Essay Lab: Day Two Prompts

Yesterday, we kicked off our series on essay writing with prompts from best-selling writers Firoozeh Dumas and Ellen Sussman. If you're just joining us, we'll be posting a couple of prompts each day for students who may be in the throes of writer's block or have fallen prey to procrastination.

To recap, one of the ways to get “unstuck” and develop some good material you might be able to use for your essays is to actually take a detour and write about something else. This may seem counterintuitive, but responding to a different -- and slightly provocative -- question than the one you seek to answer in your application essay can help move things along. And doing so can also help you find the heart of things, so that what you say and how you say it can have more impact.

Can writing exercises like this help you? They very well might. Some of them even have the potential to work for the open-ended "Topic of your choice" essay.  Give them a try.

Today's prompts -- and some excellent advice:

Irena Smith, writing teacher and independent college consultant

Here's what I've been doing with my bogged-down students:  telling them to pretend that rather than writing a high-stakes college essay, they're giving a toast. Only they're both the best man/woman AND the guest of honor, which means they have to be funny and engaging and informal and, above all, ready with a good story or two that really reveals who they are. Even the most "stuck" student intuitively understands that to engage their audience, they need real-life details and stories, not stiff disquisitions about leadership and persistence. And the format gives them permission to have fun, which is definitely OK to do.

I also encourage students to think of themselves as nouns instead of adjectives (i.e., "I'm a ... fill in the blank: cook, artist, compulsive talker, closet juggler, break-dancer, ace baker, someone who cuts her bangs with cuticle scissors, geek, tinkerer, reader of the New York Times, etc."). If all else fails, I urge them to consider the following opening lines -- all of which are, in my opinion, a pretty great jumping-off point for an essay that can go in a number of different directions :

                I probably should not have slammed that door as hard as I did.

                After the shooting stopped and the panic subsided, only the monkey was still at large.

                To bake a proper cake, you need three things:

                Something funny happens when you turn the key in the ignition of my father’s car.

                This was not the game I signed up to play.

Tomorrow in the Essay Lab: Prompts from Deborah Michel, author of the forthcoming Prosper In Love and parent to identical twins applying for the Class of 2016



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