Objects at Rest

Whether or not Isaac Newton ever met your Aunt Millie from Topeka is an open question to be debated by historical scholars with more sophisticated research tools than those available to this poor author. Newton was born in 1643. Wasn't that the year in which your mom's sister was graduated from high school?

Whether or not Isaac was thinking about Millicent when he came up with his first law of motion remains to be determined. We do know unequivocally that your aunt binge watches game shows and that she seldom gets up off the couch. When Newton determined that "objects at rest tend to stay at rest; objects in motion tend to stay in motion" was he thinking of her?

You know what else-in addition to your aunt-tends to stay at rest? Students who are supposed to be writing college application essays. Students who are supposed to be writing college application essays stay at rest in a way that makes your lethargic Aunt Millie look like a ping pong ball in a hurricane by comparison. Students don't start writing, don't start thinking, don't start homeworking unless acted upon. (And yes, I made up the word "homeworking". If I can invent a 400 year-old woman who lived in a city at a time in which there were no Europeans for miles, surely I can invent a word).

This time of year, with college application essay deadlines looming like an anvil heading toward Wile E. Coyote, students are having trouble shedding the inertia and getting started. They stare blankly at blank computer screens thinking about how to. Write. The. First. Word. Of. The. Essay.

"Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."

"Background?" students ask. "Background? My mom is from New Jersey. I'm from New Jersey. Everyone in my school is from New Jersey. I don't have a meaningful background. I don't even think New Jersey is a background. New Jersey is certainly not meaningful."

"Are there any other choices for essay prompts? Yes, thank goodness. Here is another one: "The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?"

"Failure? That's easy. I am failing on my New Jersey butt to come up with a topic for this essay. I'm going to go get a sandwich and return some texts. I'll come back to this in ten minutes."

But, as is so frequently the case, ten minutes becomes ten weeks. And the essays get written--panicked and poorly--at the last possible minute before the deadline.

The antidote to essay inertia is a similar answer to "What do you do to a cookie that is too big to eat all at once?" Answer: "Break it up into small pieces" and "Just get started writing SOMETHING!"

Because writing is hard, but editing is easy. Because there is no such thing as good writing, but there is such a thing as good re-writing. Because perfect is the enemy of good. Because "don't get it right, just get it written" is the only way to overcome inertia.

Even your Aunt Millie from Topeka who has been sitting on the couch for 400 years knows that.

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