Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Personal

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
 -- Winston Churchill

Isn't that a spectacular quote? 

I'm on a break from college and I've been getting in some writing on a wonderful new story that is truly entertaining me, but today I did some writing of a different sort.  Putting back on my student hat, I finally finished writing an essay/personal statement for potential scholarships.  The Churchill quote resonates with my personal theme that finally emerged and I used it to begin my essay. 

I'd been mulling over this essay for a month or so, jotting down ideas and hoping a theme would form.  As with a lot of my writing, I wasn't sure where to begin.  I was born on a farm...scratch that!  Too far back and, besides, it's not even true.  *grin*

Above all, I needed to be truthful.  And interesting.  And deserving.  Right.  It's not easy trying make yourself sound deserving of an award; to ask for something without making it sound like your asking.  You have to show why you are deserving by sharing a lot, but not too much, of who you are. 

I didn't realize it, but apparently I'd been taking the right approach in not attemping a polished essay in one sitting.  The writing tips from Definition of a Personal Statement by Mary Hale Tolar, pointed out that, amongst other things, the personal statement extends an invitation

 "The reader must be invited to get to know you, personally. Bridge the assumed distance of strangers. Make your reader welcome."

This does sound awfully, well, personal.  The author goes on to say,

"The personal statement comes from inside you, passionate and gutsy. Its composition is organic, a natural growth dictated by an obscure, internal logic. You don’t "make it up"; instead you listen. You "get it down."

Another site, the Purdue Online Writing Lab, also suggests that the key is to tell a story:

Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

It's the story.  Time and again, the "tip writers," who had likey read more essays than they cared to count, practically begged for a story they could relate to and less distance from the personal statements.  Less narrative and less telling as if the writer shared ( or is that over-shared?) a diary entry. 


Eventually, a theme did emerge.  A lot of my "concrete experience" revealed itself through my jotted down anecdotes and they had a common thread of turning failures around.  Put a different way, in that wrong, telling way: I had a lot of perseverance.  This was my theme.  And once I had an idea of what I wanted to share, I also knew what I wanted to withhold. 

I think I get it now.  I can't say I want to write another personal essay, but I won't forget the process involved in wringing out the authentic story.  Because whether its for a selection committee or readers of romantic fiction the goal is the same, to close the distance between myself and the reader.

It's my characters' turn now.  Some of them don't want or need to be liked, but they have experiences to share about who they are that are much more memorable than the biographies I may have made up for them.  It's personal.  If I can't make it up, maybe I have to listen.

2 comments:

  1. This is such great advice. Sometimes it can be scary to think about being "personal" in our writing, because we don't want to reveal too much of ourselves. But if we don't, then it's a bunch of words that could have been strung together by anyone, even a computer. :)

    I think authenticity is the key, as you pointed out. It helps you sift through everything and decide what best tells the story. I also don't know what I want to say until I jot it down. A lot of times it starts in one direction and then veers another -- and it's that "other" place that I wanted to end up all along. :)

    Good luck on the scholarships. I've got my fingers crossed for you!

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  2. Thanks, Donna! If I get something I'll be like Sally Field's acceptance speech, "they like me, they really like me!" LOL!

    I thought it so interesting that the writing tips for an entirely different audience had so much in common with fiction writing. It applies to so many stages too, from writing the story to selling to promoting.

    And as long as I can imagine it's a friendly audience I've invited to my story, it's a lot easier. :)

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