Have you been trying to write your college admissions essay, maybe working on a personal statement or an application for medical school, or even just trying to write an essay on Macbeth? In this blog, we’re going to talk about five ways that you can crush that freeze in your mind.
Tip 1: Turn on the Faucet
What does that really mean? Imagine that you’re in a bathroom and you turn on the water; sometimes when you turn on that water, it’s cold and not warm yet. Similarly, oftentimes when writers turn on that faucet, it’s cold, and so we turn it off, run away, and say, “I have writer’s block.” So that’s our first tip to overcoming writer’s block: let it go, let it flow, and write, write, write. We don’t care if your first draft is terrible; you have full permission to write something absolutely awful because if you don’t start writing, oftentimes you’re never going to get to that wonderful, beautiful place that you’re trying to get to with your writing.
Tip 2: Rinse and Repeat
Don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts. We know that it’s annoying and frustrating, but feeling like you have nothing on the page is even more annoying and frustrating. By feeling stressed and going crazy, you’re probably wasting more time watching Youtube videos than if you just stopped and started writing stuff, even if it’s bad. And it’s okay, you don’t have to be a genius when you start to write. If you write, more will come. If you write another idea, a better idea will come. Writing is rewriting, and it’s a process that you just have to do.
Tip 3: Find Inspiration
Sometimes when Brooke is stuck, she likes to find creative inspiration. Do research and find inspiration; find out how other people write so you can get more ideas on how you might shape what you’re doing or approach it. So what does that look like? If you’re trying to write an op-ed for your school newspaper, go and read a bunch of op-eds. Even if you’re trying to write a college essay, you might look at some op-eds; op-eds are really cool because they’re opinion pieces and personal voice essays. If you’re trying to figure out what to write in your Hamlet essay, look for some literary criticism on Hamlet, and let that kind of inspire you. What do they do that you can do a little bit of in your paper? Figure out how you can do it your way and better. If you’re working on your college admissions essays, we have some links to example essays that you can read so that you have some inspiration for what a great college admissions essay looks like.
Tip 4: Create Easier Tasks and Questions
Sometimes the reason we get writer’s block is that we’re trying to work on a really daunting challenge, and it feels too open-ended and big. For example, if there’s an essay prompt on your most embarrassing moment, rather than trying to find out the most embarrassing moment in your entire life—which feels like a really daunting task because you might not be sure what that is—think about what the most embarrassing thing that happened today was. What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened this month? This year? This summer? Or last January? When you put limitations on what you’re trying to brainstorm, you can get more ideas that could be possible avenues to explore while writing. Some ideas might not be the best things to write about, but if you have a school paper due tomorrow, you could still write about them. You at least have a start.
You can also create easier tasks and questions if you have a big prompt on the common app. Just focus on one little piece. So if you have a prompt that says, “If you have a challenge you’ve overcome,” or generally, “A this you’ve done,” you might narrow the scope of that. You could possibly think about how one thing you want to talk about and share with schools is your family, because my family is important to me. Then you can narrow the scope of what you’re going to imagine, and maybe focus on a time you felt like a failure in your family. Continuing on, you can maybe get more specific, and talk about a time you felt like you disappointed your father. So you can work your way down and get more and more specific, and make your task easier to deal with than the open-ended question prompt.
The other way to create easier tasks and questions is to break a prompt into pieces. Oftentimes, when writing college essays, the prompt might be really long and have multiple questions, so start with just one little piece of the question instead.
Tip 5: Play Detective
Detectives always work off of clues, so if you want great writing, maybe start by gathering together the clues that are going to help you figure out how to write what it is that you’re going to write. When you’re doing this in English class and writing about Wuthering Heights or Great Expectations or whatever book you’re reading, this is pretty easy because you can just open your book and pick a character and start to find ways that memory intersects with them by going through the book and finding details to write down. But when it’s your life, it’s sometimes a little bit harder because you feel like you need to write at the same time that you dig up the clues. But if you just start digging up the clues first, then it’s going to make it easier to write because you’ll know what you’re writing about.
So how do you dig up clues? One way you might do that is by brainstorming all of your most significant memories. Don’t worry about editing at this point; it’s just about laying out all of your puzzle pieces, and you’re probably not going to use all of them to build your puzzle anyway. Another way to find clues to assemble a good story is to jog your memory through your notes or photos. That will help you remember what happened in the last year and where you were and what you were doing. Go through your emails, because sometimes they’re a great way to jog your memory. Sometimes we tell our friends things through our posts or text messages; we have digital artifacts of our lives, so if you can’t remember something interesting about yourself, you can play detective by getting your phone out and digging through it. A lot of it might be boring, but maybe it’ll help you remember something.
You don’t have to sort through all of these clues that you uncover; just get them out. Go into the messy closet of your mind and pull all the stuff out and put it on the floor and see what you have to work with. And that’s going to help you overcome this writer’s block so much more quickly than just sitting there and worrying.
Those are all the tips we have for you today, but we hope these tips help you with your writing!