You didn’t know that Steve knew so much about college application essays, did you?
Okay, okay, so he didn’t aaaaactually comment on college application essay writing, but he does provide BRILLIANT advice in his Into the Woods lyrics that can be applied to your writing. Seriously.
1. Just a moment, one peculiar passing moment. Must it all be either less or more, either plain or grand? Is it always 'or'? Is it never 'and'? That's what woods are for: for those moments in the woods. —“Moments in the Woods”
The best essays focus on a moment in your life—just one little snippet of time that has somehow changed you or shaped how you are today. The moment could be as simple as scraping your knee at a soccer game or enjoying a traditional Sunday night ice cream party with your crazy, blended family. Don’t try to tackle your entire soccer career or three generations of family history. Less is more. Focus on one moment.
2. Nice is different than good.— “I Know Things Now”
Don’t be nice. By all means, be the nicest person ever in real life, but don’t be “nice” in your writing. “Nice” is boring, superficial. Don’t write the version of yourself that you would show to your elderly great aunt. Dive in a little more. Scratch the surface. Show us your innermost thoughts, and maybe even your flaws. You can still be a “good” person and a “good” student and a “good” prospect for a college without being “nice.”
Who does this jerk think he is? That’s the first thing I think when I read this laundry list of good qualities. In the musical, Cinderella’s Prince sings about how perfect and wonderful he is…and wonders why he doesn’t get the result he wants. Sondheim is implying that a little humility goes a long way. So when writing your essay, you should certainly list all of your wonderful qualities, but don’t rub them in our faces. Perfection is exhausting. And often untruthful. Isn’t the flawed wolf waaaay more interesting than the perfect prince?
4. And you're back again, only different than before. After the sky. There are giants in the sky! There are big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful giants in the sky!—“Giants in the Sky”
Ahhhh, “Giants in the Sky.” That beloved male audition song. A riveting tale with a beginning, middle, and end accompanied by glorious sustained notes. It’s a performer’s dream, isn’t it? The whole thing can be a model for your essay, but let’s take a look at the song’s conclusion. You’ll notice that Sondheim ends the song in the same way he started with three significant additions: “awesome, scary, wonderful.” Jack has been on a pivotal adventure that has changed his life. He knows now that giants are not just “big, tall, terrible,” but also “wonderful.” It is a teeny tiny addition to the song that suggests a major shift in Jack’s outlook on life. So if you’re stuck on your ending, trace the essay back to your beginning ideas. See if you can find a connection that will show readers how you’ve grown.
5. No one is alone. Truly. No one is alone.—“No One is Alone”
Deep, Steve. Reeeeeeeally deep. Man, that guy knows how to punch me in my tear ducts.
But seriously, you are not alone. When you are ready to throw your laptop at the wall and run screaming into the woods, remember that you are most likely surrounded by people who want to help—your parents, teachers, friends. If you need new ideas, ask your folks to tell you stories about you from your younger years. If your writing doesn’t flow, request guidance from your teachers. If you have writer’s block, check in with your friends to lighten the mood.
And I, of course, am always here to brainstorm, chat, edit, and proofread. So before you throw your laptop and run screaming into the woods, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or for more writing ideas, follow me (@writewithrosie) or “like” me on Facebook. I’m sure I can help.
So stop thinking and start doing! Or, as Sondheim says,
Though it's fearful, though it's deep, though it's dark, and though you may lose the path, though you may encounter wolves, you mustn't stop, you mustn't swerve, you mustn't ponder, you have to act!
Need extra help? Meet me in cyberspace!
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