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SmartThinking

Grad. Studies Home

writer's block wall

First the bad news: You're reading this because you're having trouble getting started on an assignment.

Now the good news: There are lots of ways to break through that wall and turn your brain power loose.

All you need to do is determine what is causing your block and then try out some of the suggestions below until you find one that works for you.

What is causing your writer's block?

 

Is it because...

If so, try this:
...you don't yet have anything to say? Did you try to start writing without first figuring out what points you have to make about the topic? If so, GATHER SOME IDEAS. Be sure to jot them down rather than just noting them mentally. The best way to get past writer's block is to get that pen moving on the paper, or your fingers moving on the keyboard. The first word you write breaks through that block.
...you don't like the topic because it doesn't seem important or relevant? Personalize the issue that you're writing about. How might it affect you, your family, the people you work with, the consumers you serve, your agency, your community? If you can make a topic meaningful to you, it's much easier to write about it for someone else.
...you don't understand what it is that you are supposed to do in this assignment? Reread the written directions, if you have any. Check your notes from class if the teacher discussed the assignment. Talk over your perceptions of what needs to be done with your classmates, your teacher, or your preceptor. Often what seems like writer's block is just the fear of the unknown. Being clear about what is expected takes away that fear.
...you are afraid you're not going to be able to do well enough to get an A, or even a passing grade?
  • Writing anxiety of this sort is just your brain trying to fool you into thinking you can't do something that you actually can do, so you have to fool it back with positive thinking and relaxation techniques.

  • Arrange your environment for maximum enjoyment. Play the music you like, or turn everything off and work in silence if that seems more inviting. Do your writing in your favorite chair, favorite room, favorite writing location. Gather all your materials if you like all your writing aids to be at arms reach; move everything off your desk if you prefer uncluttered spaces. Develop some rituals that you associate with positive writing experiences.

  • Think about your biorhythms. If you're a morning person, do your writing in the morning when you're at your most productive; if you're an evening person, write at night.

  • Don't focus on needing to write an A+ paper. You don't. You simply have to follow the directions and write the paper the teacher has asked for, nothing more.
...you are mentally or physically exhausted, or distracted, thinking about that report due at work, the dinner that needs to be cooked, your child's homework that you haven't yet checked?
  • If you have things that absolutely have to be done first, do them rather than sitting and worrying about them.

  • If they don't absolutely have to be done right now, try some basic relaxation techniques to free up your mind for the writing task at hand: deep breathing, stretching exercises, a physical work-out, even a brief power nap. Consider doing your writing at the local library or some other quiet place if you have trouble shutting out the distractions of home and family.
...you just know you're not a good writer, never have been, never will be?
  • Lower your standards. Really. Don't let your brain trick you into thinking that every word you write has to be perfect. Read author Anne Lamott's description of her "SHITTY FIRST DRAFTS" and believe her when she says that a first draft doesn't have to be good, it just has to be finished. Then you can then get on with making it better.

  • Are you a good talker? Then, talk out your paper. Find a patient friend who will spend a half hour while you talk through your ideas on what you're going to say. Have that person take notes. Talking is easier than writing for most people, so use it to ease into the writing task.

  • Don't have a patient friend to talk to? Talk your essay into a tape recorder. Then play it back and take notes as you listen.

  • Don't have a tape recorder? Buy yourself some dictation software like DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING and talk your essay through. Let the computer turn your spoken ideas into written words.

  • Don't have confidence in your academic writing style? Write your ideas down first in the form of a letter to a friend or a memo to a colleague. Once you have the comfort of knowing what you want to say, it's not difficult to edit the ideas into a more formal style.

  • Don't know how to start that first sentence of the first paragraph? Skip it. Start writing somewhere in the middle of the paper, at whatever point where you feel you have something to say. The reader has to read the introduction first but you don't have to write it first.

  • Worried that you can't complete the whole paper? Tell yourself that you're simply going to write one section(whatever is easiest). If you find yourself in the zone by that point, you can always keep going but in the meantime you're not distracted by worries of not getting completely finished.