Tips for dealing with essay-writing paralysis?

I’m hard at work on my transfer essays, but I’m running into an issue I also dealt with as a freshman applicant: Every time I try to write a draft of a college essay, I become completely paralyzed by the pressure. I’m a very strong writer, but all that skill goes out the window when I know what I’m writing could make or break my acceptance to my first (or second, third, fourth…) choice school. When I was a senior in HS, I actually gave up on college applications and ended up attending a bad state school because of this problem.

Has anyone else experienced similar stress trying to complete their essays? How did you deal with it? How did your essays/college acceptances turn out in the end?

Do you have a friend or family member you can discuss your essays with? If they are present while you’re writing and serve as a sounding board, this may help.

Forget the intro, forget the conclusion. Right now write the body of the essay. Just get your thoughts onto paper. Any thoughts. It’s so so much easier to edit than to write, so right now start to write something. You can edit and improve later.

I agree to just start writing content, you can put in an intro, conclusion and connecting sentences later. College essay guy website has many good brainstorming exercises that may help as well. If you have lots of ideas, perhaps the book Writing Down the Bones might help (note there is some spirituality talk in that book)…but really you just need to write.

To lessen the pressure you feel, try to not have preconceived notions of the quality that a first draft has to have…some of what you end up writing might be trash, but even if a few sentences or concepts stick, that is a successful session. Good luck.

Worrying about the quality of a writing that has not yet begun may be the source of your problem.

Several Things:

  1. Try writing a bunch of essays. Use the one(s) that turns out best. If you know that you probably won’t be using what you are writing, you might find the process less stressful and thus easier to jump into. (Practicing this style of essay also will make for a better essay in the end). In other words, write practice essays for the sake of practice. This way you won’t be writing your essays knowing that they will affect your chances of admission.

  2. Write naturally. Write like you would speak. You can always brush up the prose later. When people get too caught up in stylistic details it almost always slows them down. Besides, stilted prose isn’t a good thing.

  3. Don’t write about anything too serious or too emotionally important to you. This should make the task seem more approachable and less consequential.

  4. Write about something fun.

  5. Know that you essay does not have to be your magnum opus. It just has to be a college essay.

  6. Know that a bad essay probably won’t get you rejected. Most college admissions essays are pretty mediocre. A good one will certainly help you stand out, but a bad one (unlike bad academic metrics) won’t doom you by any means.

  7. Try talking your essay out and recording yourself. Transcribe the good parts later.

  8. Don’t choose a topic that’s too big. Seriously: choose a small topic. You really can’t fit in very much in the space allotted. Trying to squeeze everything in will make the process feel more stressful.

Best of Luck!

Brainstorm. Blank canvass. Write whatever comes to mind but WRITE. Let it flow out of you. Organize it later. Just WRITE!

My DH likes to call this analysis paralysis.

Went through this phase with my S when writing a lot of essays. It helped to stop typing and just talk about the topic and bounce off ideas. Also helped to just take a breather and come back to it later. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and try to come to it with a clear mind. Recording yourself taking about the essay topic and then taking those talking points and framing them out might also help.

Where are you writing? It helped my daughter to focus by going to a coffee shop she had never spent time at that had a great quiet space and really good coffee and baked goods. She spent several hours there over a few days and she knocked them all out.

You’ve said it yourself that you are a very strong writer and now coupled with you are older and wiser than your first go around in high school. Speak well of yourself. Remind yourself of your strengths. The past is the past. Try something different and remember to treat yourself well during this stressful time.

Daughter had those moments. Have a friend or family who loves you chat about what you love … chances are… you find or remember something you didn’t realise is so you till they mentioned it. Daughter and I discussed her love for something so ordinary she forgot she loved it … it’s psrt of her daily life… essay worked she got in.

I help kids professionally with essays and I agree that it’s best to just write down your main points and build around them, working on an intro an end paragraph later. You can also go to your campus tutoring center and ask for help. There will be trained student and adult tutors who can help you.

If you are really stuck for ideas, try this:

Jot down random words or sentences about things that are important to you. It could be memories, ideas, plans, things you like, whatever. Don’t try to make this an essay or anything cohesive. Just put words down. Fill most of a page. Put it aside for a while, maybe a couple of hours of a couple of days. Go back and read it, and then circle or underline things that are referred to more than once.

When I do this with students, most of the time, a pattern emerges. Something will be referred to again and again, maybe in different ways. That’s what you can base an essay on.

@Lindagaf has a great idea. I actually use this approach professionally in crafting important business communications. Helps create a theme and builds a narrative. Helps me stay focused which is important in essays as you don’t want to drift into too many lanes.

Thanks everyone for your advice! I submitted my first applications yesterday, and all your tips were really helpful. (:

Good luck @swimmingguy, keep us updated!

You could also consider seeking guidance on writing from such as . However, unless you have a moral ethical code that you will only use such services to become a better writer, you better keep off from these services.

  1. Set a decision deadline with a default.
  2. Start blindly, change later.
  3. Leave hard choices open-ended.

Instead of telling yourself to sit for several hours writing the essay in the library, only ask yourself to write one paragraph. After which you can take a break. Later, you can keep expanding until the essay is done.

Hi! I just wanted to let everybody who responded to this thread know that I got into my first choice program (NYU)! Honestly, you guys made a massive difference in my application. Thanks so much.