"If I write a sports essay, is overcoming an injury too cliche?"
Yes. As I describe in my ebook, one of your essay goals is to discern your point of differentiation. That's the aspect of your experience that differs from the experiences of other people. Almost every athlete everywhere has experienced and overcome an injury, so writing about that will not distinguish you as an individual. It will merely identify you as a member of a large subset of athletes.
When you're writing about any topic, especially about a topic susceptible to cliches, you have to ask, "How is my experience different from other people in similar situations?" You're looking for details that identify your story's unique fingerprint. The easy, generic sports story is injury-rehab-training-success!
To avoid this ho-hum narrative, start asking yourself questions. What surprised you about the injury/rehab process? Did you meet anyone you wouldn't have met otherwise? Did the injury spark a new interest in a person or idea? How did you spend the time you would have spent training? Did this injury bring out the best in you or the worst in you? How did you deal with your frustration? How, specifically, did your attitude and actions change after your injury?
There's no magic question to unlock your fingerprint details, but the more questions you ask, the more likely you'll discover that detail where you can say, without question, "No one else could write this detail!" It's a great feeling. Don't give up on finding it.
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Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.