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Monday, August 12, 2013
It's in the Details, Silly
If anyone ever asked me what my most frequent critique is, I would say this. Essays that don't actually say anything. That sounds unkind. What I mean to say is that many students get stuck in what I call the vortex of platitudes. They write an awful lot without saying much at all. This universal weakness makes sense to me. Students applying for an undergraduate degree are young. The college admission essay almost sets students up for failure by asking them to delve deep into a reservoir of life perspective and extricate something meaningful and compelling for show-and-tell.
For this reason, students get caught up in one of two categories. The first: cram-everything-I've-ever-done into 500 words. The second: write about my week at survival camp. Neither are complete recipes for disaster, if done well, but that's a tall order. But for those of you leaning towards option #2-remember this. No one wants to hear how survival camp made you a stronger person/stretched the limits of your perseverance/taught you how to appreciate your life opportunities. It isn't that these things aren't valid. It's just that they are too broad.
What you need to do instead is use them as paragraph starters. Survival camp made me a stronger person. As I grabbed onto the tattered orange rope and stepped onto the bridge, all I could think about were the jagged rocks in the water, 50 feet below.
This works for every subject. Maybe you're writing about your favorite cat Morris. Don't talk about how much he meant to you without also talking about the white goose-down masquerading as fur around his tiny claws.
People are drawn to visual imagery. You don't have to make a sweeping statement about the world around you. If you're stuck, focus on what you know, and how well you know it. You'll be surprised at how well the small things flow from your brain to the keyboard.
While this doesn't mean you should ignore the mechanics of structure and persuasive prose, it should help keep you on track for writing something that your reader will savor and remember.
Labels: It's in the Details Silly
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