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Personal Statement Season: How to Write a “Shitty First Draft”

It’s personal statement season! This is a time when many high school seniors are feeling the pressure to write a perfect personal statement for college admissions. But what if I told you that the best way to write a great personal statement is to start with a “shitty first draft”?

That’s right, I said “shitty first draft.” Anne Lamott, the author of the book Bird by Bird, famously coined this term to describe the importance of getting your thoughts down on paper, even if they’re not perfect. She says that the first draft is just a “dumping ground” for your ideas and that you can worry about editing and polishing later.

This advice is so helpful for students who are feeling overwhelmed by the task of writing a personal statement. It takes the pressure off of them to make their writing perfect right away, and it allows them to focus on just getting their thoughts down.

I love Lamott’s analogy of writing a personal statement to “bird by bird.” She says that you don’t have to eat the whole bird at once, you can just take it one bite at a time. This is a great way to think about writing a personal statement, especially for students who are feeling intimidated by the length of the essay. It’s okay to break the task down into smaller steps and to focus on one thing at a time.

When students start to think about their personal statements as “dumping grounds” and “bird by bird,” they feel less pressure and more confident. They’re able to start writing more freely, and they’re able to find the stories that they want to tell.

Here are a few quotes from Lamott’s book that can help you write your own “shitty first draft”:

  • “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
  • “Perfectionism is the enemy of good.”
  • “The only way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
  • “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
  • “The first draft is the child, the second draft is the parent.”

So if you’re feeling stressed about writing your personal statement, remember that it’s okay to start with a “shitty first draft.” Just get your thoughts down on paper, and you can worry about editing and polishing later. And don’t forget to take it one bite at a time!

Here are some additional tips for writing a great personal statement:

  • Start by brainstorming a list of topics that you could write about.
  • Choose a topic that you’re passionate about and that you can write about in a personal way.
  • Start writing and don’t worry about making it perfect. Just get your thoughts down on paper.
  • Once you have a draft, take some time to edit and polish it.
  • Get feedback from friends, family, or teachers.
  • Revise your personal statement until you’re happy with it.

I hope these tips help you write a great personal statement!


If you want more guidance in writing your personal statement, Tell Us Your Story to get started with our team!