‘Tis the season for applications: 10 Essay Tips for Students Applying to College

Although I’m mostly known for my writing, I also do a bit of proofreading and editing. And the most common thing for me to proofread at this time of year is a college application essay.

Now, I’ve been looking at those essays for over twenty years – basically, since I was a high school senior myself. Back in the day, we had to type their final drafts onto our applications, of course.  typewriter

I’ve seen some wonderful college essays, and some terrible ones, in my time. I’m going to offer a few tips based on my experience. These tips apply to college application essays, but also to applications for scholarships, internships, and even many assignments.

I will not cover proofreading – which you can often get assistance with from a teacher, parent, or guidance counselor. If you proofread your own essays – and you should do so first, even if you are going to get help later – just make sure you wait at least a day or two after writing the essay to do the proofreading. Otherwise, you will likely not notice your errors.

TIPS FOR COLLEGE & SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATION ESSAYS

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A discovery! And what happens when you follow other writers’ advice.

So, things today went better today than last week. In short, I wrote more today than I wrote in the entirety of last week. (Yes, that’s how bad things were going.)

One of the things I found helpful was focus@will’s new setting “Cafe focus Beta.” A few months back, I reported that researchers released data indicating that writers are more productive in cafes than sitting in a quiet office at home. Well, I guess the folks at focus@will read the same study, because not only can you use the site to enhance your creativity with baroque or ambient music — or to white noise — you can now listen to a re-creation of a busy cafe full of people.

And yes, I did indeed find it helpful.

I also relied on the advice of other writers today in order to increase my productivity. Continue reading

Let it out: 5 Steps to Writing when Emotional

Yesterday, which started with the announcement that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens had been recovered and ended for me with a shiva call, kept me in such a state of horror and confusion, I didn’t get much writing done. After several failed attempts at work, I finally gave up and decided to develop a community action project I’d dreamed up instead.

While everyone else was asleep…

Late at night, I awoke, exhausted but still reeling from the emotional turmoil of my day. So many words seemed to bubble out of me, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Eventually, I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of an essay about the special lady whose shiva I’d attended earlier in the day. When I was done, I felt emptied out, much calmer and more ready to sleep.

But is it good writing?

While writing material at the moment I am wrapped up in heartache, delirious joy, or nervousness can help me work through my feelings, I find that the outcome usually isn’t my best writing, or even my most passionate writing to read. Word choice suffers, and is often redundant. Logic wavers. Sometimes the resulting text is downright incoherent. You might even call it Writing Under the Influence…of Emotions. It can be that circuitous, drawling, and dribbling.

I’ve developed a process that works for me in these moments.

5 Steps to Writing when Emotional

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Conducting interviews to bring realism to your fiction

cuban missile crisis

Radio and television connected Americans with the facts of the ongoing crisis, and also increased their anxiety about its dangers.

You’ll find my story “Duck and Cover” in this week’s Binyan. While I lived through the tail-end of the Cold War, I’m not old enough to have survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, the setting for my story. In order to get details about how teens reacted to the situation, I conducted brief email interviews of a number of subjects who were old enough to remember the events. I asked about their feelings, how they coped with them, how they heard about the crisis, how the adults around them (both parents and teachers) reacted, and so on.

How did I use the interviews?

The responses I received were fascinating, and often contradictory, Continue reading

How to write funny: what you can learn from Isaac Asimov

Asimov on Humor

A must-read for anyone who wants to write humor

When I first married my husband, I was delighted to discover among his possessions a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor. I had read the book in high school and enjoyed reading it again, this time discussing it extensively with my husband.

Not only does this book contain jokes–great, classic ones–but Asimov explains why they’re funny, how to tell them, the origin of them, and if there are different versions. He explains the differences between shaggy dog stories, puns, black/gallows humor, and so on, and what makes each type tick. Asimov does this all in a chatty way that reminds you of your great-uncle shmoozing with you–it’s just so much fun.

Flash forward a few years. Continue reading