103: Motivating Yourself to Write a Grad School Essay (Replay)

103: Motivating Yourself to Write a Grad School Essay (Replay)

For our first replay, we are re-releasing an episode on motivating yourself to write your grad school essays.

This episode is for you if:

-you’re applying to grad programs or fellowships and you are finding yourself stuck or with writer’s block.

-your application deadlines are looming and you don’t know how to get started.

-you want to learn about brainstorming exercises to try out.

-you want to learn some time-management techniques.

-youwant to learn some ways to develop external forms of accountabilty.

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Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

Hi everyone. Today I'm going to be talking to you about how to motivate yourself to write a graduate school essay. This was a request from an Instagram follower, who was specifically wondering how to motivate herself to write a statement of purpose. I understand how overwhelming it can be to think about how to even get started on your essays, especially if you've been away from an educational setting, and maybe you've taken a gap year or two. You're no longer kind of accustomed to the process, the routine of constantly writing essays. Then on top of that, the looming deadlines. I don't know how many graduate programs you may be applying to, but having multiple programs, multiple prompts, it can feel like a daunting task.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

So here are some tips on what I think may help you get started. The first thing is you want to start thinking about what you're going to write about. You want to get a good idea of what it is that you are drafting. To do that you want to open up your application portals, take a look at the prompts and figure out, what is it that they're asking me? Are they asking me to write a personal statement? Are they asking me to write a statement of purpose? Are they asking me to write a diversity statement? And if so, what things am I supposed to write on each? If it's a statement of purpose, then I want to focus on my research. If it's an applied program, I want to focus on my work experience, internship experience, volunteer experience. If it's a personal statement, you want to focus on yourself, your background, your backstory, and everything that led and motivated you to pursue the field that you're pursuing. If it's a diversity statement, you want to focus on the many ways that your identity, or your research, or your work experience, or your service work has contributed to diversity in an academic setting, so at the university level.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

Now once you have a better sense of what it is you're writing, I recommend getting started with brainstorming. If you're struggling with brainstorming, then I recommend trying out this exercise. It's called free writing. If you haven't heard of free writing before, you can go ahead and Google it. It is the process of essentially writing your thoughts out loud, non stop, for a limited period of time. So you time yourself. Usually it's about 10 to 15 minutes. Ideally, you want to give yourself some sort of prompt, maybe some guiding questions. For 10 to 15 minutes, you answer one or more questions that you have already set yourself up to answer. You type or write nonstop, everything that you are thinking, including- let's say you're typing. And you're thinking to yourself, oh my goodness. I really want to stop typing right now. I'm getting distracted. I'm thinking about what I need to do tomorrow, but I really need to keep typing. I'm supposed to type my thoughts out loud, so what was I answering again? Okay, yeah, I was answering that question. Oh, that reminds me of this other thing. You are literally writing your thoughts out loud, nonstop, without censoring yourself, without thinking about grammar, or typos or anything like that. The whole purpose of doing that is to help you generate ideas. Yes, some of that will be fluff. Some of that will be trash. Some of that will be you thinking out loud of everything that distracts you, and you won't use that. But some of it actually will be very helpful, because once you get back on topic, you might actually realize that you were able to identify or generate ideas that you hadn't thought about before. Free writing is a great exercise to get you started when you're starting from scratch. So I recommend free writing. I recommend brainstorming, and brainstorming doesn't have to include typing paragraphs of writing per se. Some people are more visual learners, so brainstorming can mean creating different diagrams or images and charts. Just anything that will help you put your ideas in another medium, that can help as well.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

Then I also mentioned timers. I'm a big fan of the Pomodoro method. I'm sure I've mentioned it countless times already, but I'm a fan of timing yourself for 25 minutes. In fact, I ordered myself a $5 timer, that literally, I turned it on and I set it. I write- you can probably hear that. I put 25 minutes, and then I set it to start. Then at the 25 minute mark, it'll ring and I give myself a five minute break after that. In the five minutes, I can do whatever I want. I can go on social media. I can check my email. I can go take a quick walk, or do whatever I want to do. But I get my break. It helps to have a timer, because when you're overwhelmed, it doesn't have to be 25 minutes. It can literally just be I'm going to get started. Because I'm so overwhelmed, I'm going to set the timer to five minutes and see if I can withstand writing, opening up this Word document and writing for five minutes straight. If you can get yourself to write for five minutes straight, there's a good chance you're gonna be able to write a little longer than that. So timers are great, because they help to keep you motivated, because then when you start to lose steam, you can see how much time you have left. And try to push through for the remaining period of time. Then take your break.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

Alright. Another thing, I think it depends on your writing style. Some people like to just generate ideas. Some people don't like to get started unless they have a better sense of what they're going to work on. I was always like that. I always like to have an idea what I was going to write about before writing it, so outlining has been really good for me. That's something you can do as well. If you have an idea of which document you're drafting, and you have some ideas for what you're going to write about in each paragraph, then go ahead and create an outline. Then flesh out your outline - have sub questions within each paragraph to answer. Then once you answer those questions, start to put the ideas together into paragraphs. Once you have the ideas together into paragraphs, start to figure out how these ideas intersect or interconnect so that you can move around the paragraphs to see where it flows better. Then before you know it, you'll have a draft. So outlining can help.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

If you're really struggling, really just like, I don't know how to do this. I am just completely blocked, because I just don't know how to get started. I don't know what this is supposed to look like. I'm so confused. If that's the case, and yes, this has happened to me. This happened to me recently. Not that long ago, I had to start drafting- this was weeks ago- drafting a maternity leave plan for work. I kept thinking to myself, what is a maternity leave plan? What does that look like? I have no idea how much detail goes into it. Is it multiple pages, is it one page? Then I kept Googling and couldn't find any samples, and I was just so lost. So finally, what I did was I reached out to other colleagues who I knew who had gone on maternity leave. I asked them what they did, what kind of materials did they prepare, and if they felt comfortable sharing their maternity leave plan with me. One person gave me advice and some ideas on the types of materials they prepared for their colleagues. Another person actually did send me two sample documents that they prepared. And just thinking about the different approaches, and the different advice that I got, I was able to then come up with my own plan. So long story short, if you are feeling lost and confused on know how to get started, perhaps you might want to reach out to other people, whether it's grad students at the program that you're interested in, or individuals that you know who are currently in graduate school. See if they're willing to either share advice, or share a sample of their statements. Then take a look at them, so you can get some ideas for what these things actually look like. How are they structured? What types of ideas are they sharing? That will help you then get started.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

The last thing I want to focus on today in terms of motivation, and I think this is probably the best motivator. This is identifying a form of external accountability. Nothing for me, gets my butt working on what I need to do more than knowing that I have to turn it into someone, or that someone's going to hold me accountable to it, or someone's going to check in on me. I don't know if it's the shame, or the Catholic guilt, the fact that I grew up Catholic. I don't self identify as Catholic anymore, but I don't know what it is. If I know that someone else out there is going to check up on me, someone else out there is going to meet with me, someone else out there is going to read this material, that then helps push and motivate me. It increases that sense of urgency for me to get the job done, whatever it is I need to complete. For external accountability, maybe that can be a friend, maybe that can be a mentor, femtor. It can be a professor, a faculty member. It can be anyone, really, who you can kind of form an agreement and say, hey. I need you to do this and take it seriously, and check up on me and make sure that I get it done. I need to send it to you. Can you review it? Or I need to send it to you, can you make sure I get it done? Identify some sort of person who can be your accountability buddy. That way, you set your own internal deadline for when you want to get things done, and share that deadline with that person. Hopefully, then meet that deadline and send whatever materials you needed to work on to that individual.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

That is all I want to say for today in terms of motivation. Just in short, try out some free writing, brainstorming exercises. Try out timers. Identify some guiding questions. Create an outline. Look at samples. Ask others for advice on how to write these statements and identify an external form of accountability. I hope that helps. I know it's not easy, but I trust that you can get it done, okay? All right. Well, thank you so much for listening, and I'll talk to you all next time.

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