Close the Door

Posted: July 23, 2018

By now many of you have heard the story of how I wrote my college essay. A master procrastinator, I had managed to put off writing my personal statement almost six weeks from the time I finished the rest of the application. I was terrified. The college essay is terrifying—don’t let anyone tell you differently. As the deadline loomed, my mother grounded me to my room with nothing but a typewriter. (After all, this was the stone age.)

I’m sharing this this morning because a snippet of an interview with Jerry Seinfeld crossed my inbox today. (Kids, Seinfeld was a comedian who had a tv show “about nothing,” back in the 20th Century.) (I heard that groan, parents. Time passes so quickly!)

Anyway, this bit is what really resonated with me:

“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

(quoted in Kevin McMullin’s blog, from Cal Newport’s blog)

It took me three days to finally produce what was literally not-a-masterpiece. But had I not been “trapped” behind that closed door, I’m sure I wouldn’t have written anything at all, or would have—gasp!—had to send my application overnight via Federal Express like a classmate was rumored to have done when he applied to Rice. (Trust me, this was astonishing. FedEx was not for mere humans back in the 80s.)

It’s still July, so it’s probably too early to ground children to their rooms for not having finished their essays. However, it’s not too early for you students to close your door, and eliminate distractions:

  • turn off your phone,
  • silence your notifications,
  • go into Focus mode by clicking the word Focus at the bottom of your Word document or going to Full Screen view in Google Docs.

Prime the pump with a 5-minute freewrite if you need to, then write down everything you want the colleges to know about you. It’s much easier to edit and revise once you have the content in place.

Just don’t send the rough draft to your colleges, like I did!

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