Write your application essay

Q. I need to write my college application essay. What do you recommend?
A. Start now.

Start early to write your application essay for college or graduate school. Start as soon as you know you will need to write one. Allow time to reflect, prepare and revise. Give yourself time to start all over, if you feel the need. Waiting until deadline guarantees your own failure.

Choose a fascinating topic. You know that your application includes your grades, awards, activities, and so on. Write about something different or unique that will educate, amuse or answer questions for admissions evaluators. Use your personal statement to show another side of yourself.

Present your information and ideas in a focused, thoughtful and meaningful way. Support your ideas with examples. Do more than list your qualities or accomplishments.

Call me for tips, advice, hand-holding – and coaching. 


8 things to write in your memoir

Little Me

Little Me

Everyone wants to write a memoir. But nobody knows where to start.

Here’s a writing tip: Start with the easy, nonfictional facts of growing up.

1. Write about the street where you lived. Draw the floor plan of the house you grew up in – or the house you remember best, or the one where you lived at age 9.
2. Describe rooms, closets, porches, pianos, the kitchen table. Mention the art or cracks that decorated the walls. Draw the paths to the front and back doors. Draw the sidewalk where you jumped rope.
3. As you write, consider the sounds, smells, tastes and feelings the house evokes. Write about the smell of sauerkraut or your father’s pipe tobacco. Write the sounds of a squeaky floorboard, the screen door slamming, your sister stomping her snow off her boots on the landing, the parakeet calling.
4. Write about the smooth velvet of the wing chair. The swish of beaded curtains. The steam rising from a pot of soup. The cold kitchen when no one prepared dinner. The lightning outside your bedroom window.
5. Write about the people and their activities. Show your mom leaning over the tub, giving the twins a bath. Show grandmom letting you taste the peaches as she makes preserves. Explain your disgust when Uncle Charlie demands a kiss in exchange for one measly tootsie roll. Depict Dad hammering as he builds a set of shelves for your room.
6. Write what happens in each space. Describe lying on your sister’s bed on Saturday morning, listening to the radio and playing with the parakeet. Write that you are kneeling on a stool, helping Mom make kreplach or gnocchi or kielbasa. Create a picture of yourself leaning on the bathroom door, whining for your brother to hurry up.
7. Tell how you feel in each space. Explain where you go when you feel sad. Mad. Scared. Write the details of the space where you dance and do homework.
8. Once you write these factual details, force yourself to dig deeper than the surface recollections. Now you can write what you were really feeling at the time.

And here’s an idea: Be a bag lady. Save every idea that comes to you: in a bag, a box, a diary or a Word document. Save them now. Write them later.

Are you dangling?

vehicle closing

When writing sentences, be careful not to dangle.

Some sentences have mistakes that make them difficult to read. Other sentences contain mistakes that make them hilarious. The funny ones often contain dangling modifiers. Learn what dangling modifiers are and how to avoid them so that you don’t make people laugh when you want them to be serious.

A dangling modifier fails to refer logically to any word in the sentence. A dangling modifier is usually a word group, such as a verbal phrase, that suggests, but does not name, a perpetrator. When a sentence opens with such a modifier, the reader expects the subject of the next clause to name the perp. If the subject doesn’t, the modifier dangles.

When writing

  • Place the modifier as close as possible to the word it modifies.
  • Put an adjective as close as possible to its noun.
  • Put an adverb as close as possible to its verb.

Here’s a favorite blooper: “The Rialto Film Institute will celebrate its grand reopening after a nearly decade-long renovation that doubled the number of screens to four on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.” I wonder where they got contractors to build two theaters in three hours. On Sunday from 2 to 5 belongs after grand reopening, of course, and two sentences might be better than one. Here are some other examples.

DANGLING Deciding to join the fitness club, the trainer shook Carrie’s hand. Deciding dangles because it describes Carrie, not the trainer.
CORRECT Deciding to join the fitness club, Carrie shook the hand of the trainer.
CORRECT When Carrie decided to join the fitness club, she shook the hand of the trainer.

DANGLING Upon seeing the tree listing sideways, strings were put in place to hold it upright. Upon seeing dangles because it describes the gardener, not the strings.
CORRECT Upon seeing the tree listing sideways, Jackie fastened strings to hold it upright.
CORRECT When Jackie saw the tree listing sideways, she fastened strings to hold it upright.

DANGLING Though only 14 years old, the teachers were impressed with Ariel’s grasp of Shakespearean tragedies. Though only 14 years old dangles because it describes Ariel, not her teachers.
CORRECT Though only 14, Ariel had a grasp of Shakespeare that impressed her teachers.
CORRECT Ariel, who is only 14, had a grasp of Shakespeare that impressed her teachers.

DANGLING After denying any wrongdoing, the helicopter whisked the president to Camp David. In this sentence, After denying any wrongdoing modifies the chopper.
CORRECT After he denied any wrongdoing, the president waved from the helicopter and left for Camp David.
CORRECT The president denied any wrongdoing, climbed onto the chopper and left town.

Best wishes for safe dangling.


12 more ways to begin writing your life story


You want to write your life story, your autobiography, your memoir. 

Don’t know where to start? Write about your life today.

1. Write about the room you are sitting in while you are writing.
2. Write about your summer vacation, or any vacation, but this time tell the truth. What do you remember clearly? Bugs in the hotel room? The peeled shrimp with hot sauce you ate as an appetizer?
3. Kissing Bob (or Bobbie) on the beach, just before the lightning struck? No generalities.
4. See or do something ordinary in order to write about it, something you see or do often without thinking about it, experiencing it fresh this time. Then write. Write about walking from the bus stop to your office, brushing your teeth, sweating through spinning class, making love, buying toothpaste, traveling to work.
5. Write instructions for making or doing something. How to ride a motorcycle, build a patio, bake an apple pie, or drive to your house from the turnpike.
6. Take a moment and stretch it out. Turn a split-second into an essay, telling what went through your head: while waiting for a traffic light, while watching a car accident happen, while seeing your child play contact sports. Make a soufflé.
7. Write something you feel strongly about: A political candidate, recycling, spanking; or about someone you strongly dislike and what he/she does to you, how you react, how you feel.
8. Write something no one else could ever write: A personal event, a relative, a crime you committed, a celebrity encounter.
9. Choose a person who knows you well – relative, friend, co-worker – and describe yourself as he/she sees you.
10. Write fiction about someone you don’t know: someone in this room, a stranger you see on a bus, anyone.
11. Write about a piece of music. Listen to it while you’re writing. Drift with it.
12. Write a dialogue with a part of yourself, a figure from a dream, or an excess.
13. Write an essay beginning: I remember…. I don’t remember…. I think…. I don’t think…. I’d thinking of…. I know…. I don’t know…. I want…. I don’t want…. What I really want to say is…. I’ve always wanted to write about…. I love…. I hope…. I wish…. If only….

See also 45 ways and 48 ways. That totals 105 ways to start your autobiography.

45 ways to begin writing your life story


Begin at the beginning. Start with something small.

You want to write your life story, your autobiography, your memoir. You have experienced the range of human emotions. You have survived dramatic, frustrating, terrifying and romantic events. You want to tell the world. Right?

But you don’t know where to begin. Right?

If you contemplate and write about your own life, your own experiences, 3 things will happen:

  • You will experience them more fully.
  • You will learn what you think about the issues you wrestle with.
  • You will have endless material.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “Anyone who has survived his own childhood has enough material for a lifetime.”

Topics: Write about your early years
1. Stories you have heard about yourself.
2. Your room, house, neighborhood.
3. Photos that remind you of magic moments.
4. Toys, games, playgrounds, playmates that you remember.
5. A possession that meant a great deal to you.
6. Hardships, accidents, fears.
7. Childhood fantasies.
8. Your role in the family circle.
9. Family gatherings and holidays.
10. Favorite foods, clothes.
11. Favorite songs, stories.
12. Important pets.
13. Religious observances.

Topics: Write about your school days
14. Your route to school, on foot, on bike, in a car, in a bus.
15. Memorable teachers.
16. Specific lessons, subjects, assemblies.
17. Classmates, friends and enemies.
18. Trouble you caused, problems you had.
19. That special report card.
20. Lunchtime, recess, after school.
21. Achievements and talents, recognized and ignored.
22. Books, games, sports, radio and TV shows, movies.
23. Your heroes.
24. Historical and political events that affected you.
25. “First” experiences: traveling alone, tasting a new food, riding a bike, etc.

Topics: Write about your teen years
26. Special outfits, clothing trends, styles.
27. Classes you loved or hated, excelled or failed.
28. Friends.
29. Rules you had to follow – and whether you did.
30. Historical and political events that affected you.
31. Crushes or romances, real-life.
32. Crushes on heroes and superstars.
33. Hobbies, sports, musical interests.
34. After-school activities, weekends, summers.
35. Real jobs.

Topics: Write about your college years
36. Special outfits, clothing trends, styles.
37. Classes you loved or hated, excelled or failed in.
38. Special professors.
39. Career preparation.
40. Friends.
41. Historical and political events that affected you.
42. Romance.
43. Hobbies, sports, musical interests.
44. Real jobs.
45. Extra-curricular activities, weekends, summers.

Read 48 more and 12 more. Now you have 105 ways to begin writing your memoir.