Saturday, March 19, 2016


          So many students have come to me to work on personal statements (a.k.a. personal narrative essays) for university admissions, scholarships, and school assignments that I decide to create a tip sheet to assist them in creating a first draft on their own. The tip sheet (copied below) will empower them with independence during the initial writing stage, as well as the first editing stage--substantive editing (which covers issues of substance, over style and grammar, etc.).  By carefully using the tip sheet to create second drafts, students can expedite the entire essay-writing process by reducing the level of my involvement to the final "polishing" or proofreading stage. Here are my tips:

  1.  Be sure that the essay is actually PERSONAL—a vivid story specifically about you, which only you can share/show via recounting your memories. Avoid generic statements about your skills, talents, traits, or passions; SHOW those qualities--don’t merely tell about them.
  2.  Use a retrospective narrative style: a) start in the present, to briefly introduce the theme; b) then bring the reader back in time, into a vividly recalled memory; and c) conclude with an introspective reflection, looking into yourself and what you have learned/gained.
  3.  Use fiction techniques, such as Susan L. Lipson’s “D.A.D. Technique” (Description, Action, Dialogue), to share a story that illustrates your specific traits and/or accomplishments via an event.
  4. You can borrow some other writer’s wise words (a quotation) as your opening, but be sure to build upon those quoted words as you begin your first sentence. Don’t just use a quotation as an opener without directly referring to its wisdom as it relates to your personal story.
  5. Read your essay aloud and delete repetitive words (even entire sentences that only restate what you have already said before, just in different words).
  6. Delete also any words that veer off the topic.
  7. Listen to someone else read your essay aloud, slowly, and make notes about any lines which cause the reader to halt, stammer, seem confused, or sound bored or repetitive. Based on your notes, find ways to clarify or enhance the power of your word choices (see the next item, below).
  8. Replace all vague words with specific details that create mental movies in the minds of readers. For example: instead of merely telling readers, “I was disappointed that I spent most of the baseball season on the bench;” show them your perspective, how you watched through the fence as your teammates played instead of you.
  9. Delete passive verbs (such as am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, go, goes, went, do, does, did) and replace them with active, precise verbs that create images in the reader’s mind. DON’T RELY ON WEAK VERBS ENHANCED BY ADVERBS (ending in -ly). TOO MANY ADVERBS MIGHT MEAN THAT YOU HAVEN’T FOUND PRECISE ENOUGH VERBS. For example, replace "walked softly" with "tiptoed."
  10. Replace all clich├ęs with original expressions; don’t rely on words so commonly used that they feel predictable.
  11. Finally, ask yourself, will my reader know me better after reading my essay?

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Conveying Concepts Clearly & Concisely:
An Exercise To Focus on Using Only Necessary Words

Can a story plot/mood/genre show itself in just six words? Read the six-word “stories” below, in the left column. Match each mini-story with the conceptual that best describes the plot.

Story:                                                                                     Title:

A) She died. “I cried,” he lied.                    1) DISILLUSIONED

B) She lied, “I tried.” He cried.                   2) GULLIBLE

C) She sighed, “He lied.” I cried.                3) NO LOSS

Write your own mini-stories in 6-10 words, not including titles. You need not rhyme as I have.

This exercise will force you to use only necessary words to convey the plot. Some conceptual title suggestions follow, or you may create your own.