Sometimes, you bump into the subject of your writing when you’re not trying– like in the bathroom. The classier version of this is called the “shower effect”-– it’s a real thing. You only need 5 minutes and faith.
Often the trying itself keeps your topic at arm’s length, stiffly.
But not straining in trying? And simply being available? That woo-woo stuff? It often works far more effectively. GAH.
How annoying and wonderful is that? JUST FIVE MINUTES?
As my mentor Rick Benjamin says, “It’s really five minutes + your whole life leading up to this moment.” DETAILS.
Give Your College Essay a “Quick Change” in the stall
This afternoon, I went to the single-stall bathroom at a non-profit where I teach personal essay writing to (some of NYC’s most awesome) 7th and 8th grade public school students. The door was locked, but within minutes, my student came out, fancied up: a maroon dress over a filled, collared shirt, black knee socks, and black patent leather pointy toe shoes. She was ready for her upcoming school interview.
Moments before, she’d been hunched over her math worksheets, solving equations, chewing her lip and eating her sweatshirt string nervously. (Side Fact: I haven’t solved an equation since puberty settled in, so I always salute students doing such worksheets, though in my case eating strings would be more productive than isolating the variable and so on. <—WHAT I RECALL FROM ALGEBRA BUT I DIGRESS.)
What’s I’m recommending here is, despite the number 5, not mathematical– but you do need structure in the end.
little time, big difference
Thing is, I was surprised to see my student emerge from the bathroom so changed. It struck me I’d never seen her dressed up, and her whole persona and body language had shifted with the outfit.
“You got this!” I told her (likely true), which is maybe the only thing worth saying right before someone has an interview. Especially when you can assume they’ve already done the most essential prep of emptying their bladder.
And here’s what struck me, besides her earnest up-fitting: Sometimes, your high school or college application essay just needs the very same kind of quick change in the bathroom.
You may think I’m being metaphorical, but I’m mostly not. Not everything requires figuratively slamming your head against the wall.
Open the inner pipes, and Make it new!
Is it possible that you, in the amount of time you might spend on the can, produce a new draft, in a new outfit?
Work fast and loose and see what happens? You know when those old ideas are feeling like sweatshirt strings you’ve been gnawing on for a couple of hours, but the sum keeps coming out all wrong?
I often say to students flummoxed by their own personal essays, “What are you really trying to say here? What is it really important that your reader know? Can you JUST WRITE THAT?” (ROCKET SCIENCE, I KNOW– DON’T WORRY, IT’S NOT PATENTED OR LEATHER :))
Nervousness about how they’ll be received too often makes students write AROUND topics rather that through them. They’d rather go to the bathroom to avoid their essay than take their essay into the bathroom and vow to let the truth pour through them for 5 minutes.
After all, I am not just the sum of all my activities, am I?
For example, one recent student had hemmed and hawed about all her extracurriculars in a singular paragraph, meaning to show her reader how she’d invested in so many things. But diverse investments made her just look busy.
It was more interesting to go deep into one, and eventually find a way to mention, almost as after-thought, some other pieces of herself–if they even mattered. One caught my eye: You go to Russian school? And you work with fantasy decks? That’s cool and weird. Tell me more. Tell me what you absolutely love about this.
She deleted a bunch of “I am the sum of all my activities” paragraphs and banged for five EXCITED minutes on the keys. She described a typical day in her Russian fantasy literature lesson, surrounded by paint-smeared easels (<–DIFFICULT WORD TO SPELL, no?), which had accrued layers of color over her childhood, designing prophecy cards.
In five minutes she made it so much better.
Don’t think that improvement always means slaving away for hours. When you tap the right vein, the muse is right there, longing to donate blood, and you can save the life of an essay quickly and effectively with this content transfusion.
So– what’s the quick and dirty moral, the big take-away? SORRY SORRY:
- Always Pee before (important) interviews.
- Wear clothes that make you feel capable, or comfortable and alive in yourself when you do Important Things.
- Trust in the transformative property of five minutes.
- Show your work, says your math teacher. SEE I WAS PAYING ATTENTION IN MATH.
- Try taking your current draft of your essay to the bathroom, and letting another fresher version come through.
Don’t buy this five minutes in the bathroom thing? Write with us.
No problem. You prefer to write your essay with expert guidance than with a toilet. We got you: send us your draft for fast feedback and some good questions that will help your essay change into its party clothes. You’ll be getting at the heart of it before you know it, and the fruits of this labor stay with you FOREVER.
compassionate BAD-ASS writing & life mentor!
I’ve been at this teaching game over 20 years…and Sara Nolan (plus anyone she deems able) is The. Best. Write with her. It will be the best decision you’ve ever made, even better than peeing before an interview :))
Sara Nolan says
This was where you left this joyful gold plated breadcrumb. Thank you, oh you who is always on The Path.