Write a TON of raw content
Write! Make baby chicks! (And play with these Creativity Jump Starters.)
Now, do this
Read yet more sample essays (no, you really can’t read too many).
Go to the sample essay page and read 1 or 2 essays you haven’t read before.
Play with these Creativity Jump Starters to spur your thinking.
Wander and Ponder
Yup, it’s just what is sounds like. Grab something to write with (or, use your phone’s voice recorder) and go for a walk.
How much time do you spend just, well, thinking? Walking around the neighborhood and rolling thoughts and ideas around your head? Maybe even daydreaming?
This is one of the most powerful tools for letting your brain build new connections, find patterns, come up with creative ideas, or remember long-forgotten events.
When something interesting comes to your brain or out of your mouth, write it down or record it on your phone.
Bounce ideas off someone
This is like Wander and Ponder, but with someone. Walking is optional; you can do this sitting down!
You can talk with a parent, friend, sibling, teacher, college counselor, coach, or complete stranger. Make sure they’ve read the main Thinker page.
If you’re bouncing ideas off someone, you can go to the next level and ask them to interview you.
We often record these interviews (you can use a speech-to-text app on your phone or find an online app to transcribe your recording).
Their job is to get curious and to prompt you to tell your story. In other words, they will to listen to what you’re saying and ask questions that pull out more from you.
We ask questions like:
- What happened next?
- What did you do?
- What did you say?
- What were you thinking?
- What were you feeling?
- What were they doing, saying, thinking, feeling?
- What else was going on?
- Why do you think that happened?
- Can you say more about what you just said?
- You mentioned _____. What’s that about?
Share this list with the person asking questions. Notice that we aren’t adding anything (like, hey, it sounds like you were pretty angry at him when he said that. I would be too.).
If you can’t record the conversation, ask the person to take notes and write down anything that catches their attention—for any reason—as close to what you said as possible.
Remember I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin? Spencer said that to Barak while they were walking around the neighborhood. Barak wrote it down quickly and the rest is history.
Expand on what you've written
Read through your raw content. Search for and highlight:
- language you like
- ideas or concepts that catch your attention
- events that you mention in passing but probably have more depth to them
Then, using something you (or someone else) highlighted as a starting point, set your timer for 12 minutes and write.
Ben Franklin taught himself to write by doing basically the same thing you’re doing: he wrote a lot as fast as he could, let it sit for a bit, and then took notes on it.
Read through your raw content and use the comment feature in Google Docs or Word to write down more thoughts. You may write a few words in a note or a few hundred.
Some of the most powerful insights in essays started as notes on raw content.
How to use comments
In Google Docs or Word, you’ll find a comment feature that looks something like this:
Getting a fresh perspective can be powerful
If someone supports you, make sure they know your mission: to write a TON of raw content quickly. The should not tell you what to think, say, or write—Tina Fey will pick up on that right away.
Don’t listen to anyone until they’ve read the main be a Thinker page. They need to know all about making lots of baby chicks.
Write a bunch of crap.
Now, do more 12-minute blocks of writing.
You may prefer to write for 10, 15, or 23 minutes. Or you may like not to use a timer at all. Find what works for you.
The bottom line: quantity, quantity, quantity!
Every 2000 words or so, self-review what you wrote.
Each time you do a self-review, read all of your raw content, starting at the top. You can read quickly, but it’s important to look your content over and over—it will spur more ideas now and will help in the Storyteller phase.
Self-review what you wrote (using the same questions you've been asking)
Now, read what you wrote without judgment.
Ask these questions:
Is it short story-type writing?
Short story can cover a lot of ground—the sample essays you read are unique, and all are short stories. If what you just wrote sounds like a school paper, a sales presentation, or a resume, it’s not short story writing.
Is it engaging or potentially engaging?
Imagine that you’ve built on what you read and turned it into a polished essay. Would Tina Fey be glad she read this? Not you. Not your mother or your English teacher or your best friend. But someone who reads thousands of essays every year.
Is it authentic?
au·then·tic: representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.
Is this you? Are you presenting your true self?
Is it showing who you are, even if just a little bit?
Will Tina Fey get a sense of what it’s like to be around you, how you think, what you care about, or how your mind works? An essay will never show all of you. But does it give a sense of you?
Are at least five of your top ten strengths coming through?
Look carefully at your top ten strengths. Sometimes they show up in subtle ways, and sometimes they’re explicit. If you’re not sure, read the description of each strength, and check with someone else.
Check for essential content.
Every effective college essay has three kinds of content:
Stuff that happened
These are specific events, conversations, places, and so forth. This is what gives the reader a sense of “Oh, I’m in a place and time and can visualize what’s going on.”
This is what you were thinking and feeling. What was going in your head, your heart, your body sensations, at the time of the event or action?
These are your after-the-fact observations, insights, or perspectives. It’s what you understand, think, and feel today as you look back at the stories and events in your raw content.
To get a sense of how you act, how you think and feel, and how you perceive yourself and the world, your reader needs each of these kinds of content.
It’s ok if you don’t have a ton of each type of content in your raw content. But you do need some.
Here’s how to check for essential content:
- Flip through what you’ve written looking for stuff that happened, and when you find it highlight or make a comment on it.
- If there’s obviously a lot of stuff that happens, great.
- If it’s not obvious, slow down, look at the samples below, and search more closely.
- Go back to step one and do the same for in-the-moment experiences, and then after-the-fact observations, insights, and perspectives.
The same sentence may include all three types of content.
How to write stuff that happened – and some great examples
If you don’t yet have stuff that happened, do this:
- Go back to Write a TON of raw content: Narrate an event from your life.
- Find a specific event and write the details of what happened.
- As you write, be sure to include what you do and what you say.
Before you do that, read these samples.
I jump off the ledge, feeling myself freeze instantly as I hit the crystal clear water of Redfish Lake. I quickly paddle back out, climbing slippery rock as I pull myself back into the sun and dry heat. Water sluices off my body and I ready myself for another jump.
My friend stands at the ledge, still dry. She shakes her head. I know she won’t jump, and I get it. But I’m willing to keep going.
my job is to make a sandwich with about two other people with five or six other perople woeking arounf me in under 30 seconds, thats not always possible especially when its busy but we try to live up to the modo freaky fresh, but when yiu are making sanwiches in shop we cll it on line.
While online you have to say ever specification of every modified sandwich and have evryone else repeat it to you, sure the number five with X unions and add mayo and add hot pepps gets annoying after awhile but
Bobo and I both like to sit down and rest, only to be taken by an exciting thought a few minutes later. I can’t sit for long before I start making a list of things I need to do, planning a project to redecorate something, writing spontaneously, purging my closet for clothes to donate and then reorganizing the remains, or starting a complex baking project. Similarly, if Bobo is taking a rest on his favorite spot next to my bed, it is likely that he will spontaneously get up and walk out of my room to go scratch his favorite chair in the living room or vigorously scratch his head with his hind leg for a time longer than you’d expect.
Anyway, a great example of one day I had here was I woke up to the cockadoodle doo of our neighbor’s rooster. The sun was glaring through my window but the sun here shines differently than in any other country I’ve been to. It sort of is slightly more orange and slightly brighter but it doesn’t pound on you when you’re outside. I get out of my bed, change from my pajamas. I go outside and see my grandfather getting the hose ready for the plants.
“Want to help me water the plants?” He said and I eagerly went about sprinkling water all over the potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, cabbage everything. It takes me an hour but by then you can smell the great breakfast grandma cooked up, so grandpa gave me some coins for helping out so I knew I could bike to the cafe later. We ate breakfast all of us. My two cousins my grandparents and me and my brother.
How to write in-the-moment experience – and some great examples
If you don’t yet have in-the-moment experiences (what you’re thinking or feeling at the time), do this:
- Find events in your raw content and then add what you were thinking or feeling at the time. You can add new material just below what you’ve written, or write in a comment.
- Go back to Write a TON of raw content: Narrate an event from your life and, while you write what happened, be sure to include what you were thinking and feeling at the time.
For both, you need to be introspective. That’s not natural for everyone, so you may need to take time to ponder and reflect.
Before you start, read these examples.
I found my friend in the hall, and we took a collective deep breath as the doors swung open into a room full of chattering/screaming middle schoolers. We looked nervously at the middle school head (Where do we stand? Where do we go?) and she gestured to a clearing right at the front of the room.
We stood, fidgeting awkwardly, until eventually the clamor ceased.
So i woke up early cause i was scared shitless. I wanted to show my car to my frinds but i wanted to also not fail miserably bby not driving it or blowing up the engine, literally.I made it to school a ok and was super happy, but i forgot to tell my carppol that i coudlnt take them home. Not because i had plans but because i was sweating like a crazy man over the idea of going up the hill with them in the car
Eventually i was forced to get up and try. I tried but not very hard. I did not pay attention on how to properly fly fish so just did it how i thought i should do it. Knowing less than nothing about fishing to begin with, my assumed techniques were very very wrong. But stuck in my stubborn defiance i would not learn and the entire day i did not catch one fish.
After what was probably for hours of this despicable pass time we got back in the car. When we got back to sunriver i finally got to take off the rubber clothing.
The sun lights up my room. I get up put on some clothes and walk outside. The sun is shining happily, the swinging chair creaks a bit to the wind. I hear the distant sound of the water hose running. I walk over and grab a couple grapes from the vine overhead.
I see my grandpas smiling weathered face. It was a wholesome smile. He looks happy to see me. He asks for me to help him water the plants so I place the thick rubber hose with a sock over it on the canals where you put water for all the vegetables. There’s wet dirt on my sandals, and it smells like ground after it rained.
I come in the kitchen to smell the delicious breakfast grandma made us. The kitchen outside has chipped paint and wood and thick glass window. Inside looks old and cramped.
How to write deep thoughts
If you don’t yet have after-the-fact observations, insights, and perspectives, do this:
- Go back to Write a TON of raw content: Use these creativity jump starters.
- Read through your raw content and use the ideas in the creativity jump starters.
- Focus your attention on what you see today that you weren’t aware of when the events were happening and write down your insights.
Before you start, read these examples.
I seem to connect all these seemingly random bits of information. I’m sure if I made a web of every single thing I know, they would all connect some way or another. I do this sometimes with the wide variety of music I like. Somehow, I’ve found a way to connect 80s music and punk pop, bubblegum pop and rock. Like bits of colored thread weaving a quilt, my odd amalgamation of knowledge makes up who I am.
Thats where i feel relaxed an calm cause you just get to be with your mind and the pieces infront of you. I really enjoy that. Its like real life legos, cause not every piece fit with others but with more and more comple thing you really get to think about ehy it goes there and why would it fail if it wasnt or if it wasnt why would ut be not as good.
Ten your mind really gets to dile into the question why and what if. Why do i like to undestand how my car work or why it doesnt start and what if i try this to fix it or what if i change this to improve this or just doponder the thought of what will really happen and what is the purpose.
I always baked with my grandmother and my mom at home. Ive always loved doing it because it is a very organized and structured thing that if done right has tangible and delicious results. I am a detail orientedmeticulous person which is why i think i appreciate baking so much.
Along with satisfying my inner desire for organization and perfection, ifind baking to be the perfect way to show people you care about them. It is time and effort given and is not qualified based on how much it costs.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like change has numbed the feeling out of my skin, it’s still very much there, I guess it’s just I’ve learned to not let it really get to me. Like get under my skin I guess. I can move on really easily. Change is always going to happen and I’m pretty much ready for anything. That’s what change has done to me.
Get a fresh perspective.
As you write, you should be getting closer to yes or sort of yes.
If you’re still mostly at no after writing 2,500—3,500 words, please get some support or a fresh perspective.
Make sure anyone supporting you knows what they’re looking at and how to be helpful. Otherwise they’ll say, looks like a bunch of crap to me. And you’ll say, yup, sure is!
Don’t listen to anyone unless they’ve read the Write Like a Pro process and main Thinker pages.