It always happens at the worst possible moment: Brain freeze. Writer’s block. Complete mental shut down. There you are, ready to crank out some application essays and… nothing. Just a blank screen… and a blank mind.
So what do you do? Cry? Chug a pot of coffee? Do some online shopping? Hm… something tells me there’s a better way. And our consultants, who help people put (brilliant) thoughts on paper every day, offer up some more productive options to beat the block:
Same way we do – write your own action plan! Make a list of the points you want to get across in your app and the stories you want to tell in order to support them. Then, once you’ve decided on your topics, write logical outlines for structuring your essays. Once you’ve chosen the right essay topic and developed a good structure, half your work is already done!
Essays present the opportunity to let the reader get to know the best of you. So grab a friend or a family member, who already knows how awesome you are, to help you pick the right stories to tell. Writing great essays requires a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness but that doesn’t mean you should go into solitary confinement to do it. Bouncing off ideas and getting feedback from a loved one could get the creative writing juices flowing and also help you remember a story that makes for a fabulous essay topic that you may have long forgotten. When I was trying to figure out a good storyline for a “tell me about a time you failed” essay, I was completely stuck until my sister reminded about the time I had lost control of my team and missed a major deadline. How did she remember?? Well, she was on the receiving end of numerous late night phone calls when I was whining and crying about how I royally screwed up…and then picked myself up, figured how to creatively fix the situation and learned to be a better leader. Oh yeah!!
Ah writer’s block, the enemy of the eager essayist, the pirate of powerful prose, the criminal of compelling college candidates, so much time and effort is wasted on overcoming this hurdle, which, most will face one way or another. Here are some tips on how to beat this time thief and get you back to creating those starling essays:
Make sure you have time! Stress is one of several sources of writer’s block. Thoughts start to creep in like mice in a barn when you’re trying to focus on getting the essay done: “Is this compelling enough? Am I going to have time for a re-write? Can I get some of these done during lunch at work?” You need to make sure that you give yourself enough time, folks. Look, most of us lead excessively busy lives but this is B-School you’re applying for; space out some time to work on these essays and if that means you have to make some hard cuts to your social life, you better do it.
Take a break. If you made a graph of the quality of one’s writing with the number of hours they have been at it, you’d find the quality line dropping through the floor at about hour 4. Don’t pull essay marathon sessions; you’re not going to do yourself any favors.
Chat with friends. Sometimes you need a little help jogging down memory lane. If you’re trying to remember some context of a college or work experience, it’s likely that someone else was going through it with you. Pick up the phone, drop a message on FB, reach out to them over Skype and just reminisce about the event in questions and before you know it, you’ll be stockpiled with details and plot hooks you long forgot.
Take a shower. Weird, huh? Although you won’t find this bit of advice in a normal writer’s column, all I can tell you is that it works for me. As it turns out, everyone has their own type of ‘sorting tasks’ or activities which help the mind shuffle, sort, and organize its thoughts. This activity is normally a relaxing one where you allow your mind to go into Standby Mode and you’d be amazed at the insights that you’ll stumble upon. Your sorting task might not be taking a shower, some people mediate, do laundry, paint, go jogging, so it differs from person to person.
I tell clients to, first, breakdown the question and, second, bullet point their answer. This ensures that they avoid rambling, answer the entire question and create a plan to motivate writing.
First step: Write out your stories in a bulleted list of all your greatest achievements and most fun, wild stories in everything you have done, from work to academics, to community service. Two or three sentences per story; just the essence. If you get stuck, chat it over with people – a boyfriend, girlfriend, a mom, a colleague or boss, over a beer or coffee. They might remember things you have forgotten. And finally, have a chat with your kind, loving Admissions consultant. He or she might know to turn over those last stones lying in the shadows.
The easiest way to start is to think about your short-term goals. This means, immediately after you graduate with your MBA, what do you want to do? Do you see yourself going into banking, consulting, or marketing? What type of role do you want to have? Think about tangible things about what your FIRST post-MBA job will be, and start writing down your ideas. This will become the skeleton of what every MBA application asks you to answer.
There are many ways to break a writer’s block, but a real effective way is to write a limerick; yes, you heard right, a limerick:
There was once a b-school candidate from Nantucket
Who didn’t know his long-term goal from a bucket
So he called upon Precision Essay
Who deemed his writing completely passe
So he told us: take your storytelling technique and go f**k it
This will be fun and will get your creative juices going … seriously.
It all depends on your style. Some folks like to start by making lists of accomplishments; others use outlines to get their synapses clicking. I personally like to ponder the essay questions in different settings: at my desk, on a park bench, while I’m doing laps at the pool, etc. because different environments trigger different parts of the brain. So experiment. And if you find yourself staring at a wall for who-knows-how-long, change the setting or do something completely different for an hour (I recommend physical exercise) and come back to your essays with a refreshed mind. And whatever you do, start by reading Admissionado’s excellent essay analyses. They’re sure to get your neurons firing.
Get Jon’s advice on beating writer’s block right here.