To this day I don’t know why I won. I never got to see the other people’s essays. Nor did anybody feel the need to explain to me what it was about the essay that got me the scholarship. But I got it. And it made my writing career. Not so much because it made me famous or got people involved in my writing, but more because it meant I was not hugely in debt and could, therefore, pursue a career in writing.
And so, I can’t tell you the exact formula of how to write the essay. But I can tell you what I did. Perhaps it will help you find your voice and the courage you need to express it.
Take the path less traveled
The first thing to realize is that you will not win if you do what everybody else is doing. Scholarships aren’t for everybody. They’re for a select group of people who show that they’re a cut above and beyond. To do that, you need to do things differently and show that you’re different.
You need to follow Robert Frost’s advice from the last stanza of his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’.
Two roads diverged in the woods and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
Because taking the road that everybody takes is not going to get anybody noticed – particularly if you’re trying to get a scholarship.
And whatever you decide to do, don’t apologize for it. Don’t apologize or hem and haw. Commit to it completely and go all out for it. Yes, they might not like what you’re doing. Yes, they might think you’re being too abstract, too strange or too pushy. I promise you, however, that I you don’t fully commit then you will certainly not get that scholarship.
Why do I say that? Well, imagine it like this. You get up on a stage and instead of speaking your heart out and really trying to convince your audience of your point of view, you instead begin with an apology and by pointing out that this is just your point of view. Oh yes, and please disagree if you want to.
Who is going to end up being convinced by that?
And so, go for it. Yes, you might feel anxious, worried, concerned and be covered in cold sweat the entire time you’re writing, but that can just as easily be the signs of greatness as those of abject failure, so don’t pay attention to those.
Use well-placed metaphors to embrace the senses
You want to bring the reader into the essay and to do that you want to engage the senses. I’ve personally found that similes and metaphors are the best way to do that. It allows you to paint beautiful pictures, while still relating them to the topic of your essay.
I myself chose to go to university as the coming dawn. Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but it did allow me to discuss and wonder if it would creep up on me, or come over me, dazzle me and blind me. It allowed me to stray into the territory of waking up, of rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, of seizing the day and opportunity.
And in that way I believe I was able to bring the professors back to that moment when they were standing at the edge of the rest of their lives. Was that what got them to my side? As I said, I don’t know. But it can’t have hurt.
Get other people involved and listen to them
One of the biggest problems as a writer with a piece of writing is that you end up so involved with it, that you can’t disentangle your thoughts and feelings from the writing, from the words that have been written. And so you need to get other people’s opinions on what you’ve said.
The interesting thing? A lot of people, when they get feedback from other people, end up trying to explain what they were trying to say. Don’t do that! You won’t be able to explain it to the people at the scholarship, so why would you explain it to the people who are helping you edit it?
Instead, take their advice and move on. Even better, get somebody to offer advice who you can’t interrupt and who really knows their stuff. Maybe a writing service? There are some great reviews of writing services here. These people really know their stuff and can offer you some valuable insights.
Edit the hell out of it
And finally, pieces that really matter need to be edited. And I don’t mean that you finish them, edit them, edit them again and then do it again one day later. That’s fine for essays for classes, or for articles for magazines.
It isn’t good enough for the true pieces that matter, however. Those need the proper treatment. What do I mean with that?
I mean that you edit them like your life depended on it. For me that generally means that I’ll write it across the space of a month. I’ll write it, put it away, come back to it, edit it, put it away again and then not return to it for a week. Then I’ll rewrite the whole thing again. Put it away, return to it the next day, and so on.
The distance, the time gaps and the constant returns makes it so that you approach it in many different moods and from many different angles. What’s more, by giving yourself a few days between edits, you can forget what you were trying to say and see only what you actually said. That’s vital, because the people that read your essay don’t get to know what you were trying to say. They only get to read what you said.
By Luisa Brenton