Have writer’s block? I bet you’ll unearth at least one new topic to write about by the end of this article.
As our newly adopted rescue dog, Lucy, has settled in, I’ve noticed an unusual new behavior.
She has a whole big backyard filled with interesting stuff to explore — balls and bones and squirrels and neighbor dogs. But that’s not what she’s interested in.
Instead, she’s focused on what lies beneath. If you ask her, the really good stuff is buried down below — the stuff you don’t even realize is there! Unless you take the time to look, that is.
She scurries around the backyard, nose to the ground, searching for something she can sense but not see. (Moles? Rabbits? What else is there?) Eventually, she hones in on something. Her head cocks to one side, then the other. (I’ll admit, it’s a little freaky to watch.)
And then she nosedives into the ground, pawing at the spot.
She could care less about what’s around her. Nothing will distract her now. Instead, she just wants to go deeper than surface level.
And that’s much of the charm that makes her, her.
If you’ve been struggling to find inspiration lately, or you’re just looking for a new take on an old topic … I think you can learn a thing or two from Lucy.
I know I can.
As a writing coach for high school students applying to colleges, I’ve been employing Lucy’s sniffsational techniques for years now.
Let me share.
When my essay coaching students are looking for a topic for their college admission essays, I urge them to go deep — like Lucy does.
It’s easy for my students to want write about the obvious things — the things on the surface — like tearing ACLs or moving to a new high school or getting involved with the robotics club or the swim team. They’re the seemingly no-brainer kinds of topics.
Now, while those aren’t terrible topics, they’re a little common. A little cliché. They don’t tell me much about what the student is really like — their personality and their passions. They’re definitely harder to stand out with.
And that means they’re probably not going to hold the reader’s attention — and probably definitely not the admissions officer’s attention — much like those games of fetch with Lucy that get old to her … fast. (Sound familiar, fellow writer?)
But the mystery that lies beneath the obvious?
Now that’s something to consider.
So my advice to students starting to brainstorm their admission essays?
Follow Lucy’s lead. Sniff beneath the surface. You never know what you might find. What are your more unusual interests, hobbies, or experiences? What’s a story that could’ve only happened to you? Do you love escape rooms because you’re a born leader and brilliant problem-solver? Take your chore of rolling out the bins on trash day very seriously because it’s taught you dedication and the importance of doing even small tasks well? Are you insistent on plain-and-dry hamburgers for every restaurant meal but surprisingly flexible in other ways?
Can you write on something a little deeper? A little more vulnerable? A little more personal?
(How many other people could write about a squirrel interrupting my lunch at their deceased mother’s house by divebombing directly into your lap? Probably just me.)
I can just about guarantee you’ll feel like you know me a little better by the end of this piece — and my squirrel story. And that’s just what a great piece of personal writing is supposed to do.
So now you’re ready to write a more personal story. Maybe peel back a couple of those layers and dig like Lucy.
But how to get started?
Try answering one or more of these questions:
Want more (like 300ish more) questions to answer? I've got just the thing! Check out my 300 Questions instant download.
Sometimes, digging a little deeper and even asking yourself some tough questions are exactly what you need to find your next bit of writing inspiration. Hopefully, one of these questions (or the answers) will help you do just that.
Lucy’s digging deep … as evidenced by the muddy paws and nose.
But if you're still super-stuck on trying to find a doggone awesome personal statement topic, check out my guide below. It's got everything you need to brainstorm topics … all in an hour!