Best Writing Tips
for College Application Essays!

I’m excited to introduce my newest writing guide for college application essays: Essay Hell’s Writing Survival Kit. It includes some of the best writing tips and advice I know of, as well as other handy college admissions-related resources and sample narrative style essays written by real students.

It just debuted on Amazon as a Kindle ebook, and will be available in paperback by end of April. 

In the next few weeks, I will be sharing some excerpts from the Survival Kit here on Essay Hell. I’m always eager (and SO GRATEFUL) for readers to provide feedback and reviews on the Amazon pages of my guides, such as Escape Essay Hell (my step-by-step writing guide for writing narrative-style college app essays) and Heavenly Essays (a collection of inspiring sample college app essays written mostly by my former students).

If you are interested in reviewing my Writing Survival Kit, I’m going to send out several dozen review copies in upcoming weeks. Email me at if you would like to read it and leave a review on Amazon after it’s published there.

Here’s an excerpt with one of the brainstorming tips I included in the Writing Survival Guide:


Find Your Life Souvenirs

Some of us are adept at scrolling back through time and recalling specific memories or “times” we had interesting experiences. Others (like me), not so much.

Ask me to recall one of my most meaningful moments or incidents in my life, and I immediately go blank. But if something sparks a memory, every detail will come back in vivid, living color.

So instead of trying to pull memories out of thin air, start by collecting those specific “somethings” that can trigger a memory. The idea is that one tangible, concrete object or piece of a memory often links to past experiences with larger meaning. These are a gold mine for real-life stories you can use as anecdotes (real-life mini stories) in our essays.

In a way, they are little metaphors in our life. They remind us of something else, often something larger than the actual object. For the most part, these concrete pieces connect to something that happened, or those “times” we treasure from our past.

Here are the types of life souvenirs that can spark a story or topic idea:

  • A shell you found while walking with your grandmother on the beach.
  • A song you listened to while driving back and forth between your divorced parents’ home.
  • A dress you made for your first dance.
  • A piece of metal you kept after you wrecked your car.
  • A drawing you made while in the hospital for an operation.
  • A bottle of hot sauce you kept from the chili cookout you won.
  • A ticket stub to a special movie or other event.

Go through your favorite “stuff,” and search your home, your room, your computer files, social media posts, junk drawers, binder covers, closets, bookshelves, pockets, etc. Notice what you have kept—and why. 

What do they remind of you of? Often, you will discover a forgotten memory of something that happened. And suddenly, you have captured one of those “times” that can make the perfect anecdote for your narrative essay.

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I also have to give a shoutout to Russell Pierce, the amazing graphic artist in Laguna Beach, California, who has designed all the graphics for my Essay Hell blog and books. If you want to see his other terrific work, check out his portfolio.