Often when doing an Essay Decimator essay critique, we come upon a story that the BSer is trying to use to support their application and, well, we just can’t figure it out. Frequently it’s a question of alignment: The story starts off in one direction, emphasizing how the BSer did certain things to bring something together — an important project, say, or a kick-off meeting for the client.
But as the story goes along and they’re telling what happened, things start to get frayed and frazzled. It’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. The reader will end up discombobulated.
Part of this is inexperience with this type of writing (telling a clear story in a essay is a discrete skill that needs to be mastered). More often though, it’s inexperience with clear thinking.
Yes, we said it. Many BSers aren’t so great with the seemingly simple skill of thinking.
Here’s some verbatim notes that we offered to a BSer on draft 1 of their essay in a Round 1 essay review:
This story seems important but it’s a little difficult to figure out exactly what was going on. What was the purpose of this meeting and what was being negotiated? In what way did you contribute to a successful outcome? These aspects could be more clearly stated as you move through the paragraph. Towards the end of this story, it sounds like you did a nice job helping to organize a large event, but that’s a very different type of story to present to the admissions team compared to one where you were helping the negotiations of government officials. Maybe there are two stories here? Not sure. Sometimes it works to combine different dimensions or examples that occurred during a single project or event, but sometimes it is better to divide them out so that each individual achievement is covered separately. That way, the adcom can see your different skills: 1) Here is where she shows that she is a good negotiator; 2) Here is where she shows that she is a good event manager. (Or whatever the qualities are that you’re trying to capture.)
Another tip: Make sure you are clear in your own mind what strengths or attributes that you have, that you’re trying to show through an example – make that very well defined in your mind first. Then, use direct statements that focus on the ACTIONS that you took that will represent that quality for the reader. You did a nice job of that in the personal story where you shared [specific personal detail redacted] — it was easy to picture what you were doing, and it showed that you are compassionate and wanted to help. The professional stories you have are not as clear yet because the actions aren’t all stated in the same direct way that lets the reader “see” what you did in their head when they read the story.
So today’s post is a reminder that, well, outlines are your friend because that way, you can make sure you’ve got the structure you’re striving for laid out clearly before you begin with the writing. And, vetting your own work is important. After you’ve got the story laid out on the page, you’ll want to go back and cross-examine it. Take a good look at what you’re saying and how you are saying it.
We commented to another BSer recently that what seemed to be happening with his essays was, what he thought he was saying was not what the words on the page were relaying. The reader was picking up a very different message than what he seemed to think he was putting down.
As it is with all creative endeavors: You have this glorious vision in your head of this work of art you want to achieve. And then when you go to produce it out of the materials you’re working with — watercolors, acrylic, clay, or letters and words and small bits of punctuation — the medium often does not cooperate. It does not come out into the shock of sun as you had imagined it would be in your mind.
And that’s okay. That’s what revision is for.
These are new skills you’re learning, Brave Supplicant. Be patient with yourself, and understand the value of the process. This whole “show, don’t tell” thing is a slippery beast. Mastering it will get you far, very far, on your way to essay liberation.
And if you’re feeling like some additional support may be valuable, we invite you to check out what’s available!