To Greener Pastures

For most people, the hardest part of writing a story is starting it. You read a prompt and sit there waiting for a good idea to materialize. It’s like a home theater in your mind…with a mind of its own. Knowing that you can’t reach in there and press any buttons, your brain gives you whimsical, random batches of memories to work with. Like sushi boats, these memories race by quickly. Your job is to catch one, keep it, and do your best to transform it from a vision into a tangible story.

The experience is unpredictable. You could be in front of the computer, in bed thinking of ideas, hanging out with friends, meeting relatives, or sitting on the toilet. In fact, good ideas have a tendency to sneak up on you out of the blue (and just as quickly, disappear). They are like the dream that you half-wake from – let one go, and it’ll be much harder to catch it the second time around.

TV Surprise

Whoa there, brain.

Call this kind of brainstorming ‘random inspiration’ if you will

It’s a nice term for an otherwise aggravating experience

With random inspiration, both the route and destination are unclear. You hop on for a ride that you don’t control. Given enough time, sure – there’s a chance to luck out and stumble upon the perfect idea. Just as likely, though, you’ll come up empty handed.

Royal Flush

Looking for this?

Hundreds of thousands of students count on random inspiration to do well in college admissions every year, but based on the odds, just a fraction of them come out on the winning end.

A poor showing on the personal statements is the prevailing reason why students get rejected from certain reach and match schools.

Some ideas fall short. Others sound promising at first, but then lose their charm upon further scrutiny. As a writer, it’s better to control the outcome, rather than be at the mercy of mental roadblocks and luck.

Random inspiration is the default approach because few students learn how to script a story in school. If anything, school emphasizes an impersonal style of writing – focusing on symbolism, conceptualization, and comparison. So most students find themselves in foreign territory. When people realize that there’s not all the time in the world to think up something amazing, they will settle for whatever they can get.

Surprise Lightbulb

Building a bike…made a lightbulb.

You begin drafting. Maybe you decide to work on ‘just okay’ ideas. Maybe the ideas themselves aren’t fully clear yet. Either way, you push forward, eager for momentum to pick up and carry you to completion.

You write a little here and there. This process goes on for a couple weeks. Weeks turn into months. The time invested really begins to really add up. And finally, because ‘you have to’, you find a way to finish your final drafts.

What a relief!…or is it? It soon becomes apparent that even more editing has to be done. The essay feels choppy. The story doesn’t fully resonate. So you return to what you have, chip away a little here and there, and make more adjustments. A word gets replaced. A sentence gets added. Before you know it, another few weeks or months have passed by. You’ve pressed the save key a couple hundred times, and now, perhaps finally, all your labor will pay off.

Has it?

At this point, the story doesn’t blow anyone’s mind

But from a grammatical perspective, it’s hard to spot errors anymore.

The answer is no. You, the motivated student, had all the right things going from the start – determination, discipline and effort – but ever since stage one, an unlucky dice roll ensured that no amount of hard work would result in a strong essay. The moment you kept that mediocre rough draft, destiny wrote your final chapter.

Ineffective essays are real, and the majority of students settle on them. Thankfully, you don’t have to play against the same odds.

First off, ditch the random inspiration approach:

  • It tempts you into settling down before you’ve struck gold.
  • There’s no predictability and control in the process.

It turns drafting into a tedious, brain-churning routine.

We don’t like to give up on things we’ve devoted ourselves to – may it be with something small, like a daily breakfast ritual, or something big, like a relationship. But in the admissions game, knowing when to hit restart makes the difference between a rejection and an admission. Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time editing so-so statements. Just create new ones.

If you happen to create a keeper

You will know by the time you wrap up the very first draft.

Remember that!

No amount of awkward sentence structure and flow can prevent a good story from resonating with a reader. Show it to others. Even the harshest critic won’t be able to overlook the fact that something great is in the works.

Approval from Brother

Not bad, little bro. Not my level, but not bad.

Help yourself by making two important resolutions right now –

  • I will be willing to write new drafts until my highest standards are met.
  • I will search out that special story.

It is easy to create one-page stories with the methods you will learn. When you find your momentum, you can easily complete a personal statement in a single sitting. It’s fast. It’s stress free. And it feels great – knowing that you’ve just created a game-changer in less time than it takes to write a school paper.

If you are prepared to accept criticism from others and yourself, hold your pride in check, and keep trying, your chance of producing a knockout application will skyrocket.

Your writing can only improve with practice. When you find that diamond in the rough, you’ll know it, and anyone who reads your story will know it too.

Summary of 3.1 To Greener Pastures

  • Random inspiration is an unreliable ally. We will discuss an alternative in later sections, but for now, commit to starting with a good idea. Write, rather than edit, your way to victory.
  • The more time you spend on a less-than-exceptional product, the harder it will be to get rid of it. Avoid getting too attached to your work, even when it’s pretty good. ‘Amazing’ is the standard to strive for. Keep trying until you get there. It’s okay to start over. Writing new material is always faster and easier than editing old stuff.