Once graduate school applicants realize the importance of the admissions essay to their application, it's not uncommon to experience writer's block. Writer's block is understandable but it is particularly daunting because the graduate admissions essay has a clear deadline and implications for your future. The very nature of the admissions essay - its importance - makes writers block more stressful. Combating writer's block requires that you understand it. Below are three common influences on writers block and what you can do to overcome each.
Some students are blocked by self consciousness. They worry about the finished product - that it will be subpar, reveal their writing and grammatical flaws, and will make it clear to the admissions committee that they are not graduate school material. This nagging sense of self consciousness and worry that your essay will reveal you to be a fraud is known as the imposter syndrome. The impostor syndrome, feeling that one is an impostor, not the competent individual one claims to be, is very common among students and professionals. How do you fight the impostor syndrome? Remind yourself of your successes, that you have earned the right to apply to gradate school and have the skills to succeed. Make a list of all of your skills, accomplishments, and successes. Brainstorm - don't evaluate, just list them. The resulting list will help you to see that you're accomplished and that you belong in graduate school. It will also serve as a list of potential topics to cover in your admissions essay.
Anxiety often accompanies self consciousness. Applicants face many stresses and sources of anxiety: taking the GRE, soliciting letters, maintaining good grades, seeking out of class experiences, as well as juggling the stresses of daily non-academic life, such as relationships, work, housework, etc. The best way to manage anxiety is two pronged: be organized and take care of yourself. Getting organized, knowing what you need to do and when, reduces anxiety because by making a plan to get your work done, you exert some control over it. Anxiety often comes feeling that you don't have control. Order your life and get control - and feel better. In addition to getting organized, you must also look after your physical and mental well being. You can't do your best work if you're tired, ill, or uncomfortable. Take care of the physical so that you're prepared to manage the mental. Get sleep, exercise, eat well. Have fun and take time to refresh your mind and body.
The classic symptom of writers block is feeling overwhelmed with the task and not knowing where to start. The trick to battling overwhelm is to start somewhere, anywhere. You don't need to start at the beginning of your essay. Instead simply make a list of points that you think you might like to make. Don't worry about evaluating them, censoring them, or ordering them. Just write. Then look at your list of bullet points and write a sentence or two to explain each. Start anywhere on your list, expand on whatever point is easiest. Eventually you will list of sentences. Its easier to edit than to write, so arrange your list of sentences in a way that makes sense to you. Then write sentences and phrases to link them into an essay. Edit as necessary.
Writing an admissions essay is a big task that often paralyzes applicants. Break through the inertia by understanding yourself and by simply beginning.