Author: Ian McAllister
A College Essay can be fun
No, really, would I lie to you? You enjoy doing things that you are good at don’t you? Just become good at writing college essays. Why do you think authors like Heinlein write so many books a year? They know that they are good at it, so they are addicted to it, and can’t stop. You don’t need to become addicted to writing, I can take it or leave it (I think), but you can at least start enjoying it a little! Get your free book on how to write here
Before I tell you about all the fun you can have, here is the link for the nuts and bolts of college essay style types.
Does my experience before I was caught by the writing bug seem familiar to you?
I hated study and writing
or I thought so. Then I really got down to thinking about my likes and dislikes. What was it really that I disliked about studying?
I kept trying to come up with reasons and excuses for my dislike, but at last was forced to admit to myself that what I disliked was having to stop what else I was doing.
Yes, that’s right, even when I couldn’t think of anything interesting to do I had convinced myself that I didn’t want to stop doing it.
I couldn’t remember the rules
Fortunately I learned to write before going to University. The rules for college essay writing are really quite minor additions. The big rule is still just as important – hold the reader’s interest as if your life depended on it! Will the reader be as interested if you write the same as everyone else? Of course not!
Just whose rules are you following to write college essays? These rules are artificial. Learn when you should write in the first person singular “I” and when in the third person. Learn when you should write actively or passively. You could probably draw a “family tree” to show which kind of essay uses which rules. If you can’t, then see if you can find some other mnemonic to remind you.
Even at college, the rules for scientific writing are different from those for English writing. All scientific publications must use passive writing. Here is an example. “In an experiment with 8 ovine animals given one of four diets in a Latin square…” That kind of writing is surprisingly easy because you just say what you mean, and know that only a handful of people around the world will ever master their yawns enough to read it.
Anyhow, your publication will be edited by the head of your department, then by the director of the institute, then by the editor, until very little of what you wrote remains unchanged.
English Professors look down their noses at other kinds of essay writing. If you point out to them that a 15 year old girl is earning a thousand dollars a month by writing web pages that don’t follow the college essay rules, they will look superior and sniff and talk about prostituting art.
You can read the schoolgirl’s essay about her success. Sorry, it’s not on my website so I can’t control any changes made there. If you are lucky, my link will take you to the right place to click to read her article. Otherwise just do a find (Hold down Ctrl and press F) on NORI, which is the name of the schoolgirl. Her success story is just one of many on this page.
You have to follow college rules for college essays while you are their student, but you can bend the rules to the point where it is amazing that they don’t break!
It is very important to know the rules of any artistic subjects so that you will only break them deliberately for a special effect. If you don’t know the rules your readers will spot your ignorance. If you break rules deliberately the critics might say “Look how effective that trick was!” or they might think you don’t know any better.
If you can’t spell it don’t spell it. If you can’t punctuate it, don’t. You can avoid using words in your college essays that you can’t spell, and arrange sentences to avoid difficult punctuation. Engineers are now being trained to simplify sentences to a subject, an object, and a verb, with as few qualifiers as possible. This is to simplify translation. The most stupid computerized translator can manage a sentence with only a subject, a verb, and an object.
For popular writing you should keep your writing short and snappy, requiring little punctuation.
I hated experts looking down on my incompetent blundering
When the teachers criticized my writing, I hated it, and them. Then I discovered that nobody knows everything, and that I knew more about some things than each teacher did. So what if he knew more about specific heat than I did – I knew more about how to eat a prickly pear than he did!
If you are still at school there are probably many things that you know, that you hope the teacher doesn’t know about! It was a real eye-opener for me to go to university and discover that I knew more about mathematics than my lecturers who weren’t in the maths department.
Oh, they had known more about maths than I did at one time, when they passed their exams. But they forgot it all once the exams had passed. Sure enough, after passing my maths exams I forgot it all until fifteen years later when I found that I needed maths for an electronic design that I was preparing. Fortunately I found a student to do the maths for me.
Bernard Shaw claimed that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” That is probably an exaggeration, but there is a lot of truth in it.
If English is your second language I sympathize with your problems writing college essays. English is so illogical as to belong in a lunatic asylum. However, I have seen a copy of the New Testament translated into Basic English, with a vocabulary of only 400 words. So if you don’t know the fancy words to use, just use the ones that you do know.
English was constructed by stealing as many words as possible from half a dozen different languages, and throwing them all together, joining them together in whatever way took the fancy of the locals. To add to the variety they continued to steal a word here and there from any country in the world that took their fancy.
Then men who had nothing better to do decided to organize an English grammar. The problem they ran into was that everyone had stolen different words, and they couldn’t even agree on the right way to join words on opposite sides of London. So an artificial grammar was created, followed by others for different parts of the world. Your lecturer probably can’t follow the rules of grammar that he teaches you. Political correctness has destroyed even more of the language because your lecturer probably has to say “they” instead of “him” or “her”. When you try to do that at speed, grammar goes out of the window.
If you have problems with grammar, read books at every opportunity. It will improve your grammar within limits, because even the books contain grammatical errors.
What have I learned so far?
Did your parents ever wish you would stop asking questions? That was because you were a natural student. Somehow you were brainwashed into thinking that you didn’t like to learn. I found that if I laid aside time when I wouldn’t do anything else than study, then I didn’t have to stop whatever else I was doing to start studying, and studying was fun.
Now I rush to the internet to find the answer to all the silly questions that are asked on the radio, just for fun.
Now I have followed so many different rules that I see them all as artificial, to be followed only in special circumstances. I need to write in a different style for different projects, and that just means following different rules.
And do I feel inferior because I am prostituting my art? No, I loved to annoy my artistic workmate by quoting horrible doggerel as wonderful poetry. He usually responded with “You philistine!”. My attitude is “Let art be dragged in the mud. I want money.”
If there are any other problems that are keeping you down, you can think your way through them. Exaggerate your problem and decide what is the worst that can happen with that problem. Then decide if you would survive if the worst happened. Decide that you might get a bit of fun out of it if the worst happened. Shrug the problem aside with contempt.
Mere success is boring
Shock your reader bolt upright in his chair. Show the lecturer that you know more about his pokey little niche of a subject than he does. You don’t have to tell him that you just heard it on the TV or read it on the Web.
If your college essay is the same as twenty other classmates college essays, the lecturer can compare the boring lot for slight differences. If all your college essays are contrary enough to be outrageous he will have nothing to compare you with, and he will be so glad not to be bored by your essay that he will give you the best marks that he can.
Make your lecturer look eagerly through the essays for your latest masterpiece of unconventional mischief.
Nil illegitimes carborundum
That is fake Latin for “don’t let the bastards wear you down”.
Now that you know that you can surf a wave of success what are the nuts and bolts of college essay writing?
Most important first step
You already know this one. Be eccentric. Be original. Be outrageous. When you are given a subject keep it at the back of your mind as you go about your everyday living until you have time to formalize your thinking. Hopefully an idea worthy of a rebel in a lunatic asylum will occur to you!
In your study
When you reach your workplace brainstorm your subject. Of course, in an exam you would brainstorm the subject as soon as you got it. Write down everything in a “bird nest”. Each time you have a keyword, you write it as far apart as possible on the page from any other keywords. The page gradually fills in with scattered words.
Because there is so much space between keywords, you can easily draw lines between words to group similar ideas together. You can then transfer your keywords to a brain map or cut out the bird nest stage altogether.
Number the keywords in the order in which you will use them.
Organizing your college essays
If you are writing a college essay in a hand-written exam you will have to start with the introduction and continue to the conclusion, following the rules as you go. Just remember that your lecturer can’t do the same thing without making mistakes, so you are going to make mistakes. Once you realize that you can’t avoid making mistakes you won’t be worried about them. The ticking clock makes everyone get things wrong.
College essays outside of the exam
I am assuming that you have a computer available and know how to use it. Learn to touch-type so that you can watch the screen, not your fingers. I recommend the Dvorak keyboard for touch typing – you can then set up your computer to accept the Dvorak keyboard layout.
Get your friends to add to the brainstormed ideas.
Now for each main heading in your brain map, start typing and don’t stop for at least five minutes. If you can’t think of anything to say just say anything, such as “I can’t think of anything to say, but will come up with something soon.” You could even keep repeating something such as keep calm, keep calm, keep calm.
The reason for non-stop writing is that you are attempting to crowd out your automatic censor. You don’t like making mistakes so if you are given time to think you will cut out everything that might possibly have a chance of containing an error. Now you should be making mistakes. Make many mistakes.
When you have finished speed-writing each main heading go through and add connecting sentences. Then, and not before, you can start to edit your speed-writing. You might have to remove some of it. You might find that a sentence would fit better elsewhere in your college essay. It is easy to make changes on the computer.
Start and finish of your college essay
Now that the body of your college essay has taken shape, you can write the start and finish of your essay, following the rules set by your lecturer – or defying the rules if it is more exciting.
Sleep on it
If you have obliging parents get them to read your essay aloud. Otherwise after you have slept on it, read it into a tape recorder or digital voice recorder. Listen to it for places where you stumbled or hesitated. Improve them. Try again until everything flows smoothly. Fit in any new ideas that come to you in the appropriate places.
Now proofread your college essay aloud. This is to force you to slow down. When you read rapidly you see what you expect to see, not what is there.
If you are expected to hand in your college essay in print, you will have been given instructions about how to format it. Print out your finished essay in the correct format.
At this point you will probably have half a dozen absolutely brilliant ideas that you should have included in the essay. Remember that nobody can write a perfect essay, so sometime you are going to have to refuse to rewrite any more, because any more writing will not gain you more marks. My examiners were not allowed to give more than 19 marks out of 20 on the theory that a perfect essay is impossible.
Special college essays
If you are studying English at college, you’ll be asked to write essays in particular styles such as argumentative or comparative. I’ve been privileged to find some articles by Jessica Johnson that she has given me permission to use on my website. These tell you what your lecturer should have taught you about the nuts and bolts of writing each of the different
Index of college essay style types