How to Tackle Writer's Block

There’s never going to be a better time for you to sit down and start writing. That’s something I’ve learned over the years, and I still struggle with it. The hardest part truly is starting.

Don’t get me wrong, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: starting is difficult. More power to you if you’re one of those people that can just zip up and get your mojo going without any questions asked. I am not one of those people. For me, writing (and sometimes performing literally any activity) can be a matter of extensive ritual. For instance, I like to put on some intense Hans Zimmer movie soundtracks or dramatic electronic music to prime myself into the optimal writing “zone.” Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and take a long, hot shower and let my thoughts start materializing. I feel like I need the zen to start flowing. I need to be inspired like I can conquer the world.

Meanwhile, procrastination is without a doubt my worst enemy. It literally stands in my path and confronts me at every turn of my life. I consistently leave projects half finished only to move onto the next shiny object, ultimately failing to accomplish what I originally set out to do.

I can hear the cartoon devil perched on my shoulder, “Look how cute you are! You think you’re going to get started accomplishing your dreams? Well, think again!”

It’s awful.

To make matters worse, it can be so easy for distractions to catch my attention. It’s like I look for any excuse to not do what I know I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll get texts from my friends, who I know I see all the time and aren’t going anywhere, telling me to not be lame and come hang out. After all, the essays realistically aren’t due for another three months. Or, there are situations where I can literally feel the invisible tug of the television in the other room, whispering from afar, beckoning me to watch Netflix, a basketball game, or a documentary about blockchain.

The seemingly simple act of starting to write can just be… so unnecessarily difficult sometimes.

I’m here to tell you, truly, not to worry if you don’t think you’re the greatest writer, or even a good writer. Getting started isn’t easy, and you’re not alone at all. Especially for writing college essays, the process can feel really different and strange compared to writing other types of academic essays. For example, there’s no immediately evident structure to creative writing. Some creative pieces can flow on-and-on as a stream of constant thought. Sometimes pieces can be curt, poetic, and to the point. Some pieces sting with a biting rawness. Some pieces are contemplative, abstract, and complex in nature, and they might not have a distinct conclusion.

It’s also difficult to tell when you’ve written a good piece or to decide when a piece feels finished. No matter what you may have heard or have been taught, there truly is no real rubric for what makes a creative essay good or bad. When you read a good story, there’s a level of intuition by which you kind of know it’s good. You can feel something special, a distinct gravity to the emotion behind the

words. There’s truth behind the words, like the speaker is there in the room with you, sharing their world.

As you read this, you may be wondering, “Can we get to the point? What does any of this nonsense have to do with me + me clicking submit on my college essays so I can move on with my life?”

Writing compelling creative essays is a complex process. It’s a discipline that can’t be mastered overnight, and it does require quite a bit of thought and effort. But you can do it, and it will be infinitely worth your while when you take control of your life and get yourself where you want to go. And along the way, you may find that it can be a transformative experience. I just urge you to be patient, take it step-by-step, enjoy the journey, and be open to new ideas.


Getting Started Now

So, let’s get started with your very first “exercise.” Don’t worry, it’s easy. Just take a minute or so and really read (read it 10 times if you have to and focus on the key words), internalize, and try to grapple with the following question:

“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

What’s your gut reaction? Whenever I read the question, so many thoughts come to mind. Just relax and notice how you feel and what you’re thinking about. Sometimes there’s an obvious idea or group of ideas that come to mind. Just let the question sit and chill in your head for a bit.

When you feel ready, go grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Yes, we’re having an interactive experience here! Try jotting down words and phrases that emerge when you read the question. Don’t fight it. Be as open and truthful as possible. There’s no right or wrong answer. You don’t have to be perfect. Feel free to scrawl in any direction. Write ugly or neat it doesn’t matter. Just keep writing down as much as you can until either you can’t think of anything else or the sheet is full.

Once you’re done reading the question and writing down your thoughts about it, just close this book and relax. Go do whatever you feel like and enjoy the rest of your day or night. Don’t think too hard about the words you wrote, but be cognizant and mindful of why you may have written them.

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