One common misunderstanding about skillful writing is that it is the result of moments of inspiration. While these moments can be helpful, proficient writing is not the result of inspiration—rather, it is the result of hard work and numerous rewrites. So, before you start, know that an effective essay will take some time.
Further, the best writing doesn’t just “happen” when you sit down. Good writing requires preparation and then multiple drafts. Be prepared to work through several drafts and sit through many writing sessions.
Preparation for good writing also requires forethought. Think about what you want to say, as well as how you want to say it; let an idea roll around in your mind a bit, and then try committing it to paper. Being strategic about writing can improve your chances of creating a winning essay.
Some people need a quiet room with a desk. Others prefer a noisy coffee shop. According to a Chicago Tribune article entitled “Where Writers Write,” many famous writers have very specific requirements about their inspirational places to put pen to paper. Oscar Hijuelos (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love) needs a quiet, private space, preferably with a view. Jodi Picoult (author of numerous novels) writes in her attic office. Tayari Jones (Silver Sparrow) writes in the spare bedroom of her apartment. And Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone and many others) prefers his finished basement for writing.
While you aren’t writing a novel, you still need to consider where you do your best thinking and writing and try to work in that setting each time you write. Your mind will automatically shift into writing mode if you follow a routine related to where and when you write. While this may seem like an unnecessary step in the writing process, remember that your PA essay has the potential to change the trajectory of your life. Spending a bit of time to think about space can be an important part of your process.
It is important to think about when you should write. Some people like to write early in the morning, when they feel fresh. Others like to write late at night.
Don’t plan to write at a time when your creative brain has shut down (writing is a creative process, after all) or after you have just completed an intense mental task (e.g., a test). Think about when you do your best writing, and plan to work on your essay during that time.
It’s happened to all of us. You sit down with a pen and paper or at your computer and…nothing. You don’t know how to start, and nothing is coming from your blocked brain. Never fear; even great writers need stimulation at times. Are you someone for whom reading stimulates your desire to write? Or does journaling get your creative juices flowing? Or maybe you find that quiet meditation gets you into the writing mood. Having a writing routine will help you when you begin writing your essay.
Here are some fun exercises to get your mind ready to write:
- Write down fifty adjectives to describe yourself.
- Write a paragraph or two about your life five years from now, when you are a successful PA. What do you like about your job? What do you enjoy about being with patients? What do you like about the practice of medicine?
- Write a fictional story about a PA hero or heroine. What would he or she do? Who are this PA’s patients? What do these patients think of your hero or heroine?
- Talk aloud (to yourself or a friend) about what you want to say in your essay or how you might start it. If you are a very verbal person, this can be a great way to get your writing brain engaged.
- Write one sentence each about five people you admire and what you admire about them.
These are just a few examples of ways to get warmed up for writing. Just like in physical exercise, warm-ups can be helpful. The Internet is filled with suggestions for writing warm-ups, so if none of these ideas inspire you and you are still not sure how to start, check online.
SCHEDULING AND DEADLINES
MANAGING WRITER’S BLOCK
Here are some tips:
- Estimate correctly. Some of us procrastinate because we’ve underestimated how long it takes to do something—and we know it. If you see a trend, adapt. In other words, if tasks usually take two times longer than you expect, schedule a task to take two times longer.
- Make a list and set a schedule.
- Set realistic goals. As I have mentioned and will mention again later in this book, your essay will not be effective if you sit and write it in one session. So be realistic about what you can do.
- Promise yourself a reward when you complete your tasks.
- Repeat the mantra: “Just do it now!”
Use a checklist to prepare for writing your essay:
- I have identified a specific location from which I can do my best writing.
- I have identified the best time of day for writing.
- I know several strategies for stimulating my brain to write.
- I have developed a schedule for completing my application essay.
- I created deadlines for completion of parts of my essay and proofing and editing.
- I know what to do to move beyond writer’s block.
- I know what to do when I am procrastinating to move myself to action.
EVOLUTION OF AN ESSAY
When applying to PA school, consider your essay to be your ticket to the interview. A quality essay answers the question as to what motivates you to want to become a PA. The CASPA essay may be the most important piece of medical writing that you do in your entire career. When writing the essay, remember the following: