The Hollywood cheating scandal has caused widespread outrage—and for good reason. I wrote about the issues inherent in the college-industrial complex for Business Insider, from my perspective as both an admissions essay guru and as a senior who went through the application process myself.
Though my essay is more op-ed than personal statement, I thought it would still be helpful to share the writing techniques I used to help you with your personal essay:
1) Set A Time Limit For Your First Draft
When the article was originally assigned to me, the editor gave me a strict deadline: 4 pm that day. The problem? It was already 12:30 pm. Normally, I would procrastinate until the last hour, but surprisingly, the rush nature actually helped me. After breaking out in a cold sweat, I started writing immediately. I actually wasn’t able to procrastinate because there wasn’t any time to. I knew the more I put it off, the worse off I would be since the best writing needs time for revisions. I also stuck by my motto that has been with me since senior year of high school: Write now. Revise later. Fun fact: my original opening was rewritten four times. I came up with a more personal intro at first and had no way of knowing how to connect it to the greater cheating story, but sometimes you have to start writing to figure out where the story will take you. Create this same time crunch for yourself - set an alarm for an hour and see what happens. Remember that it will be a rushed rough draft and that’s ok: that’s the whole point. You need a starting point that you can edit later.
2) Try Writing On Something Other Than Your Laptop
Real talk: I didn’t start the assignment on my laptop or even using my standing desk. I took out my phone, opened my Notes app, and started typing the story on the couch. There was something freeing about using this informal medium that allowed me to keep writing and prevented me from descending into a writer’s block of anxiety. I highly recommend starting your essay informally, whatever that means to you: maybe you write an unpublished post on your Instagram or use pen and paper in the back of your geometry notebook. Either way works because the informal nature of both tricks your brain into thinking this is no big deal and you don’t go into stress overdrive.
3) Put It Away For a Few Days (At Least)
Spoiler alert: the 4pm deadline came and went as I was frantically editing my draft that was literally double the word count he gave me. (Yes, even professional writers struggle with these things!). I ended up turning it in too late for it to run that day, but that ended up being a blessing since I had the weekend to keep working on it. So did I write and rewrite for three days straight? Nope. That doesn’t really help, actually. You need to give yourself a break from your draft in order to edit the essay with fresh eyes. I knew I would see the piece in a new light if I took a few days away from it, so I spent most of my weekend thinking of everything but the essay.
4) Ask No More Than 3 Trusted People to Edit It
After taking my scheduled quarantine from the essay, I began to revise it. The few days away helped me brainstorm solutions to what wasn’t working since I had a fresh perspective on the piece. Once I got it to the best place I thought I could take it, I shared it with a few key writers who I trusted for feedback. Keep in mind that I built in time for addressing these concerns and making sure they had enough time to review it. There is such a thing as “too many cooks” with writing, so really be thoughtful about who you share your draft with. Getting too many edits from different sources can paralyze you and make you feel like the essay can’t be fixed.