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He got a nickname, Ren, and became a runner, happy to wear the shortest shorts he could find. (I mentioned him in a column for called "Speed Goggles".)College admissions officers don't have a lot of time to spend on each application.
Often first drafts are stiff and stuffy, where the writer seems to be wearing someone else's clothes and looks uncomfortable, maybe even a little fraudulent.
I ask my students to write their first drafts in the form of an email to me. This exercise can help shake off some of the writerly pretentions they find appealing and that make me, as a reader, want to retch.
You can write that essay if you use details that are vivid and specific, if everything you tell us could only be coming from you.
TELL A STORY, HAVE SOME THOUGHTSIn a personal essay, getting the tone right is a challenge.
Then a few more easy and obvious ideas (being on the debate team; parents' divorce; death of a dog). That's usually when the list starts to get interesting, and items that they thought were discrete appear to have connections.
Then it gets hard, and I encourage them to think about small things that might say something about who they are and what they care about. How is running related to the parents divorce and the death of a beloved dog? One of the things we say about my field "creative nonfiction" and the ways it's different from journalism is that its about something other than what its about.
So while running may seem to be the focus, there's got to be something bigger, more universal, and also smaller, more specific, that the essay addresses.
Understanding that an essay has to be about something is hard; figuring out what that aboutness is can be painful. In your closet you have 15 different pairs of running shoes. Are you the girl who is afraid of missing out and who, once she finds something she likes, will stockpile many boxes of the same kind of shoe?
By the end of the essay, after far too much time in the prison-house of someone else's consciousness, I would be screaming to go for a run myself and would have learned no more about the writer than that he had won/lost/finished the race and that it was hard. It was by a kid who had been a soccer player and used to make fun of the runners with their itty-bitty shorts.
After running a 800m as a freshman, he decided maybe there was something to running after all. When he showed up on campus, I tracked him down and we became friends, meeting for weekly breakfasts at a local diner. When I asked him about why he didn't write about that, he said he didn't want to seem like he was bragging.