Stuck on Your College Essay? 8 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
We’ve all had that feeling. You know you have to write an essay, a research paper, or even a story, but you can’t seem to string two thoughts together. It’s frustrating, it’s disheartening, and you don’t know how long it’ll be before inspiration strikes again.
This familiar feeling is commonly known as “writer’s block”. According to The New Yorker, it was once believed that writer’s block was caused by exhausting one’s supply of inspiration or a lack of external motivation. Now, thanks to the research of Jermone Singer and Michael Barrios, we know that there are four broad causes of writer’s block:
- Excessively harsh self-criticism
- Fear of being compared to other writers and their work
- A lake of external motivation such as praise or attention
- A lack of internal motivation such as a desire to share a story with the world
No matter which bucket your writer’s block falls under, you are certainly not alone, and you can definitely get your creative juices flowing again. Want to get over your writer’s block? Here are some proven techniques that will help re-inspire your writing.
Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block On Your College Essay
A lot of people get stuck on the idea that what they write has to be perfect, and that pressure keeps them from writing down anything at all. If you find yourself feeling that weight on your shoulders, just take a step back for a minute. Give yourself some leeway to write whatever you want on the topic that you’re writing about, even if it’s grammatically incorrect or irrelevant. Just writing something down can often give the mind something to work with, and it can often lead to further inspiration.
Keep in mind that this freewriting can take whatever form you want it to. It can be full sentences, bullet points, even phrases randomly placed on a sheet of paper. Whatever gets your brain thinking in some capacity is a good step in overcoming writer’s block.
2. Respond to Brainstorm Questions
What if your writer’s block is so bad that you can’t even come up with a topic or subject for your essay? If you need a place to start, try thinking about something that is not directly related to your college essays. The easiest things to brainstorm are things that you know, like yourself. Here are some easy brainstorm questions to get you thinking:
- Who are my favorite characters on TV, Literature, and movies? Why are these my favorite characters?
- What is something that I would join a multi-day protest march for? Is there actually anything that I am passionate about?
- Say I had to start a business selling something, and I would achieve the average level of success (financially, socially, etc) within that business, what would I choose to do?
- What nonprofit or cause would I volunteer for assuming I could not choose an activity that I’ve already done or an activity available in my school?
While these questions may not be immediately relevant to the college essay you’re trying to write, they are introspective questions. So the more you think about answers to these questions, the more you are reflecting on yourself and your goals. If you can start writing down your answers, then you’re already well on your way to writing a personal statement or explaining your interests and passions to colleges.
3. Talk It Out With A Friend
College essays always ask you to reflect on yourself, and who knows you better than some of your closest friends? While they shouldn’t write your essay for you, they can be a good sounding board for ideas while giving you some ideas of their own. Try contacting someone you trust and asking them how they would answer the essay prompt if they were answering it for you. See what comes to their mind. They may bring up an interesting approach to an essay that you hadn’t even thought about, or remind you about an aspect of yourself that you hadn’t already considered. Their ideas could help spark your ideas.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be a friend. It could be a close relative, a neighbor, or even a teacher. You just need to talk to somebody who knows you well and can give you insight on how you should approach the essay, not how they would.
4. Read a Memoir or Listen To a Podcast
Inspiration tends to fuel inspiration, and what better way to get inspired to write a creative essay about yourself than to read/listen to others’ creative essays about themselves. Perhaps listening to people tell their stories will give you some ideas on how you can tell your story for your college essays.
People share their stories in a variety of ways, both offline and online. You could read the personal memoir of someone who inspires you, or of someone whose story you relate to. If you want something that takes a little bit less time, you could listen to a podcast or watch a TED Talk of people telling their stories. Some other places to find inspiration are The New York Times’ Modern Love column or stories from The Moth. Most of the above are short and quick and could possibly spark inspiration for your own essay.
5. Change Your Environment
Maybe it’s not that you lack ideas or inspiration. Maybe you just can’t, for whatever reason, seem to get your ideas down on paper. That’s totally normal, and there’s a chance that your environment has something to do with it. If you’ve been brainstorming in your room for hours or if you’re not comfortable wherever you are, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be able to write creatively and vulnerably.
Try going somewhere else to write, preferably somewhere with fresh air and sunshine. A simple change of scenery can be surprisingly helpful in getting your brain to work again and letting the creativity come through. As long as you’re peaceful and comfortable wherever you go, it’s a good place to be writing.
6. Get Some Exercise
It is commonly accepted that exercise releases endorphins and other helpful chemicals that stimulate your brain and keep you happy. In this way, exercise can be very beneficial in the writing process. If you’re feeling frustrated because of your writer’s block, exercise can lift your mood and give you a much-needed break. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, the chemicals in your brain can help spark some creative inspiration for your essay.
Of course, it might be a little bit difficult to go for a run or get exercise if you’re staying at home. Just remember that no form of exercise is better than another, and exercise doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. Do some jumping jacks in place, find an apartment-friendly workout video online, or just put on some music and dance in your room. The key is to get your body moving.
7. Use a Pen and Paper
Most students type their essays on computers instead of writing them down, and this makes sense. Almost all college applications are submitted online now, and it’s easier to share your essays with others for editing.
That being said, typing your essays may not be the best idea if you’re experiencing writer’s block. The blank screen in front of you may be a psychological deterrent to your creativity, and the internet may serve as a huge distraction.
If you find yourself unable to come up with something to write on a computer, try going old school and writing your ideas with a pen and paper. If you don’t have any of that around, try jotting down some ideas on a dry erase board or chalkboard. Writing your ideas instead of typing them encourages you to jot down shorter ideas and think in an entirely different way. This can be a beneficial switch for your brain as you attempt to overcome your writer’s block.
8. Work On A Different Section
Who says that you have to write your essay from start to finish? If you are having trouble coming up with the beginning, write the end or start somewhere in the middle! If you have an idea of what you want to say and how you want the essay to flow, you can write it down in whatever order you want. Write down the parts that come easiest to you and circle back to the parts you haven’t quite figured out yet. This way, you’ll at least have something written down, and you can use that something to inspire you to write the other parts of your essay later.
Again, your essay does not have to be perfect on the first draft. If the different parts of your essay don’t seem to fit together because you wrote them at different times, that’s okay. At least you’ll have all of the parts written down, and you can edit from there.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.