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College Admissions: Writing During the Summer

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 

It’s hard to get started as a writer. I’m not even talking literary agents and publishing houses—I don’t actually know those worlds. Just getting articles published in magazines or newspapers can be tough, especially if you’re a high school student. But there are a lot of ways aspiring writers can pursue their goals, get some practical experience, and burnish their resumes all at the same time. And summer, when you are free from the pressures of school-assigned essays, is a great time to do them. Here are some suggestions.

  • Start a blog. Is there a topic that particularly interests you? Something you’re an expert in? Blog about it! Share your posts on your social networks, but don’t worry too much about building up a large readership. If it happens, that’s awesome; if not, you still have more experience and a portfolio. I blog about opera and theater now, but I wish I had started sooner! When I was looking for my first reviewing gig, I actually had to wait until I could write some sample pieces just to submit with my application for the job. If I’d started blogging before, I would have had them ready. If you’re just getting started and need a blogging platform, I recommend WordPress if you want a more customizable blog and Medium if you want a minimalist aesthetic and more publicity for your posts.

 

  • Write fan fiction. If you care about an audience and feedback, writing fan fiction can be a great way to get both. Lots of people obsessively read (and comment on) fan fiction about their favorite characters, so a well-written spin-off from a popular novel or series can quickly develop a large readership. In addition, it’s easy to find writing prompts: people on fan fiction forums often run informal contests built around silly topics like “a Les Miserables-inspired scene with a beach party.” Fanfiction.net is the main hub for this, but a quick search can help you find more specialized sites devoted to particular topics.

 

  • Write flash fiction and submit it to contests or online anthologies. Do you love writing fiction, but you’re not quite ready to start on the Next Great American Novel? Flash fiction is another name for short, short stories, with word limits ranging from 300 to 2,000 depending on the publisher. Tons of venues run regular flash fiction contests (just Google “flash fiction contest”), sometimes with open topics and sometimes with prompts. There are also several zines and sites devoted to publishing flash fiction, including Flash Fiction Online and Every Day Fiction. Submitting to these (check their guidelines for things like word limits) can help you get your stories out to the wider reading public and also give you the satisfaction (and bragging rights) of being published.

 

  • Pitch student opinion pieces to a small, local newspaper. Do you feel strongly about particular issues where your voice as a student or teenager is unique? Perhaps it’s the local school system or a technology or environmental debate. If there’s a local newspaper in your town, try pitching them an opinion piece. Emphasize the value your particular viewpoint can add to the debate. Whether you can pitch a still-unwritten piece or need to submit an already-completed op-ed depends on your target paper, so check their submission guidelines before you write.

 

  • Write poetry and read it at local venues. Maybe poetry is more your style than prose. There are plenty of online and offline anthologies and contests for student poetry, but I don’t know them well enough to suggest specific ones. Suffice to say, seek and you shall find. (A search for “high school student poetry contest” yields a lot of results, many from prestigious institutions.) But there are also less formal ways you can share your work. Many cafes and libraries have open mic poetry nights, where you can read your favorite pieces to appreciative and supportive local audiences. Of course, if you’re into performance as well as writing, you can also sign up to take part in poetry slams.

 

 

  • Get a head start on NaNoWriMo. Ambitious enough to write a whole novel? National Novel Writing Month is a worldwide event in which thousands of professional and amateur writers try to complete a novel (50,000 words or more) in just 30 days. Technically, it only counts for NaNoWriMo if you write the whole novel between November 1 and November 30. Obviously, that’s not the summer, but there’s no reason you can’t challenge yourself to do the same thing during, say, July or August. Even if you prefer to participate in November, you can start planning your NaNoWriMo novel this summer, outlining possible plot events and developing your characters’ back stories. That way, you will be more likely to succeed (and the resulting novel will probably be better)!

 

  • Commit to summer pieces for your school paper or literary magazine. Does your high school have a student-run newspaper or literary magazine? Join now (if you’re not already a member), and propose pieces you’ll write over the summer. What, exactly, you should propose depends on your interests—you could offer to cover a big local August sporting event, review a forthcoming film, or compose a short story on a given theme. The point is to give yourself a specific but manageable writing goal to work towards over the summer months, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labor in print.

 

Many of these ideas talk about sharing your work, but really, you shouldn’t worry too much about the best way to get your pieces read or published. If you’re a high school student who wants to be a writer, the most important thing to do is simply to write every day. 

Ilana Walder-Biesanz currently lives in Munich, Germany, where she is studying theater and opera on a Fulbright scholarship. She has degrees in Systems Engineering (Olin College) and European Literature (University of Cambridge). She reviews opera for Bachtrack and Opera Online as well as on her blog mygermanseason.wordpress.com. Her articles have appeared in Opera21, The Scholar, Opera Vivrà, and the Huffington Post. Contact her at [email protected].

Jodi Walder-Biesanz is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC, which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at [email protected].

 

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