Decongesting Your Clogged Mind: Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Block

“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.

Writer's Block blog post

Courtesy of: http://writersrumpus.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/don_t-be-a-slave-to-writer_s-block.jpg

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!

Courtesy of:http://suzannevince.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Writers-Block.png

Courtesy of:http://suzannevince.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Writers-Block.png

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

Trying to break out of a creative writing rut?

Today is the day. Years in the future, one of your loyal fans will edit your Wikipedia page to indicate that on this very date you began the short story, the memoir, or the poem that launched your wildly successful writing career. You’ve locked yourself in your room with a composition notebook and a pot of coffee; your pen is poised over the page. You begin to write.

But your ideas are mediocre, washed out, your sentence structure not reflective of the Pulitzer-worthy ideas floating in your brain. As time drags on, pages of the notebook are ripped out, your coffee grows cold, Reddit starts calling. You begin to consider dropping this whole writing thing and taking up underwater basket weaving as a hobby.

Source: http://www.inklessly.com/7-ways-to-stop-criticizing-and-get-your-writing-back-on-track/

Source: http://www.inklessly.com/7-ways-to-stop-criticizing-and-get-your-writing-back-on-track/

Before ditching your notebook or deleting the nonsensical Word document before you, take some time to regroup and conjure up some new inspiration. The blank page or unsatisfactory draft can be frustrating, but you can easily overcome them with a few strategies:

Get some sensory stimulation.
Sensory exploration can trigger memories or new ideas as well as help you to practice conveying sensory elements, so unlock that dorm room door and go exploring. Spend some time perusing the aisles of you’re a local grocery store or farmer’s market for interesting scents. Head to an antique mall and look at old postcards. Listen to music that is unfamiliar to you.

Imitate writing that you like.
When a passage really strikes you in a book or magazine, copy it down. Figure out how it works. Why do you like it? Is it the enjambment in your favorite poem, the series of clipped sentences in that New Yorker profile? Understanding what you appreciate about the writing of others will help to hone your own style and voice.

Also, keep in mind that even your favorite writers struggle with getting writing on the page. Check out Dave Eggers and Jonah Lehrer talking about the trope of the tortured writer and the concept of grit.

Make writing your habit.
How many days could you go without brushing your teeth? Try to make that how many days you would go without writing, i.e., none. There’s no need to fill an entire notebook each night, but getting something down on the page everyday will help to form discipline. The more you practice, the less often you’ll experience the dread of writer’s block.

Find a community of writers.
While creative writing is often deeply personal, meeting other writers can lead to an environment where you feel comfortable with exploring new ideas and getting feedback.
Here at McDaniel, you can connect with other writers through Contrast Literary Magazine. During the fall semester, we conduct bimonthly writing workshops so that our writers can gain inspiration for their submissions to the magazine, which is published each spring.

Workshop dates include:
October 10, 24
November 7, 21
December 5

Other dates to keep in mind:

Friday, October 25- Halloween-themed open mic night and s’mores from 8-10 in Ensor Lounge! Bring your favorite Poe poem or whatever you’ve been working on lately to read to an audience.

Sunday, October 27- Deadline for Contrast’s fall writing contest! We accept poetry and prose.
Prompt- The first line must be a question; the last line must be the answer.
Email submissions to contrastlitmag@gmail.com.

Interested in staying up to date with Contrast? Like our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/McDanielContrast.

Amber, peer tutor