How to write the college essay: Getting into the zone

Today, folks, we will focus on one specific aspect of writing your college application essay. And no, it’s not the number of these “;” you should use to make you sound smart. It is…yes, you are right- it is how to get into the zone. Mentally.

Let’s say at this point you know more or less your topic of choice and what you want to say. Well, sort of. You have some sort of outline, thoughts floating around in your head, and you have a general idea and feeling you want to get across. But when you sit down to write, nothing comes out. It’s like the words are on the tip of your tongue, but every time you attempt to type it out (let’s get real, we don’t draft much on paper anymore), you just get…stuck. You don’t know what words to use. You don’t know if you sound too casual or too formal. You just can’t seem to get in the groove.


Do not fear, for a suggestion (or series of) is here!

First, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Remember, it’s going to be okay. You will figure it out. This is as much a mental battle as it is a brain battle. You need to calm yourself and reassure yourself so that you can actually un-paralyze and have some room to think.

Second, make sure you have some water next to you. And whatever else you may need, so that you don’t keep getting up and getting stuff = distraction and frustration and eventual loss of interest/focus/momentum. This tip can and should apply for any task you attempt but just including it here as well.

Third, or the actual second, just word vomit, and accept that it is okay. Mentally accept that it is okay for you to just spit out whatever comes to your brain and write it as it comes. Don’t try to filter it, don’t try to reword it, and don’t try to change it up to suit your ‘perceived audience’. Just write. Even if it’s absolute horseshi-eez I love chocolate.

Fourth, and alongside three: pretend you are telling a story to a pre-schooler. This, my friends, as un-epically as I may be presenting it, is often the KEY to writing something that catches. If you were explaining these thoughts of yours mumbling about in your head to a 5-year old, how would you do it? What would you say?

Because tip #4 is one of the best pieces of advice I can offer to anyone trying to write a personal statement. It gives you the framework to think on a more detailed level that encourages thorough explanation and showing rather than telling. Yet again, another kindergarten concept (Show & Tell).

  1. Pretend you are explaining this to a little kid. This will help you paint a picture. It will help you illustrate.
  2. Feel free to word vomit.
  3. AND #3 in part 4 slash the summary of what to remember, is don’t try to edit as you write. Don’t WORRY about it. Just don’t. Let it go. You will get to it. But not now. Allow your writing to be as you as it wants to be, you can work on refining and even totally changing it up later, but let yourself express yourself first.

Try this method and see how it works for you. What is your greatest inhibition when not knowing how to say what you want to say? What is your greatest fear when you start writing? Share in the comments below!




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