There is never a convenient time to experience writer’s block. That said, writer’s block is especially inconvenient for our rising seniors, who are preparing personal statements and supplemental essays for college applications. Therefore, knowing how to bust through writer’s block is a necessary skill—and below are four ways you can do just that. Though this blog is addresses the concerns of current college applicants, all four of these strategies can be used to combat any writer’s block you may face.
Prevent writer’s block before it hits by using prewriting strategies such as brainstorming, outlining, free-writing, and word-mapping. In these low stakes writing activities, you do not have to worry about getting the wording exactly right, being grammatically sound, or even making all the right choices (concerns that can quickly derail productive writing). Before beginning your paper is the time to wrestle with the prompt and figure out what you are going to say and why you are going to say it. Once you’ve figured out those two things, it’ll be easier to figure out how you will say it in the actual essay.
Prewriting is also a good way to test out ideas. For college application essay writers, perhaps you have multiple personal statement ideas and aren’t sure which one to write. Should I write about my journey to the state championship or my research discovery in the lab? Map out your ideas using a prewriting strategy and see how your ideas hold up. Compare the outlines and determine the strengths and weaknesses of each. You may also find that there are common themes in both outlines; could you combine the two ideas into one? These are the types of questions you want to address before you start writing, not when your already hundreds of words into the task.
So before letting your blinking cursor or a blank page scare you into writer’s block, prepare for the task by doing some prewriting.
2. Make Deadlines and Stick to Them
Many people write better under pressure. I count myself among this crowd—that’s why I am writing this blog the day before it is to be sent out in a weekly newsletter. (And you can bet I outlined it before I started!) So setting hard deadlines to complete essay tasks is important. Promise yourself a small reward when you get an essay done on time (a night out to the movies) or a punishment if you fail to meet your deadline (missing out on that movie night in order to finish the essay). If you can, find someone who will keep you accountable, such as a friend, sibling, parent, or counselor.
Making deadlines and sticking to them is especially helpful when facing multiple essays at once. Put together a calendar of what you hope to accomplish and when. And if making deadlines only for the final product isn’t enough, make deadlines for when you will finish a prewriting activity, a first draft, a second draft, etc. Some students this fall are going to be submitting more than 20 essays to their top-choice schools; keeping a schedule and hitting your deadlines will help you tackle this huge task a little bit at a time.
3. Do More Research
During the college application season, many supplemental essays require students to do some research in order to answer the prompt. For example, the most prevalent essay is the “Why?” essay: why do you want to go to college, specifically this college? If feeling stuck, there are two things you can research.
First, research example essays for this type of prompt. You are not the first person to write these essays; there are a ton of examples available online and many guides that will help you plan, outline, and complete these essays.
Second, research the college itself. Find out more about what it has to offer that peaks your interest. This might not only help you come up with ideas, but it will likely get you excited about the college itself—in other words, it might provide you with some extra motivation for getting the essay done! That said, do be cautious of information overload. Do only the amount of research necessary to solidly complete the writing task.
4. Talk to Someone
Sometimes it is easier to speak your ideas out loud than to put them directly onto paper. Find someone—a close friend, parent, teacher—to help you get these ideas out of your head. A helpful sounding board can be used as both a prewriting strategy to think through ideas or as an ally to help you push through writer’s block in the middle of an essay.
If you are looking for more specialized help, we do offer hourly appointments with editors and college counselors at Galin Education. We love to help students find ideas and strategically write about them for admissions purposes. (We also have room in next week’s College Application Boot Camp!)
However, do realize that it is ultimately your essay. College are looking for students to be authentic in these essays. Including too many voices will make your writing sound nothing like you.