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The Write Like a Pro Process

In high school, you’ve learned solid skills and tools to write academic papers. Spencer used what he had learned to write his first two versions. (There’s a reason they were…ummm…not good.)

But he had to do something different to write that engaging, authentic short story that Tina Fey loved.

In EssayQuest, we’re going to guide you through the same process Spencer used to write his essay. You’ll build on what you’ve learned in school using the same framework and tools that professional writers and communicators use.

We’re going to teach you their secrets.

This will come in handy in college and beyond!

If you’re like most American high school students, you probably learned a straightforward approach to writing school papers:

  • Come up with an idea
  • Write a thesis statement and outline
  • Write a draft
  • Another draft
  • Proofread
  • Start your math homework

There’s a good chance that you combine all the aspects of writing in one activity—as you work, you modify your ideas, find typos, rewrite, reorganize, and rephrase.

Over the years, we’ve seen that almost all teenagers and adults approach writing pretty much the same way.

Unless they’re professionals.

The pros keep it simple.

They start with a strong foundation for their work: they know 3 critical pieces of information.

They break the steps of writing into 3 distinct phases, focusing on 1 activity at a time.

They have tools to keep themselves on track and to reorient themselves when they lose their way.  


Professionals start with a strong foundation

Guess what…we snuck this in when you read Spencer’s essays.

The pros always take the time to know their audience, intention, and role.

If you don’t know what your audience cares about, the kind of language they use, what information and knowledge they already have, their mindset, and more, there’s a good chance you won’t be successful. 

We like to pick an individual and write directly for that person. It’s a lot easier than trying to write for everyone. If you do a good job, anyone kinda like that person will be happy. 

An intention is something that you say will happen, and you mean it, right now, in the present moment. It helps you know what to do next and is a critical touchstone to make sure you’re on track. 

Sometimes your intention starts general, like this one. As you go through the program, you’ll get specific about what you want Tina Fey to know about you. It’ll start with at least five of your top ten strengths.

Do you know that you’re always playing a role? One moment you’re an attentive student, and the next moment, a teammate on the field. As a teenager, sometimes you’re a responsible young adult helping around the house, and suddenly you’re back to being a little kid, begging Mom to make you a sandwich. 

As a writer, you need to find a role that will help you fulfill your intention so you can succeed with your audience. 

The pros break their work into three phases

When you put your attention on one thing at a time—and don’t get distracted by anything else—you do a better job. That’s why the pros break the work of writing into three phases.

In each phase, you’ll learn straightforward tools that professionals use. You may find that some are simple and intuitive; others may be less familiar and will take time to master.

By going through the three phases step-by-step, you’ll write a better college essay and learn skills and a framework you can use for the rest of your life.

We’ll teach you how to quiet the noise in your mind and bring the good stuff in the back of your brain out to the front.

Mainly, you’re going to be writing quickly—getting your ideas down as fast as you can. Quantity, quantity, quantity. Grammar, spelling, message, and structure don’t matter here. It can be horribly written. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Just get those thoughts out of your head.

We’ll give you a couple of simple tools that will help you write between 5000-10,000 words of raw content. You’ll need that many to write the kind of short story that Tina Fey wants to read. 

That may sound like a lot. Crazy, even. But we’ll show you how to do it quickly and easily. 


We’ll show you how to understand and make sense of what you’ve written and how to discover patterns and connections in your raw content. 

From there, you’ll create your personal intention: what you want Tina Fey to know about you, no matter what.

You’ll create a strategy for all of your essays (including supplemental essays) so that you reuse content efficiently.

And you’ll play and experiment with different ways of putting your raw content together until you find a structure that—once it’s polished—will become that engaging, authentic short story that shows who you are. It may be 1200 ugly words with no transitions, beginning, or ending. That’s ok. You’ll be ready to move on. 

We’ll teach you how to tighten up your ideas, breathe life into your words, and be intentional about your tone.

You’ll grab your reader’s attention from the first line, you’ll move smoothly through the essay, and you’ll end it like a pro. 

You’ll learn how to polish your sentences until they sing.

You’ll cover the nuts and bolts: little points of grammar, fine-tuning your layout, catching sneaky words and phrases that take away from your writing.

And, we’ll give the people who proofread your essay instructions on how to do that well. 

Professionals know how to keep on track

If you’re lost in the woods without a map, compass, or cell phone, you may be in trouble.

The same with writing. Professionals regularly check to see that they’re heading in the right direction. Are they still writing to their audience? Are they getting closer to fulfilling their intentions? And, are they playing a role that will get them where they want to be?

By making regular course corrections, you’ll keep moving closer and closer to the engaging, authentic short story that Tina Fey will love.

We have three ways to help you keep on track:

You’ll self-review your work
At every step of the process, you’ll ask yourself targeted questions to see if you’re on track. When you’re off track, we’ll tell you how to get reoriented.

You’ll get fresh perspectives
The best writers in the world seek out fresh perspectives. You know the place in books where they thank people? They’re acknowledging the support that helped them do a great job.

You may have people in your life who can give you support or a fresh perspective throughout the process. Friends may help you think of ideas to write about. Your parents or a neighbor might help you get through a spot where you’re struggling. 

Anyone giving you a fresh perspective or support needs to read the guidance we’ve shared. You’re using a different process than what they’re probably used to, and they need to give you support that makes sense for where you are in your writing journey.

You’ll get structured feedback
You’ve seen how to give feedback already. We asked you questions about Spencer’s drafts: is he writing for his audience, is he fulfilling his intentions, and is he playing the right role?

Those are the kinds of questions professionals ask. You may want your mom or dad, or next-door neighbor, or English teacher to give you feedback on your essay. They need to know how to give feedback that makes sense for where you are in the process.

That’s why we’ve developed four feedback forms you can share with reviewers: one for each of the three phases, plus final proofreading instructions. Please don’t ask for feedback without sharing the right form.

Hey! You’re ready to write like a pro!

You have a strong foundation for writing a college essay: you know your audience, intention, and role.

You have a process to write your essay: first, you’ll be a Thinker, then a Storyteller, and finally a Writer.

And, you have three ways to keep yourself on track: by self-reviewing your work, getting a fresh perspective, and getting structured feedback.

Go through the Write Like a Pro process step-by-step, and please don’t skip over anything.

We’ve spent six years designing and testing this with teens, and we know it works. But, if you skip a step, or only do it halfway, you may set yourself up for trouble later on. We’ve built lots of room for creativity and flexibility—but please, keep focused on that activity that you’re doing.

If you’re stuck or confused, let us know, and we’ll get back to you right away. We want you to write your best essay, and, when you’re done, to say it was a great learning experience.

One more thing before you move on
Professional writers read. A lot. We’ll share sample essays through the program, starting with a few on the next page. Enjoy!

You're ready to move on when

  • You’ve read this page and have the big picture of the Write Like a Pro process.