Loopwriting is a way of getting ideas down on the page before deciding what your focus will be and what the first sentence should say. As with freewriting, you put the pen on the page and let it go – only with loopwriting when you start to “run out of steam,” you don’t stop; you go to the next step. By giving you different steps (which you may follow in any order you like, skipping some and spending lots of time with others), loopwriting keeps your topic fresh. It also helps you generate so many possibilities for a paper that you won’t have to worry about not having enough to write about. In fact, you’ll have the opposite dilemma (a good dilemma for a writer): how to pick and choose!
1. To start, jot down a list of five or so topics, questions, issues connected to your personal experience and the college app prompts. Next . . .
2. Choose one topic from your list that you can imagine spending the next 20 minutes writing about, even if you’re not sure that this is a topic you want to commit to for your college essay. Then . . .
3. First thoughts: Freewrite about the first thoughts that come to mind when you think about this topic. You can launch into a story or a series of questions. Or write, “When I think about X, I think . . .” When you start to lose steam, skip down a couple of lines, and then choose from any of the below ….
4. Snapshots: Jot down a list of “snapshots” or scenes that come to mind when you think of your topic. Choose one and freewrite a fuller description. Think about sights, sounds, smells, the physical and the emotional climate of this scene.
5. Stories: Jot down a list of stories or anecdotes that you associate with this topic. These may be stories that you frequently tell about this topic, or they may be stories that you’ve tended to keep to yourself. They may be stories you were directly a part of or stories that have come to you secondhand (such as family stories handed down through generations or something you spotted in the news or learned in a class). Choose one and tell the story. You might try writing in present tense to really put yourself there or with “you” to put yourself and readers there.
6. Portraits: Make a list of people you associate with your topic. These may be people you know and people you have only heard/read about. Choose one and create a verbal portrait. Think about that person in terms of appearance but also in terms of personality, interesting habits and quirks, a characteristic gesture, his or her favorite sayings, political beliefs etc.
7. Dialogue: Think about conversations you’ve had or can imagine having around this topic. Jot them down – for instance, “The conversation about my future with my bio teacher,” “What my classmates would say about where I want to go to school . . .” Then choose one and write it out in dialogue. If you can’t remember exactly how a particular conversation about your topic went, go with your felt sense, capturing the spirit if not the exact words.
8. Playing with form: Try writing about this topic in the form of a letter to someone else who is intimately involved or to someone who would find this topic mysterious, new, or bizarre. What happens if you write about this topic in the past tense? In present tense? As an editorial/argument? As an autobiographical narrative and reflection? As a manifesto? As a how to or how not to guide? Fool around with verb tense, with different forms, to see how the approach/form changes your sense of this topic.
Finally: Look over your freewriting. Cross out anything that seems unpromising. Place stars beside the best moments and steps you want to return to. Then take just two more minutes and write your second thoughts about this topic: “Now when I think about X, I think . . .”