Freewrite Your Way to a Great College Application Essay
First, write the question you are going to address at the top of a new document. Next, freewrite an answer to it for 10 to 15 minutes. Set an oven timer to keep yourself from looking up at the clock. Keep your fingers on the keyboard or the pen to the page and just keep slamming out the words, any words that come to you on the topic. You don’t have to read the screen or scan what you have already written on the page. Keep new words coming.
When the alarm rings, shake out your hands and re-read what you wrote. Underline or highlight the words that surprise you, the ones that feel as if they might lead you to saying more. If you can, read this freewrite to someone or ones you trust and let them tell you two things: the words and phrases that they remember from your reading and what they’d like to know more about. You can also have others read to themselves, but we always learn a lot about how our words perform on the page when we listen to ourselves read aloud to others.
Do a second freewrite with their responses in mind.
Read the second freewrite to your trusted listeners and ask for the same responses. This time, though, also be sure to ask if any of the images, sentences, or thoughts you’ve written confuse, distract, disappoint or bore. These are the places where you most probably stray from your subject or get shy about putting it fully on the page. You might be sticking to details that are safe rather than exploring the occasion. You might be summarizing and using intangible words rather than words that describe by appealing to the five senses.
- Let your responders know that their responses must be in the form of “I” statements: I am bored in the part about XYZ because the images don’t seem fresh to me; I am confused when you mention going to Alaska because I thought you were talking about being in Cincinnati; I am distracted by wondering why you post a rhetorical question in the middle of the writing because I think you must know the answer if I do.
- Take notes as they speak and don’t explain what you’ve written. When you hear their response to the writing itself without any explanations by you, you will receive a useful jumpstart for knowing what you need to do to keep the reader with you.
Thanks for joining us as we continue with Staying Sane through the College Essay Writing Process, an ongoing series that offers college applicants and their parents advice on how to stay on track for completing Ivy-worthy essays…without flying off the handle. We hope you enjoyed this next part of the series, and STAY SANE!
By Sheila Bender, former Accepted.com editor and founder of Writing it Real, a “community and resource center for writing from personal experience.”