squelching details so you won’t have more than you think you can handle on the page. However, at the start, having more detail than you can use and choosing from a wealth of information is helpful for writing a compelling essay. When you start deleting information too soon, you rarely arrive at the best information.
Therefore, repeating this phrase, “This is a story about….” and making a list using the details and images of your experience will help provide a framework that relaxes you and allows your images to come to more easily mind.
If, for instance, if you are writing about being in an international delegation of students you might write:
This is a story about high school seniors who come from many countries–Japan, England, France, Canada, Brazil, Kenya and the US.
This is a story about a conference room at the Holiday Inn in Belgium.
This is a story about some liking coffee and some liking tea.
This is a story about trying black tea when I usually still drink milk.
This is a story of making a twelve-hour trip and wondering if I would be able to speak with others when I arrived.
This is a story about saying hello in English and not knowing what word I would hear back.
This is a story about realizing I have the personal resources to take risks and that taking risks allows me to expand those personal resources.
Using the “this is a story about” phrase will help you keep writing until your list takes you deeper and deeper into the experience and you are recalling more and more particulars. Be sure to use the names of people, snippets of what you heard, and colors from the experience among other details and images. By staying particular, you eventually arrive at some lines that are in the direction of evaluating the experience, of letting you know something of what it taught you.
By Sheila Bender, Accepted.com editor and author of How to Write Great College Application Essays and Stay Sane, an ebook; and Perfect Phrases for College Application Essays, recently published by McGraw-Hill; and several other books.