You’ve probably read countless blogs talking about writer’s block. Everybody gets writer’s block from time to time, even good students who never seem to be behind on their work and authors who get paid to write. What makes this blog different from this one, this one, or any other of the thousands available on the World Wide Web? Well, I’m not going to waste time telling you sappy things like, “You’re not alone” and “Just let it pass.” I’m going to give you some hard and fast definitions and advice to both prevent writer’s block and defeat it once and for all.
As I’ve always understood it, there are two kinds of writer’s block. I grew up battling creative writer’s block, where I had no idea what should happen next in the plotline, or I just couldn’t seem to describe a scene right. The task of the creative writer is to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of before or invoke a certain emotional response in the reader.
Academic writing isn’t quite the same. Usually, professors give their students the basics of what ideas should go where in an assignment, but students can’t think of an interesting enough topic, or they get stuck on what else to say about the topic that falls under the boundaries of the assignment.
The good thing about my encounters with writer’s block is that I tend to start working on projects far enough in advance that I can sit on them for a while without inviting disaster. That gives me time to be attentive to the world around me with my writing in mind. I’m pretty much always on the lookout for new things to discuss and new ways to apply concepts to my writing. Every odd, unusual, or funny thing that happens to me goes into a list on my phone (or on my Twitter, if it’s really good); then, when I get stuck on a piece of writing, I can go look at that list (or my own Twitter profile) to see if I can work a little creative magic.
Assuming you don’t have a running list of wacky stories—and your paper is due before you can experience a few—there are plenty of other ways to kick writer’s block. If you’re stuck on what to say next on a college paper, try looking at your material again, but from a different perspective. Are there any questions left to answer? Is there a part of a source you haven’t read yet that might be applicable to your topic? Pretend you are reading it all—the prompt and any research you’re using—for the first time, looking for any and all information you can find. You’ll learn more, and you might discover a new angle from which to approach the paper.
What if you just can’t get wild about your topic? We’ve all been there. My best advice is to try to find an aspect of that topic that interests and motivates you. For example, when I was taking a Communication Theory course, I had to write two pages about a theory I didn’t understand or care for. When I realized I could apply the theory to something I loved—video games—I suddenly had a lot more to say about the theory. Looking at it that way helped me understand the theory better, too!
Another method that works for me is one I haven’t heard anywhere else: pretend you’re explaining your topic to a friend. In a separate Word doc (or whatever you want to use), write down what you would say to someone who is not taking the same class you are. Better yet, talk out loud to a friend or a Writing Center consultant (#shamelessplug) about your topic. Try to answer any questions they can think of. Doing this forces you to think about your topic in a different way and may even bring up some extra points to consider.
Finally, if all else fails, put down the books, close your laptop, and go take a shower. My experience tells me that the best ideas almost always come when you least expect it and when you’re least able to write things down. You’ll have to work to remember it, but it’ll be worth it.
The most important thing about defeating writer’s block is to just write something, anything down. Your professors likely won’t accept “I just couldn’t think of anything” as an excuse; they’ll want to see your mastery of the concepts they’ve taught you. Show them what you know and write something. You can always come back to it later, and it might turn out better than you thought.
You are a human, created in God’s image. You are smarter than writer’s block. Don’t let it defeat you!
Written by Catherine