Try This Exercise When Editing Your MBA Admissions Essays

MBA Essay Editing

Edit ruthlessly! Repeat!

Earlier this week Darren K., one of the most experienced editors on the Veritas Prep MBA admissions team, circulated this short article on a hypothetical college course that the author would one day like to teach. The course would require students to ruthlessly edit their own writing with every assignment they submit. We immediately circulated here, because it hit so close to home for the Veritas Prep team. Every day we work with clients to help them sharpen their ideas, and this exercise helps crystallize it perfectly.

The author, Jason Fried, describes the class he would like to teach:

It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.

I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.

Each step requires asking “What’s really important?” That’s the most important question you can ask yourself about anything. The class would really be about answering that very question at each step of the way. Whittling it all down until all that’s left is the point.

We don’t know if such a course already exists somewhere (let us know if it does!), but such an exercise has been around for years in a seemingly very different discipline: improvisational comedy. Improv troupes everywhere know a game called “60/30/10″ (or something similar, depending on where you’re from) in which two actors improvise a scene in 60 seconds. Then, they must do that same scene — hitting on all of the details from the first one — in 30 seconds. Then they have to distill that down to 10 seconds. Usually they’re challenged to then do it in just one second(!!), which is always very funny to watch.

This game is always a hit with audiences because it inevitably drives the actors to work themselves up into a sweat as they try to do the same scene faster and faster, but what’s even more interesting is how, as an actor in the scene, you realize how much useless fluff there was in the initial 60-second scene. While it might have seemed tight and fluff-free the first time out, by the time you do the 10-second scene, you realize that you’re still hitting the important details without much of the time wasters in the earlier, longer scenes.

If it works for improv comedy, where you have no time to prepare and have to make every decision in the moment, imagine how powerful it can be in writing, where you have more time to think things through and make deliberate choices. Why not give it a try after you’ve written the first drafts of your business school application essays? Odds are, if a detail doesn’t make it to the one-paragraph version, then it’s worth revisiting that detail and asking yourself if it’s worth including at all. You’ll be amazed at how much sharper your essays will become as a result.

Fortunately, Veritas Prep offers MBA admissions essay editing services to help you distill your thoughts. A good, ethical editor will never write your essays for you, tell you what you should say, or put words in your mouth, but rather will lend an experienced eye that that can help you discern what helps move your story forward vs. what’s dead weight in your essays. That’s what our experienced team of essay editors can do for you.

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3 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
    – Antoine de Saint-Exuper

    I for one would LOVE to take a class like that!

  2. michael says:

    the improv game is called ‘Half Life’ : http://improvencyclopedia.org/games//Scene_Replay.html

  3. Scott says:

    Thanks Michael. That’s not what we called it in my old comedy troupe, but I’ve also heard it referred to as “Half Life.”

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