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From Zero to 100: Anxiety-Free Ways to Generate Ideas in Writing College Essays

From Zero to 100: Anxiety-Free Ways to Generate Ideas in Writing College Essays

I had a friend when I was a kid who had Japanese fighting fish. One night, during a sleepover party at her house, one of them devoured the other.

I remember staring at them for a long time before hitting the sack — their fancy, elaborate blue fins like diaphanous curtains swaying this way and that in the clear, illuminated water of the fish tank.

We went to sleep and they were fine. We woke up and remnants of blue were floating in the murky water of the tank.

Apparently, Japanese fighting fish will devour each other if left to their own devices, but will die of loneliness if made to live in total isolation. (Isn’t that just like any close relationship? You can’t live with it. You can’t without it?)

To keep Japanese fighting fish, you must put up a glass barrier so that they can see each other, but will not eat each other alive.

So it is with The Creator and The Critic.

If you let them near each other, the critic will ALWAYS win. It will, in fact, devour that small, still voice within.

The creative voice, in most of us anyway, is like a gossamer thread in a field of snow.

It must be cultivated and protected. Don’t let the INNER CRITIC near it, especially when writing something as important, and therefore, “critical,” as the College Essay.

Freewriting is a way to tame the beast.

After all, in a freewrite, there’s no need for structure or organization; you don’t need to know what you’re talking about; you don’t need to spell things correctly; you don’t need to begin, progress and conclude. All you need to do is write your little heart out – in FULL sentences. It’s a kind of focused stream-of-consciousness. That is, you write as much as you can, as fast as you can, without attention to organization or grammar — but you write it on the subject you have identified.

In an essay entitled “To See Your Story Clearly, Start by Pulling the Wool Over Your Own Eyes,” Kent Haruf describes it like this:

I remove my glasses, pull a stocking cap down over my eyes and type the first draft single-spaced… in the actual and metaphorical darkness behind my closed eyes, trying to avoid being distracted by syntax or diction or punctuation or grammar or spelling or word choice of anything else that would block the immediate delivery of the story.

I write an entire scene or section on one side of one page, in a very concentrated and incomplete way. I’m trying to avoid allowing the analytical part of my mind into the process too soon. Instead, I’m trying to stay in touch with subliminal, subconscious impulses and to get the story down in some spontaneous way.

From the FreeWrite, you can do the job of search and rescue: Excavating and Organizing.

You’ll get good at this if you keep doing it.

When you do get good, don’t get seduced into thinking you can skip this step.

Or let’s put it this way, when in doubt, FREEWRITE!