The Power of Forgetting

Have you ever forgotten something important right as it showed up on a test question?


Puzzled Girl

That 50-point question…

Blanking out sucks. Especially when it’s on something important. But cheers! Because as it turns out, having an imperfect memory is going to be your best asset for application revisions.

Traditionally, the editing phase is where the hardest-working and most-caring students receive the lowest returns on their time. Tirelessly, they edit their drafts day in and day out, working on the same material until they grow numb to it. Eventually, the whole thing turns into a subconscious routine. The fingers auto-type and correct, and the brain wanders off to more interesting things.


Isolated Building

Cool, a building on a cliff.

There are tell-tale signs: as you read and edit, sentences grow smoother and smoother…until the point when everything starts sounding perfect. Your brain anticipates content before it gets to your eyes, so it stops criticizing what the eyes see. What you read looks exactly the way you expect it to look, so your mind gives it a mark of approval and moves on.

The good and the bad start to mix. Without clear justification for individual edits, your revisions become increasingly haphazard.

When this happens, pull yourself out of your chair and do something else. Give yourself some time to forget.


Fitness Guy Stretching

Take a breather.

If you want to get effective revisions done

Always look at material that feels new to you.


Remember how you used to peer-edit with classmates? Even if someone didn’t write as well as you, he or she still had a fresh perspective. Because of that, they could offer you feedback that you would not have come up with on your own. Whether or not you agreed with them wasn’t important; their opinions were different, and therefore valuable.


Interested Classmates

I like…your opinion.

Peer review worked well for school essays. For college applications, you also want someone you can depend on. This time, make that person you.


Your classmates are no longer experts.
They are struggling through personal statements just as much as you are.
The stakes are too high.
People will prioritize themselves before helping others. College applications bring out the competitive and secretive side in everyone.
Close friends are limited in what they can say.
A ‘good job’ is the most likely response you’ll hear, and people will reply that way even if they don’t mean it. No one is going to risk a relationship to flat out criticize your story, especially if they can’t provide a direct solution.


The peer-review process breaks down.

What is reliable, and what can be counted on, is yourself. After all, you want to make this thing work. This is your future on the line. So, make it easy for you to help you. Give yourself time to forget.


Revision Strategies


  • After you complete a rough draft, put it away for at least a few days. Don’t think about it. If a great idea comes up, create a separate file and put notes into them.
  • When you do return to a draft to revise, spend as little time as possible in getting the job done. You can even run a stopwatch as you edit. Treat every read-through as a scarce commodity, as something you can use up. It’s okay to linger on a tricky section, but don’t linger on the draft as a whole. Get in and get out.
  • The longer you spend in a single editing session, the longer you should wait until you work on that particular draft again.
  • Work on separate prompts in separate sessions so that they don’t end up sounding like each other.


Happily Writing

Smart strategies over brute force revision.

 If you can follow these four guidelines, your drafts, no matter what stage they are at, will have a fresh feel to them every time you return to revise. That fresh feeling makes it easier for you to spot errors, feel out the flow of your sentences, check for tone, and verify that the general impression you are making is effective.



Summary of 6.2 The Power of Forgetting


  • Forgetting is an essential precursor to successful editing. You get to treat your draft as an unfamiliar novelty, which heightens your awareness of what needs to be fixed.
  • Even the most forgetful person will grow familiar with his or her own work after multiple edits. Stall this process by spacing out your revisions and make each one as efficient as possible.
  • Just as you did for writing, edit when you are at your best.