One of the biggest issues I see in student writers is reluctance to throw out a college essay (or frankly any piece of writing) that isn’t working. But this is one of the most liberating and helpful things you can do.
You might object: But I already put in so much time! I lost so much sleep over this version! Maybe if I just change this ONE sentence.. swap out some vocabulary words for synonyms, add a sentence about my major..?!?!?
Maybe. But if you’ve already worked it to death and can summon the courage to admit it’s not working, the Essay Angel of Mercy might whisper: o beloved writer– free yourself and start fresh.
Because maybe you’re just clinging. Sometimes just being willing to throw writing out leads you to the revision solution. A clenched fist is not agile, responsive or particularly creative, even if it is strong.
Sometimes, fate will throw out your essay for you!
I know the pain of letting go of something you worked on so hard. LET ME TELL YOU about the time my entire grad MFA school application, all 15 pages, crashed 24 hours before it was due? I may or may not have thrown a cup at the wall. But i had no choice: here we go again. Hefty caffeine dose. 23 straight hours of work (And, yep, I did teach after that, it was enlightening).
And I swear: the next version was so much better, more agile, less belabored, more honest. It was like the computer threw it out for me to do my a favor.
All ideas lead to other ideas!
This is where you get to trust that all that work churned up meaningful ideas and that the paths forward are many.
To make a gardening metaphor: It’s like clearing old roots before you can plant something new. Even if you’ve never planted you can imagine old dirt impacted with knotted roots– not much fresh is going to happen there.
When you decide you’re willing to throw out the old essay, you tend to be less precious in the next draft. The tracks of thinking and feeling have been greased. The light is visible. The writing happens more organically.
Material Sticks Around Anyway
Ideas can be small prisons, and we can get attached to them just because we breathed life into them. And all material endures in some form. That old essay might not be the story you tell for your college essay, but who’s to say it won’t become useful later?
Also, remember, all writing, which includes the struggle to write, the puzzle of revision, can make you better at writing, period. Every choice and connection you make, composition questions you puzzle over, content you struggle to put into words from the abyss of feeling– all of that increases your writing intelligence for future pieces.
Including the better, freer, more successful college essay you are about to write.
P.S. This is the age of storage in the sky. Your old draft will be waiting for you if you need it. But more likely you’ll fall in love or like with your new one. A year from now, you won’t remember at all what you were bunched up about.
But I still don’t know: should I throw it out or not?
Need help figuring out if you should toss your draft? We give fast, sharp (but compassionate!) feedback. Reach out here to decide if you’ll throw out your essay, of if you can whip it into shape.
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