Weekly College Column

7 Tips to fight writer’s block

We should all sympathize with high school seniors right now. Besides juggling all of the traditional teenage stuff, they’re being asked, in their words, not mine, to write the most important essay of their life. And, it isn’t just one essay, depending on the colleges a student is applying to, it could easily be double-digit essays.

There’s tons of advice out there. The first tips usually go something like this:

“RELAX” – sure, that is going to go over really well with a 17-year-old!  Or, “Instead of seeing the essay as a challenge, look at it as an opportunity to share your innermost thoughts.” Raise your hand if that didn’t work either.

But here are some suggestions that might gain more traction:

  1. Walk away and do something else creative – cook, draw, paint, sing, play music, etc. The hope is that by engaging in another creative activity your mind will open up and be less judgmental.
  2. Walk away and do something physical – get centered with yoga, run, or take a Zumba class. Take some deep breaths and approach the assignment with more positive thoughts.
  3. Find a better writing space. Remove distractions by going to a library or if quiet didn’t work and you enjoy the buzz of conversation, head to a Starbucks and get stimulated.
  4. Try a different time of day. If you’ve tried writing every night after dinner and you’re coming up empty, head to bed early and wake up extra early and see if the juices are flowing in the am.
  5. Assign yourself a free-writing exercise. Just write without any critique about anything that is important to you. “Why do you love to ___________? “I’ve changed a lot since freshman year, here’s how.”
  6. Talk it out. Pick someone who knows you really well; it’s not necessary for this person to be a parent. Have them ask you questions that would help someone else get to know you better. Ask them to get you talking about some life experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned.
  7. Think small. Colleges aren’t expecting that you have saved the world from Covid, they’re just trying to get to know you, understand what you care about, and figure out if you’ll be a good fit for their campus. You can talk about something as simple as a car ride you had with your younger sibling. Maybe the two of you talked and you found out that he/she is struggling with something. What was your reaction? How has your relationship changed?

Remember to allow time for the essay topic to marinate, i.e., do your best to not wait until the last minute. Write, rest, and rewrite are wise words. Take some time between the first draft and the first edit. Ask others to read it to make sure it “sounds like you” and shares some insightful thoughts.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com


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