You hear the tick of the clock and the whir of the dishwasher as your house sleeps and you stare at your blank screen. Mom and Dad turned in a while ago, followed shortly by your older brother. Your eyes are tired, but you’re meeting with your college counselor tomorrow morning to go over the college essay topics that remains unwritten. You’re supposed to be finding your voice and sharing your story, but all your thoughts are stuck.
No worries. I can help you unblock. As a writer and a college application adviser, I know a few tricks that have unstuck the most stubborn bouts of writer’s block.
So, try these six tips, unblock, and write that rockin’ college admissions essay.
1. Get off your bed and out of your room!
Time to move out of your comfort zone. Step out of your room, off your bed, away from your comfortable, go-to spot. Move to your sister’s room, the library, Mom’s office, or the closest bookstore. Just move! Say good-bye to your old routine. Your new spot can unlock your brain and let your stories and your voice shine through.
Turn off Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Vines, text alerts, e-mails, sports updates. Close them all. You can reconnect later, but for now, shut it down. Social media is one of the biggest distractors for the writing process. When you’ve written that first draft of your essay and take that much-needed break, you can give yourself a timed-reconnect as your reward.
3. Put the pen to the paper!
As a writer, when the words are stuck, I resort to tradition. I pick up a lined pad and pen. For some reason, the paper feels less permanent, less threatening, less committal. I’m freer to express myself. And, if I hate it, I can rip it up and begin again. Give the pad a try.
4. Open a new doc!
Not a fan of paper? Open a new document on your computer or tablet, but don’t title it college essay. Just call it thoughts. See if that no-pressure space helps the flow of your ideas.
Nothing gets the brain moving like a run/walk/dance around the room. Go for a jog. Take your dog for a walk around the block. If you don’t want the full exercise commitment, do twenty jumping jacks or ten push-ups. Still not convinced? Put on your favorite tunes and dance like crazy for a few minutes. Whatever your chosen activity, just get your heart rate up. It will clear your head and let your ideas float to the surface.
6. Talk it out!
Still stuck. Let’s talk. Pick up the phone and call a friend, parent, sibling, college essay adviser. Whoever you select, just pick someone you trust who you feel comfortable talking to. When I’m stuck writing dialog or a scene in one of my stories, and I’ve stared at my blank screen for a respectable period of time, tried the paper routine, the new doc, and taken my dog, Oscar, for a good long walk, I know it’s time to start talking. I phone a friend and tell her what I’m trying to say. Her questions, answers, and thoughts let me see my writing through a different lens. Nothing uncorks like a good conversation.
Now you are ready. It’s time. Write that first draft of your essay. When you’re done, let’s talk revision.
Bounce ideas off classmates, friends, or family members. Ask general questions to people who are familiar with your topic. What seems important to them? What background, terms, or other ideas will they need to know in order to understand your message? Do they disagree with your argument or the points you make? If so, why?
Summarize your own work. In the margins of your paper (or using comment bubbles), write a one-sentence summary of the purpose of each paragraph. Review your summaries to get a clearer idea of your direction, the overall flow of the paper, and how far you still need to go.
Take another look. Ask yourself a few questions: Is this information necessary? Does it add to my argument? What message am I trying to convey? Are these ideas contributing to that message? What ideas could I be missing? When in doubt, read more on your topic—it is never a bad idea to go back to your sources and expand your knowledge when you are trying to work your way out of writer’s block.