I’m a big believer in guided free-writing for students: Just when you think you have nothing to write about for your college essay (or generally!), BOOM, a subject appears from the back of your mind. It’s like magic: awesome, repeatable and yours if you want it.
Free-writing helps young writers produce freely
I watched this magic happen again this weekend in Chicago, at JPMorgan Chase The Fellowship Initiative. We convened on the 56th floor of the company skyscraper, where I offered my intro to the college essay workshop (a sizzling title!) meant to fire up the Fellows’ creative circuits.
The offices sported a dizzying, commanding view of miniaturized downtown, Big Ole Lake Michigan, and a huge sky. The view itself said, “We own this!” Exactly how I hope the students come to feel about their college essays. Exactly where the productive power of free-writing can get you.
Here, 39 teenage boys, all high school juniors, hunched over their papers and wrote about a moment of weakness. They were explicitly not “trying to write a college essay”; they were loosely free-writing their way to something interesting and true and particular.
Their minds were (allowed to be) the size of Lake Michigan. Their mental blocks shrunk to the size of the matchbook cars on the city grid below.
At least that was the goal.
Sound good? Let’s mimic their free-writing process here.
How to get your free-writing on
Think of your writing like the underdog sports team who makes a comeback from the shadows.
Think of your writing like the tap you turn on, the tap that’s been off for a while. At first the pipes make funny sounds, and you kind of want to run; maybe there is even a bit of brown in the water (ew). But eventually the tap flows free and clear and continuous. You can drink it and be replenished by it.
Your writing is somewhat like both of those comparisons.
Be open to good–even great– material–coming from the random crap that might appear on the page at first.
You won’t even mind if it’s crap, because you know that crap is what nourishes your creative soil from which the best material grows.
Because, get this: free-writing will save you from the number one true danger of your college essay–not writing it.
It will also save you from the number one threat to your mental health: being too stressed about the process.
So loosen up your limbs, grab a beverage, set a timer (5-10 minutes per prompt, suggested), and start.
Two free-writing prompts to help you find personal stories
1. Write about a time you showed or acted from your weakness. Describe the scene, the plot, the results, and its impact. DO NOT STATE your weakness directly.
2. Write about a time you showed or acted from a strength. Describe the scene, the plot, the results, and its impact. DO NOT STATE your strength directly.
Um, now what?
Forgot the rules for free-writing? Go here.
Feeling all jazzed up and writer-ly? Get more great writing tips from the big kids here.