by j9robinson | Sep 4, 2010
College Admissions Essays
A Step-By-Step Guide to Telling Your Story
Step 1: Write down 3-5 “defining qualities” about yourself.
Think of how one of your parents would sum you up to a stranger.
My Julie, why, she’s creative, ambitious, caring and has a mean stubborn streak. (You can use short phrases, too. “always tries hard,” “takes risks,” “is a fast study.”)
Step 2: Take one of those qualities and try to think of a time–it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking and probably only lasted about 5 minutes or so–when that quality was challenged, or formed, or tested, proven, or affected/changed.
HUGE HINT: Think about a problem, or an obstacle, conflict, challenge or some type of trouble, that involved you and that quality.
Step 3: If you can find an interesting moment, incident, experience or story to convey about a time when things went wrong for you, BINGO, you could have found a great topic!
ANOTHER HUGE HINT: The incident does not have to be when you fell off a cliff or were hit by a car.
Problems can take many forms, including a personal idiosyncrasy, or phobia, a challenge, or something (big or little, real or in your mind) that tried to stop you from doing something you wanted.
I will stop here. But in a nutshell, you can now relay the problem (in story form, called an “anecdote”) and then explain what you learned, and why, by dealing with it.
Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, but this might help you get going. Read my other posts, How to Write an Anecdote, Show don’t Tell, and Mundane Topics for more great advice.
by j9robinson | Jun 14, 2010
In my last post, I talked about how to ditch the 5-paragraph essay by switching to the “show and tell” approach. For you visual learners, I put together a simple outline of each so you can see the difference.
Read more about how to Show and Tell to write a terrific narrative-style essay for your college application!
by j9robinson | Jul 27, 2008
One of the best ways to write about yourself is to start with a little story, also known as an anecdote. Not only are these mini-stories compelling and natural “grabbers,” they are an excellent way to “show” the reader about yourself instead of just “telling” them. (Want to learn how to “show” your reader what sets you apart from the pack, and write in a narrative, or story-telling, style? Read THIS.)
So let’s assume you have chosen your story. (Click HERE to find great story topics!) Now, where do you start? Make sure the beginning has the most interesting, dramatic, compelling part of the story–otherwise you won’t hook your reader. It is quite common to “bury your lead,” that is, have the best part of your story, the highlight, the drama, the irony, etc., too far down in the narrative. If this is the case, just bring it up–and background it later.
Start your story at the best part, even if it happened in the middle. Start with the good stuff, the action, the impact, the peak of the problem, the punch of the moment, whatever has the most “juice.” Usually, you will only describe “a time” or moment that only lasted a few minutes. Often, this incident also will reflect on your larger message–that’s why it has that “juice.”
If you start in the middle of your story, and describe the highlight, you just need to quickly take your reader back to the beginning of your story in the following paragraph. You always want to go back and start at the beginning because that’s the most natural way to tell a story: chronologically. That way, you also end at the end, so writing your conclusion is natural and simple.
Read some sample essays that tell stories and note where the writer starts her or his story, and study how the narrative was handled. If you want more help on writing a mini-story or anecdote, read THIS POST on how to write an anecdote. If you need help getting started with your college admission essay, try my Jumpstart Guide.
by j9robinson | Jul 25, 2008
I remember wanting to improve my writing in high school, and feeling frustrated by all the “tips” in the popular how-to-write books: “Be concise,” “Use action verbs,” and the all-popular, “Show, don’t tell.”
OK, but how do I write better?
Later, I came upon one writing book that made a little more sense, called “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg.
Here is what she said about “Show, don’t tell,” that helped me:
“‘Don’t tell, but show.’ What does this actually mean? It means don’t tell us about anger (or any of those big words like honesty, truth, hate, love, sorrow, life, justice, etc.); show us what made you angry. We will read it and feel angry. Don’t tell readers what to feel. Show them the situation, and that feeling will awaken in them.”
And she goes on: “Some general statements are sometimes very appropriate. Just make sure to back each one with a concrete picture. Even if you are writing an essay, it makes the work so much more lively.”
One great way to “show” readers is to be specific with your writing and use details! I talk about how to be specific when writing your college application essay in this post.