By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop
Does this scene sound familiar? Your child is sitting down, staring at a blank screen, hands poised over the keyboard, but not writing anything. It can happen for an AP Language paper or a college essay. Your child feels stuck and calls it writer’s block.
Many of my college essay and creative writing students have shared a version of this story with me before starting the writing process.
It’s Really Not Writer’s Block
No matter what the writing task may be, when students feel stuck, they often doubt their basic writing skills. That makes getting started even harder. The student feels trapped; the parent feels helpless. Anxiety creeps into the home. As a result, students tend to avoid writing the first draft by continually searching for “better” topics. This won’t work. It’s not writer’s block.
When this happens with your child, give yourself permission to take a step back. First and foremost, it’s important for you to understand that writing skills and topics are not the culprits. Nor is writer’s block. Students are not really stuck; they’ve just jumped the gun. They are unprepared to write a first draft because they’ve skipped important beginning steps in the college essay writing process.
Find the Real Starting Line, Forget Writer’s Block
The famous author Flannery O’Connor said: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” This quote reminds me that writing is a great tool for exploring ideas and clarifying thoughts. This is true with any kind of writing project, and it’s especially true for the college essay.
Admissions readers want to see stories that are personal and reveal meaningful traits and characteristics about the writer. They want to know something real about each applicant.
To do that, students need to take the time to clarify their own feelings about the story they want to write. At Wow, we usually assign two or three brief writing exercises before tackling the first draft, to give students low-stakes opportunities to gather details, organize their thoughts, and warm up their minds. After all, this is a thinking task, even more than it is a writing task.
• Set a timer for 10 minutes.
• Think of the story you want to tell your best friend.
• Write down any detail about that story that comes to mind.
• While writing, keep your mind open to physical details (what you saw, heard, touched) as well as emotional details (what you were thinking and feeling).
• You don’t need to write in chronological order or even use complete sentences. It’s okay to be messy. Just write down every detail that comes to mind as fast as you can until the timer runs out.
This exercise works because it removes the pressure that’s often associated with writing a draft. The time limit is important. The feeling of racing against the clock help to turn off the second-guessing and self-editing parts of our brain is real; when that happens, it’s amazing to see what kinds of details students come up with. I’ve never heard a student say they couldn’t do this exercise due to writer’s block.
When the timer goes off, your teen will have spent 10 minutes refreshing their memory about the story they want to tell, and they’ll have a stockpile of details they can draw from when they write their first draft.
Is Your Teen Feeling Stuck on the College Essay?
If your child thinks they have writer’s block, it might be time to call in a professional. A Wow coach can guide your child, and help keep things calm in your home during this stressful time. We’re still taking private coaching students for the 2018-19 season, but our coach slots are filling up quickly. Reserve your spot now.
Has your teen already written a draft? You might want to get some professional feedback before clicking send. We’ll be happy to give your child a professional essay review. We will provide comprehensive written feedback, notes on what works, plus suggestions for improvement. We pay attention to items that matter to admissions officers, like reflection, theme and flow, and comment on technical issues, including grammar, spelling and sentence structure.
About the Author
Joe Kane is Wow’s Senior Writing Coach. A poet and editor, Joe coaches Wow’s college essay, ACT/SAT writing and creative writing students, and he teaches Wow’s intensive, online workshop, Be a Better Writer. He is also a program director of SLANT, which provides creative writing opportunities for Nashville area teens. In all he does, Joe has never complained about writer’s block.
Wow Writing Workshop is a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. The Wow Method helps business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.