Just as in sports, where you warm up before actually playing, it's a really good idea to "warm up" before sitting down to work on your college essays. By gradually preparing your mind and body for the more vigorous activity ahead, you'll put yourself in the right space to maximize the quality of your essay-writing session. So here are some tips on how you can create a good writing warm-up for yourself.
Smile and laugh. Working on your personal statement and supplementary college essays is an exercise that requires introspection and creativity. What naturally comes with those elements is a feeling of vulnerability. And few things will help you feel more comfortable with vulnerability than smiling and laughing. (For more about the virtues of vulnerability and why it's such an important feeling to embrace in life (and in writing your college essays!), watch Brené Brown's outstanding TEDTalk.)
Here at The Yes Pile, we recommend alternating between smiling and relaxing your face. The first few smiles will probably feel forced and unnatural, but don't worry--that feeling will shift. Keep going until you've done five sets of ten repetitions (to continue with the sports metaphor!) and you'll definitely put yourself in a happier, more relaxed state.
Maybe even more powerful in its positive effects is to get yourself to laugh. Listen to a few minutes of your favorite comedian or have a quick chat with that person in your life who always cracks you up, and you'll be in a great emotional position to sit down and write.
Peacefulness and presence. The key to setting yourself up for a good college-essay brainstorming or writing session is to create a relaxed state where you're fully present in the moment. Practices that cultivate mindfulness and bodily awareness are perfect for this aim. So part of your warm-up could be a few minutes of yoga or stretching, a nice shower or bath, or meditation. (If you're new to meditation, Headspace is a great place to start.)
One caveat: don't put off the writing itself for too long! You don't want your warm-up to swell into a means of procrastination. Ten to twenty minutes of preparation should be enough time to transition yourself into the desirable mind-body state to write your essays.
And once your warm-up is done, it's important to carve out a quiet space for yourself. (For a fantastic discussion of the value of peaceful surroundings for creativity, listen to this podcast discussion between life-hacker Tim Ferriss and learning whiz Josh Waitzkin (on whom the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based).) So turn off and put away your phone, close all the other tabs on your computer, and sit in a quiet room. If you can't find a quiet room, consider using earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, or a white-noise machine to block out some of the ambient noise.
Having a creative, productive session of work on your college essays begins before you park yourself in a chair. If you take a few minutes to follow the above warm-up guidelines, your brainstorming and writing will become a much more peaceful experience. And your results will improve dramatically!
You may also enjoy these other HuffPost college-essay pieces by Douglas Danoff: