Workshop > The Idea
Sep 23

The Idea

First, let's deal with your fears: I can't write this. I am not a good writer. I don't know what to say. No one is going to want to read it. The admissions people aren't going to like it. I'm not going to get in. ....
We all feel that way.
Now set those (and any other fears you might have) aside. Really. Do it. Here's how: Get some Mayan Worry Dolls -- tiny, colorful dolls -- yarn wrapped around bendable metal -- to which you assign some of your individual worries. Let them deal with it. Now you don't have to. Set the dolls (real or imagined) aside. On a corner of your desk. Or in another room. And do this every time you sit down to this project.

Your next step is to think about your most unique feature or trait or talent or interest -- something you believe or have done or that interests you that sets you apart, that makes you, well, YOU. Even if that thing seems commonplace or not interesting enough to catch a reader's eye, just think about the things that make you tick, make you excited -- something you can write about, tell a story about! If it's the right topic, it won't matter how unique or complex or nontraditional it is because your persona -- your voice -- and your energy will shine through in your story. Don't think about what makes you impressive, think about what matters to you.

It is also important to think about what things about yourself you are willing and are possible to write about deeply, intimately, and fully. Think about something you won't get tired of talking about. Something that excites you and why it excites you. What is a part of yourself you have frequently thought about? What are you passionate about?
There are a lot of commonly used topic prompters which can sometimes be cliche, but they can also lead to some really original essays. Some good ones to think about include these:
  • This I believe... Tell a story that shows some important belief that you have.
  • I am the one who ... A story that shows what you do or have done that makes you distinctive.
  • A memorable moment ... An experience that truly shaped who you are today or that has shaped your aspirations.
  • A role model ... Who in your life has had an important part in shaping who you've become?
  • A failure ... Believe it or not none of us is perfect; we all make mistakes. What has been a mistake that has changed you, has taught you something?
  • Transition ... An experience that made you realize that you are no longer a kid, that you have grown and matured and are ready to tackle much greater challenges.
Activity: Look at the writing prompts above and think about what makes you you. What do you feel is the most YOU thing about yourself? What stories do you have? Then write a list of topics, ideas, things you feel you could honestly write about, even the things people have been telling you to write your college essay about for years. Just jot down the words or phrases that will remind you of the idea. Do NOT write an essay or, even, complete sentences. Nothing is too out there. Nothing is too cliche. Just get them all down -- figuring out what will actually work comes later. For now, dump any idea you have on paper!
Feedback: Respond to another post, letting the author know which of their ideas stand out to you. Think about what ideas you've never heard of before, or wouldn't think to write an essay about. What is going to set the writer apart? This could help them decide on a topic to pursue.