Tips to Overcome College Essay Writing Anxiety

Every writer feels nervous in the moments when they are revising, starting over or drafting a new piece of prose. So it’s not surprising when even students who are well-prepared, understand the college essay prompt, and have a great story to tell also get the first-draft jitters, or writing anxiety.

College application season is in full gear, and just like every season, we see a lot of students who have difficulty starting their first drafts. That’s okay. Don’t panic. We know how to calm them.

Some students think that their nervousness is a sign that they’re inadequate writers or that they’re doing something wrong. It isn’t. College essays have high stakes. Feeling a little anxiety is normal, even healthy.

I am a college essay coach, and also a creative writer and teacher. I regularly attend an annual writers’ conference that attracts big names in fiction and poetry, plus thousands of aspiring writers and publishers, for a weekend of readings and craft discussions. At my first conference, I was surprised to hear how openly authors talked about their own writing anxiety.

Even authors with four or five books already on the best seller list said that they feel a bit anxious every time they start a new writing project. Their previous works might have been hits, but what should they do about the half-written chapters on their kitchen tables? How do successful writers manage those nerves?

Here are three strategies for managing writing anxiety that work for the pros, and help our Wow college application essay students:

Keep the Faith; calm the anxiety

Accept that some anxiety is normal and trust yourself to write the first draft.  Moments of doubt require a little faith. When you’re feeling nervous, just keep writing and don’t stop until the draft is finished. Successful writers keep writing even when they are feeling unsure of themselves.

Trust the Process

We tell each Wow student: Trust Yourself

Take comfort in revision. No one gets it perfect on the first try. Refining your ideas over several drafts is an essential part of the writing process. That also means there is less pressure on you to perfect your first draft. You don’t need to worry about finding the right words in your first draft because you’ll reread and revise anything you write (hopefully more than once). It’s okay for first drafts to be messy. They’re supposed to be. Just get your ideas down on paper. You’ll be able to polish your words later.

Get Advice from Someone You Trust

Every successful author has a go-to person who reads their work before anyone else. It might be a relative, friend, another writer, or an editor. You can usually find that person’s name listed on the acknowledgments page at the beginning or end of a book. A trusted reader can offer valuable big-picture perspective, and also catch small mistakes that are hard to see when you’ve been looking at a piece of writing for a long time.

Finding the right reader can be a little tricky with college essays because the world of college admissions is always changing. At Wow, we have ongoing conversations with admissions officers across the country to make sure that we offer the best college essay advice that reflects what admissions readers are hoping to see.

Joe Kane

Joe Kane

Joe Kane is a Senior Writing Coach with Wow Writing Workshop. Outgoing, thoughtful and imaginative, Joe loves hearing his students’ stories and helping them reflect on their life experiences in compelling college essays. Perpetually optimistic, Joe is grateful for the things he has learned from working with Wow’s students about life in distant countries, VEX robotics competitions, cloning extinct species, and so much more! Joe joined Wow after working as a writer-in-residence for the nationally recognized InsideOut Literary Arts. He now lives in Nashville, where he is the Program Director of The Porch’s youth programming arm, SLANT (Student Literary Artists of Nashville, TN). Joe’s poems and stories have found homes in a number of magazines, including RHINO, Elimae, theEEEL, Clapboard House, The Splinter Generation, Cricket Online Review, Psychic Meatloaf, Temenos, Right Hand Pointing, and Admit2. He holds a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Central Michigan University.
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