“How’s your paper coming along? How many pages do you have by now?” A fellow classmate inquires in a friendly, conversational tone.
“Umm…I have one page…” I reply.
(Insert eye-rolling from the other party here.)
“But it’s due tomorrow! I never understood how people can wait until the last minute to work on their papers.”
“No! It’s not like that! I actually started a week ago, but ummm… ermmm… I know what I’m going to say; I just haven’t actually written it down yet.”
Yeah…likely story, the classmate implies with her supposedly knowing smile.
I originally wrote a page or two on what I thought I was going to say, but decided later that it was a predominantly a piece of disheveled crap. Well, maybe there’s one solid idea hidden inside the incomprehensible text like a tricky Easter egg, but I still end up deciding to erase most of it and essentially start over. I KNOW the ideas are lurking around in some secret mental corridor. I just can’t happen to find them in that moment.
I mean, I can’t just open a blank word document and magically churn out a polished paper. Stare at the screen. Throw a pen across the room. Ergh, so aggravating! So how do you deal with a congested mind? Perhaps you’ve struggled with the daunting enigma that writer’s block is yourself. In fact, Writer’s block often shares a intrinsic relationship with the overall writing process. What follows are a few tips to combat writer’s block by relating it to some of the various stages constituting the writing process.
1. Experiment with Outlines and Handwriting
Already stuck before you’ve even started? Experiment with outlines, maps, and writing by hand. Scour the web for new and unusual frameworks in which you can brainstorm and sort your ideas. Organizing that amorphous mass of ideas into a new, appealing structure may prove beneficial.
2. Write or Die!
Write or Die is a free, twisted little internet application that draws from principles of operant conditioning you probably learned in your intro to psyche class. In other words, punishment is warranted if you stop writing. I personally prefer kamikaze mode, which erases your writing word by word if you stop for even just a few seconds. Write or Die is actually intended for creative writing but I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful tool for freewriting preliminary drafts.
The objective of Write or Die and freewriting in general is to capture your stream of thoughts on paper before they escape from you and disappear forever. Rawness is key, while refinement will eventually follow.You may find it liberating to spit out a torrent of words without consciousness of editing or grammar. However, there is usually at least one solid idea you can extract from that jumble of nonsensical words typed under the inevitable pressure and doom that Write or Die imposes on you. In fact, I am typing this on Write or Die at this very moment.
3. Write on Your Own
Keep your train of thought flowing as a writer to help loosen your condensed blob of ideas. Keep a journal, a blog, or try your hand at creative writing. You may find that scribbling a page in your journal or adding a new blog post can help diminish your paper anxiety and loosen up your chunk of thoughts, however random or irrelevant it might be. It is all about learning by doing.
4. Devise Your Own Idiosyncratic Habits
Develop fun and/or idiosyncratic techniques to help keep your waterfall of inspiration flowing. I prefer wearing a hat when I write because hats are awesome. I guess you could call it a literal “thinking cap” if you want to be corny about it. Dig out your lucky pair of writing socks and make it a a technique of self-motivation. You can ascribe meaning to any article of clothing by remembering all of those difficult moments of writer’s block you’ve already surmounted in the past when you wore that special hat or lucky sock. You have overcome writer’s block before, and you are certainly capable of triumphing again!
5. Take Breaks or Sleep it off
Sometimes writer’s block is a sign that you need to refresh your mind. Take a break. Indulge in some quality “me-time.” Utilize those off-moments as a source of inspiration. The shower, for instance, is brimming with intellectual revelations. Take a walk. Ponder deep writing thoughts in glar. Or if you are simply too exhausted to engage in any of the above…
Never underestimate the value of a high quality nap. Naps can actually help diffuse all that clutter that’s clogging your flow of thoughts. I confess that that is based on personal experience and not a research study, but naps are still worth considering if you are desperate!
6. Create the Right Atmosphere
There are many excellent blog posts on creating the “write” atmosphere available for you to check out, so I won’t divulge into verbose detail. Acquire self-knowledge by assessing the relative values of different spots on campus and determining the environment(s) in which you can concentrate. Experiment with additional elements of atmosphere, such as classical music. Figure out the time of day or night you work best.
7. Employ Writing Center Techniques!
You can emulate several of the techniques you find here at the writing center, such as reading out loud. Try discussing your topic with friends and classmates. Simply discussing (or ranting, whichever you prefer) your struggles and frustrations with friends can also serve as a mental decongestant.
8.) Make a Writing Center Appointment!
The Writing Center is here for you during any stage of the writing process. We can assist you in your struggle with writer’s block and help you transform your stagnant stream of thoughts into a waterfall flowing with inspiration.
—Sarah F, peer tutor