A common complaint: “I Have Nothing to Write About!”
One of the most common things I hear from students at the beginning of the school application process is “I have nothing to write about!” Parents and professionals tell me all the time they get this response when students must answer personal questions about themselves.
And as a parent or professional, you know your kid or student is brimming with great ideas, yet when they sit down to write, they produce– nothing. You remind them what’s special about them, but “I have nothing to write about!” they complain. And they probably (think they) mean it. I’ve been there too.
Good news for students: it’s really unlikely! You made it this far in life, you definitely have something to write about, you’re just not convinced you do.
That usually means it’s just too hard to get started, you feel insecure, you’ve convinced yourself your ideas are poor in advance, or you aren’t thinking specifically enough. The best way to cut through the obstacle, whatever the reason, is just to start! Below I share my favorite tips for doing so. Try them all until something works, because something will.
Generic Questions Can Draw Blanks
As a student you probably know that feeling, of coming up blank when someone asks you a generic question. “How was school? What did you do today?” “Fine. Nothing.”
Maybe you can’t even remember your day. Or maybe, more likely, you don’t feel like remembering.
Maybe you need to be asked something specific: “What did you learn in math today?” or “Did anyone say anything cool in ELA class?” or “Anything happen at lunch? or “How was it following the new staircase rules?”
In other words, you need to be prompted.
“I have nothing to write about!” If it was true, it would be a rough problem and a real obstacle to completing written portions of the application.
But the good news is– Alakazam!– “having nothing to write about” is not actually true, even if it feels that way.
Here are some of my favorite ways to work around the feeling!
Some of these tips will work best when you have a buddy, coach, teacher, or parent with you, and others you can do all by yourself. Let us know which tips help you break through the frustrating feeling. Each of these has worked for my students in the past.
- Talk through it: when you sit down to write, before you hit the “nothing” conclusion, what crosses your mind? Dread about the process? Overwhelm? Try to make a list of any feelings or thoughts you notice about the process itself. Write these down or speak aloud with a trusted person about those feelings. Sometimes once you name them, they get less powerful, and you can move into writing.
- Make yourself write: the Free-writing Technique is beautiful because it doesn’t care if you “have” something to write about. You just start writing, and make it mechanical. Would you say you “can’t” take a walk, because you don’t have somewhere you want to walk to? Of course you can take a walk, regardless! You just start with one step and then another step…and soon, voila, a walk has happened! Free-writing works similarly: you put hands or pen to the page and write WHATEVER IS THERE TO BE WRITTEN. Sometimes that means you will write down the alphabet or you write about the experience of feeling blank. You write for 3-5 minutes with a timer, without stopping or judging and then look back. Then you start the process again starting with a line or phrase from what you just produced.
- Free-write with a specific prompt: If ‘just’ free-writing is too vague, free-write to a specific prompt. It doesn’t matter at all if you have an idea in mind. You can write about how weird it is that you can’t seem to think of a single passion, or mistake, or whatever the question asks you. The practice is the same: you just keep writing.
- Let someone prompt you with memories: have a conversation about shared memories with a friend or family member. Start with “Remember the time I/you…” and dig for specific details and experiences. After you loosen up your mind a little through conversation and reflection, start writing about one of the memories you already discussed. Write as many details as you can come up with.
- The senses! Write about a strong sensory experience you had recently– sound, smell, sight, taste, touch, doesn’t matter. This puts you in touch with vivid feelings.
- Say, what? Write about a reaction you had to something someone said to you recently, the stronger the reaction, the better. Then figure out WHY you reacted as you did. This puts you in touch with vivid thoughts.
- List your traits: Write a list of your personal qualities you’d like to share with the admissions readers. It doesn’t matter what it is. Maybe you want them to know you’ve always protected a little sibling (responsible, loving) or that you have made amazing jewelry out of paper clips (artistic) or that you really love extra cheese pizza on Wednesday afternoons (foodie). Then come up with examples of each and describe it in detail.
Don’t worry about the prompts, yet! Just get the wheels turning. Later you can figure out how to match what you’re interested in with a specific prompt.
If nothing else works, go all the way into nothing!
That’s right: Go ALL THE WAY with this feeling of “nothing”, to see for yourself that it’s not true.
Set a timer for 1 minute, and TRY to think about nothing. Focus on only that feeling. That is, challenge your mind to stay blank. I guarantee you will observe at least one thought arise. (It’s nearly impossible, and takes years of training, to actually think about–nothing).
When you see a thought, after your minute it is up, write that thought down. If that thought leads to another thought, write that one down. Or set the timer for a minute and do it all again.
It’s a given your mind will think a thought, you can write it down, and then you will see that you don’t have nothing to say you just have to figure out how to see it.
If not, you’re already enlightened, bravo, call me, you probably don’t need to apply to school anyway as you have already moved beyond the confines of our shared reality!
Celebrate all and any writing. Seriously. Anything that helps you break through the wall has helped you break through the wall.
None of these working? Contact us for help finding something to write about!
We love helping you move past “nothing” and into something. Once the writing wheels are turning, hopefully (and likely) they will just keep turning.
Remember you are not alone in struggling to come up with material. Almost anyone who has ever tried to write something important about themselves has felt this at some point. And…they all wrote something. You’ll be able to as well.
Contact us for more tips and tricks to get your personal stories out. Parents, coaches, teachers– we have more suggestions for you too. We got you!