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  • Genine Babakian

Struggling with Your College Essay? Here are 5 Tips to Free Yourself from Writer’s Block

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

In this fourth in a series of college essay writing tips, the focus is on the beast that many high school students face:

Writer’s block.

Do you have a good idea for an essay, but you don’t know how to get started? Here are five tips to help free yourself from writer’s block.

1) Start in the middle.

The first paragraph of your essay is critical, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the first step in your writing process. Take some of the pressure off by starting somewhere in the middle. Any paragraph will do. You might begin by describing context. For example, if your essay is about overcoming a personal failure (not making the team, losing the student council election, coming in dead last at the debate tournament), try writing about what that activity has meant to you. How you felt when you were part of a team, or a change agent in your own school/community. Or if your essay is about your desire to be an Olympic medalist, filmmaker, dog breeder, Supreme Court Justice (fill in the blank), you can begin by describing the steps that lead you to that goal. Pull out some memories that illustrate your lifelong desire.

2) Brainstorm first, organize later.

Your college essay is not the rigid, five-paragraph format you’ve been learning how to write since the third grade. You have the freedom to break out and tell your story in a creative and (hopefully) compelling way. Start by brainstorming – write what comes to mind without worrying about spelling and grammar and paragraph structure. Find the bare bones of your story first before you clean it up and figure out how the pieces fit together.

3) Write some alternative openings and pick the one you like the best.

You might already have a general idea about how you want to begin your essay; it’s a good idea to write your way in using different approaches. Try drafting dialog, depicting a memory, or describing a scene to see which opener appeals to you. There are many ways to tell a story!

4) Imagine writing your story as if you were telling it to a friend.

If you are writing about an experience that has had a strong impact on your life or challenged your point of view, you might feel more comfortable if you imagine sharing your narrative with a trusted friend, rather than a faceless admissions officer. It takes some of the pressure off and frees you to write.

5) Even better – TELL your story to a friend.

Your college essay is not a final exam that you should keep to yourself. Don’t be shy! Find a gentle reader or two – a friend, a relative, a neighbor – and bounce some ideas off of them. Gaining their perspective may help you hone your message.

The topic next week? How to write a strong conclusion to your college essay.

For more information on one-on-one college essay coaching, email me at, or check out:

Previous posts in the College Essay Tips series include:

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