How to write your own life

Someone once told me that reading my novel STONE GARDEN was a bit like having me next to them, talking in their ear. I was slightly insulted but then they said, "No, it was great. I mean, you were a teenage girl but you were also you."

It's important when writing the college admission essay or the SAT/ACT impromptu essays to write in your own voice. This is challenging because you are also trying to sound smart, articulate, focused and engaging. This is why it's crucial to keep a journal or a collection of your own spontaneous and first draft writing, writing that can be edited, polished, revised and proofread to produce a wonderful essay that tells an admission person exactly who you are.

For example, let's say you spend a day helping your grandmother weed her garden and she tells you a story you never heard about your dad trying to fly from the garage roof using a flying machine he'd secretly built. That night you write down the story in your grandmother's voice using the descriptions she provided, your dad's crash into her lilac bushes, the trip to the hospital and so on. Don't worry about framing this anecdote yet, just keep a record.

When the time comes to write about how we learn from our mistakes, you might compress this story about your father who subsequently became an engineer or a math teacher into a powerful opening paragraph. Then, you find yourself in your thesis because the essay needs to tell the reader something important about you; something you learned.

Maybe this was the first time you saw your father as someone just like you who made stupid mistakes but survived. Maybe you'll argue that it's essential to take risks to understand your own limitations or that the world is a big place. When your grandmother told you the story, you had no idea that it would be helpful but the details were great and you felt it might be helpful in the future. Finding yourself in history, in family stories or a chance encounter at a bus stop or a coffee shop will lead to the writing of a terrific and engaging essay. 

Carry a notebook and a pen or your laptop or your smart phone and be a journalist for your own life.

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