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Writing Workshop by Jess K. '10

I just wrote an entire post and my browser crashed. dfsdfksdfojfoajwefoiajdwf.

(There comes a time in all great bloggers’ lives when, while writing a particularly good entry, they happen to deviate from their work and stumble across a page that will crash their browser. Various forms of anger will inevitably follow, from denial – searching for a clipboard log – to vengeance – spamming the owner of the guilty site – to acceptance – writing a pre-blog entry paragraph dripping with bitter disdain. So, my apologies if you don’t like what I’m about to say or how I said it. It was once a robust, lively post. You can imagine that it was once inundated with much more refined word choice, subtle humor, and poignant advice. For it was. RIP.)

From: [email protected]
Date: November 2, 2006 6:14:21 PM EST
To: [email protected]

I FIXED MY HARD-DRIVE!!!11one

-Patrick

There’s not any real formula to the way I write blog entries, but I try to start with something that’s important to me, or if not, any random occurrence (where do these occurrences come from? I’m the most ridiculous person alive, remember?). Example: I received this email recently because Patrick the Irish, who lives a few doors down from me, fixed his server. He brought it in pieces over from Ireland (I meant Patrick the IRISH Irish, not just “I’m Irish because my grand^50 great aunt stopped over there once for a quick bite) and reassembled it here, only to discover that one of his hard drives was broken. So Patrick the Irish decided to stick it in the freezer for a little bit, becaue sometimes this works.

This was not one of those times. (Sometimes this does not work.) Unluckily for Patrick the Irish, repeatedly refreezing and defrosting did nothing. Shortly after, he discovered that it could’ve been fixed by simply replacing part of the hard drive, not freezing the entire thing.

Poor Patrick the Irish! Luckily, after many tortured emails to Next Forum looking for a Torx screwdriver and biking around Cambridge to find a hard drive from which he could steal the part, he replaced the faulty bit. The server is now happily whirring away and obstructing anyone from stealing food from his refrigerator (a fruitless task, because it houses only plain granola and yogurt. No fruit. Ha ha ha). Without the working hard drive, the server would continue to obstruct traffic, but without purpose. It was Patrick the Irish’s resilience that brought reason and truth into a world where nothing makes sense, and to this day I am inspired by his dedication to his craft.

This is how you write a fabulous college essay.

“What?!” You ask, shaken from your hazy dreamlike state. “I thought we were learning how you write a blog entry.” That too. But it has double meaning (oh, I’m sneaky alright). The point that I’m trying to make instead is that we’re both trying to transform incoherent thoughts into eloquence and meaning, so you are NOT ALONE in your endeavors to write great things! Although I get to do it for fun, and you get to do it while biting your nails about the Future, capital F. (And the future’s going to be great!)

Early action’s passed, so I know quite a few of you have already written a substantial amount of college essays, but I have a couple things to say on the subject (I myself wrote around 11.5, some of which never went to ink), so I hope this might help you get back into the mood to write a little more.

1) If you’re totally stuck, or if you’re just trying to come up with more essays, just sit down and write. Cliche, but it works. I wrote zillions of essays. Over and over again. I literally wrote something in the two-digit range of essays, and I didn’t even use all of them. I wrote about my personal problems, my passions, certain programs I’d been involved in over the years, various summers, EVERYTHING. There are things in your life that will obviously stand out to you; web design was a major part of my high school career. I wrote about it even though I knew a lot of other people would be too, applying to MIT, but it was something that was really important to me and had been a part of my life since forever, and it had started as something wholesome and fun – not something I said “hey, I want to do this for my college application”. Look for things like that in your life.

2) It helps to get an English teacher from a previous year (or even the one you have this year, but I don’t suggest it since they don’t really know you yet) that you really trust and who really has faith in you to help you edit your essays. My junior year AP language teacher was probably the best thing that happened to me in the way of applying for college – she read EVERY single thing I ever sent out, wrote down comments and corrections, and then sat down with me to talk it all over. I’m really embarassed to let people read my writing (except for blogging, for some reason, I usually just end up having literary diarrhea and blab on about absolutely nothing) and she definitely helped me overcome that. I got so, so much better from all her constructive criticism. If you can find someone like that for you, you’re gold.

3) A good way to help you improve stylistically is to reread your favorite authors. I’m a short story addict, so I read a lot of Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie (you don’t have to run out to get it right now, but it’ll be a nice prize when you get into all ten of your top choice colleges in a few months). At the same time, I also wanted to demonstrate a sense of humor, so I tried to channel David Sedaris. Look over your favorite books, or ask your English teacher to suggest something they find stylistically impressive. Think about what it is that you like about their style of writing, and try to incorporate those aspects into the way you tell your story.

4) Don’t procrastinate!! Putting things off until the last minute is bad! Don’t do it!! Say no! Especially when studying for the 18.023 test I took last Thursday! And not when writing college essays! Don’t do it!!!

5) College essays are intended to portray you as you, not you as your guidance counselor or you as your mom staring fervently over your shoulder. Everyone is going to have an opinion on your choice of topic, or your tone, or the way you concluded the third paragraph, but in the end, it’s really only about you and the way you want to depict your life. You have the final say in what you’re saying. Make it count.

This isn’t meant to be a torturous process; the admissions officers just want to get to know you a little better, and this is your chance to really help them out. Be honest, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t shy away from this opportunity to really take a good look at yourself so you can write about what matters most to you, or what you think shaped you the best. I actually found out quite a bit about myself when I was writing essays, so it can be a pretty cool process if you invest yourself. Be dedicated to your craft. Patrick the Irish and I can vouch for its success.

29 responses to “Writing Workshop”

  1. anita says:

    its really helpful…here…
    u korean? japanese? chinese? (just curious here…if u dont mind)

  2. Adam says:

    Thanks for the tips! I actually read some Feynman to help me with 2 of my essays so far. #3 is a very good suggestion.

    The hard drive in the freezer is hilarious. I haven’t had a failed hard drive yet, but if I do, I’ll know exactly what to do. ☺

    -Adam

  3. Leo says:

    great post as usual~ just one question that has always been bothering me: how casually can you write? Like I know it is not meant to be a literary essay, but do adcoms like it when you use slangs and fragment sentences (just to make the thing flow) ? thx~!

  4. Leo says:

    (sorry for this second post)

    Adam:
    OMG BNN I’m a huge fan of Feeeyyyyyynmaaaaaaaaan! I have read one of his bio like ten times (not exaggerating) since Gr 4. And why I never read the others? cuz I didn’t know there were other ones and now I’m all busy T.T… but it is one of my goals to finish all the bios he ever wrote XD (maybe the physics lectures too when I get to understand them -.-)

    -omg banana omg pikkle omg pepper omg carrot
    (JKIM IM MORE RETARDED THAN YOU)

  5. Keri says:

    TEN LITTLE INDIANS YAYYY.

  6. Keri says:

    Oh, and Leo –

    My essay was as conversational as you can possibly get last year, and it was fine. I’d still say it depends on the admissions committees/schools, though.

  7. Ying Wei says:

    It gonna helps a lot
    thanks ^.^

  8. L says:

    How apropo that the words ‘literary diarrhea’ came up. I just registered for NaNoWriMo. Who’s with me? (Battle cry: No plot? No problem!)

    Well, as it is now to late to do anything whatsoevr about it, I might as well fess up about my application essay. I wrote 588 words about how not getting into MIT led me to become a pirate. Oh, yes I did. Almost two weeks after the deadline, I have just realized what I’ve done. I’m going to go lie down now…

  9. Curtis says:

    I recommend drop kicking the hard drive. It works. For cereal. Proven by two instances in the past.

  10. Shannon says:

    JKim, would you post your admissions essay from last year? (if you have it and don’t mind sharing it, that is) If it’s half as entertaining as your blog posts, it would be a pleasure to read.

    And I absolutely know what you mean about losing entire blog entries. I had a hilarious one written once that took me forever and a half, and then my computer crashed. PCs…

  11. Deb says:

    haha i loved your entry. it was great. not just like any ordinary “it was great” comment. it was GREAT. it has hardcore. it was as honest as you could be. i think that just too many people are worried about writing the “perfect essay” or marking down word by word the “perfect incident” or the “perfect word that is picked out of the thesauraus.” in other words – thanks for sharing some wise words of wisdom.

    oh. i personally like the secret life of walter mitty by james thurbur. good short story.

  12. aareet says:

    what if i try poetry?

  13. Jess says:

    anita – Korean. One time a group of Korean tourists got really excited because I was Korean, started speaking to me in Korean, and then took a picture with me. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

    Leo – It’s really up to you. You’re welcome to take as much artistic license as you need; just make sure that it’s not so casual that you wouldn’t be comfortable letting, say, your mom read it.

    Shannon – I’d like to, but I’m afraid somebody will steal it and use it for evil instead of good. You never know.

    Deb – Thanks. You too are great and hardcore.

  14. Leo says:

    Keri: that’s good to hear. cuz I tried hard but could never understand how to write a good essay using formal english (at least imho)

    Jess: my mom doesnt read english well, but ur comment was so funny that i laughed for a good half minute (or half of a good minute). btw, how can ppl possibly use ur essays for evil? like write a biography of you (jking; omg ur name means joking -.-)

    Shannon: yes, never give the fate of ur blog entry to a PCs

    – FEYNMAN RULES

  15. Leo says:

    i meant “a PC”. like wud an adcom care about that grammar error?

  16. Jess says:

    I wouldn’t say they would particularly “care”, but it does show a bit of sloppiness on your part, especially if you have a lot of these mistakes. I would suggest having someone proofread (or you can proofread yourself) your essays for simple syntax errors before you send them out.

  17. Nina says:

    JKam, you are so clever. This post tolly cracked me up. (NO FRUIT! HA HA HA!)

    Procrastinating = bad, but pretty much everybody does it. Oh well. Somehow we do good things anyway.

  18. I heard a rumor (from a reliable source) that MIT really likes when you write your college essays about a pet.

  19. David Chen says:

    Dear Tipper,

    You know what? Too much work. I’ll get you into MIT for sure. Just use this essay, and you’ll get in. Wink, wink.

    Dear admissions,

    I love my dog. He is soft. And brks at bad guys when come steal things.

    He is so cute.

    Enjoy!

  20. Willy says:

    Awesome tips. Too bad Early Action deadline already passed. *tears galore*

    Fantastic post, btw. Great combination of humor and substance. Just like what a college essay should be. Right? Eh. I’ll totally use your blogs for Step Nombre 3 up there. whooo!!!

  21. Phil Kim says:

    heyy jkim,

    nice post =]. i still can’t believe we both wrote about toilets (?). harhar

    “head careful” lol

  22. kgold says:

    David,

    It was so funny! I laughed! laughed…..

  23. Elsoo says:

    Hi, I love you.
    Wahoogle!
    I laughed as well. David, you are a hoot.
    Elsoo.

  24. Great advice Jessica…but of course I think so since I’m the oh-so-helpful English teacher of whom you speak in your blog. :o)

    I enjoy reading your blogs…they remind me of how fun it was to read your essays when I was your teacher.

  25. Jess says:

    OH NO. HOW MANY PEOPLE IS MY MOM TELLING ABOUT THIS BLOG. OHHH NOOO.

    (Hi Ms. Schutz!! I miss you! My English classes will never be the same!! Ahhh!!)

  26. Jess,

    I think it is so nice that your oh-so-helpful English teacher reads your blog. You really are a talented writer.

  27. Liane says:

    Jess,
    Hey! it’s Liane (I’m assuming you don’t know many Lianes). I haven’t checked here for a while, but I’m glad to see ur still blogging. Are you and ur sister home this week for Thanksgiving break? lemme know, it’d be great to see you =). do you have my number? well, you know where i live =).

    And hey, I love how Ms. Schutz left a comment for u! That’s awesome.

    ~~Liane

  28. Fear not the alleyways opened to us by the mighty thesaurus. For isn’t it words which give us the ability to so eloquently express ourselves. What other resource can tranform a resume from stating that your first job was, pizza delivery boy/girl, into, let’s say…ground level distrubutor of perishable goods for household consumption. A large part of our society is created upon the notion of imagery and presentation, however sad that may be.
    Words are an incredibly important staple of communication, which has and will only continue to grow. Until perhaps the day comes where words will no longer be needed. I fear that day. Words have immense power, but as one particular saying goes, actions speak louder than words. I personally don’t subscribe to that ethos. However it is true that actions can reach a wider audience without the speedbumps the language barrier creates. But that’s neither here nor there.
    In response to the post, particularly the section addressing how to improve writing, like jkim so eloquently stated, just write. If you can figure out how to transform your thoughts into words, you’re doin fine. Teachers can show you all the other technical things about composition, but the thoughts themselves can come from only one source.
    I too was blessed enough to have that same great language teacher my senior year in h.s. Though I had her for journalism. One thing she taught me was to not be intimidated by obstacles. I chose to write an article in the school newspaper that the administration did not want me to write. The subject was simply exploring the justification of punishing students for offenses committed outside of school property. I remember the meeting with the school administration and Ms. Schutz, the at the time Ms. Schutz, and being so impressed by her conviction to the cause; my cause, however menial it may have been. I can only hope that someday I can express my gratitude by doing the same. The more people that write, the more understood their viewpoints will be, thus making the world that much better.