I recently made a comment on my lovely girlfriend’s blog, regarding graduate school, personal statements, and our mutual struggle writing the latter to get into the prior. The entire process has turned out to be surprisingly vexing, and I have had trouble writing something that I feel comfortable submitting.
The problem isn’t writer’s block. I am fully cognizant of that feeling and have had my fair share of the inexplicable phenomenon since I began actively writing. I have a nearly constant stream of thoughts, and often find myself having written an entire paper, document, or post in my head, before I even start typing. The main reason for most of my writing inaction is a lack of time, not a lack of motivation.
Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble focusing my mind. My uninterrupted thought-stream is equal parts irrelevant, frivolous, trivial, and fantastic. I often visualize a serene countrysides where bands of warriors travel on some quest, but just as quickly shift mental gears and start formulating insults for my incompetent coworkers. In the same day I’ll silently analyze why I speak the way I do, try to describe the taste of cashews without mentioning cashews, and maybe even think about a talking tree. I never feel “empty” but I often feel without real substance.
I can’t claim it is ADD or some other diagnosable problem, I just think I’ve let my imagination be in charge for too long and can’t turn it off now. Truth be told I enjoy that my brain wanders to and from so many unconnected, arguably silly topics; it makes me feel like I’m actually exercising my mind. But as enjoyable as it is to daydream, it hardly helps my cause.
I think that a major issue with something like a personal statement is the manufactured weight of it in relation to your overall admissions application. Every website you read claims it is either the most important, or just as important as your resume, letters of recommendation, or writing samples. This seems absurd. A short ego-stroking block of text is supposed to be a major factor as to whether or not you get into a school?
Therein lies my second issue. I can deal with the lack of specificity in a prompt and pretty much any length requirement, but I find it difficult to write something that highlights who I am and what I do without sounding ridiculously narcissistic. While I do consider myself to be of above average badassery, I worry that every sentence I write is overblown and makes me sound like a demigod of academia. Literacles, if you will. I do feel like I’ve done a lot of cool shit (some of it actually worthy of note) but why would anyone who doesn’t know me feel the same way? Writing this thing feels like one huge, “you had to be there” moment.
Lastly, and most importantly, I feel my biggest problem is settling on one concept to focus the entire statement around. I feel that a list of my experience and accomplishments is too trite, no matter how well it is written. Conversely, every time I try to write something with flair, I worry that I have strayed off-topic or even off-purpose, which negates the whole point of a statement of purpose.
All the examples I read have stellar references to literature or insightful quips about their experience that seem fresh. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for me, most of the examples I can find are from students who are applying to very specific fields; period literature, branch sciences, medical programs. I think it would be easier if I knew that I wanted to go study Early American Weird Fiction of the 1910s, as I could pull from that field and even mock-emulate that style to show my passion and knowledge.
A writing degree seems very broad in comparison. What else can I say beyond my inspirations, motivations, and aspirations? How can I express all of the needed information without sounding like generic application essay #3462? I have this feeling that I’m going to do a lot of other writing in an attempt to drum up that “Eureka!” moment in relation to this damned statement of purpose.
Maybe that is a good thing.