Each fall when I’m helping students work on their college admissions essays, I hear the same refrain: “The worst part of the Common App personal statement/X’s supplemental essay/anything I had to write about myself was just getting started writing.” Hearing this always brings back ancient memories of when I, too, experienced writer’s block. What a terrible time. Fortunately, I have evolved beyond the need for writer’s block and am now a perfect writer. Each week, I produce a 1000-1500 blog post like this in one 30-minute sitting without stopping. My first drafts are final drafts. I haven’t deleted a sentence just to start it again in 8 years. My word choice is right the first time, every time. I deserve to be both respected and feared.
LOL JK! I wish! I rewrote that paragraph alone 4 times. One blog post takes me like 3 hours over multiple sessions. I have little-to-no attention span. It’s 6:30 PM and all I can think about is Taco Tuesday!
The truth is that all of us struggle with writer’s block at one time or another. Unfortunately, as I’ve found over the years, sometimes the degree of our writer’s block is proportional to how important we perceive the assignment to be. This is bad news for those working on college applications. Just the thought of working on those essays can be so dreadful that it seems like an impenetrable barrier between you and your goal.
The good news, however, is that there’s a fair chance you’re simply putting too much pressure on yourself. If you think you have to crank out a perfect admissions essay on your first try, then of course it seems like an impossible task. Instead of sitting down in front of a blank Word document and struggling to produce the World’s Best Hook, start by simply brainstorming.
One great way to brainstorm is freewriting: a practice in which you set a timer or decide on a word count and simply write whatever comes to mind, without worrying about spelling, grammar, or sounding silly. This technique is great because it frees you from the fears that might usually inhibit your writing. Holding yourself to a minimum amount of time or number of words also forces you to get creative with your ideas and come up with things you might not otherwise think of.
If you’ve never tried freewriting or need a little extra motivation to get going, try one of these awesome online writing apps.
This app was first designed for creative writers looking to generate ideas for stories without getting too caught up on things like editing and formatting. It gives the writer two options; they can either have the site automatically generate a prompt for them (for example, a sentence that introduces a character or setting that the writer has to create a story around), or they can simply set a session length of anywhere from 3 to 60 minutes and go from there. One great thing about The Most Dangerous Writing App is that once you’ve selected an option, it takes you to a clean white screen where the only thing is a blinking cursor. This helps eliminate other online distractions and lets you focus solely on your work.
The catch? You have to keep writing. Stop typing for five seconds and all your words are deleted. Truly devious! However, if you make it to the end of the session without stopping, you have the option to save or download what you’ve written. Sound too stressful? Check out the next app for a more relaxing alternative.
Created by who can only be a clone of myself who learned to code, this next tool is a wholesome blessing unto us all (and a great alternative for those feeling a little too anxious for the first app). Written Kitten is simple: write at least 100 words and be rewarded with a wonderful image of an adorable animal. The amount of words you must write to receive the reward is customizable (up to 1000 words) and though I don’t know why you would want to see anything but a precious kitten, you can also choose to be rewarded with pictures of puppies or bunnies.
This app is awesome because if you’re struggling to write, it motivates you to keep going and encourages you to be proud of the amount you’ve written, even if it’s just 100 words. Also, if you can get into a good flow state, you’ll be so focused on your writing that each fluffy baby appears to you unexpectedly as a pleasant surprise. Written Kitten has motivation covered, but what if your main problem is distraction?
Sometime in your life, you’ve probably heard of someone quitting a habit “cold turkey.” This phrase probably brings to mind addictive behaviors like smoking cigarettes or eating sugar, but what about online habits? For those of us who have used computers almost our entire lives, navigating away from attention-grabbing sites or games and focusing on something as seemingly un-fun as writing can be a huge challenge.
Cold Turkey is here to help! Like the other apps on this list, it allows you to set either a minimum amount of writing time or a word count. However, it also lets you customize settings so that the app “blocks” you from accessing certain websites, programs, or even the whole Internet until the writing requirement is complete! Unlike The Most Dangerous Writing App or Written Kitten, Cold Turkey needs to be downloaded in order to be used, adding a bit of startup time, but if you need that extra push to stay focused, the additional effort will be worth it.
As I explained earlier, brainstorming activities like freewriting can help you get started with important writing assignments, like your college admissions essays. After generating ideas and deciding which ones you’d like to pursue, then you can move on to the drafting stage. Before you know it, the project - and the writer’s block that made it seem so scary - will have been defeated.
Still want a little extra guidance on your college applications? Check out ThinquePrep’s college counseling services. Our experienced college counselors and essay editors are here to help you make your apps and essays shine.
Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.
With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!