Saturday, October 22, 2011

30-300-30 Challenge

Starts: Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011
Ends: Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

Basically: For 30 days, write 300+ words each day, spending 30 minutes each time.

How: Respond to a different College Essay Topic (list of 100+ topics are here) each day.

  • A college essay should reveal something about you that isn't in your application. There's no need to write about your grades or to list all of your extracurricular activities (unless if that is what the question specifically asks you to do). Instead, focus on who you are as a person.
  • It's wise to focus on some positive personality trait or a lesson you have learned. Do not write about how you cheat on tests or love to party on the weekends.
  • Your tone can be serious or funny, thoughtful or silly, so go with what works for you. However, stay away from negativity -- your goal is to write something that will help you get into college, so you might want to avoid sarcasm, anger, depression, etc.
  • Show your reader who you are, don't tell. In other words, don't simply tell your reader that you love kittens and that you spend your summers volunteering. Instead, describe the time you rescued a kitten from a well and then nursed it back to health at the animal shelter near your home (a story like that shows that you love animals and that you volunteer).
  • Don't worry if you don't have amazing stories to tell; everyday events can be very revealing. However, if you find that you simply have nothing to write about, perhaps you should spend your weekends in the hills and villages surrounding Mussoorie -- stories await you.
  • This is not a journal of personal thoughts and feelings. Focus every day on answering a question raised, and always keep in mind the purpose, which is to create drafts of essays that might get you accepted by a university. Also, if you worry that something is too personal to share, it probably is, so choose something else.
  • Try different forms or styles. Since this is practice, take the time to experiment with narration or humor. Create a list of bullet points. Rewrite the opening of a novel. Write song lyrics. Make every sentence a question. It will not always work, but that's OK. You might discover that there is a certain way of writing that really appeals to you.
  • Read others' essays and use them as models. It's fine to try to write like someone, as long as the experience you describe is your own. Eventually you want to develop your own style, but there is no harm in seeing a good piece of writing--something that makes you smile or think--and asking yourself, "How did the writer do that? Can I construct my story to achieve that effect?"
  • Spend a few minutes thinking about the topic and your possible response. But if you are stuck for more than 10 minutes, choose a different topic.
  • It doesn't take very long to write 300 words. So you might write 600. But do not go way over, because a typical college essay is one typed page (and the Common Application now asks for 500 words). If you find that you are done in 20 minutes, spend 10 minutes editing your draft. (Your draft does not have to be perfect, but it should be something you are proud to share.) If it takes you 20 minutes to write 600 words, spend 10 minutes cutting 100 of them.
  • Remember that you are writing about you. If answering which historical figure you would like to interview, do not give a lengthy biography of that person; instead, write about why that person intrigues you--how you connect to him or her--and what questions you would ask. If sharing a story about your grandmother, make sure you spend time on what you have specifically learned from her. The same goes for any of the prompts. Ultimately, no matter what the topic, it must reveal something about you.
  • Write about recent events. It's great that you overcame some trauma when you were 5, but admissions officers want to know what kind of person you are now (or how that long-ago trauma made a lasting impact or change).
  • After publishing your post, read it on the blog. See what it actually looks like. And edit it if you notice glaring errors. Personally, if I spend 20 minutes on a post, I spend another 10 reviewing and editing. (For example, I added this point a few minutes after I initially posted; then, I walked the dog and added the following point afterwards.)
  • Remember that this is a challenge, not a competition or race. The challenge is to work on the writing process for 30 minutes daily over a course of one month. You will not "win" if you succeed; you will not be declared better than anyone; rather, you will have the satisfaction of completing an intellectually stimulating exercise. And you will be well on your way to having a college essay. And you'll get a 100 percent for November's MBA.

Important notes about the challenge: If you are participating, you will not do news articles for this month. Also, please comment below this post to indicate that you are taking up the challenge.