Moving onward to the high school juniors

February 1 is here and the deadline for applying to college is over. Good luck high school seniors! May all your dreams come true.

For the rest of us, it’s time to turn our attention to high school juniors who should start thinking about topic choices for their college applications next fall.

Juniors, the spring semester is a great time to brainstorm ideas. Get together with friends and talk about your interests. Think of things meaningful to you that can serve as a metaphor for a life experience. Do you practice a sport? What are you passionate about? Have you had a tragic loss that changed your life? Have you failed at something?

Write a paragraph about each topic you want to explore. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, just write down your thoughts. Then set it aside and let the ideas percolate. Return to your writings in a week or two and write some more. Go for broke — write more than one essay. Then, at some point, find a teacher, parent, older sibling or professional to help you establish a writing schedule, meet your deadlines, and finalize the essay before you return to school for your senior year. Take the pressure off of yourself by having your essay ready before things get too hectic. You won’t regret having it done before the college application deadline looms.

Last minute writing

Last minute writing is a bad idea — plain and simple.

If you’ve got a Feb. 1 deadline for your college application essay, have a final draft written by Monday, Jan. 25. Put it down and come back to it on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Ask your family members to read it. Print it and review the hard copy. Look for areas that need more precise writing, better verbiage, or clarification.

Eliminate all unnecessary words and extraneous sentences.

Check for typographical and grammatical errors.

Make sure you have no more than 650 words because the College Board software won’t accept an essay that has more words than the maximum limit.

Your essay should reflect your spirit and self-truth. Does your topic lend itself to a metaphorical depiction of a lesson you’ve learned? Does it show how you’ve grown in spirit? Does it have imagery? Can you paint a picture for your reader?

Hiring a professional can help keep you on schedule and avoid the last minute sprint as the clock ticks toward deadline.

Good luck!

What makes good writing?

When you’re new to writing, it’s not always clear what would be considered a well-written piece as compared to one that’s just mediocre.

The answer is this: use action verbs and delete all unnecessary words. Journalists call it “writing tightly,” meaning you convey your story with the least number of words possible.

Here’s an example of a mediocre sentence versus a well-written one:

MEDIOCRE: The washing machine agitator vibrated back and forth to clean his boxers and her unmentionables.

MUCH BETTER: His and her undergarments swished in the washer.

The use of the verb “swished” makes it possible to omit the following words: machine, agitator, vibrated, back and forth.

The use of the word “undergarments” makes the words “his boxers and her unmentionables” unnecessary.

By using language differently, it is possible to pare a 15-word sentence to eight without sacrificing the meaning or intention of the information presented.

That’s good writing.

Fleeting moments and emotion are key to great essays

The most fleeting of moments can sometimes turn into the most powerful of essays.

Here’s an essay I wrote after driving by an unusual scene on a back road in Billerica. It came from a glimpse that so moved me I had to write about it.

Emotion is the key to an essay’s success. If you are moved by something you see, something someone said, a memory, a dream, a passage in a book, don’t let go of it. Turn it into a short essay and share it. You will find tremendous gratification in the process.

Application deadlines looming

The January 15 application deadline for many colleges is less than two weeks away. If your essay is not in final form this is the time to be revising and refining. Once you’ve gotten it in the best shape possible, print it and have everyone in your family read it to make sure there are no grammatical mistakes or misspellings.

Use imagery and action verbs to engage your reader. Consider that a college admissions officer is wading through hundreds of applicants. You want your essay to grab the reader and be memorable. Your topic is important because it can serve as a metaphor, demonstrating how you’ve grown during your high school years or moved forward from a difficult time.

Good luck and have faith in yourself!