Your Medical School Personal Statement: Tips for Tackling Writer's Block
May 30, 2014
We all know the moment: you are staring at the computer, not knowing where to start or where to go next—then suddenly you’ve got to go to the bathroom…again, or you just now realized that you’re actually hungry for a snack, or you could have possibly even left the oven on (even though you haven’t cooked for at least a week), but you better get up right now to check. Most everyone has experienced writer’s block, and when it comes to something as important as writing your medical school personal statement, the sooner you get past it, the sooner you can take advantage of using this space within your application to let yourself really shine.
1. You can’t start writing your medical school personal statement. Hello, blank page. You’ve stopped before you’ve even begun. You literally can’t think of a single useful idea.
- Do free writing. Clear all distractions. Set a timer. Spend 10-15 minutes a day writing down whatever comes to the top of your head. Ignore the details of context, grammar and punctuation. Allow it to be foolish and totally random. Just get words on the page.
- Do brainstorming. This resembles free writing, but is more goal-directed. Admissions committees are looking for 3 things in a personal statement, and your writing will ultimately need to be informed by these: 1) YOU, 2) YOUR PASSION FOR MEDICINE, 3) AND YOUR QUALIFICATIONS AS A POTENTIAL MEDICAL STUDENT AND FUTURE MD. Use the same techniques of letting ideas flow, but focus the content to fulfill the goals required. Write down adjectives that you feel you possess. Think of personal stories that highlight these desirable traits and jot down a few triggering words to remind you of the stories. You should have more than you’ll use. You are idea generating.
2. You have too many ideas. You don’t know which ones to keep or use when writing your medical school personal statement.
- Wear the gray suit. You can be sure that on any given interview day, most men will be wearing their best black suits. It doesn’t hurt to stand out (at least a little). Look at your ideas for any traits/stories that might be bold and unique. Most people applying will share similar accomplishments. If there’s anything from your background/current offerings that helps distinguish you, go with those. Stand out.
Disclaimer: we can discuss actual interview attire elsewhere; this is simply a metaphor.
- Let passion take over. Gravitate towards stories and ideas where you find that you are the most passionate. This shines through and makes for a much richer essay. And when you have passion, writing your medical school personal statement will be a much easier and a more interesting task.
- Organize. You should have more ideas (and frankly more drafts of your personal statement) than you can use. Organize what you most want to say into an outline. You won’t be able to highlight every great thing, and this will help show the outliers that just won’t fit well in a cohesive essay. This is your architect stage. Build the big picture of your essay.
3. You have an outline, but can't get through this one part. The personal statement generally includes a strong introduction to catch the reader’s attention- stories in active tense work great here, a few paragraphs of body further exemplifying certain skills and developing evidence of your passion for medicine, and a summary that subtly reiterates your qualifications/skills, interest, and also planned contributions back. Cumulatively, this should make you distinguishable from other candidates.
- Piece work. Sometimes, it is easier to tackle something from middle or even the end than the beginning. Pick one of your personal anecdotes, and just start writing. Be a carpenter. Work on separate chunks of material from your outline. After you've gained some confidence, work to perfect your opening, closing and smooth out transitions. You may find it flows better in a different order than previously anticipated.
- Just say it. Sometimes you’re trying so hard to find the perfect phrase, you can’t move on at all. It may be helpful to just briefly say exactly what you mean (e.g. I am warm and sympathetic, I have a refined self-discipline and work ethic), and then build around it. Sometimes when you see exactly what it is that you are trying to demonstrate, it can be easier to re-work your story and then refine the phrasing to exhibit it. Once the blunt phrase is later removed (remember: the goal is to show, not just tell why you’re great and qualified), the trait should now still be on display.
- Fresh eyes. Ask for help. Sometimes you just need someone new to look at what you’ve got so far to get you going again. This can be a trusted friend, a family member, a teacher, or a medical student coach/former admissions officer at InGenius Prep who can look at your essay objectively and point to where your strengths and weakness may lie to build from.
I remember being stuck myself when first trying to write a strong personal statement when applying to medical school. Subsequently, I have read hundreds of personal statements, and it is obvious where some people have put a lot of time and effort in. But first, you have to be able to get started! I’m curious, what techniques have you found have helped you through writer’s block in the past?
Sometimes, you cannot wait for inspiration to start writing your medical school personal statement—you have to generate it. At InGenius Prep, we can help you identify your application persona and help coach you into compiling your strongest medical school application to make you the most competitive applicant that you can be. Good luck, get writing!