Global College Advisers Writing Advice

How Freewriting Supports Your Personal Statement & Helps Overcome Writer’s Block

Are you feeling stuck writing your personal statement?  

I get it. There is a lot of pressure out there to have your personal statement done on time given that many colleges and universities in the USA have their EA or ED deadline coming up terrifyingly soon.

While I hope you have started your brainstorming for topics long ago and even worked on a first draft already, the above-mentioned scenario is anything but helpful to get your creative writing process going. 

You definitely want to start out with a mindset that energizes you positively and supports you in writing something meaningful about yourself and your life.

But… nothing meaningful has ever happened in my life!” Are you sure?

As you sit there and either still collect ideas for your topic or re-read your draft, a sudden thought crosses your mind and manifests itself, “Perhaps what I’m writing about is too trivial?” You start doubting yourself thinking that nothing really meaningful has ever happened in your life. Really? Think again.

“Meaningful” has many nuances. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or world-changing. Sometimes the most insignificant, small moments in one’s life can be overwhelmingly beautiful, dramatic, and even life-changing. It’s up to you to uncover these moments and give them the weight they deserve; perhaps even revisit them by watching them from the safe distance of the present. 

How to overcome writer’s block and bring back forgotten memories

“That’s great”, you might say, “I am trying just that but I feel stuck! I can’t get a word on paper.” Yes, you might even feel you are running out of ideas, or suddenly not recall anything that ever happened in your life.

You are experiencing something called writer’s block.

Now what? 

First of all – Take a deep breath. 

Step away from the computer or paper you are working on and take a deep breath. Best, remove yourself from the ‘scene’ and leave the room. Get a sip of water, do a yoga flow, mini-meditation, or twenty push-ups, or play with your siblings. You get the idea. Anything to get your mind off the topic you were working on. 

Find a spot where you can relax

After that short break, get yourself your favorite drink, an empty piece of paper and a pen, and retreat to a nice and quiet spot in your home (or outside) where you can just sit and reminisce. A place, where nobody disturbs you and where you can let your thoughts and ideas flow freely for about 20 minutes. 

The freewriting exercise

This exercise can help put the fun back into writing, discover long-forgotten details about some event, some thing, or someone, and most importantly get you back into the spirit of writing.

The trick is to see this writing exercise as a complete stand-alone exercise. Don’t try to forcefully connect anything to the essay you were working on previously. In fact, stay away from finding any purpose in this freewriting exercise other than just wanting to experience the sensation of your hand gliding over the paper creating letters, words, sentences with your pen, or hearing the clicking of the keyboard as you feverishly type away. Let yourself get carried away by whatever comes to mind. Let ‘it’ guide you rather than you trying to control ‘it’.

The idea here is that you put your pen on the paper with the sheer intent to just write whatever comes to mind. Anything. You might start out with an object that caught your eye as you are looking out of the window, or an object in the room you are in. It might be yesterday’s soccer game, or the sandwich you ate for lunch. It might be last year’s vacation, or the pen in your hand, or the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair.

Don’t judge and criticize yourself

Initially, you might feel silly starting out writing about something trivial or even senseless perhaps. Don’t go there. Don’t judge your writing or yourself. Don’t criticize, or even reread what you just put to paper. No, just keep going and let your thoughts flow. Don’t direct them. 

Savor every word your pen creates. Enjoy the sound of your pen as it slides over the paper, and feel how freeing it is to just write what comes to mind with no agenda and for nobody’s eyes. It’s just you and your thoughts!

It might happen that your writing turns into an unexpected direction and ends up somewhere completely different than where or with what you started out with. It might even find itself suddenly be connected to the subject you had been writing on before (your personal statement) but explore it from a completely different angle. That’s ok, too.

This is the beauty of this freewriting exercise, aside from getting you back into ‘just’ writing mode, there are no rules and you might actually surprise yourself with new perspectives of situations you didn’t let yourself experience before. 

Whatever direction your writing takes, allow yourself to enjoy the process of writing and don’t imprison yourself with the agenda of a topic, let alone the topic of your essay or personal statement. 

Set a timer

The freewriting exercise is meant to be done in a set time. That way you feel in control of your time in case you are nervous about the many other things you need to get done. So, in order to get your mind of the time, set yourself an alarm and then, for the next 10 or 20 minutes, don’t let time interfere with your thoughts anymore.

The benefits of Freewriting for your Personal Statement 

Once you are done with your freewriting exercise you might experience a sudden flow of ideas. You might actually feel an urge to get back to your original essay and write down all that comes to mind in regard to your actual topic this time around. Remember:

  • Don’t interrupt your flow of memories and feelings. 
  • Listen to what your (now relaxed) mind is telling you and don’t disturb your writing by wanting to correct your sentences. 
  • Write everything down first. Once you feel you have said all there is, go back and start editing, consider structure, and check grammar.

Congratulations! You might have just written a personal statement that is truly yours, infused by experiences and feelings that only you could have had. Now it’s time to clean up your final draft and put the last finishing touches to your work.


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