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Saturday, August 25, 2018

It's not Really Writer's Block; An easier way to Write Application Essays

There's No Such Thing as Writer's Block!

Have you ever seen your child staring at a blank doc on their computer or looking forlornly over a still blank piece of paper?  S/he feels stuck and calls it writer's block.

Many of the teens I've worked with over the years have shared such experiences with me before we start working on their application essays.


When they feel stuck, they often doubt their basic writing skills, sometimes fixating on those to avoid considering the bigger problem of trying to figure out what to say.  This fixation makes getting started even harder.  Sometimes parents will note the anxiety or lack of progress and try to nudge the student.  However, your best words of encouragement regarding their writing abilities doesn't move the needle of paralysis regarding what to write.

What do you do?  We all know that getting anxious ourselves and speaking harshly won't help.  So, take a step back.  The real culprit is that they aren't starting at the beginning; they are trying to jump the gun.


Writing itself is a great tool for exploring and clarifying thoughts.  This is true in a particular way for the college essays.

Admissions wants to read stories that are personal and reveal meaningful characteristics about the student applicant.  They want to get to know what makes you you.

Writing such an essay requires a process.  When I usually assign two to four "pre-writing" exercises before we even discuss the first draft.  This gives students the opportunities to get started writing and to begin to gather details, recall incidents, and clarify their message before we truly begin.    This process jump starts the thought process that must happen in order to create truly excellent application essays.


Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Think of things and people that you could pull together into a video collage you could share with your future college roommate.  Everything included illustrates one of your traits or a significant event in your life.

Make a list of these items, incidents, and people and write a sentence or two about how they are significant to you or what they reveal to you.

For example, on my desk is a bottle of hand lotion.  It's cucumber melon, and it's 2/3 empty.  Everything else on my desk pertains to writing but then there's this bottle of lotion.  It's significant in a few ways.  First, my mom expressed her affection by giving gifts and this now discontinued scent of lotion was one of those gifts.  And, second, that it is important to stop from time to time and take care of myself, do something to nourish myself, even if it's only moisturizing my hard working hands and smelling an enjoyable fragrance.  After many years being a working single mother of a large family, this lesson took a while so that bottle on my desk is just as important as a self-care reminder as it is a reminder of my mom's love for me.

Limit your list to 20 items.  Spend the 20 minutes making the list; it may well take longer to describe the significance of each.  When you're done, you'll have the beginnings of 20 stories you could write to illustrate different aspects of who you are.  This is a powerful storehouse of ideas when it comes time to begin the first draft.


If your child thinks s/he has writer's block or is fretting over what to write about, it might be time to call in a professional.  I can guide your child and help keep things calm in your home during this stressful time.  As a professional college consultant, I can also step back and help with bigger questions like what to study and where to apply as needed.  Writing essays clarifies the student's thoughts about college and can lead to the need to re-evaluate the college list.  I'm still taking private coaching students for the 18/19 season, but my slots are filling quickly.  Reserve your spot now.

Has your teen already written a draft?  You might want to get professional feedback before clicking SUBMIT.  I'll be happy to give your child a professional essay review.  I will provide comprehensive written feedback, notes on what works in their draft, plus suggestions for improvement.  With over a dozen years' experience, I pay attention to items that matter to admissions officers, like reflection, theme, and flow as well as to technical issues including grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.