Don’t know where to start? Take a deep breath.
You’re facing the blank page with that dizzying cursor flashing expectantly. You think it shouldn’t be that hard to write a personal statement, yet you’ve already gotten up for a second cup of coffee, scrolled through Instagram, and twiddled around with your new fidget spinner.
What’s getting in the way? Well, for one thing, this essay is personal! Little in most of our academic careers prepares us to write about ourselves in a revealing manner. In freshman composition we learn about modes of discourse and maybe the format for a term paper. All through the undergraduate years we explore the lofty world of ideas and learn to analyze and make arguments and develop critical thinking skills. Write a paper on monoclonal antibodies as therapeutic agents? An opinion piece on the need for reform in the U.S. healthcare system? No problem. Our left-brain muscles are incredibly well-developed.
But the personal statement requires that we reveal to others the private world of our hopes, dreams, and individual experiences. For most of us, that feels risky. It goes against everything we’ve been taught about excising ourselves and our personal biases from our work. It also requires using language differently. To talk about our lives in a way that engages our reader, we must turn inward rather than outward. We must be honest in our expression of who we are while weaving a story that captures the best of who we are. It is time to flex our right-brain muscles, and most of us are out of practice.
It’s no wonder we don’t know where to start. Here are 3 tips that will get that part of your brain ready to write:
Tip #1: Breathe.
Taking deep, slow breaths will help you relax. Most of us hold our breath when we’re stressed, and that can exacerbate anxiety and interrupt our creative flow.
Tip #2: Be gentle with yourself.
Writing a personal essay is a new experience, and it will likely take many drafts before you have one you’re satisfied with. This is normal.
Tip #3: Begin at the beginning.
Before you start writing, you’ll want to brainstorm to generate the raw data (personal qualities, life experiences, accomplishments) upon which you will build your essay. A prewriting question to consider: What do you have to contribute that is uniquely you?
To write personal, you need to think personal, and that can be hard. Take your time as you explore this potentially new writing style. Experiment with your writing as you delve into your various experiences and stories. You may end up with pages of notes that resemble a journal from which you may find one (or more) nuggets of wisdom on which you are ready to expound. Mine those truths, and prepare to tell your personal, honest, and revealing story.