Sept. 12, 2022

The Personal Essay (Part 5). The 12 Questions and Pieces of Advice to Create Your Third Draft. The Importance of Your Attention-Grabbing Story, Tone, Voice, Details, Organization, and Flow

The Personal Essay (Part 5). The 12 Questions and Pieces of Advice to Create Your Third Draft. The Importance of Your Attention-Grabbing Story, Tone, Voice, Details, Organization, and Flow
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#101 – On this episode we give you 12 questions and pieces of advice that will help you turn the information you created on your second draft into a workable third draft.

Jankel and I talk about what to do to grab the attention of the college admission representatives reading your essay, and how to get them to become immersed in your story.

As we share those steps you should take and things you should do, we also share plenty of what you should not do as a writer.

Some of what you will do as you write your third draft will seem counterintuitive, and may feel as though you will be violating the rules of writing you have learned in high school.

We will explain when and how this happens, and why it is okay to do it in your personal essay.

Below are the 12 questions and points to ask as you write your third draft, as were presented on this episode:

  1. What is the tone I am going to use, to best represent who I am, as I write my essay?
  • Are you going to be absolutely objective and stick to the facts of the story, or will you be subjective?
  • In other words, are you going to use a formal tone, or a casual tone? What matters is that it sounds like who you really are.
  • Are you going to use humor and write something in a sort-of funny way?
  • Are you going to be absolutely serious?
  • The point is, write in the tone that best represents who you are.
  1. What is the beginning of the story I want to tell? Because stories have a beginning.
  2. What is the middle part of my story? Because stories have a middle part.
  3. What is the end of my story? Because stories have an end.
  4. How am I captivating the reader’s attention as they begin to read my story?
  • How are you grabbing their attention in the first part of the paragraph on your story?
  • For example, you can begin with an event from your childhood that made a strong impression on you
  • Although it happened in the past, present the scene in a way that allows you to use the present tense
  • "Sitting on one of the chairs in the porch of my grandparents’ house, I watch attentively as a marathon runner falls from exhaustion, but somehow gets up, and with bloody knees and elbows, continues running…"
  1. How does the story flow?
  • How do the paragraphs transition one to the next? Do they flow in a way that makes sense?
  • As you transition from one paragraph or idea, to the next, ask yourself
  • How did that happen? Am I conveying that clearly if it is important to the story?
  • Why did that happen? Am I communicating that clearly, if it is important to the story?
  • The story does not need to be told in the way the events in your story happened necessarily, but it has to make sense
  1. Always always always use an active voice, and never never never use a passive voice
  • Always write in the first person, not in the third person
  • Because you are writing about yourself on the personal essay, always free to use the words I, myself, me, and mine in your story
  • When you use a passive voice, you turn a story that can come alive, into a dull story
  • This is about what “you” did, or how “you responded to something
  • So, you do not say “the marathon was completed”,you say “I completed the marathon”
  • You would not say, “while the speech was going on”, you say “while I was delivering my speech”
  • When you don’t write in the first person, you sound like you are telling a story about something that happened, not about something that happened to “you”
  1. If you begin by writing general descriptions, be sure to flow into more specifics
  • That is the natural progression that will be expected
  1. Are there any details that you feel could add evidence of what you are saying? If so, write them
  • The beautiful thing about details is that they make the story very real and they allow the reader to become immersed in the story
  • As you write your personal essay, you will not say something along the lines of “the marathon I ran was difficult”, you will provide details of how it was difficult. Imagine providing these details:
  • For example, if you are writing about a marathon you ran because running a marathon is something you always dreamed of doing, although you are not a runner, you may mention details about running that marathon and how absolutely challenging it was, but how you overcame all those challenges to cross the finish line
    • "As I ran the marathon I could hear my heart beating loudly in my ears, and I could feel it thumping in my chest as I had never felt it before. I felt as though I could not take in enough breath and that I may faint."


    • "The pain on my ankle from my old injury was excruciating, I thought it might be broken again."


    • "I developed blisters around my toes and on the back of my feet because I did not properly break in my new pair of Adidas running shoes."


    • "Crossing the finish line was, by far, the most satisfying experience of my life. I felt completely overwhelmed knowing I achieved a goal I once believed to be impossible to achieve.
  • Those details will help the reader be placed in the story with you, and feel it, and live it with you
  • Plus, those details make stories very interesting
  • So, always look for the specifics in your story and pull out those details
  1. Can you spot any information or details that do not truly add anything to your story?
  • In other words, can you spot anything that does not help you tell the story you want to tell
  • If it does not support your story, take it out
  • Your story does not become better simply because it is longer. In fact, writing stuff for the sake of writing stuff does not help your personal essay, but actually weakens it because it takes the reader’s attention away from the point you are trying to make
  1. Check to make sure that the end of the story fits with the beginning of it. Again, does it flow? Does it make sense, or are you jumbling a bunch of information that does not fit together in any way?
  2. Take a moment to read your story and ask yourself, does it make sense?
  • The point here is to make sure the reader will be able to read a story that is organized, that makes sense, and that causes the reader to have a reaction to it

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