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8 Ways to get Unstuck When Writing your Personal Statement

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Here, we're going to talk about how to start, or pick up where you left off, writing the personal statement. More often than not, you have some sort of idea of what you want to write about in your head, but when it comes to putting pen to paper, you may find yourself stuck.

So here are 8 ways to get unstuck:

  1. Word Vomit. Word vomiting aka stream-of-consciousness can be really helpful in making sure that you get the general concept of what you want to say down on the paper. So ignore grammar, formatting, structure, style. Instead, just focus on writing down anything and everything that you can think of, and then focus on organizing it later. This is helpful for many reasons because it helps prevent your from procrastinating and you're actually more likely to get a more personable essay because the essay is more likely to be in your own voice when you go straight from your head to the paper unfiltered. That way, when reading, admissions officers will feel more connected to you and your story if you can maintain a natural cadence and thought process in your essay instead of a formulated, thesis-like one.

  2. Be comfortable. I wrote some of my essays while re-watching comfort TV/movies that I had seen before. For some people doing that, listening to music, watching podcasts, or engaging with other media simultaneously while writing can help spark comfortability with having pen and paper in front of you. I.e. you don't have to stress as much as you might locked in a quiet room by yourself. You also are more likely to foster eureka moments about yourself engaging in things you already enjoy, which could help unearth memories or inspiration that you can also put into your essay. Executing this step along with the word vomiting can also feel extremely therapeutic.

  3. Ignore the "important stuff". By popular opinion, the introduction and conclusion are deemed the "make or break" aspects of essays, where you need to have a hook or a memorable epiphany at the end of the essay. That's 2,000%, fortunately, untrue. The reason being is if you don't have an experience of value to you that's communicated crystal clear throughout the essay, then it doesn't matter how the essay started or concluded. If you have a really fun intro and conclusion, but your essay is about how you learned that poverty existed in Africa your senior year in high school, then it doesn't matter how good the intro and conclusion are. Even if your essay is "generically good", there's always room to improve in making your stories do the work for you (which is what upcoming blogs will be about). So that's always the priority, getting the content on the paper. Once you're at a confident point about the content of your essay. Then you're actually more likely to have a cohesive intro and conclusion because now you know the direction that your essay is going to go, so you can better kick it off with that in mind, so I always do the intro last.

  4. Post-vomit Break. After word-vomiting, give yourself a 3-7 day break without looking at your personal statement. You can work on other essays or activities or schoolwork instead. That way, when you do go back to your essay, you'll see your essay with fresh eyes and that perspective might help you recognize areas where you can improve or opportunities in your essay that you might not have realized from the really zoomed-in perspective of your initial writing. This will also give your ideas time to marinate. Our subconscious mind is always on and problem-solving things even if you're not consciously thinking about them, so when you happen to eat a PB&J sandwich for the first time in a couple years, your subconscious might go off and remind you that hey! the first time you had a PB&J sandwich was at your grandmother's house, which is who you happen to be writing your essay about, so that could be a cool personable tidbit to include. It sounds crazy, but that happened to me and others during the application process, a lot, so definitely give yourself time and the space to allow ideas to marinate.

  5. Talk to people. Brainstorming with people who know you or have lived through the experience with you can be helpful at jogging your memory of different stories or aspects of the story that you may have forgotten about. If you're really stuck, they might also help you to get started. However, definitely take everything with a grain of salt. For example, if someone offers you an exact idea for an exact approach you should take, think if that's something that you think would work for you, that you can pull off, and would empower you to write about. Be honest if ideas don't vibe with you, so that you can have a back and forth with someone to potentially find a direction that you do like.

  6. Use filler words. Sometimes you're writing a sentence, you're on a roll talking about the realization that you had after 8th grade, and then you forget the word, phrase, or idea that you're looking for, it's at the tip of your tongue, but you just can't remember. That's okay! I like to write "blah bleh bluh" or "bjieopajiodjiajepjeje" in that space. Highlight it so you don't forget that you have that quirky blunder, and then move on and go back later. This is really helpful because you're still likely to be on a roll with the thoughts even after that one moment so you don't want to put a pause just because you hit one bump in the road. Even if you don't use the filler words, leaving incomplete ideas is 1,000% okay to keep in a draft, because you can always go back later to finalize said draft, as you should, prior to submitting.

  7. Take risks. If you wrote your essay about something important to you and it fits all the good topic criteria for a personal statement, non-academic, personal-life-centric, but it doesn't excite you or isn't as personable as you'd want it to be, then don't be afraid to take risks/push boundaries. There's obviously a caveat to this, being that if you're taking a risk with your essay, then it can be a risk as to whether or not readers are going to appreciate the risk that you've taken. This is usually when people try to be quirky or insert humor or write the essay backwards or add another layer to the onion to buff up the narrative. It's okay to take the risk, but definitely get feedback afterwards. Some of y'all (including myself) are just not as funny as you think you are. So just make sure you do steps 4 (post-vomit break) and 5 (talk to people) before you hit the submit button.

  8. Eat. sleep. repeat. Repeat any or all of the above steps as needed. Essay writing is an ebb and flow process where one day you may have a burst of inspiration and another day, you won't and that's okay. As long as you give yourself time to really explore all that's available to you while you're writing. If you're in a time crunch, that's also okay because you can also scale down the review process. So, if you have a brain fart, leave it in the essay, but after you write the following paragraph, go back and read through the essay from the beginning to see if you can better work out that kink.

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