• Susan Treadwell

College Essays and the Messy Truth

Updated: 3 days ago


Last fall, I met with Marc, a high school dynamo. You name it, he had it going on. Except for one thing. He couldn’t write. I mean, he knew how to write, but he couldn’t write.

During our first meeting, we had a freewheeling conversation about his background and experiences. There were so many options for essay topics, but he felt lost. What was going on?

When teachers, counselors, parents, neighbors, friends, Romans and countrymen all weighed in, the chorus of voices agreed: Writer’s block!

Okay, writer’s block is a thing. But I’ve learned it means something different for every single student. In this case, Marc felt pressure to be perfect, and to produce perfect essays.

Write. Now.

The voice in his head was not very kind, or sympathetic. It wanted results. But writing is a messy process. There are phases: brainstorming, drafting, re-thinking, editing. In his mind, the messy parts were time wasters. After all, he had deadlines to meet.

Sometimes college essay prompts incite a riot of thoughts and feelings in the teenage mind. As Marc said –

I’ve got internal conflicts. I don’t know where to begin.

And that’s why the messy, freewriting phase is important. It allows you to disentangle those conflicting thoughts so you can gain clarity, and write with purpose.

Freewriting allows you to discover what you think. It takes a leap of faith to go into that unknown place where you don’t have everything figured out. And guess what? Once you give yourself the freedom to explore, you’ll make discoveries that lead to insights. Perspectives. Topics and stories that are meaningful.

During college application season, make peace with the voice within – the one that craves to be heard, and has a lot to say. Partner with this voice to write the stories that led you to this complex, beautiful, messy moment in time.


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#freewriting #perfectionism

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